Read an interesting post today by Kim Harrison over SF Signal, mostly lamenting the fact that there is too much romance in UF these days.
Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. The funny thing to me is that for the longest time, I was completely unaware of the PNR genre as a whole. Growing up I was strictly hard-core fantasy/sci-fi. It’s still where I gravitate to the most. I was aware of UF, but I guess it was more of the old-school sort of UF – Charles de Lint, for example, or Tanya Huff. It was well before the vampire craze took over, anyway. (And to be honest, except for some early LKH, I didn’t read too many vampire/PNR books at all. Just wasn’t my thing, I guess.)
I can admit to being a tad sensitive to the whole PNR vs UF debate. For one, women writers in particular have a harder time earning respect in the genre writing business as a whole, so I don’t like seeing us bash each other over it. (Not that I’m suggesting the link above is bashing at all – it’s not – but I’ve seen it on plenty of other forums, so I know it’s out there.)
In reading comments after the article, I do have to say I agree with Jaye Wells. There is something about romance that seems to make people freak and complain. As she points out, if more thriller or mystery elements were added to a UF book, chances are people would either 1) not notice or 2) not care. But add some romance and then the book often gets labeled as “not worthy.”
OMFG, there is KISSING. That means it’s a “GIRL BOOK!” Ewwww!
Maybe it’s not the inclusion of romance or sex that’s the issue, but the detail in which the writer goes into it that bothers people. (Is it merely glossed over? Fades to black? Full on, camera right up the backdoor?)
Maybe it’s the female gaze thing (which is a whole ‘nother argument of male writers vs female writers and which is better. And by better, I mean does the writing by women hold any intrinsic value for male readers? Or does the fact that the writer has a vagina equate to crap? *barf* Not going there today, thanks.). This also goes hand-in-hand with the gaming industry as well. Hard core guy gamers vs girl gamers, who are clearly only playing the RPGs because they want to sexxor up the emo elf-boy with the angst-ridden past. *cough*
There are days when I wonder if we’ve ever actually left the playground.
The problem is that so much of it is subjective. What some people consider to be too much sex in a book (a la “I just skip over all those parts because they don’t add anything and they’re boring or too detailed or whatever.”) others see as not enough. (“I liked the story, but I really wish there had been more romance, or that it was more explicit because I really need to see some weeping cocks. Kthnxbai.)
Yeah, that’s tongue-in-cheek, sorry – but my point is that everyone has an opinion. And none of them are right or wrong.
I can understand that the concept of genre means that readers know what to expect. If I read a romance, I expect a romance with the kissing and maybe some cock weepage. If it’s a PNR, then I expect the kissing to happen between someone human and someone who isn’t. If I pick up a high fantasy, then yes, I want to read an epic tale full of battles and intrigue and emo elf-boys with whom there may or might not be some sexxoring. If I read a thriller or horror or mystery, then yeah, I want some Redrum with my tea.
So what happens when a book doesn’t fit that mold? UF has become a bit of a catch-all of genres. Originally I always assumed it was about vampires or elves living in the city (now known as Elfpunk, what?) or where the city itself was a character (like de Lint’s Newford series, which is brilliant, btw.) And then Buffy came along and UF became more about ass-kicking chicks (and dudes), dealing with paranormal creatures and wearing leather. At some point the lines got blurred a bit between the PNR and UF realms, so we end up with books that don’t really belong in either.
For me, the big way to determine if a book is one or the other is the question: If I remove the romance, do I still have a story? If the answer is no, I’ve got a romance in my hands.
Not saying there can’t be sex. Sex isn’t the same as romance at all, and in my case it would have had to happen one way or the other. Brystion is an incubus in BoD, for example. Sex is required for him to survive, regardless of anything else, but I think if it’s not a romance, the characters should be free to sleep with whoever they want, as long as it’s not a direct focus of the book.
In the end, I think a good book has everything to do with the storytelling. I would much rather have an author write a story the way it needs to be written and not the preconceived notions of what it “should” be, based on genre.