When I escape my real life into the pages of a book, I like to really escape, like into another dimension. As a female reader, however, even the most fascinating time traveler or brilliant spaceship captain better have a love interest to hold mine. I have yet to figure out what the magic formula is that designates one book as “science fiction/fantasy” and another as “paranormal romance.” The cross-over is so common these days that there is virtually no distinction to me except with marketing. It hasn’t shown up in bookstore banners yet, but I have recently begun to see a classification popping up called Science Fiction Romance or SFR. I have found Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changling series under both banners, even within the same chain of booksellers. Maybe it’s a simple matter of shelf space.
Every year romances far out-sell sci/fi, and yet sci/fi readers adamantly refuse to cross the aisle. (Ever notice they’re always next to each other in bookstores?) I have discovered that many romance readers too refuse to venture where they erroneously believe science will over-power the story of relationships and descriptions of technology will make their brains hurt. They’re both wrong! So for you die-hard romance readers, let me offer you my 2011 Top Ten List of Author’s You May Have Missed Because They Were in the Science Fiction Section:
1. N.K. JEMISIN (Inheritance Trilogy)
Description: Gods and mortals. Power and love. Death and revenge. In the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, gods dwell among mortals and one powerful, corrupt family rules the earth. Three extraordinary people may be the key to humanity’s salvation.
Thoughts: Look for an in-depth review of this series in 2012! Some might say that Jemisin’s series is reminiscent of Greek and Roman mythology. Some will draw connections anywhere they can. For me, Jemisin’s style is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Let me just say that I have no idea why this author and her Inheritance Trilogy have gone nearly completely under the radar, even for sci/fi readers. She has remarkable world-building skills and all three books are completely relationship driven. Perhaps she is too much of both genres to be classified as one or the other. Jemisin’s descriptions are so complete and so creative that if I could, I would love to live inside her head for just a day to see the scope of what she’s imagined before it’s edited and distilled down to the story we have in print.
2. ANN AGUIRRE (Sirantha Jax series)
Description: As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace-a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun’s not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her…for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.
Thoughts: I love a strong female lead. Over the course of the series, told in first person, Sirantha makes the journey from flawed party girl to seasoned navigator with a maturity born of intense experiences. Aquirre’s writing is witty and insightful. Romance readers will appreciate not getting bogged down in heavy techno-babble, but still enjoy the fantasy of space travel and alien worlds. The final book in the series, End Game, is due to be released in September of 2012.
3. LINNEA SINCLAIR (Dock of Five Universe 1-5)
Description: After a decade of piloting interstellar patrol ships, former captain Chasidah Bergren, onetime pride of the Sixth Fleet, finds herself court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit–and shipped off to a remote prison planet from which no one ever escapes. But when she kills a brutal guard in an act of self-defense, someone even more dangerous emerges from the shadows. Gabriel Sullivan–alpha mercenary, smuggler, and rogue–is supposed to be dead.
Thoughts: Most romance readers who have read Sinclair all say the same thing, “I don’t usually like science fiction, but I couldn’t put this one down!” Sinclair is convincing in her world-building and still makes her headstrong lead characters sympathetic. It’s not hard to care about their stories until you find yourself sucked in. Told in first person from the perspective of Chas, full of action, don’t pass this series up.
4. LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD (Sharing Knife Series 1-4)
Description: Troubled young Fawn Bluefield seeks a life beyond her family’s farm. But on the way to the city, she encounters a patrol of Lakewalkers, nomadic soldier-sorcerers from the northern woodlands. Feared necromancers armed with mysterious knives made of human bone, they wage a secret on-going war against the scourge of the “malices,” immortal entities that draw the life out of their victims, enslaving human and animal alike. It is Dag—a Lakewalker patroller weighed down by past sorrows and present responsibilities—who must come to Fawn’s aid when she is taken captive by a malice.
Thoughts: I realize that in medieval and even Victorian times it was customary for young girls of fifteen or sixteen to marry much older men. In practical terms, such suitors were established and could provide for a wife and family. A younger bride was more likely to survive childbirth and be more submissive. As a modern reader, however, such unions kinda creep me out. We have such a union in the very first book of the Sharing Knife Series between our hero and heroine. The book held an interesting premise and was very well written, but I honestly wasn’t convinced at first. The first books set-up the next so well that I couldn’t leave the story alone. The second book convinced me the unconventional union was a good idea and I completely indulged myself in the rest of the four-book series.
5. JESS GRANGER (Realms Beyond Series)
Description: After five years behind enemy lines, Captain Cyani is ready to retire to her homeworld of Azra as one of the Elite—the celibate warrior sisterhood that rules the planet. But first she must complete one final mission to rescue her fellow Union soldiers. The last thing she expects to find is a prisoner, chained and beaten—but radiating feral power and an unbroken spirit.
Thoughts: I had the pleasure of meeting Jess Granger at Lori Foster last May. This quirky new author, only having released two books so far, shows great promise with books a little heavier on the romance than the science. This series is probably more of a cross over into romance for sci/fi readers. Nevertheless it has no shortage of exotic alien worlds and cultures.
6. C.J. Berry (Unforgettable Series 1-5)
Description: Life on Earth was just getting interesting for Tess MacKenzie. She’d postponed her singing career to support the family business and after eight long years, she finally earned her chance to shine. Her band was hot, her songs were rocking and Tess was on her way to becoming a star. Things were definitely looking up. That is until Cohl Travers, alien extraordinaire, swoops out of the night sky and snatches her off her planet. When he says he desperately needs her voice for a dangerous cosmic mission and the fate of two planets hangs on her song, she figures one of them is in for some serious therapy.
Thoughts: You’ll need a non-descript dust jacket for these painfully cheesy covers. It definitely reads more romance, smutty in a good way, than science fiction. The first book is not as strong as those that follow, but all are excellent adventure stories.
7. ROBIN McKINLEY (Blue Sword/Sunshine/Beauty)
Descriptions: The Blue Sword – This is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who becomes Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman has wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle.
Sunshine – Rae, nicknamed Sunshine by her stepfather, is the baker at her family’s coffeehouse. She’s happy getting up at 4 am to make cinnamon rolls for the breakfast rush, and dealing with people and food all day. But one evening she needed somewhere she could be alone for a little while, and there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years. She never thought of vampires. Until they found her.
Thoughts: I have largely found Robin McKinley slated into the young adult section, when I can find her at all, where there are generally no distinctions made between genres at all. Her fantasy books have a fairytale flair to them, especially her re-telling of the classic “Beauty and the Beast.” (I wonder if Disney didn’t pull from this 1978 edition in the making of their 1991 award-winning animated feature. It is being re-released in 3D on January 13th.) As YA books, they are not as explicit as adult romances, but let me assure you the relationships are intense because McKinley’s writing style is intense. It is one that you mentally chew on more than flow through. She demands that you think and so the escape comes not in being consumed by the romance, but being consumed by the art of her words. Some readers will find her tedious. I love words so I loved her writing style.
8. AUDREY NIFFENEGGER (The Time Traveler’s Wife)
Description: A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.
Thoughts: You may or may not have already seen the movie. As a book snob, I have to admit the movie was remarkably well done, but if you haven’t read the book, let me assure you it’s completely worth it. I was given a copy of this book long before the movie was even in production and I was stunned by its construction. You start out reading a story that jumps around all around through time and about half way through its hefty 560 pages, you realize it is, in fact, being told in chronological order. I was so in love with Clare and Henry’s romance that I was crying by the climax. I’m stunned that this was written by a first time author.
9. ANNE McCAFFERY (Acorna Series 1-7)
Description: The Acorna series is a lesser known series, written in collaboration with two other authors. Acorna is found in an unusual escape pod by three galactic miners, Gill, Rafik, and Calum. Raised by the three unlikely fathers, Acorna, a unicorn girl, matures almost to adulthood within three years. While she is growing up, the miners discover that their ‘daughter’ has magical powers such as the ability to clean air and water, heal the sick, and detect the slightest scent. Furthermore, she is extraordinarily smart, picking up everything quickly. However, her unique looks and special powers make her an object of desire by many, be it for scientific studies or a rare-item collection, or sex.
Thoughts: Famous for her Dragon Riders of Pern series of over 20 books, McCaffery is not exactly unknown to romance readers—or to anyone who’s been in a book store in the last thirty years. I’m including her here because she passed away late last month. She was the first female author to receive both the Hugo and Nebula awards for her writing. In a 2004 interview with science fiction magazine Locus she said, “I have always used emotion as a writing tool…The thing is, emotion — if it’s visibly felt by the writer — will go through all the processes it takes to publish a story and still hit the reader right in the gut. But you have to really mean it.” McCaffery was probably the first of the paranormal/fantasy cross-over writers. She co-wrote the last five Pern books with her son and perhaps, we can hope for more titles from the McCaffery family.
10. JULIAN MAY (The Saga of Pliocene Exile)
Description: When a one-way time tunnel to Earth’s distant past, specifically six million B.C., was discovered by folks on the Galactic Milieu, every misfit for light-years around hurried to pass through it. Each sought his own brand of happiness. But none could have guessed what awaited them. Not even in a million years….
Thoughts: The Saga of the Pliocene Exiles is the first of two linked series covering nine volumes. They should absolutely be read in order, but the first book, The Many Colored Land, is now out of print. You should still be able to get it from your local public library. I’m including in this list for two reasons, first because it was released in e-book form this year (with some pretty harsh criticism over lack of proofing) and secondly it’s just outstanding science fiction that paranormal readers have the ability imagine and enjoy.
May follows a group of people who are irrevocably exiled back in time to the Pliocene era during the period between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the rise of homo sapiens, six million years ago. She was one if the first proponents of the ancient alien astronaut theory of human evolution made so famous now by Eric Daniken and his book and subsequent movie Chariots of the Gods. If you’re inclined to try some straight, make you think science fiction, try this series. It takes readers on an amazing journey from the distant future to the distant past, using unexpected routes all along the way.