RavenCon Recap 1: The Future of SF/F

RavenCon 2010, which I attended this past weekend, was the first convention I’ve been to since Deadtown’s release. It was tons of fun. RavenCon has a strong track for writing, and there were some great guests, including Guest of Honor Rachel Caine, fellow Ace/Roc author Kalayna Price, science fiction author Catherine Asaro, Pamela K. Kinney (who also writes as Sapphire Phelan)—and many others.

There were a couple of really good panels about the direction of urban fantasy. The consensus seemed to be that urban fantasy has room to grow in many different directions. Already it’s a blend of genres, with elements of action/adventure, horror, fantasy, romance, mystery . . . These elements combine in different proportions, depending on the writer and the series. That blending allows room for endless inventiveness, which helps keep the genre from getting stale. Rachel Caine said she’d love to read a Western urban fantasy. (If I remember right, Devon Monk is coming out with a steampunk series set in the 19th-century Wild West that sounds like a lot of fun.)

There are also mythologies to explore that are currently underrepresented in urban fantasy. Panelists thought that Middle Eastern and Native American mythologies hold a lot of potential for urban fantasy, although no one wants to see authors cherry-pick the mythology of another culture merely to find something different. That approach fails to convey the richness of the source mythology and shows a lack of respect for the culture that created it. And it doesn’t come across as authentic, which will kill a story.

A related panel asked whether romance was the future of science fiction and fantasy. The discussion ranged widely, from whether romance readers were more likely than SF/F readers to adopt ebook reader technology to whether male readers of these genres enjoy romantic elements, avoid them, or merely tolerate them. Kalayna Price made the point that fantasy, like any kind of fiction, needs to engage the full range of human emotion, and that includes romance. Convincing characters, whatever the genre, must experience emotions that readers can relate to. Romance is increasing in popularity in these genres, but there’s room for all kinds of stories.

The panel for "Romance: The Future of SF/F?" From left to right: Podcaster Terri Vernon (aka Flynnstress), Kalayna Price, and Pamela K. Kinney (who also writes as Sapphire Phelan)

One question that didn’t come up in that panel but I was wondering about later was whether the sex of the main character makes a difference. If a fantasy or science fiction novel has a female protagonist, do you expect stronger romance elements that you do if that protagonist is male? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d love to hear what readers think.

I’ll be posting more of my impressions of RavenCon throughout the week, along with more photos. Stay tuned!

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About nancyholzner


6 responses to “RavenCon Recap 1: The Future of SF/F

  • Caitlin

    I don’t think I expect more of a romance subplot one way or another based on the character’s sex. For every series I’ve read where there has been a prominent romance subplot involving a female main character, I can think of one with a male character.

    Another author whose blog I read (L.E. Modesitt Jr.) also had thoughts along these lines, when he was pondering the readership differences between his female lead and male lead books: http://www.lemodesittjr.com/2010/03/05/reader-expectations/

    I’d be surprised if any one thing could be named the “future” of any genre, whether sci-fi/fantasy or another. I certainly enjoy the romance in the Kushiel Legacy (Phedre and her partner may be my favorite couple ever) but then I also loved The Book of Lost Things and The Clan of the Cave Bear which have little in terms of romantic elements. What matters is the characters feel real to me – not necessarily what they are feeling 🙂

  • nancyholzner

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Caitlin. I agree that there’s no one “future” for urban fantasy, and that that’s a good thing. Writers seem less interested in where the entire genre is headed than in their own stories, which of course is essential to make those stories happen with fully alive characters in realistic worlds.

    As a reader, I do think I connect with characters through their emotions, but I mean that in a very broad sense: not just the touchy-feely stuff, and not just the big emotions like love, hate, fear, anger, and so on, but the moment-to-moment way the character understands and moves through the world, including desires, hopes, worries, sense of humor (or not) — that sort of thing. That’s why I liked Kalyana’s phrase “the full range of human emotions.” That goes a long way in making a character believable to me.

    Thanks for the link to Modesitt’s blog post; that was interesting. My mystery has a male main character and a romantic subplot, so I’m definitely not thinking rigid divisions. But I did get some feedback from some readers who wanted Deadtown’s romantic elements to be stronger, so that’s what had me wondering.

  • Beq

    Actually, for me as a reader, if the STORY is engaging enough and the characters real enough romantic elements aren’t necessary. If it helps drive the plot fine, if not I wont miss it if its not there.

    Perhaps I’m unusual female reader in that I haven’t enjoyed traditional romance novels enough to invest time/money in them. Occasionally friends have lent me romance novels they felt were very good and I’ve read them, found them fluffy & amusing reads and never bothered to pick up another book by that author.

    Give me a good story with a female protagonist who has a healthy sex drive and I’ll give you time for the characters romantic life. Patricia Briggs novels come to mind even the early part of the Anita Blake series kept me interested because there was more than just the romance going on. When the romantic elements become the primary focus I’m usually not going to pick up the book.

    I’m not certain how many other folks fall into the same category as myself but I suspect my attitude is more typically masculine in view than some/many? women.

    I wonder if there’s a poll out there somewhere?

  • nancyholzner

    I have to admit I’m like you in that regard, Beq. Romance isn’t essential if the story engages me in other ways. When I was a medievalist, I read a lot of Old English literature, and that was very battle-oriented (even religious texts like The Dream of the Rood and many of the saints’ lives). And I very much agree that romance can be great if it drives the plot, but I get frustrated when it brings the story to a screeching halt.

  • Diane

    The gender of the main character makes no difference to me as long as the character is relatable and the story is well-written and holds my attention, and I don’t expect stronger romantic elements based on gender.

    Like you and Beq, I don’t find romance essential in an urban fantasy novel, and I’m not really a romance reader. I’m all for it, though, if it moves the plot along and contributes to character development. I think you handled it very well in Deadtown (which I really enjoyed–please hurry up with that sequel!). Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series, Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires and Weather Warden series and Kelley Armstrong’s Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic also have a balance of action and romance that I like. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, which, at least for me, has become unreadable since the introduction of the ardeur.

    Is it true that some publishers/editors lean on UF and PNR authors to include one or several sex scenes to get their books published? If so, it would explain the books I’ve encountered where the story freezes up to accommodate a lengthy sex scene, seemingly dropped in at random. Some of these are so badly done that I’ll never pick up another book by that author!

  • nancyholzner

    Hi Diane,

    I think you nailed the essential element when you said that romance has to move the plot forward. If a sex scene brings the story’s main action to a grinding halt — freezing up the story, as you put it — I tend to skim or skip that scene. A romantic subplot is like any other subplot — it has to stay in balance with other elements of the story. I do tend to read more books where romance functions as a subplot rather than the main plot.

    I’m like you in that I don’t have a preference for male or female lead characters. My only criteria are that characters should be interesting, well written, and fun to spend time with.

    To answer your question about sex scenes, I haven’t run across that as a condition of publication, but I do think some readers expect it. I’m interested in the question of whether SF/F is moving more toward romance partly because I’m trying to gauge whether it’s an expectation of readers of those genres. I do think UF has more romance than it did when I started reading it, for example. But I’m also hearing a lot of what you and Beq both said. And it always comes down to “Does it serve the story? Is it important to these characters?”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

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