It is my pleasure to introduce my first ever guest blogger on SFOO, KS Augustin. Let her entertain you and make you think while finish packing for BayCon. She promised not to trash the place while I'm gone. I don't know. I just might be out of a job when I get back. :)
Firstly, my thanks to Ann for letting me post to her blog.
My husband, J, has a skill I don't have and one I'm terribly envious of. (Forgive the dangling participle, and let's move on.) He reads in three languages: Polish, English and Russian. At the moment, he's reading a Polish anthology of science-fiction from a few years back (it contains an early short story by Jacek Dukaj), and one story in particular both intrigues and repels him.
Now, before I continue, I should explain that J's reading habits are confined to hurried snatches as he plies the ways between two countries on an almost daily basis. In between reading, he has to know where his passport and entry cards are, position himself strategically in the bus, and be ready to fly out the doors and dodge the crowds of meandering tourists as they wander their somnambulist paths from one tour-guided resort to another. Occasionally, he also has to instruct newer Immigration officials on how to process his visa (a most diplomatic process). And he's on a clock. So, he's not what you'd call a relaxed reader.
Currently, he's frustrated. "This story I'm reading is great," he tells me. "The technology is very interesting and the premise is novel. I haven't read a setting like this before. But the characters! There are three main characters, and you can't tell them apart. They're all supposed to do different things, but they're blurring together in my mind. I'm getting very confused. You're a writer. Is it me? Explain this to me."
I love science-fiction. I adore it. I credit my remaining sanity to having science-fiction books available to me while I was growing up. (Living opposite a library didn't hurt either.) But, in my opinion, if there's one area where science-fiction falls down, this is it. Characterisation. When reading characters with similar characteristics it's difficult to tell them apart within stories not just across them. A joke I have that will put you all off side is that George Clooney was perfect to play Kelvin in Lem's Solaris (2002) because both the character in the book, and Clooney, are so wooden.
"This is where romance has it all sewn up," I told my husband. "As a result, being a romance reader as well, I'm completely spoilt. The characters tend to be drawn to such a degree, in such detail, that I only need to be given a fragment -- "a flash of emerald eyes", "the hint of a dimple", "a vase crashing against the wall" -- to know which character did it and what they're probably thinking."
"Ah," he said, "that's what's missing. The technology is there, but I can't get a feel for any of the characters. They're not described, no quirks are outlined. They are just three guys with different names, all interchangeable."
Ann has detailed in a previous post of hers why she prefers male sf writers. And lots of commentators chimed in to come up with female sf authors who don't touch romance. (There was a bit of cheating in that list, as you well know.) I myself have an sf novel currently on submission that doesn't contain any romance, as you'd probably define it. But, boy oh boy, what you learn when you put it in! And that learning keeps on giving, even when you don't focus exclusively on it.
Romance is not merely about the kissing and the sex. Romance is about the psychology of the people involved and how they try to establish connections while the universe is against them. What a lot of sf writers have forgotten, in my opinion, is that you take yourself with the technology. We have PCs and tablets and mobiles and what-have-you. They were all originally meant to be productivity aids. And what have we done with them? We've connected. We've commented. We've hated. We've loved. We've laughed. You are connecting with me right now, drawing conclusions about what kind of person I am, whether you would like the kind of stuff I write, whether you would like *me*, all separate to―and yet an intrinsic co-effect―of the technology that's delivering these words to you. To say that we can have one (the setting) without the other (the human connections) is to live in sterility, where one primate-shaped block can easily be exchanged for another, without any harm coming to the unfolding storyline. Such thinking debases our individual and precious humanity, reducing us all to ciphers.
Romance teaches us that everyone has the potential for intimate connection. Science-fiction teaches us the wonder of what-if. If that isn't one of the most perfect matches ever thought of, I don't know what is.
COMPETITION: I'm giving away two copies of IN ENEMY HANDS at my blog, Fusion Despatches [http://blog.ksaugustin.com]. To be in the drawing, stop by and comment at the Competition post, telling me at which blog you read about my book. You have till 30 June!
Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at www.ksaugustin.com and she blogs at http://blog.ksaugustin.com You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for "ksaugustin".
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