Category Archives: Selene Grace Silver

Why SFR Blasts Other Romance Sub-Genre’s Tropes Out of the Sky: Part II

Following is the second part of Selene Grace Silver’s completely unscientific and statistically dubious survey of her own thoughts about the top ten dominating SFR tropes and why they function like other romance tropes, only on steroids. Click the First Part if you missed it.

Reasons #6-10 SFR Kicks Trope Butt: Sensual Setups

So we’ve covered the popular variations on archetypal heroes, let’s look at the more common variations on the archetypal romance arc.

Heroes’ and heroines’ meet-cutes tend towards the more extreme in SFR. Sure, the characters might meet in a bar and end up in a one-night stand like they do in Cara Bristol’s Trapped with a Cyborg, but it’s far more likely their meeting is more…unusual. The heroine isn’t just trapped with the hero on a road trip or during a snow storm, she’s likely been abducted in her nightie by evil aliens, who have crash-landed on an ice planet, leaving her to freeze to death until he finds her, or she’s been sentenced to a prison planet where either the extreme weather or the other residents are trying to kill them both.

Mail order brides might be big in historical westerns, but those gals only traveled half way around the world to marry their men, in SFR, the travel is more likely a thousand plus light years away across the universe with no return ticket. Our heroines will not discover ruby slippers to click together to get back home. We’re not on Earth anymore, Toto.

Whatever favorite situational tropes romance readers cherish in their contemporary, historical or paranormal books, SFR takes on the challenge of raising the stakes to their penultimate (ultimate resulting in death, as it sometimes does in hardcore SF, but never in the HEA-ending romance) potential, often serving up experiences that simply can’t be done in any other genre.

6. Calgon, Take Me Away! Alien Abductions

It might surprise those who don’t read romance just how popular the alien abduction trope is in SFR. Normally, something titled Alien Abduction would be classified under horror, not romance. In horror, the abducted usually become the victims of nightmare-inducing medical probes, or slaves on mining planets, or medium-rare steaks on some behemoth spidery creature’s dinner plate. In romance, though, alien probing and, ahem, eating ends in highly satisfying heroine orgasms. The only shock the heroine suffers from is just how quickly and powerfully her abductor brings her to climax.

When we consider that the alien abduction fear is a modern update on the whole sexual Nightmare of the Medieval period in which succubi would seduce and sex us up during our sleep, it’s not difficult to appreciate the power of this fantasy. It’s deeply rooted in our western psyches. While, paranormal romance can give us the sensual demon; SFR delivers the evolved, hunky alien version of little green men.

Why does abduction top the list of situational archetypes? Consider the drudgery of modern life: long work hours, long commutes, long lines at the grocery store. Seriously, so much of modern life is tedious and boring. Everyone fantasizes about getting away from everyday reality, but trading lines during regular life for lines in a Vegas buffet or for the rides at a theme park isn’t all that relaxing. For women, in particular, the exhaustion that results from a combination of trying to be everything to everyone, at work, at home, and even on vacation, is a condition not easily fixed with a twenty-minute bubble bath, (despite the soap advertiser’s promises). The thought of being eaten and/or probed turns readers’ minds to something other than cooking and gynecological appointments. It turns our minds to sex. (Please note, SFR readers are very sex positive.)

The idea of being taken and kept at the mercy of a large, competent and skilled lover far, far away across the galaxy where there are no reports to write nor emails to answer nor dishes to wash? The appeal is self-evident. Whether the hero ends up being the arrogant abductor, as in Eve Langlais’ Alien Abduction series, or the eager rescuer after the fact, like in Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarian series, this trope always ends up in a happy-ever-after for the heroine.

7. Cue Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: Alien Brides/Mates

Just like the popular mail-order bride stories in the historical western romance genre, this scenario depends on the ‘thrill’ of every bride everywhere dreaming of the moment she partners with a soulmate for life. Women are raised to chart their personal lives forward to this special moment in time. But that’s not what this SFR trope usually focuses its fantasy spinning efforts on.

The alien bride archetype is often less Cinderella and more Bluebeard. The SFR trope is more about the heroine surviving the honeymoon and building equality into the dynamic of the relationship. In real life, marriage can actually be scary for women. Not to get too dark here, but most women who get murdered are actually killed by their partners. And more men cheat on their wives than women cheat on their husbands. It’s dangerous to become intimate with a man, after all. It’s risky, both physically and emotionally. Alien bride stories raise the stakes of the archetypal marriage by increasing the danger of the spouse (see the First Part of this post) and further complicating the difficulty of marital communication between not only two genders, but also between two alien races. In Laurann Dohner’s Zorn Warriors series (technically more alien abduction than mail-order bride), the heroines find themselves in sexual competition with other females for their partner’s heart even after the mating.

The reason for this trope’s popularity? If the heroine in an SFR alien bride story can form a happy marriage with a giant, furry blue male who speaks a different language, then surely human females on Earth can do the same with their similar-sized fellow human partners.

8. The More the Merrier: Alien Ménages, the Highly Logical Path

Polygamy exists on Earth, even in the modern era, but it’s too often about the guys having multiple females at their disposal. In SFR, the females get their karmic justice. Sex stops being about making babies and starts being first and foremost about having great sex . Since women have the potential to orgasm more in a night than men, it makes complete sense to invite more males per female into the sexual equation so we reach our joined-gender-maximum-orgasm-potential. And we’re not talking about equally splitting attention between everyone involved either, one of the downsides of ménages (or so I’ve heard), although that’s okay too. This SFR trope is, primarily, a female fantasy-driven experience.

The alien guys understand (unlike their human counterparts so often misunderstand) that the woman deserves to be the “precious” center of the activity. Women need lots of sensual stimulation, so it’s highly logical to increase the males-to-female ratio to even up the odds of achieving orgasm equality. It doesn’t mean the heroine can’t have the one true love experience, either. In Kate Pearce’s Planet Mail, the extra guys are there to “help” the alpha hero keep his heroine prepped and aroused. Kind of the way romance novels keep women prepped for their real husbands, right? Unlike the actual world, unfortunately, where masculine jealousies might flare up–women being transferable property and all–these SFR stories create completely new cultures, ones that don’t see women as mere property, or as disposable, so sharing one female among several hot alien guys becomes a practical and acceptable relationship structure. In SFR, it’s all about practicality.

9. Set Phasers to Stun: Alien Invasions/Post-Apocalyptic Earth

Not all SFRs happen out in the frontiers of space. They can just as easily take place here on Earth. In these post-apocalyptic stories, the heroes are generally human males, but not always. They can be violent invading aliens, like in Stephanie Snow’s Demon’s Captive, or they can be retro raiding and pillaging Vikings as in Megan Crane’s Edge books, or they can be the surviving, honorable soldiers in Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad series. The attraction of the trope is that civilized society as we know it has been stripped away and we therefore are also stripped down to our most primal selves.

Sex under life-threatening conditions boosts the battery’s charge. Invasions by another country would be scary to consider, but being taken over by an off-planet alien race guarantees life-and-death conflicts on a daily basis. Only the strongest survive, so the options for mating with the manliest of the males becomes inevitable since those are the only males that survive to mate. And when it comes to interacting with invading aliens, it seems better to be desired sexually than gutted and run over like road kill.

10. Caught the Net of Love: Trapped Together

A quick survey of titles,  series titles and book blurbs in SFR will make obvious readers’ love for this trope. Trapped. Escape from. Marooned. Imprisoned.  A favorite trope, no matter the romance sub-genre, trapped scenarios promise few pesky interruptions or distractions between the hero and his heroine, other than each other, that is, so the storytelling focus can be primarily on the developing relationship between our two lead characters. As with all these tropes, the SFR game requires the players to double down and go for broke. The hero and heroine are more likely trapped in a life-threatening situation than, say, “snowed in” at the millionaire hero’s sprawling winter retreat for the weekend, cupboards full of food and the kindling and logs stacked neatly on the wrap-around porch, ready for cozy nights before the fire.

For example, in Claire Kent’s novella Hold, the heroine, an academic, is unfairly dumped in an underground prison full of violent men. Mating isn’t a choice for her–it’s her sole survival strategy. She hooks up very willingly with the strongest contender in sight.  Fortunately, his incarceration was the results of an unfair sentence too, and he turns out to be a good guy (after lots of rough quid pro quo sex, of course). SFR effectively blends the bad boy and the good guy hero tropes under these extreme conditions, something it’s nearly impossible to do without a lot of back-bending in contemporary romances.

Cara Bristol’s Stranded with a Cyborg is another example of the harsh, deadly landscapes our characters often find themselves in–the water is deadly acid on the planet where the hero and heroine crash-land. And lots of SFRs depend on the trapped-for-long-days setting of the spaceship as well. It doesn’t take long to figure out the consequences of attractive males and females living in close quarters in the middle of nowhere, a scenario perfectly exploited by Lopita Lopez in her Grabbed series.

As with the hero archetypes, the story arc patterns in SFR spin traditional tropes into something edgy and exciting. So, go get trapped with an SFR and leave everyday Earth behind. Need some suggestions? Check out our ever-expanding list of SFR series HERE.

What popular tropes did Selene leave out? Which are your favorites? Book recommendations? Let us know.

Missed the first part of the post? Click HERE.

Why SFR Blasts Other Romance Sub-Genre Tropes Out of the Sky: Part I

Following a completely unscientific and statistically dubious survey of her own thoughts, SFR Shooting Stars author Selene Grace Silver contemplates the top ten dominating SFR tropes and why they function like other tropes, only on steroids.

Typical to all popular fiction genres, general romance exploits its beloved tropes, from naughty bad boys to angst-filled love triangles. In speculative romance, these tropes tend to morph up in scale. Traditional bad boys become massive 7-foot tall super-endowed alien warriors who pair up with super smart heroines. Love triangles resolve themselves into happy ménages with male partners sporting enhanced appendages. If regular romances offer fantasies of how romantic love (and satisfying sex) might progress and resolve itself into happily-ever-after on Earth, then speculative romance re-imagines those archetypes and patterns into truly crazy but wonderful probabilities that expand beyond the mapped universe.

What if the hero actually could read a woman’s mind? What if a culture existed out in space in which women were valued simply for being female? What if the male body were designed solely to give women’s bodies sexual pleasure? The love affairs in historicals, contemporaries and even paranormals are generally confined by the limited expectations of a Western patriarchal society that too frequently treats women as disposable (hence the popularity of romance in all its forms—it’s the primary genre of fiction where a woman can repeatedly read to work through the psychological challenges of being labeled the “weaker” sex while still becoming the agent of her own story’s happiness). The underlying feminist instincts of the romance genre is another topic for another day, though.

Let’s look at the way SFR takes our favorite tropes and expands them into a new consciousness. In this first of two posts, we’ll look at the ways in which SFR enhances our male hero.

Reasons #1-5 SFR Kicks Trope Butt: The Heroes

In SFR, the guys are elite ALPHAS. To be the hero, they have to fight against incredibly horrible odds of survival on the frontiers of the universe. They frequently find themselves in life-threatening spaceship shootouts or navigating uninhabitable planets or a post-apocalyptic Earth. Perhaps they’ve crash-landed on a harsh plant (or been betrayed and dumped there). Enemies don’t run to the basic greedy human opponent or to Category 5 hurricanes either. We’re talking powerful Darth Vader-level enemies bent on galactic annihilation, or about malfunctioning escape pods with limited oxygen in the middle of nowhere, or about barren landscapes of meager subsistence and monstrous alien animals who want to kill and eat them.

These guys have to be tougher than the average ‘alpha’ cop or army sergeant to survive these challenges, generally, or very desperate. Not only are SFR heroes tasked with the seemingly insurmountable job of staying alive against ridiculous odds, they often take on the responsibilities of helping others survive as well. Fortunately for them, equally determined, tough and/or clever heroines team up to save the day, or the planet, or the universe. Scale is everything. In no particular order they are:

  1. Land, Sea and Space: SFR’s Superior Masculine Warriors and Soldiers

SFR stories love to showcase military men and women at their best. They have to be strong, smart and have moral scruples. It’s difficult to find a story in which lives aren’t on the line at some point during an SFR story. Couple that harrowing plot device with galactic-wide wars complicated by alien factions operating with opposing moral value systems, and chaos is often just around the narrative corner. SFR stories alternate between intense moments of stress and danger, interrupted by romantic retreats into private space cabins or cozy caves because these guys need their female partners in order to stay strong and steady, to persist. Naturally, to battle these kinds of odds, the soldiers and warriors are taller, broader, quicker (or more desperate) than the heroes of other romances. Think of them as testosterone amped with cocaine. Cyndi Friberg’s Battle Born warriors or Mina Carter’s Warriors of Lathar demonstrate just how over-the-top these guys can be.

2. If He Only Had a Heart, or Cyborg Boys Aren’t Easy

In the end, all SFR heroines, even the ones without military training or enhanced cybernetic features, like to do a little rescuing themselves, often in the emotional sense. After all, it’s the female superpower to feel our feelings and help others feel theirs. Frankly, it’s not that much of a challenge to get an emotionally-available modern guy to fall in love with a gal in a contemporary romance. There’s certainly less risk involved in a story when the characters are college-educated and their biggest life challenge is climbing the corporate ladder.

SFR readers like a more emotionally-challenged hero, and that means the strong and silent type.  Men with these characteristics have dominated female sexual fantasies for centuries.  At least as far back as Heathcliff. But before SFR, arguably only the archetypal cowboy came close to personifying the sincerely emotionless male character. In SFR, the emotionally-repressed cyborg represents the most extreme strong and silent guy. If regular male characters struggle to express their emotions, imagine the challenge for heroes who are part man, part machine. No challenge supersedes a heroine’s need to crack open a guy’s closed-off heart, especially if we’re not even sure he has human emotions underneath all those digital enhancements.  Best of all, these guys are sure to remain faithful afterwards, exactly because they’re unlikely to fall for just any girl.  It was taxing enough to fall for one. Laurann Dohner’s heroes in the Cyborg Seduction series or Cara Bristol’s Cy-Ops guys show that commitment means commitment.

3.  Ahoy! Prepare to be Boarded: Dare Devil Pirates & Adventurers

We have the protectors who will kill to save the heroine’s life. We have the cyborgs who only open their hearts to one worthy gal. But women all need to laugh as well. Especially in these life-threatening situations. So bring on the scoundrels and daredevil SFR pirates and adventurers.  Swashbuckling pirates of the 1700s might prove their muster in historical romances charting their way into unknown waters, but imagine them steering their spaceships into unknown worlds.

These cocky SFR heroes have honed their sarcasm and wit against vast stretches of mysterious landscapes, dodging galactic armies, outmaneuvering green aliens with octopus arms, and surviving ship breakdowns skirting the edges of black holes. They can crack jokes and live to tell about it. They can relieve the tension of a death-defying event with just the right line. Imagine the entertaining stories that eventually get told, cuddled up around the overheating warp drive, following the happy-ever-after. SFR pirates can be fun-loving or serious and driven by important social issues. Go light with Eve Langlais’ Alien Abduction incorrigibles or go serious with Linnea Sinclair’s classic SFR Gabriel’s Ghost.  Probably no greater fictional hero lives than space pirate/poet Gabriel “Sully” Sullivan.

4. The Better to Eat You With, or Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Shifters in Space

Vampires, Werewolves, Demons. These mysterious, powerful and dangerous creatures might rule the paranormal romance genre, but in SFR they tend to just be other humanoid races. So, in SFR, there are rarely issues of incompatible life spans, or bloody nocturnal rampages, or hotter-than-hell living quarters.

These shifting (or non-shifting, as those horns and hairy backs are sometimes permanent features) alien creatures sport all the delicious and dangerous animal instincts that society has tempered in the real world. It’s built into their DNA and the (generally) human heroine gets all the benefits without any of the negatives. If men and women are really two species, then alien shifters and human woman are as wild a pairing as it gets. Michelle Pillow’s Lords of Var series or S.E. Smith’s Dragon Lords of Valdier are good entries into this classic shifting alien trope.

5. Is that a massive laser weapon I see in your pants, or are you just happy to see me? Enhanced Male Genitalia

This trope mostly describes all the male heroes in all the romances ever, but only SFR gives readers big and hard with vibrating nubs and double wangs. Seriously. While there are also sweet romances in SFR, one of the things this sub-genre exploits to its full potential are sexual fantasies involving enhanced-specifically-for-female-pleasure alien penises and tongues.

In one of the more exotic SFRs, Kaitlyn O’Connor’s When Night Falls, the devil-inspired hero Lucien has two appendages, one that extends and “sucks” the heroine’s clit during sex, and one that is massive and vibrates. Lucien also exudes a chemical that causes her body to resist climaxing so when she finally releases, it’s cataclysmic. Tantric sex gone supernova. Cheesy? Maybe. Satisfying? Definitely. It’s like they say, in SFR, go big or go home. SFR readers say yes, yes, yes…

Read the Second Part of this post in which Selene considers the intersection of setting and opportunity, SFR-style, to identify five more romance tropes in which SFR pushes the boundaries of the romantic imagination.