by Helena Fairfax
If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I write contemporary romance novels. All my stories centre on the relationship between the hero and heroine, and they all have a feel good factor and a guaranteed happy ending. They’ve been described as “beautiful reads”, “gentle, old-fashioned romance” and “guaranteed to leave a smile on your face”.
The question is, is this the type of book I also love to read? I’d say definitely yes, but I also read a whole range of other genres, from crime to biographies to literary fiction, and – after thinking about this question – I think the genre I love the most besides romance is science fiction.
It might seem a strange leap from a romance to sci-fi, and I’ve been asking myself what it is about the genre that I love so much, and why I like sci-fi and not fantasy. Both sci-fi and fantasy have fantastical elements – they are both genres that describe imaginary worlds. But I think what I love about sci-fi is that the imaginary world of sci-fi authors is grounded in reality. I’m a logical person, and even though I write romance and my characters come out of my imagination, I like my romances to be credible and for my characters to act in a way that’s believable.
A sci-fi novel tells a story the author believes could actually happen, even if it takes place on an imaginary planet. Fantasy novels are just exactly what they say – they are a fantasy. I have no desire to read about worlds full of dragons and elves, witches and wizards, and yet I devoured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.
The reason I could engage with the series is that the worlds Philip Pullman writes about are parallel universes, and so they could in theory be possible. There is a theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes – that with every decision or action we take, we split ourselves and one version of us carries on in one universe, and the other in a parallel universe, and this happens an infinite number of times.
So according to this theory there is a parallel planet earth right this minute where no one has invented the petrol engine, or where the UK is still in the European Union, or where Adolf Hitler has never been born, or where you never did that stupid thing you once did. I can believe in parallel universes – but I can’t believe in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and I’ve never managed to read past book two of The Lord of the Rings.
Apart from when I was a child, the only fantasy series I’ve read all the way through is the Harry Potter books. Books with magic in that are aimed at children are perfectly OK. The only time I got a bit frustrated was when J.K. Rowling conveniently brought out the Invisibility Cloak.
This is another problem I have with fantasy. If the author has a plot hole or a situation they can’t resolve in a realistic way, they can just invent an invisibility cloak or a mystical creature or a rain of fire, or any other thing that leaps to mind, and the problem is solved. Writers who are writing books grounded in reality find it a lot harder to resolve plot dilemmas in a realistic way.
My favourite sci-fi authors are Ursula le Guin, Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem. Stanislaw Lem wrote one of my favourite sci fi novels ever – Return from the Stars – which is a mixture of a romance and sci-fi. What could be better? (Lem also wrote the brilliant novel Solaris, which has been made into a film twice – the latest version starring George Clooney.)
As for the question “What attracts readers to certain genres,” I’m not sure I can speak for other readers, but I was at a talk recently at the Bradford Literature Festival called Book Bidding Wars. The panel – Lisa Milton of Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Nash and Ailah Ahmed of Little, Brown, all believed that because we’re going through troubled times, and because we’ve seen a lot of violence on the streets in the UK recently, that feel good books, escapist will become more popular. I thought that was interesting, and I can believe it’s true.
Guest post contributed by Helena Fairfax. Helena writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was written through the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.