If so, you love romantic science fiction as much as I do—in particular, the subgenre known as romantic space opera. The classic rocket ship, standing tall and proud, might have seemed the sole property of men during the golden age of science fiction, and romance might have been considered too melodramatic a topic by authors interested solely in nuts and bolts. But those days are long past. Romance has taken hold of the rocket and launched love into space alongside logic. (Ah, Spock, making logic so fascinating, so swoon-worthy.)
If rockets were once the province of men, then the genre was ripe for romance. Consider the romances you’ve read that aren’t science fiction. Who are the heroes? Cowboys and ranchers, dukes and princes, bodyguards and sheriffs, doctors, bosses, and men in kilts. Certainly the astronaut in his shining silver ship belongs in that list of Alpha males (as well as in the list of equally attractive Beta techno-geeks). Romance successfully colonized science fiction and space opera, chartering new territory: in the futures depicted in romantic science fiction today, the heroine might just as easily be the ship’s pilot, or the war-hardened mercenary, or the talented mechanic.
I fell in love with the blending of romance and science fiction many years ago, when I read Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree. In that intersection of science fiction and romance, I found hope: hope that humanity will survive, expand, explore, learn, love—that we will evolve and will continue the great journey of life beyond the bounds of this Earth; hope that love will conquer pain, death, isolation, the small and great indignities of life—that it will elevate us beyond selfish solitude.
That same hope sparked my most recent novel, Beneath the Skin, a science fiction romance, which was published recently by Venus Ascending.
In a dystopian future, a healer and a shapechanger join forces against a ruthless alliance of powerful families.
Aleta Graham is a healer and empath, abilities that make her a useful pawn for the Dagarro family, who have addicted her to the drug known as Sand in order to keep her submissive. But Aleta is determined to overcome the influence of the drug, and make a desperate bid for freedom — even knowing that the penalty for disloyalty to the family is death.
Riven is a shapechanger, a computer genius, a spy sent by the government to destroy the power of the Dagarro. By taking on multiple identities he becomes at once Aleta's dearest friend and most feared enemy. But in growing closer to Aleta, Riven imperils her, himself, and his mission.
Buy Beneath the Skin at Amazon.
The drug was wearing off. Aleta Graham’s head ached and her hands shook as she leaned against a pair of diamond-studded urns embedded in the ballroom’s wall. She fought the drug’s deadening effect and focused on one clear fact: she must escape, now, while they were all preoccupied with Joanna’s wedding.
Aleta peered out from behind the enormous porcelain vase that shielded her from the wedding guests. Joanna was waltzing across the low-friction floor in the arms of her groom. Above the dance floor, the orchestra wheeled in the air, bows sawing across strings, drums booming, cymbals chiming. The music rattled Aleta’s nerves.
She craned her aching neck and stared up, past the orchestra, her burning gaze following the inwardly sloping walls of the ballroom. Each wall was formed of gold and platinum bricks, covered with precious containers of various sizes and shapes: fine art and irreplaceable antiquities, all useless now, set permanently in the metal, an extravagant display of the Dagarro Family’s wealth. Five stories above, beyond a clear ceiling, lay the airless moon’s surface and the void of space.
Withdrawal sank talons deep into Aleta’s chest. She gasped and bent double. Dear God, she wanted . . .
Escape, she must focus on that. She wanted to escape. While Joanna smiled in the arms of her beloved under the watchful eyes of Dagarro Family security, Aleta trembled and struggled not to scream. She straightened her spine, took one step, then another, and slipped out from behind the urn into the shadows between two marble sarcophagi.
The music changed, and guests poured onto the dance floor in a rainbow of glittersilk gowns and light-washed haute couture. Aleta slid deeper into the shadows, until she could no longer see the security guards. Her wrist itched—a maddening, distracting, incessant itch. She scratched furtively beneath her formal glove. The itch grew worse. She yanked the glove off. Her arm spasmed, and the glove slipped to the floor.
Something moved behind her in the darkest shadows: a man’s figure. Melting? Changing?
Aleta blinked, trying to shake off the hallucination.
Softly, gently, the glove was placed back in her hand.
The fingers of the man who had returned the glove clamped over her velvet sleeve, pushing the fabric up her arm. Looming above her, he studied the fading blue spiderweb of lines that streaked her pale wrist.
She trembled again, this time in fear.
Dark on dark he was, dressed all in light-swallowing black silk except for a glowstone earring whose incandescence stained half his jaw a bloody red. The angles of his face were as sharp as the glint in his obsidian eyes.
He lifted his gaze and met her own. One sculpted black brow rose.
Aleta squared her chin.
Carefully, without touching her skin, he ran a forefinger above the drug’s lingering blue trace at her wrist. “A web not of your own making,” he stated. One heartbeat, two, then Darcavon dropped her arm.
“Trituros wants you,” he said, and stepped past her. As he strode toward the dance floor, light from the cascading candleplants glinted off his tightly bound black hair.
Aleta stood, stunned. Darcavon had seen that she was fighting the drug the family used to enslave her, yet he hadn’t called the guards.
It made no sense. The Darcavon she had always so carefully avoided was a perfect creature of the Family Dagarro, as ruthless as Trituros Dagarro himself, advancing in the household ranks with the cold inexorability of a glacier, intent—so rumor had it—on becoming seneschal.
Her hands shook. He must be setting her up for some later, unguessable purpose of his own.
Pulling the glove securely over her hand and wrist, Aleta peeked around the end of the sarcophagus. The closest guard was looking in her direction. Linked to the family’s security net, the guard knew that Trituros wanted her and that she should leave the ballroom and head toward the patriarch’s office.
She cursed silently to herself and stepped out from behind the sarcophagus. The mouths of the vases buried beneath the clear floor gaped up at her in silent warning. She must be careful—very very careful—or Trituros would know that the drug was wearing off.
The man who would be seneschal turned and watched Aleta walk toward the arched doorway. Had she seen him change shape? After long years of planning and preparation, had he ruined everything because he had needed a few brief moments to be himself?
He noticed the slight hesitation in the empath’s step as she neared the door guard, and he noted the squaring of her shoulders as she continued past.
The pad of his finger tingled where it had almost caressed her flesh. She had skin as white and cool as purest marble, and eyes as green as ancient jade, lit from within by a fire he’d not seen before in her glance. The family and its drug were banking that fire, enslaving her to their own ends.
But he had ends of his own.
And he would be seneschal, no matter the cost.
By the age of eleven, I was reading all the science fiction I could lay my hands on at the local library, and, because they were shelved together, I was also reading all the fantasy books. Genre-straddling works by Andre Norton gave me the impression that everything I was reading belonged on one wonderful spectrum of imagination and possibility. Andrew Lang’s fairy books (in all their colorful editions) left me with the equally strong impression that Beauty and the Beast is the yummiest folktale ever.
I entered university a chemistry major intending to become an astronaut who would rocket into a brave new future, and I left (or, rather, never left) with a doctoral degree in rhetoric, a dissertation on James G. Frazer’s twelve-volume encyclopedia of magic, science, and religion, and a job teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.
And now I write my own science fictional variants of Beauty and the Beast, exploring the romance of the alien, the metaphorical beast in every man, even in the handiest of techno-geeks.
When I’m not writing, teaching, or reading, I’m quilting, playing board games, or hurling heavy objects into the air above my head. Or I’m sitting on the couch, eating almond M&Ms and daydreaming about life amongst the stars.
Where to find Carolyn: website / Facebook