Lois McMaster Bujold’s Denvention 3 Speech: Full Of Awesome

Book CoverLois McMaster Bujold gave a Writer Guest of Honor Speech at Denvention 3 on 8 August about her experience as a writer crossing multiple genres, and it was full of awesome, puppies, win, and rainbow ponies. Her experiences with The Sharing Knife and her impressions of how romance and sf play nicely together and compliment one another are fascinating because her perspective is one from which we don’t necessarily see a lot of analysis:

Romance and SF seemed to occupy two different focal planes, to steal another metaphor, this time from photography.  For any plot to stay central, nothing else in the book can be allowed to be more important.  So romance books carefully control the scope of any attending plot, so as not to overshadow its central concern, that of building a relationship between the key couple, one that will stand the test of time and be, in whatever sense, fruitful.  This also explains some SF’s addiction to various end-of-the-world plots, for surely nothing could be more important than that, which conveniently allows the book to dismiss all other possible concerns, social, personal, or other.  (Nice card trick, that, but now I’ve seen it slipped up the sleeve I don’t think it’ll work on me anymore.)   

In fact, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency.

I was also taken with this part:

…I once fancied a metaphor of genres as blood types, in which mystery was the universal donor, equivalent to blood type O, and science fiction and fantasy the universal receivers, equivalent to type AB.  I’d also dipped more cautiously into our other neighboring genre of Romance—although I’ve not decided on its blood type—but I had never made it central to a tale the way I’ve used the mystery model.  (Ask me later about my metaphor of genres as dog breeds.)

Ok, what’s our blood type? I think we’re AB – universal recipient – all genres play nicely with romance, pretty much. Well played, Ms. Bujold. Well played.

Thanks to Rene S for the link.

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  1. 1
    Karen Junker says:

    We’re doing a writers’ retreat next summer where Christine Valeo, a professor at EWU, is going to talk about the SF of Nora Robert’s novels.  We have mostly SFF writers (Jay Lake is our Writer Guru for workshopping) but many of them wish to incorporate romance into their work without violating the reader’s expectations for either genre.

  2. 2
    Nathalie says:

    I agree, romance is the universal receiver. People want to love and be loved no matter the time, planet or interest.

    Science fiction + romance = inner Chihuahua chasing her tail in savage glee!!!!!

  3. 3
    Rene S. says:

    I’d actually really love to hear her metaphor about which genres are which dog breeds, too.  Scifi is clearly whatever breed Laika (The canine cosmonaut in 1957) was, Mystery is surely a bloodhound… I get stuck with Romance.  Maybe all the subgenres need their own dogs.  Paranormal is a werewolf, Regency is a foxhound (for the hunts, don’t you know), a ChickLit book that brand drops would be a Chihuahua. … :)

  4. 4
    SonomaLass says:

    I’d be more tempted to put romance in with mystery in type O—you can inject some romance into any genre to make it healthier!

    The intersection of SFF and romance is my very favorite place to be, and LMMB is one of my favorite authors to take me there.  It never ceases to amaze me how erudite and insightful she is when talking about the larger context of writing genre fiction—of course I expect her to be wonderful with words and ideas from reading her books, but she still blows me away every time she talks about her craft.

  5. 5
    Michelle says:

    Thanks for sharing!  I never would have stumbled cross that myself. 

    In some ways though I think all genres are universal receivers or donators.  I can’t think of any genre example that has never been touched by another genre.  e.g. I’ve read westerns with romance or mystery elements, and I know there have been futuristic westerns as well.

    I do agree there are genre expectations – and one must stress one aspect of the story over another to meet reader expectations – but I don’t think the genres are walled off that much.

  6. 6
    Leslie H says:

    Dog Beeds:

    Bodice Rippers: Rotweillers
    Erotica: Heinz 57’s humping everything in sight
    Inspirational: Poodles!
    Romance generally: Golden Retriever!

  7. 7
    AgTigress says:

    Poor little Laika was a mongrel, a Moscow street-dog.

  8. 8
    AgTigress says:

    Forgot to say – Lois McMaster Bujold’s piece is witty, intelligent and thought-provoking!

  9. 9

    Denvention 3 was wonderful and having Lois as Guest of Honor was the icing on the cake.  One of my panels was “SF Fans Who Write in Other Genres”.  Three of us were primarily romance writers and we paid homage to Lois and her ability to weave romance and SF together.

    BTW, if you haven’t yet read her books, I recommend starting with Shards of Honor for her SF, or The Curse of Chalion and The Sharing Knife for fantasy.  All have a great love story at their core.

  10. 10
    Jessa Slade says:

    You must must must read The Paladin of Souls. It works fine as a stand-alone and you will be compelled to run out and get everything else of hers. Ista is an amazing heroine. I can only wish to be as crazy, strong and funny as her when I grow up.

    I guess urban fantasy could be Tramp from Lady and The Tramp.

  11. 11
    Marianne McA says:

    My favourite quote:

    Heyer has been a sort of stealth SF writer

    Creates wonderful images in my head.

    Anyone know what the reading from the next Miles book was like?

  12. 12
    MC Halliday says:

    I’d be more tempted to put romance in with mystery in type O—you can inject some romance into any genre to make it healthier!

    In full agreement with SonomaLass; the evolution of relationships are an essential ingredient to any genre. Unfolding in a mystery series, they simply add to the protag interest. Although I was heartbroken with Peter Wimsey’s marriage to Harriet Vane (Dorothy L Sayers), I so enjoy a woman’s journey to love found within a series.

  13. 13

    I third the recommendation for LMB’s Chalion series.  The Curse of Chalion was the first book I bought for my Kindle, and that combo rocked my world.

  14. 14
    Gail Dayton says:

    One way to satisfactorily blend science fiction or fantasy with romance is to have the outcome of the fantasy plot hinge on the outcome of the romance plot. IOW, the hero and heroine have to be together in order to thwart the ebil villains.

    It is also possible to have SF/F plots that aren’t “Save the World”, but are smaller-sized. THE THIEF WITH NO SHADOW, a RITA finalist by Emily Gee, is one of those with a small-sized conflict. The fate of a family—two families—is what is at stake, and she really makes you care about them. I thought the book worked beautifully.

  15. 15

    I take one day off to rest up, and the news breaks before I can spill it.  Damn.  I was on that panel with Darlene, saw the speech, and got to sit next to Bujold at a book signing on Sunday.

    As a romance writer at an SF con, I had zero fans in my line. The few who stopped by said, “Not SF?  But fantasy, right?  No?  Not even a little?”  And then they let me sign their program books as a mercy autograph.

    But Bujold had a line that was half way around the convention center.  And I got a chance to sit next to her for 45 minutes, and tell her that romance fans think she’s the bomb.

    She also had interesting things to say at one of her readings about writing in series, and how romance continuities differ from SF series.  She tried to explain the Chicago Stars series to SF fans.  It got a laugh.  Terra incognita, apparently.

    And for anyone who cares, she’s working on a new Vor book.  And no, it is not about Ivan.

  16. 16
    joykenn says:

    I can recommend Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor which includes both books,Shards of Honor and Barrayar. They follow the relationship of Cordelia and Aral, have a strong heroine, an interesting hero, and strong romance elements.  Many of Bujold’s SF books include romance and the relationships of her characters are often central to the plot.

  17. 17
    NancyB says:

    The reading from the new Miles book was the first 2 chapters—of the 4 she has written.  It’s Miles, off on another auditorial adventure, and is set 5 years after Diplomatic Immunity.  I posted a detailed summary (with a few follow-up expansions and corrections) over on the Bujold mailing list.  The main post is here:
    http://lists.herald.co.uk/pipermail/lois-bujold/2008-August/015051.html

  18. 18
    Joanne says:

    New Miles??  Be still, my heart…

    Heard Lois speak at an American Library Association convention in 1996 and immediately roared out to the late lamented Coiliseum Books and picked up Mirror Dance, the latest at the time.  Been addicted ever since. Lois does relationships and sf/fantasy like nobody else, because her characters are People, with quirks, weaknesses and uncertainties, who manage to overcome them and save the situation against great odds.  Long May She Reign.

    And Ista Rules.

    Joanne

    spamword- action67- fitting.  no lack of action in LMB’s books

  19. 19
    Danae says:

    Lois is one of my favorite authors and I have always liked her romantic elements in her books.  I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her about romance and science fiction at a sci fi convention I was apart of in 2007. 

    The Chalion series is amazing.  I look forward to her newest Miles book, but dammit when is Ivan getting his own book?

  20. 20
    Marianne McA says:

    Thanks so much NancyB.

    Happiness is.

  21. 21
    Chicklet says:

    In a stunning bit of unintended synchronicity, Cordelia’s Honor is the SF choice for the Book of the Month Club hosted by Stargate Atlantis producer/writer Joe Mallozzi at his blog. McMaster Bujold herself will be stopping by this week (today or tomorrow, I think) to answer questions previously submitted by readers. Here are permalinks to the discussion so far:

    Mallozzi starts off the discussion.

    And here the readers post comments/opinions/whatnot.

    Warning: Mallozzi does include on-set photos and stories about filming future episodes, so if you’re an Atlantis viewer who’s also an extreme spoilerphobe (i.e., you don’t even want to know who the guest stars are or what the basic plotline is), you might want to skip the entries.

    Also, FWIW, Mallozzi does three BMOC discussions per month: one SF book, one Fantasy, and one Horror, and almost always is able to convince the (living) authors to answer reader questions. It’s kind of awesome.

  22. 22
    Kate says:

    *g*  I was up last night reading Bujold’s speech and writing a post about it, myself – neat synchronicity to find you all talking about her here.  in case you haven’t read it, LMB has a great interview up at the Internet Review of Science Fiction, here (you do have to sign in, but it’s free).  I am quite envious of those who saw her at Devention; I haven’t seen her since Worldcon ‘04.

  23. 23
    Heather says:

    I agree, it was a great speech. Thanks, Sarah, for doing this piece.

    What I thought was kewl was that of all the genres Ms. Bujold could have discussed, she chose SF and Romance. She outlined the challenges of blending the two genres brilliantly. Lots to think about.

    >*g* I was up last night reading Bujold’s speech and writing a post about it

    Kate, I’m chuckling as well because I’m working on a post based on the speech that’ll run next week. Well, the more the merrier.

  24. 24
    GrowlyCub says:

    I was there and I planned to write about it, but a) I got a nasty sinus infection (fortunately not until AFTER I got back home Monday night and b) I’m lazy, seeing how you all have said anything I might have thought up. :)

    I sat between two photo geeks and had a prime view of how their eyes glazed over when she started talking about *gasp* romance…. he he. 

    It was a great convention and I had a blast meeting new people, seeing friends and re-connecting with people I hadn’t seen in many years.  I read very little SF nowadays, but I still managed to have many scheduling conflicts and I can recommend WorldCon to all!  Can’t wait for Montreal next year.

    I did pick up Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace and had her sign it to me (Wanderlust is already on order). She had her own fanclub with her (her daughter) and we had a quick conversation before I toddled off to the next event.  I’m still not quite sure how I would describe Grimspace in relation to romance, but I enjoyed it very much!  Go out and buy it. :)

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