Karen Lord On The Boundaries Of Science Fiction And Romance

Karen Lord's The Best of All Possible Worlds won RT's Seal of Excellence as the best book of the month, and is the first adult science fiction title to earn the award. One thing RT editors love about the book is that it is the perfect balance of hard sci fi and a sweet, slow-building romance, a combination many readers that exclusively enjoy either the science fiction or romance genres shy away from. Today the author shares how she made this genre combo work for her latest novel, and why she loves it. 

Is it romance? Is it science fiction? Is it hard science fiction? Can we call it literary or is it merely recycled genre tripe? I try not to concern myself with boxes, boundaries and definitions. That’s for the marketers to worry about and the reviewers to debate. I had one story to tell and I wanted to tell it on more than one level. At the macro level, we have communities finding a point of balance between Sadiri and Cygnian cultures. At the micro level, we have Delarua and Dllenahkh, representatives both literally and figuratively of their respective societies. Many stories are based on conflict, but the more pedestrian pace of accommodation and compromise, learning and understanding, can produce a satisfying result. It is a story we see in real life, and it is an ending we hope for, whether the players are countries or lovers, companies or friends.

But that’s only half of the story. Relationships can be supportive and beautiful, but they can also be selfish, manipulative and terribly imbalanced. Cygnians are minor players in the galactic order, and the Sadiri are, or were, the superpower. A single disaster does not change that overnight, especially in view of the difference in mental ability and psionic talent. ‘The Master’s House’ demonstrates how even the illusion of superiority can cause damage long after the reality has passed. Ioan, Delarua’s brother-in-law and former fiancé, displays the casual cruelty of those who think they know better and are better than the ones they claim to love. Slow and cautious development is not merely an indulgence, but a necessity, ensuring sufficient time to gently correct misperceptions and address power imbalances.

Beyond symbolism, I simply enjoyed writing, reading and re-reading the interactions between Dllenahkh and Delarua. When dire and dramatic things are already happening, a quiet, steady romance becomes the haven, not the adventure. They made me smile. I knew that whether they were colleagues, friends or lovers, they were partners in a way that I found deeply comforting.

There is a point in the story when Delarua is worried about another couple, Nasiha and Tarik, and she half-jokingly explains her concern with the phrase ‘mummy and daddy are fighting’. There are real and fictional couples that demand a happily-ever-after from even the most pragmatic, the most cynical, the most forever-allergic of us. We may (or may not) be slightly ashamed of our emotional investment in a bond that does not include us ... and yet, in a mythic and not fully explicable way, it does include us. We are part of it because as a community of individuals we are interested in the successful communion of individuals.

The Best of All Possible Worlds may not resemble the usual romance or science fiction novel. I am often surprised by what I end up writing, and glad that I can overturn my own expectations. Perhaps it is romance, and science-fiction, and literary, and fantastical and everything that I intended and also what I did not intend. I hope that it creates its own comfort zone regardless of whatever category or classification it is given.

- Karen Lord

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