Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Issue 169, Volume 16 -- December 2012 / January 2013


How important is the element of romance to a Science-Fiction story? I can see that it is almost a requirement in a Fantasy genre story, but is a romantic side plot right for a story that you're writing? Andre Norton managed to weave G-rated romance into quite a few of her novels. Marion Zimmer Bradly added in tasteful plot points of both male/female and male/male romance into her Darkover books. So tasteful that if a reader wasn't paying strict attention to the subtext, they'd miss it entirely. There is romance even in Terry Pratchet's Discworld novels. Now, I'm not talking about the occasional semi-explicit sex scenes that some books contain. My focus here is on romance, a love story element and whether or not it can be used to bring your characters more life within the story. I have used romance as a story element in several of my stories, but I personally prefer to keep any actual sex off-stage, as it were. But this is just what I feel comfortable writing. I primarily write adventure stories, and I've found that there are times when the story is in full flow a couple of the lead characters sometimes do tend to develop a romance as I'm composing the tale. Not something I usually plan to have in the story, but when I reach the point where the characters take over and start telling me what to say, sometimes they're falling in love with one another. So obviously there is a romance circuit in my brain that kicks in when characters start behaving a certain way towards one another. It works for me as a writer, on those occasions.

But, aside from the "I do it" element, my question is "is it necessary?" Does it advance the plot? Does it improve or detract from the story? Does it improve the characters? Does a romance within the story read as if it were a natural thing between the characters concerned?

My view is that if it makes the story more fun to read, leave it in. Anything that makes the story less fun to read should be considered for editing out. But that's just me. What works for me might not work for everyone. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you can't have bad things happen to your characters. It'd be a pretty boring story that didn't have challenges for the characters to overcome. And there's no need to be sexist, either. In one story I have my Mighty He-Man Hero clubbed in the head and his girlfriend having to save him from the Big Badguy. And that wasn't even a re-edit. The scene just played out in my head that way. My hero wound up taking a blackjack to the head and his girlfriend leapt in to save the day. That scene worked a whole lot better that way than it would have if I'd made my hero ten feet tall and bulletproof, and his girlfriend a helpless paper-doll cutout.

But my original question remains, how important to a story is a romantic plot element?

I would guess that if said romance advances the story, fleshes out those characters, improves the reader's experience, and "feels" real for those characters, then it is a good addition to a story. If it comes off as a forced thing added in just to have an additional plot point, then a rewrite may be in order. I'd really like to see a long discussion in the Forums on this topic. What are *your* views? I'd really like to know.

And now, we come to the point in the editorial where I recommend that people go read this issue's stories while I shut up and exit, Stage Left. This is our annual double-sized Holiday Issue, so there are twice as many stories for your reading pleasure. Ready? Ste? Go read! And may each of you enjoy the very best holiday season you've ever had so far!


Serials and Long Fiction

The Lonely Sea
By Ian Donato
He had given twenty years of his life to the Research Center and its quest to perfect the lifeform that would inherit the Earth -- but somehow, only a single year had passed in the outside world. Going back seemed like the only way forward...
*** Contains adult language ***

*** Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwaanza, etc., etc. Welcome to the year-end-spanning December / January Short Story section!***


Modification Program
By Adam Folgers
Jerry was a Correctional Officer in a time when the worst offenders were sentenced to life in a virtual world that was bland to the point where actual torture might have been more humane. Not that his job was any cause for celebration...

Petticoat Lane
By Matt Spencer
In Petticoat Lane, the young toughs led by Tommy and Pete ruled with their fists and when necessary with their blades. The strange little man with the pushcart full of oddities seemed like an easy target -- until they got a closer look.
*** Contains graphic violence ***

The Quantum Effect
By E. S. Strout
Professor Darwin Royal believed that CERN's plan to use the Large Hadron Collider to create a quantum singularity -- a microscopic black hole -- was a threat to the very existence of the world. Nobody who had any say in the matter believed him... which meant that he needed a way out.

A Stormy Night at Wellington Depot
By Rick Grehan
Bob had been stationmaster at the little New Hampshire train station ten years longer than the 20th Century was old, and his friend Everett had been postmaster for almost as long. They might not have seen everything, but it took more than a stranger with a box full of odd, changing colored lights to upset them.

Who's Watching?
By Kasia James
Sarah and the rest of the scientists stationed in the habitat deep in the ocean of an alien world thought the huge, tentacled creatures they called 'gluppies' were about as intelligent as the jellyfish they somewhat resembled. Sure, the 'gizmos' -- self-directed mobile recording drones -- kept going missing, but there were dozens of reasons why they might fail on their own.

God of the Mud
By Philip Roberts
Shane's job had disappeared, leaving him with enough money to spend years doing nothing -- but nothing else, no friends, no family, no hobbies. But with so much time on his hands, Shane noticed things he hadn't seen before -- like the little girl who seemed attached to the pool of mud that never dried up.

Ghost in the Machine
By Michele Dutcher
The nanoswarms had rendered Mars uninhabitable in a matter of days. Only the rich and the ruthless had escaped to their orbital habitats and self-sufficient ships. Nothing could be alive on the surface -- but routine surveillance seemed to show that something was moving.


A Hell Called Paradise
By R. K. Solomon
He had been abducted by aliens (complete with painful tests and probing). But now he was in a strange, garden-like setting, and a guy who said he was God (and insisted on calling him "Adam", which was not his name) claimed he was in Paradise.

Shirasawa's Promise
By Jay Hill
The maple tree spirits Miyabe and Shirasawa were in love, and Miyabe wanted her to be his bride. But with war against the renegade willow spirits imminent, Shirasawa was afraid.

Love Bomb
By Craig Cornwell
Professor Raif Random's machine -- unimaginatively named 'the 4641' -- could read emotion by interpreting involuntary physiological reactions. Some saw it as a weapon and wanted to possess it. Others saw it as a threat, and only wanted to suppress it. Unfortunately for Raif, both sides were willing to get nasty to get their way!

The Circular Nature of Time
By Hollis Whitlock
Francine's clone line was nine hundred years old, dating back to the days before genetic manipulation had resulted in stronger, healthier specimens all but incapable of natural reproduction. The unmodified primitives were considered to be a resource, maintained as an experiment in case useful mutations might arise due to their harsh lives. But Goliath and his tribemates seemed to be far more sophisticated than expected...

The Sodium Caper
By Frederick Rustam
Rudy had the very bad habit of luring young boys into sexual relations with him. The aliens who took over his mind and body had no way of knowing that they were using someone who so richly deserved to be used as their puppet.

The Journey to the Serpiente Sea
By Hollis Whitlock
The dwarf Minero had had a very good day mining for precious stones. His pouch was filled with small rubies, and one so large that he thought the king would reward him well for it. But first, he wanted to eat, so he set out to find a good fishing spot. Alas, the new road was paved with bureaucrats and soldiers demanding taxes and tolls...

The Hand
By Omar Zahzah
You've all heard the one about the transplanted hand with a mind of its own. But have you heard the hand's side of the story?

***November 2012 Forum Challenge***

Congratulations to Robert Moriyama, winner of the December 2012 Forum Flash Fiction Challenge. Check out Robert's tale "Hunter's Remorse" and six more stories of monsters racked with guilt here, after sampling this month's editorial, poetry, short stories, and long fiction, of course...

Poetry and Filk Music

The Chauffeurs' Creed
by Joseph B. St. John

Found Reckoning
by Jean Jones

by Richard Tornello

Good Day in the Interstellar Tow Lane
by Mike Wilson

by Robin Lipinski

Rabbit's Foot
by Clinton Van Inman


Thoughts on Writing #44: I Don't Gotta Like You To Love You
By Seanan McGuire
In an ongoing series, Seanan McGuire takes apart the engine of writing to find out how it works, and offers her insights into how to put it back together again. In this entry, she reminds us that we may not like the characters we create -- but once we make 'em, we have to stay true to what we've made.

Aphelion Webzine is © 1997-2013 by Dan L. Hollifield