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Romance Science Fiction

Read Ice Planet Barbarians

Read Ice Planet Barbarians (Ice Planet Barbarians, #1)

You’d think being abducted by aliens would be the worst thing that could happen to me. And you’d be wrong. Because now, the aliens are having ship trouble, and they’ve left their cargo of human women – including me – on an ice planet.

And the only native inhabitant I’ve met? He’s big, horned, blue, and really, really has a thing for me…

Now that I’m writing sci-fi romance, I knew I’d need to read Ice Planet Barbarians, even though what I’m writing is basically space opera centered on a relationship versus alien mates (a large part of the SFR sub-genre so far). It’s *the* SFR book right now, reaching the top 5 books sold on Amazon in June. Like, up there with James Patterson. For a self published book, that’s incredible, let alone a self-pubbed book about sexy first contact.

Its popularity has spawned lots of knockoffs in the six years since it originally came out. Turns out I read one of them in December, which was basically a reskin except for the climax.

They’re each pretty short (~200 pages on Kindle) so I cranked through four in one night. It’s a masterclass in compelling the reader to be interested in the next book, seeding curiosity about the next couple that will be featured. I didn’t plan to read four in a row, but I was drawn to continue.

These are the kind of books you kind of don’t want to admit to reading because you know you’ll be judged for it. The title screams B movie / pulp. For the unwarranted reputation romance has as a genre of being trash, the first book in particular feels pretty smutty — although taking a skim back through, they don’t have sex until almost 50%.

“If I have come to one conclusion as an adult, it’s that a healthy depiction of a woman enjoying her sexuality is the most scandalous thing on earth ever.”
— Elyse Discher (reviewer at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) quoted in Dangerous Books for Girls

Physical intimacy is a healthy part of many romantic relationships. Our culture has a problem accepting women’s sexuality, so I have to remember the embarrassment is just puritanical programming I haven’t shaken off. I want our culture to get over its shaming of sex, to stop thinking (healthy) sexuality is worse to portray than violence. Shaming and hiding women’s sexuality makes it easier to push through policies that control and punish women for having sex.

“[T]he more I wrote and researched the subject, the more I came to realize that the status of the romance novel is inextricably linked with the status of women in our society.” Maya Rodale, Dangerous Books for Girls

So I’m not going to downplay the sexual content. It’s not straight-up erotica like people who haven’t read any romance probably imagine, but sex is an important part of the story.

As a sci-fi series, there’s a decent amount of worldbuilding, with creative ecology and a rich backstory. Each couple faces unique barriers and challenges, and each volume advances the overall story. The beginning of book one was a little rougher than I expected, with other women getting raped by their captors and dying. What bothers me about the stories, as a childfree person, is the happily ever after focus on getting pregnant — but that is a common trope in romance, especially alien romances like this one.

The first book was somewhat anti-climactic about the bad guys. The heroine of the second book was a little annoying and childish. I liked the emotional connection of the third story. The fourth book was the weakest of the lot, with some questionable decision-making and several big time jumps.

I appreciated that the (main character) women in these stories were not helpless and scared of / uninterested in everything, unlike some other alien SFR. I liked that the women influenced the culture they joined, demanding changes, rather than simply being absorbed.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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