The problem with genre fiction is the unfortunate stereotypes and assumptions about what subset appeals to what audience. Call something “science fiction,” and it’ll inevitably be marketed to men. Call something “romance,” and the pink covers come out. This isn’t fair to either genre, and it creates a problem when a story is firmly a blend of both. Most of the time, publishers will decide to push in one direction or the other, even when both are in equal measure.
Science fiction romances can be some of the most satisfying stories there are. Consider, of instance, Star Wars. Technically filed under science fiction, love stories—Anakin and Padme, Han and Leia—are its defining aspect. Frankenstein, considered the grandmother of the science fiction novel, is about the longing for love and Victor Frankenstein’s romance with Elizabeth.
The irony is, initially, the two genres were the same. When the Victorians first started writing futuristic novels, they were filed under the genre “scientific romance.” The juxtaposition of old-fashioned human feelings and futuristic technology is the inherent conflict within many of the best sci-fi series. That’s why science fiction romances are some of the hottest reads on this planet or any other
Here are some of our favorite science fiction romances that everyone should read.
The 1982 novel that inspired the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, Rachel Ingalls’ short tale about the lonely housewife who hears about a potentially dangerous monster that has just escaped a research facility is a classic science fiction love story.
In it, Dorothy accidentally meets “Larry” and finds the romance and companionship with him that’s been missing from her marriage and her life. Mrs. Caliban is a romance; it’s science fiction, but it’s also a modern fairy tale mixed with a TV horror movie and absolutely unforgettable.
Romance fans know J.D. Robb as the pseudonym of Nora Roberts, one of the genre’s most prolific and well-known writers. So, of course, her foray into science-fiction (albeit mixed with elements of the mystery thriller) comes with a healthy dosage of heat between her characters.
In 2058, NYC homicide detective Lt. Eve Dallas is drawn into a world of wealth and political intrigue in investigating the death of a Senator’s daughter, only to find herself falling for the prime suspect, the ultra-rich, ultra-hot Roarke. The series has been publishing new installments since the mid-1990s and has around 40+ sequels and counting at this point, but the original is still the best.
The 2014 debut novel that introduced the world of the Galactic Commons, Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is less about science fiction and exploration than a character-driven story about a motley crew of employees who live and work together aboard the Wayfarer ship.
The first book, and its “planet of the week” type adventures, focuses on Rosemary Harper, who is as much in for seeing the far corners of space as she is to escape her past. But the interspecies love stories between the characters (which include an LGBTQ+ F/F hookup) will keep fans reading.
More science fiction with a lot of sex than the story of a passionate romance, Octavia Butler originally wrote Lilith’s Brood as three separate parts of a trilogy: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.
Dawn is the only one with a romantic (ish) sotry, covering the arrival of an alien race, the Oankali, who “rescue” the surviving members of the human race post-nuclear fallout, having decided interbreeding with them will be a mutually beneficial exercise, though humans have to get used to three sexes, male, female, and Ooloi, and sex that involves “braingasms.”
The slavery and relocation parable elements are what make the series a must-read for any student of the science fiction genre, and the books are now packaged and sold only as a set, but Dawn’s tragic love story between the human Lilith and Nikanj, an Ooloi, will stay with you.
Pippa Jay first introduced her Travellers Universe in her 2011 short story, The Bones of the Sea, but the first novel in her Redemption series, Keir, turned her universe into a proper sci-fi romance. Even the back cover blurb is structured like a romance with his-and-hers sections, the titular “Blue demon” Keirlan de Corizi, and the woman who crosses time and space to rescue him, Tarquin Secker.
With as many interstitial stories as novels, their romance is going on six books now, with Keir’s Shadow expected out soon.
I hesitated to add Kushiel’s Dart to this list, though it is probably the first novel a lot of people think of when they think “science fiction + sex.” The 2001 novel centers around Phèdre nó Delaunay, who is born into “the service of Naamah,” which is a fancy way of saying prostitution.
But if you’re looking for a female character whose agency is her own and whose sexual adventures are startlingly healthy, this is a good series, even if her romance with consort Joscelin Verreuil is somewhat secondary to her rise through society.
Set in a dystopian alternate England, Never Let Me Go is told from the point of view of carer Kathy, who, at 31, has been performing this job since graduating from boarding school, known as Hailsham, where she spent her formative years with BFFs Ruth and Tommy.
Kathy’s memories of their lives in the late 1990s, and the slow reveal of Hailsham, is the kind of twist better left to the reader, but the love story of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth is as haunting as the fates they were born to.
It was hard for me to pick out which of the novels for the Vorkosigan Saga to include here, to the point that I almost skipped it entirely. Part of me wants to direct everyone directly to Book 12, A Civil Campaign, which is practically Star Trek crossed with a regency romance.
But the completionist in me demands I send you all to Shards of Honor, book one of this sprawling series, for a proper introduction to Cordelia Naismith, her first meeting with Commander Aral Vorkosigan, and the beginning of their mutual admiration crush between them that blossoms into more.
An old-fashioned epistolary novel set in the future, This Is How You Lose the Time War chronicles the slow-burn, star-crossed, out-of-time love affair that develops between rival Agents Red and Blue. As they cross paths, leaving each other secret messages as they go slowly going from enemies to frenemies to falling in love.
But when Red’s commanding officer catches wind of the emotional affair, Blue’s life is suddenly in danger. Can the past be altered just once more to fix it? The Time War may be lost, but readers’ hearts will be full by the time it’s over.
Ani Bundel is a TV and movie writer at Elite Daily covering all things peak TV and an Associate Editor at PBS/WETA’s Telly Visions, where she co-hosts a weekly podcast by anglophiles for anglophiles. A self-taught journalist from the school of hard knocks, Ani came up blogging in the fast-turn-around era. Ani’s other regular bylines can be found on NBC News THINK.