Let’s talk about sex, baby. And SF.


Think about your favorite SF novels. Now consider how much sex takes place in them.

Think of your favorite SF films & TV shows. Is there more sex or less than the books?

I’m curious about this proscription, to be honest. Most of the SF I’ve read (with the exception of Heinlein) seems to operate on the assumption that human beings are divorced from their sex drives in the future. But at the same time, they don’t include it in the worldbuilding. Frex: The year is 2304. Natural reproduction has been eliminated. They all use robot nannies and live in bubbles. (Wow, that sounds like a really terrible dystopian actually.) No, the writers just don’t look at it, like it’s a creepy person singing and touching himself on the subway. I don’t want to read SF like that. I want to know how my heroes and heroines feel, what they’re looking for. I think this is a critical part of diversity in the genre, to be honest. If there’s no sex in SF, there can be no questions about sexual orientation. There should be gay men and lesbians in SF, and if you don’t at least nod at their sex lives, then you’re basically omitting them from the genre. I say balls to that. Action and plot are necessary, but for me it rings hollow without emotional development.

I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years for all kinds of things, but it especially seems to rile some readers up when they realize I’ve included sex scenes in my SF aka smut & filth. Let me state for the record: I don’t consider sex to be smut or filth, and it kind of aggravates me when it’s referred to that way. I’m really puzzled by certain aspects of American society, where casual violence is fine, but let loving, consensual sex enter the picture and suddenly it’s something we need to protest. That’s a different post, however, so back to SF. Why can’t there be sex and relationships and SF? Why does that suddenly make it something else, something other?

I’m opening the floor to talk about this now; I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll give a random commenter a copy of Perdition.

+1 bonus entry: tell me who is the sexiest SF character ever & why.

Posted in books, contest, sci-fi, teh sex

37 Responses to Let’s talk about sex, baby. And SF.

  1. Rebecka says:

    I don’t read much sci fi (used to say I prefer to read fantasy and watch scifi), and a lot of it nowadays seems to be more towards dystopian YA, and YA tends to not have much sex cause of the “young” bit. Maybe the reason I haven’t read much sci fi is cause what I’ve come across has felt so “heavy”. Probably why I love your Jax series so very very much, it’s easy to read and many times through it I thought “This would make such a good tv show”.

    I love the inclusion of sex in your work. It doesn’t feel like you’re suddenly throwing porn into it for the sake of it. The sex is there cause it fits, and it’s written in a way that is appropriate for the story. Again, it isn’t porn.

    As for the books vs visual media… it all depends on where you look. In general it feels like sex has been removed from both books and tv/movies. I understand it for the latter as they have to deal with age ratings and such, but one wild the writers of books would take the opportunity to include some, as you have. I think maybe sex/reproduction is an easy thing to change in sci fi. It’s an integral part of humanity and how life works. So when you want to make it “other”, possibly a bit dystopian or put your story in a more “efficient” and sterile environment, reproduction is an easy and effective thing to mess with.

    Onto sexiest scifi character (with continuous discussion)!
    For me that’d be Aeryn Sun from Farscape. For starters Claudia Black is one fine looking woman. So Aeryn wins even if we are just staying totally superficial. But we’re not. As a character she’s great. Starts of as this cold soldier with, seemingly, not that many dimensions. Through the show she evolves so much. Her characterization is expanded but we don’t lose any of what was cool and intriguing about her in the beginning. She’s still this kickass fighter pilot, but she has other sides to her as well. And wel, since this is a question about sexiness you can’t ignore looks. Apart from what I mentioned earlier about being gorgeous, she also moves in a way that’s just dayum. Very sure of herself and her body. Strong, fierce and can wield a pulse rifled like no other. And that hair! And the leather!

    And Farscape… well, the you have a show that doesn’t shy away from some sexiness. Might not be able to show too much due to restrictions from the broadcasting company and such, but they show us what they can. “Meltdown” anyone? But we sure get more than most other tv shows, and they weren’t again of the Moonlighting curse either.
    If you then look at the Peacekeepers you see the sci fi way of reproduction. It’s mostly controlled by assigning partners for conception. The pregnancy is put on hold until a doctor gets it going (good reasoning for that though them being soldiers on deployment. No difference between men and women, and you don’t want a soldier suddenly incapacitated by something growing inside while deployed) and then it’s fast and easy to get the soldier back on her feet again. Genetic engineering hooray! Most would stop there right? Getting rid of that pesky sex business. Not Farscape, oh no. The Peacekeepers think sex is a good thing. Blow off some steam. Get your body balanced again. So they encourage lovers and sexy times. Now that’s good sci fi.

    (and since I thought The Jax series would make such good tv I of course started to think about actors. Always want Claudia Black in there somewhere, and first thought she’d be great as Jax. Well, that is if it was made when Farscape was. Now it’s a bit late. So hey, let’s have her as Sirantha’s mother ;D )

  2. Ann Aguirre says:

    I’m with you on Claudia Black. And her chemistry with Ben Browder was amazing. I loved Farscape SO MUCH. Jax gets compared a lot to Firefly, but it was actually Farscape that I loved.

  3. Rebecka says:

    Oh my goodness yes. Claudia and Ben’s chemistry was off the charts! John and Aeryn didn’t even need to have sex, we could see it all in the tiniest of movement. The way they acted around each other… effortlessly loving. All those small touches that seem unconscious and makes their relationship on screen feel real and believable.
    I suppose one reason Aeryn is such a sexy sci fi character and my favourite, is because of John Crichton (and vice versa of course). They just make each other sexier than they are on their own.

    I do see the Firefly (anoher one of my fave sci fis. Farscape always wins though) in the Jax series. I remember feeling that mixed with some of Battlestar Galactica. Jax herself had a lot of Kara Thrace in her. Now BSG, that’s another show that does sexy sci fi well.
    But yeah, I think the Firefly comparison has a lot to do with the small ship with the tight crew that takes in this weird girl and she becomes part of their family.

    Also, I so love that you’re a Scaper!

  4. Rebecka says:

    Darn, I totally forgot to weigh in on the sexuality thing. Farscape is distracting okay? (so hey, sorry if it seems like I’m taking over this comment section)

    I so agree with you. There need to be more sexual diversity with characters in sci fi. Battlestar Galactica tried. Sadly they made half of the lesbian pair a right psycho and never really showed us anything anyway. And the to gay men got their moment in a freakin web series. Not cool. Caprica (the prequel series) did better. Collest character was a gay hitman for the mafia and he was the only one with a stable relationship (at least as far as I watched). But they didn’t get any action either. But tbh, did anyone in that show? They also had a poly family featured which was nice. In that world polyamory was the slightly “different” orientation, as homosexuality is today. But being gay was seen as totally normal and the aforementioned character was from a more traditional society that I’d think in our world today would be the ones least likely to accept homosexuality. So I suppose that was nice.

    In general I just want more queer characters on my tv. Main characters. Characters who are not defined by their sexuality. Give me a crime show where the lead investigator man happens to go home to his husband and that’s that. And definitely give me a sci fi show with some awesome queer characters. I need good sci fi and I need those characters.

    … just make a tv series about Dina and Hit. Kicking ass, takin names and tinkering with ships.
    Oh and I want to say, I do love how you “revealed” Dina’s sexuality. No big thing. As it should be. In general: you’re good with the gayness. And I love it.

  5. Erin says:

    There is a difference between sex in novels or TV and porn. It seems that some people cannot separate the two. Some critics will point at the sex and call it porn to have something to be negative about. SF is the perfect venue to have a discussion about sex, sexual orientation, and sexual issues. It always has been. Why does society shy away from something healthy like sex when violence and what could be called “torture porn” films are so popular?

    I wonder if maybe some writers are too afraid to attempt sex in their novels due to that porn/smut/filth label. They shouldn’t be. A novel doesn’t suddenly become porn for one or even a few scenes that involve a natural human interaction. The emotional development is needed and you’re right, it can be hollow without it or at least a nod to it.

  6. Starla says:

    Oi. This issue gives me constant headaches. As an SFR author myself, I struggle with trying to reconcile the “casual violence is okay but no bumping body parts!” problem. SF readers shy away from the Romance label, and I regularly have to convince Romance readers that the SF in my SFR is totally understandable and not something to be scared of. Once they get past their initial hesitation, they’re usually pleasantly surprised that they enjoyed the story (feels and science included!). I don’t understand why, when love and sex are every day occurrences and so crucial to the human experience, why it’s left out of so many stories. Where do they think all these people came from?

    At the same time, I do think any “action” needs to be pertinent to the story. Throwing a sex scene in just to throw one in cheapens it for sure, and it may be why so many folks see the Romance label and think it’s a loosely veiled attempt at running a string of encounters together for the sake of titillation only. While some might be guilty of that, so many aren’t, and the ones that do it right are the ones that suffer for it.

    I suppose all we can do is keep putting out good fiction and doing what we can to educate folks. And sighing tiredly.

  7. Erica Dakin says:

    I also find it really weird that people have no problem with graphic violence, but as soon as there’s even a hint of sex then it’s all ‘wah, this is horrible, put it away!’ which is rather hypocritical in my opinion. My three favourite genres are Romance, Fantasy and Sci-Fi (not necessarily in that order). Romance *needs* sex; as far as I’m concerned it’s not complete without it. Fantasy and Sci-Fi can easily incorporate it. A lot of people say it needs to have purpose, which I suppose is true, but I’m pretty easy as a reader, so if there’s a nice steamy sex scene in a book I’m not going to analyse the whys and whatfors and complain that it was superfluous.
    That said, I agree that Sci-Fi seems to have less sex than Fantasy, and I don’t really see why. To me the most desirable future is the one on display in Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, where life is one big hedonistic paradise. The fact that Banks has managed to still cram enough conflict into novels with that background makes them extra awesome.
    Lastly, my personal most sexy Sci-Fi character is Marcus Cole from Babylon 5. He was absolutely everything I could wish for, and the poor sod was so deeply in love with Ivanova! (Who admitted to being in love with Talia Winters, so that’s one gay character at least, even if they never really did anything with that.)

    So anyway, I like sex, bring it on. I wish people would stop whining about it.

    • venus velvet says:

      I loved Ivonova’s character, and had forgotten who Marcus Cole was. Looking him up, I read on wiki that JMS showed Ivanova having his body preserved in cryogenic suspension, and in a later story, “Space, Time and the Incurable Romantic,” had him brought out hundreds of years later, making a clone of Ivanova and living HEA . I don’t know how that worked out, story-wise, but am glad to hear even JMS wishes for happy endings.

      Stayed up all night reading Perdition, and loved it. Need to reread more slowly. Would’ve felt cheated without the sex scenes, and how it showed the emotional intimacy and vulnerability of the characters.

  8. SciFiMagpie says:

    Sexiest character ever? >.> <.< Toss-up between John Chriton and Aeryn Sun from Farscape. *ahem*

    As a bi person myself, the sex question always is more interesting. I certainly wrote romance into my last urban fantasy novel, and some sex as well, but my previous two sci fi novellas were only lightly dusted with sex. I think it's a rounded part of human interaction, and that we'll see more of it as sci fi romance rises. Me, I love SFR; it's the only kind of romance I can stomach and enjoy.

  9. Diva says:

    I’m in total agreement that SF without sex is just lacking in something that deals very directly with our existence as feeling human beings. Personally, great world building and “special effects” might draw me into a story initially but it’s the characters and how they interact with each other that keeps me there and that compels my mind to go over the story repeatedly long after it’s done. Is sex a part of that? It absolutely can be. Plus, if there are any space ships of any kind involved, you can’t expect me to believe that that many men and women are all cooped up together for weeks/months/years and no one is getting it on. I mean, c’mon!

  10. Ah!! FARSCAPE!!!!! I can totally see Claudia Black playing Jax. Firefly is awesome, but Farscape is the most over-looked, awesome piece of SF ever produced on TV. My whole family watched it, from the beginning, every week. And cried and threw hissy fits when it was cancelled. It’s my go-to muse recharger. Aeryn and Crichton always get my vote for best on-screen chemistry. So many layers to both of them, and to their relationship.

    I see both sides of the issue. I have very firm lines about how much sex I want in a book, and how explicit I’m willing for it to be. When that line is crossed, I don’t go back to that author. Erotic anything crosses that line for me, so I have some sympathy for those who complain about SFR being nothing but sex. From the gobs of books I’ve looked at and crossed off my list I agree it’s a valid statement. (But getting a conversation started about it without being accused of being a prude, a snob, or a woman-hater is nigh onto impossible.) There’s not a lot out there–easily found, right now–for the reader like me (who doesn’t own a Kindle and refuses to shop at Amazon) who isn’t interested in that.

    For me as a romance reader, I also find the lack of multiple viewpoints and the semi-popularity of first person off-putting. I crossed a book off my TBR list last week when I found it was first person and calling itself a romance. That’s not a romance to me. I read romance for both POV’s, and I actually prefer it skewed to him. It’s part of why I’m enjoying my paranormal exploration so much: it skews to him. I write heavily skewed to him. My first SFR is three-to-one his POV.

    Sex and intimate relationships are part of being human. For some people, being human is the scariest thing ever. I also tend to lean toward leaving sex and procreation out of the character dynamic as a cop-out. As writers we need to stare the hard stuff in the face and conquer it. Not use science to explain away the very thing that makes us human.

    I’m also not one who wants to read about same-sex relationships of any kind. That’s a line I won’t cross, unless I know the author’s voice, have already met the characters, and trust her not to take me to a place I’m not willing to go (Sherrilyn Kenyon). Being inclusive is all fine and dandy, BUT, it should not be done for the sake of doing it. If it’s not part of the story, not part of the character’s development, not important to the plot, it doesn’t matter. And I say this as someone currently writing a bi hero. His past relationship with a man (though he’s married to a woman now) is why he is who he is. Without that relationship he ceases to be. When it’s done like that, great! Bring it on, I’ll read it. But if you do it for the sake of saying “look at me! See how diverse I am!” puh-lease. You’ve lost me and I don’t give two figs how diverse you think you are because it adds nothing to the characters or the plot.

    I feel the same way about sex scenes. If it doesn’t show character growth, if it doesn’t move the plot forward, it doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be there. And I feel the same way about lust being confused for love. Huge difference. I’m a very traditional girl, and I want to see SFR as accepting of a traditional viewpoint as it is of non-traditional ones.

  11. Sex and sci-fi can go together like a fluffer-nutter sandwich. The way scifi is so detail-oriented by nature makes it really easy for a detail oriented writer to weave stellar sex into his/ her book. There’s a big group of us on Facebook called the Science Fiction Romance Brigade that banded together a few years ago to help promote sci-fi romance as a sub genre. We have our own fanpage to promote the genre and a group for discussing anything and everything SFR, Farscape included. This post showed up there, which is how I found out about it. Sure, it’s not going to be to everybody’s taste, but there’s an audience out there who can appreciate it. Personally I write less fluff and more nut with futuristic erotic romance and I will totally own the smut label and wear it like a freaking badge because what I write is different and I’m damn proud of it. Get ’em riled up, better pissed off than indifferent I say.

  12. As usual, I’m with Starla on this. What I try to tell my readers is that the scifi I write is just everyday situations in a future world. There are relationships of every kind, gay, straight, familial, and platonic, and though they live in a post-apocalyptic society, they are still human. I’ve actually been told by readers I don’t have enough sex! Ha! Regardless, relationships between humans or aliens or robots still focus on basic desires and sex should not be discluded just because it’s frowned upon by the more conservative set.

    Speaking of sex in scifi, damn I love Firefly for all the reasons mentioned in the comments above. Even Star Trek tackled sex and sexual orientation! Does it make me a bad person that I was attracted to Jason Momoa from Stargate SG1 way before he was ever Kal Drogo? Heh. I’m sure tons of others are with me on this one ;)

  13. SandraS says:

    Ann, the replies you have gotten are so thoughtful and concise I don’t feel like I have much to add. As a reader, I want a compelling story that makes sense to me especially when it is a SF. I like to see intimacy whether or not sex is involved. Does that make sense? I think a writer putting in sex scenes just to put them in is very evident and takes away from the story. I am afraid that is becoming a trend.
    Who didn’t love Spock when he returned to Vulcan under the uncontrollable urges from the *spelling* pon far? I am so dating myself. I could have loved more touching and skin in that episode and vulnerability. Oh, and Colonel O’Neil, Richard Dean Anderson was hot as McGiver and beyond. Oh, and Harrison Ford in the original star wars was so swarthy and smarthy. We didn’t have enough sex back then, and yet they all were very sexy.
    Ultimately, the imagination is much more pleasing than explicit sex scenes.

  14. Leah says:

    These are all great comments and I really don’t have anything to add either! I will say that I also wish there was more sex and romance in sci fi. After the Jax series, I read Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy (highly recommend) and then a few other authors and then I felt stuck! There just isn’t a whole lot out there.
    My sexiest sci fi man would be Captain Mal from Firefly… Can’t go wrong with Nathan Fillion ;-)

  15. Mary Groh says:

    Sex and intimacy are very natural human needs and I think that if the author is focusing on the characters and the story rather than endless action it’s irresponsible to not at least mention one of those things. It seems a little lazy to just ignore that side of humanity when you’re trying to make a character as real as possible. Of course this goes for all genres not just SF. My favorite SF character is Colonel O’Neill from Stargate, a sexy, older man with a sense of humor yet still kicks ass? Yes, please! ;)

  16. Ana says:

    It’s not really about sex, it’s about romance. This is based purely on my personal impressions from my (very limited and rather backward) personal corner of the universe, but… SF used to be a men’s genre. And most men feel uncomfortable thinking or reading about emotional relationships. If it was just plain old sex like you see in porn films, it wouldn’t bother them, but if an emotional relationship between characters is being explored – in other words, if romance is involved – they want nothing to do with it. And some women seem to work very hard on emulating male behavior, to show they are emancipated, I guess, so they turn up their noses at anything that has romance in it too. There is also the issue of literature with elements of romance (including sex) being perceived as somehow less worthy. I know plenty of people who enjoy such literature but are reluctant to mention it because they think people will think less of them.

    That said, I don’t think there’s any point in discussing whether there should be sex in SF or not. Every writer is different and has his or her unique take on the genre. Modern technology has luckily given us access to an unimaginable wealth of authors and books to choose from and I’m sure everyone can find something to their liking instead of complaining to writers because they did this or that. I’m really annoyed by people who feel the urge to harass writers in general just because they can. Author’s should be true to themselves and whoever doesn’t like it has plenty of other authors to choose from.

  17. Sandyg265 says:

    I can’t say that I’ve read much science fiction with sex in it. I think writers seem to be more concerns with the futuristic world than relationships. But I wouldn’t have any problem reading a book that combined a futuristic worl with human relationships and sex as long as it was well done.

  18. The general lack of sex in a lot of my SF/F doesn’t bother me much, actually–but then, I’m a weirdo who actually doesn’t really care to read much on-camera sex, no matter what genre I’m reading. ;) I tend to be of the mindset that spending time with characters in a story is like hanging out with cool people, but in real life, if I know cool people, _doesn’t mean I want to watch them having sex_. Like Sandra up on comment #13, I tend to find that my imagination pleases me a lot more than many explicit sex scenes do. (Which, yeah, I know, makes me rather weird for a romance reader. ;) )

    But that said, I do appreciate a periodic fleeting reference that “why yes, these two characters are in fact now getting it on”. Doesn’t have to be explicit; in fact, I appreciate a clever fade-to-black a lot more than an explicit sex scene, _unless_ there’s something in that scene that’s specifically advancing the plot or providing really interesting character development. Otherwise I’ll just skim right past it. One of my favorite uses of fleeting references to sex was in C.E. Murphy’s fantasy novel _The Queen’s Bastard_, where the lead character absolutely used her sexual encounters in plot-pertinent ways, but there was no particular need to spell each one out. That was _awesome_.

    If you want to hook me, though, give me a well-developed romance. Because yes, I absolutely agree–emotional connections are indeed a fundamental part of human existence, and it’s always been disappointing to me that SF/F as a genre in general tends to look down in it. And yeah, I gotta agree with Ana at #16 as well–SF/F has historically been a boys’ playground.

    My sexiest character–it’d be REAL easy for me to say Han Solo, just because _Harrison goddamn Ford_, but actually? I always found Indiana Jones sexier. Because while I AM enough of a sucker for the Scoundrel that I did play him for two and a half years in a Star Wars online game (I DO love me some Han), Jones’ being an archaeologist and therefore periodically using his brain was delicious. Indy with glasses. Yum. :) (Also, re: tantalizing the imagination–that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they’re on Sallah’s verandah and Indy’s all wind-ruffled and suntanned and his shirt’s half-unbuttoned? YUM.)

  19. So far as elevating – even glorifying – senseless violence and repressing sexuality, you’re looking at the root nub of puritanical American culture. Early science fiction, published in the pulps, apparently went along with that. Happily? One can’t say for sure. Perhaps it was equal parts editor’s taste and a recognition that getting labelled as publishing ‘smut’ would quickly shut down a publication. (SF had all kinds of identity issues vis-a-vis mainstream culture, it just didn’t need to borrow another issue.)
    It is also well known that one of the most influential editors in the field, John W. Campbell Jr., routinely had anything resembling sex excised from works published in Astounding/Analog.
    His influence has taken quite some time to wear off and is not completely gone.
    There have been breakaway efforts. One of the greatest practitioners was Philip Jose Farmer (The Lovers, Flesh, others); many of the works in Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthologies deal directly with the subject as have Sturgeon and others.
    There was even a story (title and author escape me at this moment) that directly pitted violence against sex – as a way to highlight this strange dichotomy. Eric Frank Russell even tried to impregnate an entire galaxy in The Great Experiment.

    On the other hand: for myself, I can tell you that if I were meeting an alien species for the first time, or landing on an unexplored planet for the first time, or trying to survive a planetary invasion, or seriously on the verge of inventing a fabulous new technology, I wouldn’t be thinking too much about sex, something that is relatively easy to acquire opportunities for, vs the relative infrequency of those SF trope kinds of things. Sex would be something that entered the picture after those events (celebratory, for example), but would be a huge annoyance during those events. (Not now dear, the aliens are going to eat us if I can’t figure out how to talk to them…) Or it might take the route that Niven has gone on several occasions with his “rishathra” (“sexual practice outside one’s own species but within the intelligent hominoids.” of the Ringworld) where it helps to move the plot along, provides a few minor insights into character but it a tool rather than a central plot element.
    There’s certainly no reason not to go there now; the field has opened up, readers are more accepting, but as always, it has to be inside of a well-written, compelling story if it’s going to go anywhere.

  20. Tack says:

    Since I cut my teeth on the “Tom Swift” series (YASF?) and moved on from Azimov and Bradbury to Zelazny, I remember a lot of the “romance”, if it was included at all, as being little more than titillating hints. As much as I would enjoy more intimacy or even explicit sex of my own particular appetites, stubbing a toe on something too far out of my comfort zone leads me to cross the author off my list.

    Ursula LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” opened the topic of sexual diversity in a non-threatening way, but the male-on-male sex in “Dahlgren” (author?), and the bizzaro/bestiality in Silverberg’s “Son of Man” were trash-worthy.

    Nobody above mentioned the original “Terminator”, and the sex between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, certainly central to the plot, was explicit enough that we would not see it in the dumbed-down, mass market science fiction today. Fans in discussion forums on The Sarah Connor Chronicles have proposed sex between John Connor and the cyborg Cameron, which could be written as a profound exploration of ethics, if the networks weren’t so terrified of it. Some have even suggested exploring that relationship with the same terminator “chip” or “program instance” in male/female chassis (shades of LeGuin’s gender changing). Realistically, this would be off-putting to many viewers.

    One book I recall as addressing the topic of diverse sexual orientation in a particularly relevant way, is Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War”, where the straight couple at the center of the plot became known as “the old queers” as Earth culture changes while they are away.

    The general lack of sex in science fiction may stem in part from science fiction’s utility as a tool to convey the cultural consequences of specific changes in technology, or environment, to as wide an audience, perhaps as YOUNG an audience as possible. Including explicit or diverse sex may appeal to some, but may also limit who is allowed to see the work, who is willing to stay to the end, and who will accept the message.

    The sexiest sci-fi character ever? This is a trick question, right? I’m going to avoid the obvious answer of Firefly’s Inara, and go with Rosalind: the telepath-cousin/partner of narrator David, in John Wyndham’s “Rebirth”, a post-nuclear-apocalypse story. We’ve never seen her on film, but she, and their mutual telepath sex, left a lasting impression on me.

    Another question I’d like to pose: “What is (are?) your most memorable science fiction romantic/sexual situation?”

  21. Riley says:

    Your question has caused me to take a look at my reading preferences. I tend to read pure escapism. I stay away from contemporary settings, preferring historical, fantasy and futuristic novels. Kind of like a vacation in small time increments, I want my reading to take me far away. I used to think that was how to describe my reading preferences.

    But now I realize I like an element of the familiar in them.

    I’m talking about relationships. With people. By people, I refer to humans along with aliens and otherworldly creatures, male, female, family, friends, lovers, husbands, wives. This makes a book accessible to me. I suspect this is true of many and probably most readers.

    The escapist in me likes historical and futuristic relationships to be new or developing. Which often leads to romance, which may lead to what we are talking about – sex. Sex is simply one way for people to connect, which then brings me back to the present, since every day, I connect with people. So much for escapism!

    Is sex out of place in SF? Considering that futuristic literature is about what may be, I hope that sex is not out of place. Perish the thought! Do people who prefer their future with no sex really exist? And if they do, how many books are they buying? Think about that IF you want to sell books.

    I have to add that a great plot is equally important for a book to become something I will remember and talk about. But relationships can be a driving element within a great plot.

    Enough about sex. Sexiest SF character. I have recently been re-watching Farscape on Pivot. There are so many things I loved about that show that was far ahead of it’s time. But for now, I’m talking about Crichton. Sensitive, good looking, compassionate, down-to-Moya, and most importantly, brainy!. When you combine brains and brawn, that is a hot combination!

  22. venus velvet says:

    I never saw Farscape, but now I’m planning to check it out, after reading all the comments. I haven’t read much sci-fi, but Val Con from the Liaden books stands out as a memorable hero.

  23. Laz says:

    Some of the military SciFi has references to sex in it. Co-ed squads often talk about it during their R&R (eg Tanya Huff, Elizabeth Moon). CJ Cherryh’s Union/Alliance books refer to sex on a small ship, and there are some humorous sideways glances in her Chanur and Foreigner books. But I can’t imagine Jack McDevitt writing a sex scene, or Isaac Asimov – yuk.

    Over at GR there is a long thread hashing the fact that men tend to avoid erotica. As a genre, you could argue that women don’t read hard SciFi (yes the commenters above counter that, but you’re a self selecting group).

    It is interesting that SciFi on TV is always sexy (StarTrek, BSG, etc – but not Star Wars!) but the written works avoid it. Could it be “write what you know”? SciFi nerds don’t get much action…

    As for the sexiest written SciFi character – Friday by a mile! On TV, give me Uhura or Boomer/Athena.

  24. Tom says:

    I’ve read nearly exclusively sci-fi/fantasy since I was probably 11 years old (longer ago than I want to admit)…and until you mentioned it, I couldn’t figure out what was missing. This intimate, personal relationship side of most characters is so rarely developed that instances I read a decade ago stand out starkly in my mind (F’Nor taking care of Brekke in one of the Dragonriders of Pern books, for instance). Thanks for pointing it out…and thanks for giving me a great reason to dive into your books with your fresh view on this perspective.

  25. Laz says:

    Not to push Goodreads (though Ann and Ava are well loved there), but here is the link to the Erotic SciFi group.


    It’s not very active, but you can find a good list of books.

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  28. James Davis Nicoll says:

    Someone linked to this, is why I noticed it.

    Most of the SF I’ve read (with the exception of Heinlein) seems to operate on the assumption that human beings are divorced from their sex drives in the future.

    Is there a specific time frame you were looking at? You mention Heinlein, who has been dead nearly 30 years, so I wonder if that’s because he’s still an icon or because you were delving into olden time SF. Assuming for no good reason the second, you may have missed some material. Awful, awful material, at least for SF written by men: the gap between male SF writers beginning to put sex in their stories [0] and them belatedly discovering women were people was fifteen, twenty years long so while I can point you at old SF stories that include sex [1], like Hawksbill Station, Stand on Zanzibar, or that one Norman Spinrad did where FTL drives required a frigid woman, if they are from between, oh, 1965 and 1985 I am probably not doing you any favours.

    (Actually, I don’t remember Pangborn’s Davy being too bad but I have not read it in decades. Pangborn in general I think was OK. He undermines my point so I won’t mention him. And I won’t mention Panshin’s Rite of Passage either for similar reasons and because I think it was a blink and you miss it scene. But it is there)

    For more balanced views of people in older SF stories with sex in, there’s Joanna Russ and of course Tiptree embraced human sexuality in her works with exactly the same level of joy and optimism she did all forms of human activity. Elizabeth Lynn also comes to mind. I am noticing that these are all women, yes. Oh, Octavia Butler, have to mention her.

    Lee Killough’s Doppleganger Gambit’s 1970s swinger parties in the 21st century are a bit odd because while there are straight people and gay men and bisexual men – who are seen as very convenient – there don’t seem to be any lesbians or bisexual women. Also mostly it’s not about 1970s swinger parties in the 21st century, that’s just part of the setting.

    (If you weren’t focusing on old stuff, it happens the Clarkesworld podcast I listened to today, Spar by Kij Johnson, comes with a warning about the sex, which begins with the first sentence and continues pretty much until the final one)

    0: Many of them wrote porn as well (it was very lucrative). Which reminds me:

    But I can’t imagine Jack McDevitt writing a sex scene, or Isaac Asimov – yuk.

    Avoid The Gods Themselves. Also under no circumstances allow anyone to tell you Barry Malzberg wrote porn under the pen names Gerrold Watkins and Mel Johnson because then you might try to imagine what the product would be like. That way lies madness.

    One interesting although completely non-graphic story that turned out to center on sex and personal relationships from someone I would never ever expect it from is Arthur C Clarke’s Imperial Earth, which seems to be about the challenges faced by resource extraction economies, telescopes and what America could be like in the 2276 but which is really about the long term consequences of a tragic love triangle between the lead, the guy he had a crush on and the girl he also had a crush on (maybe train wreck is better than tragic; it was the sort of relationship where the two older ones would let their young friend with the painful crush on both of them watch but not join in). In the end it’s (rot13ed for huge spoiler) Qhapna’f dhrfg gb unir uvf oblsevraq’f puvyq. Written in Clarke’s style so about as erotic as a polite handshake between strangers but how this has escaped being turned by someone else into a Yaoi manga I don’t know.

    1: As I recall, The Man Who Folded Himself was mainly interacting with different versions of himself themselves so logically they all should have about the same amount of person. Both “Folded” and “interacting” are euphemisms. In fact, and I just noticed this, several of the old SF stories that come to mind as having sex and not being awful about women are ones that, like TMWFH, the Eight Worlds stories (which have other issues) and Tanith Lee’s Four BEE books, where gender was fluid.

  29. James Davis Nicoll says:

    I am sorry. I thought I had italicized the parts I quoted. I don’t know how to edit these but

    “Most of the SF I’ve read (with the exception of Heinlein) seems to operate on the assumption that human beings are divorced from their sex drives in the future.” and “But I can’t imagine Jack McDevitt writing a sex scene, or Isaac Asimov – yuk.” are quotations.

  30. Laz says:

    “When Harlie Was One” had better sex than “The Man Who Folded Himself” – at least as I recall from 30 years ago.

    It’s not so intriguing that older scifi was either sexless or behind closed doors, the concern is that modern scifi remains that way (mostly), unless under the guise of erotica.

  31. Span says:

    For a long time I actually thought I didn’t like SF as a genre. I read some odd bits and pieces but was never very interested, always favouring more straight up Fantasy or Romance. In a large part I think this was due to the lack of emotional context.

    However, as a kid I loved sci-fi – Monica Hughes’ “The Keeper of the Isis Light” was read and reread, and reading the books by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor which were based on the TV show Red Dwarf. What made these so intriguing and compelling to me, was that they were absolutely underpinned by emotion and relationships, sexual or otherwise. In the case of The Keeper, it was the complications of two species meeting and being romantically attracted emotionally, but incompatible and repulsed physically. In the Red Dwarf books and shows, the drama/comedy often arose from the absence of sex – four males being stuck in space alone (not that they’d be getting any regardless…).

    So years later, reading the Jax novels was actually a wonderful eye opener for me, realising that actually, I love SF. I love ship board politics, first contact diplomacy, cross species relationships. It’s what makes good sic-fi on TV so good (and yes, why is it that they can make it sexy but the books can’t?!). Surely what is most interesting about contemplating the future is projecting how we will emotionally and physically interact with it. And what is more emotional and physical than sex?

    Sexiest sci-fi character: I have to admit that I have a thing for Vel. Those nuanced Wah bows that say so much – that’s sexy.

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