My son congratulated me on getting my three book publishing deal and we talked about the first book, Empire of Dust. He was interested in word counts, outlining and revision – the writing process in general. He’s in the middle of a doctoral thesis and even though we’re writing very different things, when he’s at home we’re often tapping away at our respective keyboards long into the night, J upstairs on his Mac and me down in the office on my PC.
Even though he devours non-fiction, mainly for his academic work, J’s not a reader of fiction, let alone science fiction, so I was surprised and gratified when he said he’d like to read my book.
Then he paused and said, “There isn’t any sex in it is there?”
“Well, yes, Son, there is.”
I’m afraid at that point I laughed and, luckily, so did he. No matter what stage they are in their own relationships, kids don’t like to think about their parents, you know, actually knowing about sex.
Sex is part of life. How could I not have some sex taking place during the course of a book that is not only science fiction, but also has a relationship at its core? I don’t believe in writing gratuitous sex, so Empire of Dust isn’t ‘Fifty Shades of Rocketships,’ but there are moments when the sex scene is important, and fade-to-black just doesn’t work.
My take on it is that sex either has to advance the plot or deepen character (or both, if course). It can also be payback for your readers who have stuck with you while two people you know are meant to be together dither abominably about whether they should or not.
In Empire of Dust the romance is not straightforward. ‘It’s complicated,’ was a phrase invented for Ben and Cara. If I told you exactly how and why, I’d have to shoot you, but it’s not giving much away if I say their first meeting, very early in the book, involves bad sex, or, at least, bland sex for bad reasons. Cara misjudges Ben. She’s trying to get a favour – hitch a ride off a space-station, no questions asked – and she plays it wrong. Sex isn’t a price he’s asked and it’s certainly not one she needs to pay, but she instigates it anyway. And once it’s happened it can’t be undone. She’d love to be able to wipe the memory out of both their minds, but that particular rocket has left the launch-pad.
I don’t write graphic insert-pole-A-into-tab-B kind of sex, but I do like to get inside my characters’ heads. Sex can be serious or steamy, it can be perfunctory or passionate, mechanical or inventive. Consider that sexual intercourse is one of Nature’s big jokes, so sometimes it can also be funny, especially between two people who trust each other completely. (Laughing with, rather than laughing at makes a huge difference.)
Whaddya mean sex isn’t funny? Try explaining what mummies and daddies do to make babies to an inquisitive child and often you’re met with incredulous looks. “They do what? Really? Can I have Coco-Pops for breakfast?” (Lesson number one: answer only the questions they ask.)
Do Ben and Cara eventually get it together? Like I said, it’s complicated, but those complications make their relationship fun to write.
Are all the relationships in this book hetero-normative? Not necessarily. What will hetero-normative be five hundred years in the future? No, I don’t know either. Everyone is at a different place on the spectrum. Hopefully the human race will have ceased to make a fuss about it. Supporting characters have their own story arcs and that involves their existing and developing relationships, falling in love, falling in lust, using sexual attraction as a weapon or to snare the gullible, getting things right, getting things disastrously wrong.
In other words. Life.