Jilly: Aliens or Werewolves? Why?

If you were stranded on a desert island or snowed up in an isolated cabin and you could have only one novel to read, would you choose shifters or aliens? You don’t know the author. You don’t get to see the cover or read the blurb, you just have to choose a sub-genre. Fantasy/urban fantasy, or sci-fi?

My question arises courtesy of an explanation I read this week on Ilona Andrews’ blog. Like many of their fans, I am super-excited about their current Innkeeper serial, a novel posted in free instalments every Friday.

Sweep of the Blade is a courtship story between Maud, a human who was previously married to an asshat vampire and has sworn off the species for good, and Arland, a swoon-worthy alpha male vampire of aristocratic lineage who’s unshakeably in love with her and makes no secret of it. He persuades her to accompany him to his home planet, and high-octane high jinks ensue. The story features hierarchical, militaristic vampire dynasties in space, family politics, deadly conspiracies, and some serious arse-kicking delivered by Maud and her young daughter, Helen. It’s clever, moving, funny, exciting, and kind.

Apparently fans have been writing to the authors to squee about the story and to ask why they don’t quit writing their other series so we can all have more Innkeeper. Among a handful of reasons, Ilona offered this explanation:

Innkeeper is a SF at its core. Aliens are a harder sell than werewolves. 🙂 A lot of people who would actually like Innkeeper, if they gave it a shot, read the description and walk away from it because it has Science Fiction elements.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized she’s right. I’ll read Innkeeper, because I’ll try anything Ilona Andrews writes, but otherwise I’ve read only a handful of sci-fi romances and space operas. Not sure how many werewolf and shifter novels I own, but it must be in the hundreds. Which got me wondering, why?

I think it’s all about emotion. Werewolves and shifters are driven by instinct, so the promise to the reader is that these stories will be loaded with all the feels. The promise of science fiction is that it will be clever and challenging, but very likely the story that will feed the brain rather than the heart.

That doesn’t have to be true (in addition to the Innkeeper stories, our own Kay has Zero Gravity Outcasts, a delightful space romp of a novella), but I think it’s the expectation. Nalini Singh’s bestselling Psy/Changeling series is set in a world divided between the Psy, a race of intellectual beings who have chosen to suppress all emotion, and Changelings, animal shifters who are clever but who are creatures of emotion and instinct. When conflict arises, guess which wins, the brain or the heart?

What do you think? Do you agree that emotion could be the key difference that makes the promise of a shapeshifter story an easier sell than a sci-fi?

And if you were stranded on that desert island, which genre would you choose?

3 thoughts on “Jilly: Aliens or Werewolves? Why?

  1. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I suspect you and the M’s Andrews are correct: SciFi appeals more to the intellect while Fantasy aims for the heart.

    It will disappoint you (though not, I think, surprise you) that I prefer SciFi. I like things that make me think.

    • You’re right, that doesn’t surprise me! Just sayin’ I suspect you may be in the minority, at least as far as genre fiction is concerned 😉

  2. Werewolves are just big doggies at heart, and that’s my problem with werewolves. Sure, there are a lot of great things about pack dynamics (read: family dynamics), but violence is very much a part of the picture, and dominance games. And sometimes the stories feel simplistic — not enough brain power going on, unless the heroine brings it — and sometimes the heroine is as dumb as a puppy, too.

    Aliens? Super-potluck. SF isn’t really limited to romance tropes, so you never know what’s going to happen; they could kill the love interest or let him/her live, or have him turn into a monster. Aliens imply space travel, which also imply a certain level of intellectual achievement. And that achievement is valued, because that’s what’s going to get you out of a sticky spot in space. You can’t just bite a hole caused by a random meteorite. I value a certain amount of smartness in my stories.

    Of course, you could always have very smart dogs in space. Perhaps that’d be the best!

    But I guess I read more for author than genre, so I would leave it up to fate as to which one I got. I have a slight preference for aliens, but I am a natural gambler. At any rate, either would work fine as TP if the books were crap.

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