IASPR2018: Love in Other Worlds

This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2018 International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder of literary academia. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed observing it. This blog uses affiliated links.

Love in Outer Space: Science Fiction Romance – the ideal place to explore gender and love: Donna Hanson (University of Canberra)

 (Amy Burge tweet) I can’t believe it’s the final panel of #IASPR18 already! We’re heading out of this world, starting with Donna Hanson on SF romance, esp how expression of consent has between 2 novels: Johanna Lindsey’s (1990) & Anna Hackett’s (2017).

 Sci-fi romance

  • Other world allows opportunity to build non-patriarchal society
  • Futuristic
  • Paranormal (vampires, etc)
  • Strong future or sci-fi narrative
  • Sex with barbarian tropes

Warrior’s Woman, by Johanna Lindsay (1990)

  • Seven chapters of world building before reader meets the hero
  • Govt forces people to lose virginity by age 25
  • No choice of partner after that
  • Test tube reproduction

On a Barbarian World, by Anna Hackett (2017)

  • Less world building
  • Shorter story
  • Meet-cute in chapter three


  • Woman from technologically advanced society lands on alien world and meets warrior/barbarian from alien culture
  • Relationship is bound by rules of alien culture
  • Many Star Trek elements in 1990 story
  • Hypermasculine heroes, patriarchal society, heroine fights hero then he claims her


  • Really big! (like over seven feet tall)
  • Alien, very patriarchal
  • Honourable and aggressive
  • Gentle with heroine
  • In On a Barbarian World, the hero has two hearts

(Kat Mayo tweet) Donna has found a way to include a slide filled with bare-chested warriors. I applaud this decision.


  • Attractive, physically fit
  • Better at tech than hero
  • Assertive
  • At home with her sexuality
  • Not passive


JL (1990): no over consent (no = yes at times)

AH (2017): overt consent, eg “I want you naked.” “I want that too.”

JL assumes the heroine is strong enough to demand consent/prevent rape

(Kat Mayo tweet) Q on whether heroes stand out among other men in their society. Donna: Yes in that they’re the strongest, etc. But meet cute is opportunistic rather than due to the hero’s position (ie he didn’t *win* the heroine because he was the alpha male).

(Kat Mayo tweet) Q on whether the books have strong sf themes. Donna: Hackett used more elements of technology and scientific themes. Linsdey had stronger feminist themes, negotiating the patriarchal society of the hero, looks more at social setting.

Representations of Otherness in Paranormal Romance: Nalini Singh and J.R. Ward” by María T. Ramos-García (South Dakota State University)

JD Ward: First in Black Dagger Brotherhood series is

Nalini Singh: First in Psychangling series is

Othering in paranormal romance takes two forms:

  • Metophorical, eg shifter
  • Literal, ie actual human diversity

Variation between authors:

  • Different worlds and different representation of diversity
  • Complexity of monsters
  • Opposition between progressive and regressive authors

Amanda Hobson “One glaring aspect of vampire (fiction) is the consistent white washing. Where are the women of colour?”

JD Ward: Vampires are a separate species to humans (but can interbreed which Ramos-Garcia questions). They are obscenely rich, don’t eat human blood. This series includes several problematic explorations of race:

  • White vampires using black vernacular and music (hip hop)
  • Essentially a literary form of black face
  • Hyper masculinity (with Motorbike Club vibe)
  • Only two identifiable black characters, who are twins. They do get their own book (shared) where one twin ends up in an interracial couple, then dies, and the other twin gets a HEA.
  • Ward also has a species called ‘sympaths’ who have troubling Asian/orientalism stereotypes
  • Ward also has a species called Doggen, who are a servant class of vampires. None get their own book
  • In Ward’s paranormal series, there are clear differences between species, but with a preference for whites in a highly stratified society
  • Big positive: one of the books in this series has the first same sex couple in paranormal romance, including a wedding

(Kat Mayo tweet) Ward’s books are problematic, but this series also features the first same sex couple in mainstream paranormal romance. Different categories of diversity can intersect in complex and contradictory ways.

N Singh: Psychangling series has three groups/species: Psy, Changling, Other Humans

  • Global interbreeding between for over 100 years and books are set in this new society
  • Hobson criticizes this series to state that it has no African-American looking character (Ramos-Garcia notes this is a USA centric view)
  • Singh deliberately plays with race by having all skin tones across all characters and messes with a western/USA view of interracial couples
  • In Singh’s world, there is cooperation between cross-species businesses

Regarding the diversity of humans in these two series:

Ward – humans disappear after the first few books, and then all vampires are white

Singh – all three groups have lots of interbreeding and all shades of skin tones with lots of detail on skin colour throughout the series. Character names are ethnically mixed. Singh is invested in the notion of skin as irrelevant, which is seen in the details.

Chronology of the books

JD Ward – calls for mm in her series happened earlier than 2010 when that book came out, and this reflected the changes in USA law

Singh – the characters in the start of the series are whiter, and more mixed as she became more established as an author.

(Kat Mayo tweet) Jayashree Kamble: Inclusion of interracial couples counters the narrative of white reproduction that lies within the (modern) romance genre. << ME: OMG

 Outlander’s Tactile Caress: A Multisensory Romance. Athena Bellas

Note: my notes on this presentation aren’t very good as the majority of the Powerpoint was done via gifs, and the flashing screen gave me a headache.


This talk outlined the sensory details in the wedding scene in Outlander. Bellas referenced The Tactile Eye, by Jennifer Barker, and called the screen ‘a sensory machine’

The scene highlights the female gaze. Shot with many details/close up on touch.

(Jennifer Hallock tweet) We are now looking at Claire slip her fingers across Jamie Fraser’s bare chest in Outlander. Because academia.

 (PopFic Doctors tweet) ‘Lucious tactility’ is our favourite academic phrase today.

 “Basically Quite Weird” The queer medievalist virtual romance of Alexis Hall’s Looking for Group: Kristin Noone (Irvine Valley College)

Looking for Group, by Alexis Hall is an mm romance with video gaming and medieval themes. (Note: OMG, how clever is the cover!)

Set in an online gaming environment (think World of Warcraft style) with no concessions for people who are not familiar with that world. Both male heroes play female characters online, creating a real life division (as per the cover).

This is a low heat book compared to Alexis Hall’s other books, such as For Real (Spires), and How to Bang a Billionaire (Arden St. Ives), with implied sex.

The tension comes from games addiction – Do you have real life friends?

There is no queer tension, and only one joke about ‘you know it’s probably a boy playing that girl character’

The author has done massive world building, including a wiki page for the fictional game they play “Heroes of Legend” which is a Tolkien inspired game, not a Call of Duty/Fortnite style of game

The game includes romantic medieval elements.

(Jodi McAlister tweet) Noone: this is an in-between text, where the distinction between the medieval and the modern collapses (post-medieval rather than pre-modern).

Alexis Hall is making a point about the value of online spaces and how virtual relationships are real (but often dismissed). He calls the book ‘basically quite weird’ on his author blog.

From the book: “And this was like the worst date ever, except it really wasn’t, it was just two strangers on computers, looking at an elf and an orc sitting on a rock.”

There is one problematic touch – Drew is hinted at being non-white, he plays an orc online (refer to Tolkien’s racist orcs), and is more masculine than the blonde Kit.

Next Conference

Just in case anyone needs an excuse to start an academic study in popular romance, the next IASPR conference will be in 2020 in the Canary Islands.

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