Erotic Science Fiction vs Science Fiction Erotica

Image: stanciuc

The first four Passionate Pantheon books are wrapped up! Books one and two, The Brazen Altar and Divine Burdens, are in stores now. The third, The Hallowed Covenant, publishes in a few months; the fourth, Unyielding Devotion, is out next year.

This feels like a good moment to chat about the direction the series seems to be taking.

When we started writing the Passionate Pantheon novels, we thought of them as science fiction erotica. In fact, that’s how we described the books: far-future post-scarcity science fiction theocratic erotica.

Or, if you like being provocative like us, scifi porn. (Although ‘porn’ is generally associated with the visual stuff and ‘erotica’ is usually assumed to be written, we tend to use the terms interchangeably in private. There is an undeniably classist, elitist element to that split—written erotica as somehow superior, classier in some way, whilst ‘porn’ is considered crass and crude and ‘lower class’. Well, that’s a load of rubbish and we refuse to subscribe to that newsletter, thanks. Anyway, back to topic and off this soapbox!) 

With the third book, something happened. The novel started shifting from science fiction erotica to erotic science fiction—and that became even more apparent in the fourth.

So what happened? And what’s the difference between the two?

Let’s tackle that second question first. 

The difference comes down to: when your wordcount is getting perilously close to “we’re not writing War and Peace here, we need to cut it down”, what do you cut? If your answer is “some of the worldbuilding and philosophical exploration”…hurrah, you’re writing erotica that is set in a scifi world. If your answer is “some of the sex scenes”…congratulations, you’ve just set course for sexy scifi. Basically, it comes down to ‘what is your priority?’—is it the sex or the worldbuilding?

We discovered that our answer to that question has been gradually changing over the last year. Considering that we originally set out to write porn together…that was a deeply weird mental switch to happen, simultaneously and without prior intentions, to both of us at once.

The first two novels are basically coming of age stories, they’re just coming of age stories set in a world of radical longevity where sex permeates nearly every aspect of social, civic, and religious life. Sex is woven into the fabric of the City in a way that touches nearly every facet of every person’s existence. The first two books lay out a foundation, and starting with the third, we begin to build much more complex stories atop that foundation.

But something weird happened with The Hallowed Covenant: as we wrote, we found ourselves cutting sex scenes in order to make room for more exploration of the society and technology and philosophy of the City. What are the gods? What do they look like? What does it mean to be an avatar of a god? How do civic celebrations work? In a post-scarcity society with no police and no law, what happens when people do wrong? How is the process of atonement handled? 

In Unyielding Devotion, we expanded on those ideas: How is the process of handling transgression and wrongdoing handled in a dark City? How does the City find a place for people who don’t fit in? What do the people of the City do when they aren’t having ritualized kinky group sex? (Unyielding Devotion is the first book with major protagonists who aren’t highly placed in the religious hierarchy of their chosen religion, who don’t become Sacrifice to their chosen gods.)

For book five, which doesn’t even have a title yet, we’re planning a deep dive into some things we haven’t touched on at all yet.

How do families work? How do you raise children in the City? If you have radical longevity and can live as long as you want, even if that’s centuries, how do you choose to die, and how is death handled? What role do the City’s AIs and drones play in raising and educating children? What do families with children even look like, and how does that affect the physical layout of homes with children? How are young adults who’ve barely taken their first adult name (for clarity we should note that this typically refers to 30 to 50 year olds) different from, say, 250-year-olds? When everyone generally has the body of a 20-year-old unless they decided they didn’t want to for aesthetic reasons, how does that affect the difference in the way you would interact with a young adult versus an experienced elder? How would you even tell?

The short answer to many of these questions (except the ones about children, naturally) is ritualized kinky sex. Sex touches nearly everything in the Passionate Pantheon. Even the civic structures around transgression and civil justice are handled through ritualized kinky sex.

But we couldn’t help doing a much deeper dive into some of the more technological and civic aspects of life in the City, and writing stories with far more complex narrative structures. There was just so much to explore! As we did so, we started recognizing that shift from science fiction erotica to erotic science fiction. (Fear not, these are still very porny books…there’s a lot of sex in them, much more than you’ll find in most written erotica, simply as a consequence of how the world works.)

Faced with the choice between exploring the world in a scene that doesn’t involve sex and keeping a sex scene, we’re leaning more and more often toward cutting the sex scene. That just became unmistakable over time.

In fact, we recently tried to write a 3,500-word short story about a minor character from Divine Burdens that blew up into a 40,000-word novella…and that was after we cut 3,039 words of sex we felt didn’t contribute to the story. Which means we cut a number of words almost equal to the total number of words we’d originally planned for the story.

In The Hallowed Covenant, you’ll find plenty of sex, especially in the first third of the book. But you’ll also learn more about what the gods are, find out a lot more about how the civic structures of the City work, learn more about the City’s important festivals…the setting for the Passionate Pantheon has always been extraordinarily complex, with a lot of nooks and crannies we simply didn’t have room to squeeze into the first two novels.

The benefit of moving to erotic scifi, of course, is that you can explore these topics that typically wouldn’t have a place in erotica. How often does porn talk about the philosophy of religion (and no, we’re not including ‘sexy nun or kinky priest’ porn in here!) or about the complexities of family dynamics in a communally based post-scarcity society? (If you know any good examples, please do throw us suggestions, by the way. We’re always up for more deeply philosophical porn!)

We have a ton of ideas we plan to introduce in the fifth novel…and we want to invite you along for the ride!

For Book 5, we’re planning something really unusual. (Fitting, because our writing process is also unusual.) We’ve had countless people ask how we work together, and countless more ask “how do you even write a novel, anyway?”, and one of the rules of good writing is “show, don’t tell,” so…

Beginning in April, we want to live-stream the start of Book Five. That means you can ask questions, see the conversations we have before and as we’re developing a book, and see how the story changes from concept to final printed book. If it goes well, we might even consider making this a repeated event.

Whether you’re a fan of the Passionate Pantheon series or just interested in the process of how co-authorship works, or you simply want to write a book but don’t know how to start, we hope you’ll find the live-stream interesting. We’re just starting to plan it, so watch this space for more details!

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