Shelf Love

Prison Planet Romance: Love in a Hopeless Place

Short Description

An exploration of prison planet romances with Megan Erickson. We discuss Guardian by Emmy Chandler and how it explores issues of consent, agency, and morality through an extreme version of the forced proximity trope. Are these brutal dystopians actually hopeful explorations of humanity and love?


dystopian romance, romance novel discussion

Show Notes

An exploration of prison planet romances with Megan Erickson. We discuss Guardian by Emmy Chandler and how it explores issues of consent, agency, and morality through an extreme version of the forced proximity trope. Are these brutal dystopians actually hopeful explorations of humanity and love?


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00]

Hello and welcome to Shelf Love. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I would like you to take you back to an episode from April 2020.

This was episode 35 with Megan Erickson. And it's about prison planet romances, specifically Guardian by Emmy Chandler.

And how I started thinking about this episode again. It kind of started with a little bit of new year's rereading where I got really into rereading all of Claire Kentz dystopian post-apocalyptic romance because she released a new one.

So then I had to reread all of those and then I reread all of the prison planet romances that she wrote, which then reminded me of Guardian and the series of prison planet romances by Emmy Chandler.

And as I was doing all of this reading again, I started thinking a lot about what's the deal with post-apocalyptic romance? And why do I like this? And why do I like inhabiting this world that is full of violence, the threat of sexual violence. Oftentimes a lot of it boils down to what seems like gender essentialism.

And when I explain it like that, it doesn't sound like something I would enjoy or something I should enjoy. Which then got me thinking about a lot of the questions that came up in the two part series with Whoa!Mance about A Lady of the West.

I pulled this episode out thinking, you know, let me just review the transcript and maybe I'll write a Substack revisiting prison planet romances.

I think something that has changed quite a bit in the last four years is how conflicted I feel about enjoying stuff that's problematic. After lots of soul searching I don't feel bad when I feel conflicted. It's now something that I just want to dig into and be curious about.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that a lot of the things I thought I wanted to write about, we had basically already talked about in April 2020.

I figured why don't I just put the episode out again?

When this episode came out in the very beginning stages of the pandemic, nobody really wanted to talk or think about post-apocalyptic prison planets.

Personally, I'm always in the mood but I completely understand why it may not have been ideal timing for a lot of people.

Both my editing style, as well as my episode style has changed quite a bit in the last four years, so I did edit this a little bit to focus on the prison planet conversation. And I hope you enjoy it.

Megan Erickson: I'm Megan Erickson, and I write honestly in a large variety of sub genres of romance because I love it all.

And I also write as Ella Maven, and under that I write sci fi romance. I'm a former journalist, so I was a reporter for my local newspaper and always loved writing. And then my first book was published in 2014, finally decided to take the plunge and write fiction which is what's something I've always wanted to [00:03:00] do.

So here I am and it's the best job ever.

Andrea Martucci: I read your series maybe close to 2014 or when they came out the Gamer Magazine series.

Megan Erickson: Oh yeah! Yeah, that was my first foray into like super sexy, those were fun.

Those were really fun. I had a really fun time writing it.

Andrea Martucci: Are you ready to talk about something really bonkers?

Megan Erickson: Yes! I am so excited.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, so I want to like actually describe what a prison planet romance is And what this book specifically is about in a second, but why do you think Guardian by Emmy Chandler is a romance novel worth reading?

Megan Erickson: Okay, so first of all, I think it's so well written.

I love the journey she took both characters on. I did feel like both characters had agency. I thought Audra was a fascinating woman who had to adapt very quickly, but yet in a way that made me believe it. Sometimes when we read romance novels, especially in stressful situations, we say I wouldn't react like that.

And I don't think that's how I read. I read and I think, did the author make me believe that this character would react like that? And the way the author set up Audra and the hero, I believed the reasons they reacted to situations the way they did.

And I thought the world she created as she continues the series is genius. It was the type of series that I was like, damn it, why didn't I think of this? And Guardian sets everything up really well without overwhelming you with this greater world that she expands as the series goes on.

I thought she did a really good job not making it overwhelming for the first book.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, no, you're right. It's the world opens up with, each book in the series where and it's funny the zones on the planet kind of set that up where it's like okay great now we're gonna figure out what it's like in this zone over here and now we understand more context

Megan Erickson: and as i'm reading i'm like oh my god what's the next zone gonna be it's so cool

Andrea Martucci: I got sucked in too and even though I am on the treadmill of releasing episodes, reading books for the next episode, I got suckered in and read the second book too.

Megan Erickson: Isn't Hunter good?

Andrea Martucci: It was so good.

Megan Erickson: With Callum and Macy? Oh my god, so good.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So let's talk about the plot of this book and then let's open up and talk a little bit about Prison Planet romances generally because this is like a subgenre. So Guardian is Prison Planet book one.

we start with our heroine, Audra, on a transport ship. basically we are in a world where there's privately owned prison planets, where prisoners are sent from various terraformed planets in the galaxy. Earth has been ruined and so they've terraformed all these other planets and humanity.

So it's humans that are now living on other planets. And if you do something bad, you're gonna go to prison for life. It seems like there are no minor sentences.

Megan Erickson: I was wondering that too, because. Tyson, what he did wasn't like that bad.

Yeah. Like, comparatively, he didn't murder anyone.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So there are different areas of this planet that you go to, depending on what you were sentenced to. if you make one wrong move in [00:06:00] whatever planet, you live on you're going to prison forever it's like this brutal system.

So this is a privately owned prison planet and there's a point made very early on that they make a fortune quote unquote housing prisoners for the government so I feel like there's already this very clear established idea of a corrupt

Megan Erickson: Absolutely.

Andrea Martucci: And heavily penalizing people for minor things. And there's a lot of sort of financial reasons why they're doing this as well. So she basically gets dumped into Zone 4 on this prison planet, and she's going to be there for the rest of her life. And hopefully her life is long, but she could just die immediately because it's an incredibly violent place.

And it's men and women mixed together in this area. The group of women are dropped off. to another group of women who immediately take all of their supplies and say, okay, we're gonna choose six of you to go somewhere else and they don't really know why and they're sent over to the men's area.

And basically there is an understanding between the women's area and the men's area where the women send over six women at a time to basically be sex slaves to the men in order to protect the other group of women and then after women have done their time there when there's a new transport of women dropped off they, swap in and out new women.

These women do their time and then they're able to live in relative peace in the women's area. Our heroine, Audra, who then sees this young she's of age, but she presents as like very young looking, named Macy. She wants to protect her.

Immediately, she doesn't think she's gonna make it on her own. So she tries to stick with her and when Audra is chosen to go over to the men's side, she brings Macy over. then she finds out, oh shit, like, we're the sex slaves.

Megan Erickson: We're sex slave, and I drug this poor like young person, although she's of age, but she looks young, but yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Right. And Macy is the heroine of book two. she has a lot more agency in that book than in this book. Audra is a real quick thinker and a survivor, and she's like, okay so I have to choose a guy here who is not gonna beat me who's gonna like care for us and I need somebody who's strong enough to protect both me and Macy and I will exchange my sexual favors for this protection and she very quickly figures out of all the rough looking faces that she's presented with that there's like one guy who's like emerging from the woods with like a dead rabbit

Megan Erickson: I love it I love it he's like emerging from the woods with a dead rabbit clutched in his massive fist she's like That guy, she's like, I'm gonna look at his shoes, just are his shoes okay? Is he strong enough to get decent shoes? Is he relatively okay hygiene? And she sees the rabbit and she's like, he can feed me. That one. It's smart. It really is.

Andrea Martucci: I loved her quick thinking at every turn. she's not going to be a victim to these circumstances. the essence of the book is it's like pure survival at every turn. All the other men in this area are trying to [00:09:00] steal her and Macy, away to basically be raped and or killed for resisting.

It's an incredibly violent planet, but Audra and Tyson, she somehow did. identify the one guy in the area who was decent and actually has somewhat altruistic motives. So there's a lot about the premise of this book that on the one hand, I'm like, oh, I'm very interested in that and on the other hand, I'm like, I should not be interested in this.

Megan Erickson: Right, and so I think that's interesting, because one of the things that Emmy Chandler does so well is that she creates, Audra actually is, what is she? She's a psychology? Or social?

Andrea Martucci: Moral ethicist.

Megan Erickson: Moral ethicist or something. And I think that's one thing I like about this book is that they discuss morals a lot.

And I felt like, to me, that was a very self aware. It's one of the reasons I like this book so much is it didn't feel gratuitous. I didn't feel like the author was trying to shock me. I thought the author was presenting me with moral dilemmas. And this is how my characters are going to react to this.

And it made me think, how would I react? Because the whole reason they have this agreement with the men is that if the women's group does not deliver this like small subsection of women, then the men will go and essentially ravage the entire women's settlement.

So you're sacrificing the few for the many. And that's a really common theme throughout the whole book. are you willing to sacrifice the few for the many? I've read some pretty rough books where I just feel like the author's trying to shock me, not actually present me with a plot.

the author definitely made a choice to give Audra a choice, as in, so Audra get does get to pick her man. And I did think that was interesting as well.

Andrea Martucci: It gave Audra a chance to show her street smarts

Megan Erickson: Very

Very true. It was good character building for Audra. It showed she's a quick thinker. And she's smart. It made me believe then how she reacted to other things. It made me believe her.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, there's explicit discussion about the trolley dilemma. if there's a train that's barreling uncontrolled down a track and you're able to switch the track from either continuing in its path to hit five people or diverting it to hit one person.

It's this classic dilemma where most people would say of course I would switch it to hit one person rather than five, but then what if the person you love, what if your child is the one on the track.

Megan Erickson: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And the other five people are strangers.

Megan Erickson: Exactly. 'cause Tyson says that he goes, well I wouldn't switch the track if you were on it. cause it's you. I choose you.

Andrea Martucci: He goes, the math holds up. Five is greater than one. What changed today? I realized you're the person on that other track.

Megan Erickson: Yeah. Such a good dialogue too, isn't it?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I wanna come back to talking about this book specifically, but let's zoom up again for a moment. Prison Planet Romances. This is an actual subgenre. In fact, before I read Guardian, I read Claire Kent's Hold.

Megan Erickson: Very good.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, it was great. And a very similar premise. It's a different world, but also it [00:12:00] hits a lot of the same beats. And I. I really enjoyed it. So it seems like Prison Planet Romances set up this world that is incredibly brutal.

Guardian talks a lot about how we've reverted to caveman days, and it has both the technology of a very advanced society, but then it reverts humanity back to a way of living that is very much about survival and about base instincts, or not base instincts, but base desires, I guess? And so I feel like, why is this not just isolated examples of somebody who came up with this wild and crazy idea?

Like, what is the common theme? what is being explored specifically in prison planet romances? What do you think?

Megan Erickson: Sure. there's different prison planet romances, too. There's some where, like, they're free, essentially, like, Emmy Chandlers, they do have, like, free reign of this wilderness.

And then there's others where they are in a prison type system with, like, cells and stuff, which I think that's Claire Kent's

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. There is a facility.

Megan Erickson: So, this is what's interesting to me. I'm always fascinated on how humans create mini societies within society. different social groups have, certain rules and stuff like that. And, to me, the Prison Planet romances are just an extreme version of that.

Like, if you essentially, like, blew everything up and humans had to reorganize, how would they reorganize? I find that fascinating.

And I find it fascinating the way other authors interpret it. You know what I mean? Like, how do you think these humans will reorganize and how will they set up a hierarchy and that kind of thing?

The common themes, too, is there's always usually a character who's been there for a long time, and then you have, like, the newcomer. There's different genders, there's a gay prison romance I'm going to mention later. So if we're talking about a male female romance, it's usually, the woman is coming in fresh to adapt to the society, and there's a man who's been there for a while. And I feel like a common theme often is the woman,is trying to retain her humanity, often the male is trying to regain it.

And I think that's a very common theme is, the male in a male female romance of Prison Planet has felt like he's lost his humanity a bit. Then the woman comes in and reminds him what humanity is, and he regains it back. that definitely happened with Tyson.

Andrea Martucci: And so that specifically makes me think of is it a theme of the civilizing presence of a feminine?

Megan Erickson: I see what you're saying. I don't necessarily think so, because I've read like other genders and it's like the new person reminds.

Because I think Audra, if you switch her gender to something else, she still would have been the one to remind Tyson. She still would have been like, these are the ethics of this place or this is what's wrong with the ethics of this place and no one deserves to live like this. And I thought that was really interesting how she reminded him, you don't deserve this.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And a lot of the beats seem similar to post apocalyptic romance or, post apocalyptic fiction generally, Like in the face of these brutal circumstances, how are we going to choose to live? I think what's interesting is this sliding scale of morality where, in a brutal [00:15:00] world, you don't necessarily want to read about characters who are not willing to acknowledge how brutal the world is and also survive in that world.

Megan Erickson: Right. post apocalyptic is one of my favorite things, like movies, if you give me a post apocalyptic movie, I'm there I actually wrote a Shifter post apocalyptic series, because I love to see how society, like, reconvenes. I don't know, maybe I should have been like a sociology major, because I adore it.

Andrea Martucci: It seems like what is in common here in these worlds that are built are, as you said, the moral dilemmas, the question of are you going to devolve into the basest form of existence You could.

Everybody else is. Are you gonna do it too?

Megan Erickson: Yes. And I love that because I think sometimes like Audra needs to find the man that's not gonna rape her. And it's like, that's a pretty low bar. But is it? In a society like that?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And you know what? And that's actually what I thought this was about.

Like okay, like why prison planet romances and why prison planet romances now? And there were multiple points in Guardian where I was like, oh this is crazy. It's a world where men are constantly trying to separate women out so that they can pull them aside and rape them. And I'm like, that's crazy.

And then I was like, Nope, not actually because

Megan Erickson: yeah, is it? No, it's not crazy. And that's the thing, because, think of the movies, like the Purge movies, like, think about that. Like, what?

Andrea Martucci: I haven't seen them.

Megan Erickson: Oh, okay. Basically, it's just there's 24 hours where you can commit any crime you want.

Andrea Martucci: Oh. Oh, yeah.

Megan Erickson: And they do it because they think if they give society that chance, then they won't commit crimes the rest of the year.

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Megan Erickson: To a degree, what would people do if, and I don't think it's that far fetched to think that this is how people would react.

I really don't. Because not all the men were just like, outright trying to rape her, but a lot of them came pretty close or they,

Andrea Martucci: they thought about it for sure if they could get away with it, which I think begs the question of do people act like good people and not harm others because they are fearing punishment for doing those things or because they truly believe that they should not do them and feel that they themselves would compromise their own sense of self by doing those things?

And I think that is the question that this book asks. We acknowledge that all people on this planet have done something that has brought them there.

However, the bar is so low for, a crime that could get you sent here. the crime that Tyson committed was, car thievery. Like, it was, real petty, property crimes.

Megan Erickson: They do set it up that there are no murderers.

Andrea Martucci: And at one point, it says, she's looking at one guy when she's choosing, and she goes, "there's something in his eyes I don't like, something I don't trust, but then we're in prison. These men aren't here because they like to make love gently, then cuddle all night."

We're not dealing with, the most morally upright people. But then very late in the novel, Tyson actually makes this statement where I think Audra [00:18:00] is basically like, yeah, I don't know, like, this is the world that has been created for us here. Like, this is a prison planet.

And Audra says, "no. Booker is the reason that Booker beats Sana. Thomas is the reason Thomas is half starving Michelle. Wendy and the other women aren't acting in a vacuum. They found a way to survive in a system they didn't choose by sacrificing other people and themselves." Where they're not acting. in a vacuum, but also there's individual choice in that

Megan Erickson: so true.

Andrea Martucci: Where yeah, they're choosing they do.

Megan Erickson: Yeah, you're right. I forgot about that discussion. And it's very true this is the society they set it up.

They didn't tell you to, send six women These were choices that were made within this situation, basically.

Andrea Martucci: I want to talk about consent.

Megan Erickson: Yeah, I don't have all the answers, but I want to talk about it.

Andrea Martucci: This world is one in which sex is currency. And even more so in book two. In book one, the prisoners set up the sex as currency situation. And basically the exchange that is created is that the women come over and in exchange for sex they will be protected, theoretically. They will be fed and housed by their guardian that they choose. And hopefully you choose somebody who will actually protect you and not beat you, all that fun stuff.

I think the way the situation is set up is that Audra is exchanging sex for goods, and there is a lot of conversation about like, she feels like a whore, these are her words in the novel, and like she feels dirty and she's constantly thinking like everything I get it's adding to my debt that i owe and i have to pay in sex and this is a transaction.

And so I think the question is when you are in a situation like that can you consent?

Megan Erickson: Yeah, and I, I don't know.

I've thought about this a lot, are we thinking of it like this because there's such a stigma around, like, sex workers Because obviously Audra is still analyzing the situation from, an Earth standard.

And I wonder using sex as currency, is she viewing it that way just because of, how we view sex workers or is that something that's like built into how we feel and how humans treat sex? Is that nurture or nature to feel that way?

Andrea Martucci: That's a very interesting question do we just societally have a stigma against sex workers? And I think that like, yes, we. There is a stigma against sex work, however in an ideal situation sex work is decriminalized and people are doing it because they are actually choosing and they have other options.

Megan Erickson: Right.

Andrea Martucci: And I feel like the other options part is critical.

Megan Erickson: Right. I agree.

Andrea Martucci: Like if you have been sold into sex slavery, you have no other option. In that case, sex work is not something we should celebrate or enable.

Megan Erickson: Correct.

Andrea Martucci: As a society, I think.

Megan Erickson: Totally. Totally. Totally.

Andrea Martucci: I don't think that's a controversial statement.

Megan Erickson: No. [00:21:00] What if I was like, well

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Megan Erickson: You'd be like, podcast's over.

Andrea Martucci: Bye!

But it's so hard because this is maybe where my bias is showing. Like it's not that I can't imagine a world in which somebody would choose to do sex work. However, I feel like in the real world a lot of people, and women in particular, end up doing sex work because of a lack of choice.

Again, it's not that I can't imagine that people would want to. It's just that I think in reality that's not the case.

Megan Erickson: Yeah, I see what you're saying. I think it's interesting, because the author handles this delicately she does posit a decision where Audra's like, I could just run.

Andrea Martucci:


Megan Erickson: She does posit that as a choice. Yes. And Audra decides not to because she still wants to protect Macy, and part of it is she knows if she flees, then the men's settlement will ransack, or whatever, the women's settlement. So she doesn't want to save herself at the detriment of, like, all the other women.

I still think it's interesting, though, that the author is trying to give Audra as much consent as possible in a situation where consent is murky, because she does have Tyson ask her repeatedly, are you okay?

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Megan Erickson: Is this what you want? But then Audra does answer.

She's like, this is my choice,

Andrea Martucci: But my choice was you or somebody else.

Megan Erickson: Yeah, but my choice was you or somebody else and I choose you. I don't necessarily choose to like, have your dick in me. I think that's really interesting because no, I don't think necessarily that first time they had sex, she did consent in a way that would pass some sort of consent test.

But I do find it interesting that the author then chose to not let it happen again until she chose.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Megan Erickson: Cause, cause then Tyson's like, I'm not gonna touch her again.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. He realizes after that first encounter that it was not as consensual as he thought.

He gives her multiple opportunities to say no, but he doesn't realize that to her thinking the choice isn't like, do you want to have sex with me now or we can wait or we could never do this, I'll protect you anyways, she thinks it's like if I say no, he's going to throw me out because I'm not holding up my end of the bargain.

Megan Erickson: Or he'll take Macy because she's still trying to protect Macy . And I do think that's interesting because the author does have Tyson think on this. She does have him go through this internal monologue of you know what she didn't necessarily consent in a way, I don't think the author uses those specific words but the author definitely has Tyson ruminate on what happened and he doesn't feel comfortable with it and I'm not saying what he did was right, I think the author makes you think about it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, he specifically says, because I took what she thought she had no choice but to offer. So he does come to that realization that he does not think of himself as a rapist, and he thought that she was consenting, but he realizes she didn't truly have a choice in that moment. And the way Audra thinks about it is interesting too, because she's kind of like, I guess if [00:24:00] I have to have sex with this guy, I could try to enjoy it as much as possible.

She'd only had one sexual partner before, and it was not fantastic. It was, mostly for the guy's gratification and not hers. And she's willing to, see if this is good for me. And she says, "as badly as I want to enjoy it to make the price easier to pay, there's a large vocal part of me that believes I shouldn't enjoy trading sex for survival, that liking it would be a betrayal of my own self respect."

Megan Erickson: I think that's interesting that she, and she thinks about these things, and how the author does take the sex between them and alters it as they start to really respect each other and grow to care about each other in a way, that felt very believable.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I agree. the kiss is used as a signifier of that. Where they're having sex, like, P in V penetration early on, but then, like, the withholding of the kiss until very far along in their sexual relationship as the ultimate sign of intimacy and trust and, like, this has progressed to this point.

Megan Erickson: Agreed. I love that. And I like how it felt believable to me because they had like intelligent moral discussions. I loved that. And I love how she, she grew to respect his survival skills. She thought he was smart and he was constantly impressed with her and how she was brave and how she helped him. Cause he knew how to set traps for wild animals and she's like, I want to learn, I want to learn too.

She wasn't the type of person that just sat back for him to take care of her. Like, I remember they were, like, fishing, and he was trying to catch a fish and didn't catch one, and she did. She was, like, so proud of herself because she caught the fish and he didn't.

that's one of the reasons I loved Audra so much is because, I think in a world where there wasn't much agency for a woman, the author gave her as much agency as she could. But even at the end where she tries to, like, sacrifice herself to be able to have them leave.

Tyson doesn't allow it, but she was willing to do it. She was willing to say, this is what I will do for us.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think the critical thing here is "as much as this world allows them to."

I think the story builds a world well and I enjoy the world and I enjoy the story.

What I really liked about this world and this story, is it's people overcoming cruelty and systemic injustice and corruption and challenging these base human behaviors or other people who are just completely throwing out humanity.

And they win. that is what's so satisfying, they succeed, they're competent, they overcome the odds, it's like man versus society.

Megan Erickson: Exactly. Especially book two. Book two is so badass how it ends, and how they essentially overthrow this super corrupt, disgusting system.

Andrea Martucci: And it's like you create a situation where they have sex fairly soon and it's weird but it is sexy and there's forced proximity, they're together, it's intense, they're narrowly escaping death, it's exciting, yada yada. Then I'm like, but wait a second, the author has explicitly created a world in which the heroine in this book, for example, is constantly under threat of rape and must exchange sex for protection and goods.

Megan Erickson: Right. [00:27:00] This was author created. Totally understand what you're saying.

Andrea Martucci: Right, right. And I think that's where it feels weird to be like, I really enjoyed this book.

Megan Erickson: Oh, it totally does. I totally agree. But I don't necessarily think that's different than like I said, like post apocalyptic movies and things like that.

Even if you take The Walking Dead, we created this society where there's zombies and the women there aren't necessarily safe But it's interesting to explore.

Andrea Martucci: I mean, every world is author created. that's where I'm like, really trying to put my finger on because I do think it's really well done. it feels so intentional, where I'm like, what is the point that is being made here? Going back to in the world you and I live in, women are not safe.

And people in general are not completely safe.

Megan Erickson: And maybe this is just my interpretation. I'm definitely not like an all or nothing type person. I love having discussions like this. To me, books like this I know this sounds crazy, but it feels hopeful. And I think why is because I think if our entire society crumbled, there would still be people there like Tyson, like Audra, who are willing to, make genuine human connections and who are willing to make moral choices that are altruistic or for each other.

There are people who won't give in to, the baser instincts of a culture. And so maybe that seems weird to say that the prison planet romance has hope in it. But to me, it feels that way. that despite this terrible society, that there's still good people and maybe that's what gives me hope.

I don't know, is that a weird thing to say? But that's how I feel.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. , I'd be super curious to hear what other people think about this, because I thought about it a lot and that was about as far as I got.

Like, I can't articulate why, honestly what you just said. Yeah, it does feel hopeful. But I think maybe just like a greater understanding of why is it enjoyable to, read a book that in many ways, there's a lot of sexual violence or threat of sexual violence, and I do think there is gender essentialism kind of discussed where or I don't know it's this world in which the biggest, strongest survive.

Megan Erickson: Oh, totally. Yeah, I know.

Andrea Martucci: And you know that the women in this world don't really have a chance. They're completely at the mercy of, men or arrangements with men. And yeah, I just, oh, I just, and I know that there's also like, in the discussion about society breaking down and reorganizing, the idea about social control, where part of what keeps people in line is the understanding that other people can be hurt for your actions.

This idea of we are a group, we are a unit, and we are going to keep ourselves in line because we know one of us stepping out of line is bad for all of us, not just that individual.

Megan Erickson: Yeah. And I also think there's a lot of, we're not going to be like them, I think in book two, Callum's like, but I am like them. And I actually like that about him because he's just like, all right, keep your morals Macy, but I'm going to, I'm going to slam the butt of this rifle into this guy's skull and I don't care what you say.

So I think it's interesting too, because I almost don't love the name prison planet. They're not really about prison. Because there are a million things wrong with the [00:30:00] prison system in the United States.

And I don't feel comfortable speaking on all the issues because most of them are, racial what's the documentary, 13? on Netflix. It talks about the injustices in the U. S. prison system, but I don't think Prison Planet romances are about prison.

They are about a society that has lost a lot of its boundaries, and how the humans reform those boundaries themselves. And again, I know what you mean, because you're like, why am I reading, this? I like action, so I don't know. Maybe part of me is like, I like reading about, if everything falls apart that I think that there's still good people out there, even with all the violence that comes with it, I don't know.

I don't know if I can formally answer that question. I know what you mean. Because part of me is like, I love Prison Planet romances, and people are like, what? Like, what, Megan? And it's funny, because I was in a group, like, it's like a science fiction group, and a whole bunch of them were, like, naming their favorite Prison Planet romances.

So it's not just me or whatever. Well, Clearly not. There's, several different ones.

Andrea Martucci: it's speaking to something. And it's like, But what is it?

Megan Erickson: I know what you mean. I would like other people to take a shot, especially Guardian.

. Because I think it's one of the, it's one of the best examples.

Andrea Martucci: So I did actually put out on Instagram, I said "what are prison Planet romances about?" And I did get some answers.

Megan Erickson: Really? Oh, I wanna hear this.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay. So Kat Jackson said breeding and then has like, I don't know if that's a particular type, but I haven't read those ones,

Megan Erickson: but yeah, I can actually probably speak on that too.

Usually breeding would be if it's an alien prison planet. So there's a couple series that are alien prison planet romances. I feel like most of the prison planets are humans, there are alien prison books, and they usually do focus on breeding.

Andrea Martucci: And then Jess, my sweet Jess, who I've spoken of often, said, it's the ultimate force proximity, which is my personal catnip.

Megan Erickson: Oh my god. Keep going.

Andrea Martucci: And then, because it's Jess, we have some awesome writing here.

And it's seasoned with a soupçon of dystopian future. Really, they're a rich stew of tropes.

Megan Erickson: Who is this Jess?

Andrea Martucci: Jess is my first fan.

Megan Erickson: Be friends with Jess. Because I have written, in my notes that Prison Planet Romances, is forced proximity on steroids. that's exactly what it is half the time. And it is also, One of my favorite tropes.

Andrea Martucci: I agree. I hate romance novels where the characters spend most of their time apart.

I'm like, I want them together all the time. I don't want to hear them thinking about each other so much. I want to see them together.

Megan Erickson: I started a science fiction romance series, and it's Alien Romance. the first book, originally I had it where they would be in an ensemble cast most of the novel.

I realized that I didn't like that as much. It is hard for your characters to really connect and grow and learn to rely on each other when you have them in this large ensemble cast. So I actually completely reworked the plot so they're together, alone, for like, I don't know, 70 percent of the novel.

And I like it so much better. it's easier to establish a connection. essentially, they're also forced proximity. They can't really leave each other. Like he can't get rid of her. He doesn't want to. And she cannot survive on this like completely strange planet by herself. She knows she's [00:33:00] scared of him, but she's also completely dependent on this alien.

So yeah, I completely agree. Give them time to be together. that's how you build the emotional connection. Even when they can't talk to each other because they're aliens. They speak different languages.

Andrea Martucci: Right. So they have to communicate physically.

Megan Erickson: Yeah. Or just like, they have to read each other's body language, which I find that to be just catnip to me.

Oh my God. I love it. I love when they have to try to interpret what the other person is saying. It's so fun.

Andrea Martucci: So then Jane. Said also posited forced proximity and then Marissa Elaine Guetta said she loves Ice Planet Barbarians. That one's an alien one, right?

Megan Erickson: Yeah, I do think she has a Prison Planet Barbarian one. It's just her main series is not a prison planet.

Andrea Martucci: That's actually what she said she read, The Ice Planet Barbarians, but she said that it was strong on found family aspects and that the heroes are straight up straight female fantasy wish fulfillment.

Megan Erickson: Oh, absolutely. Especially when you're talking about aliens.

If you're talking about alien romance, it's straight up, yeah. My aliens are pierced everywhere for your pleasure. And it's fun. It's so freaking fun. Like, do you realize how fun it is to write an alien penis? you can make it do whatever you want.

Andrea Martucci: It can vibrate.

Megan Erickson: Oh my god, it can do whatever you want. It's so fantastic. So yeah, so she's right. And I would say, because Prison Planet romances obviously are science fiction, so you're gonna get the crossover where you have, extraterrestrials.

Andrea Martucci: And last but not least, christina. us. uk says, Bananas amounts of over the top sex, clearly.

Megan Erickson: Almost always.

Andrea Martucci: Almost always. Yes. True. None of these were incorrect. These were all very true.

Megan Erickson: And I also didn't, I thought some people would be like, stupid or, because I do think, again, prison makes my shoulders go up a little bit because I don't think these books are like about the modern prison system.

And so sometimes I don't glorify prison in any way, because I think prison planet romances are more about a dystopian post apocalyptic like new society. That's typically what they're like, which again is catnip for me, like The Walking Dead, The Road, all of those.

I eat them up like crazy. I don't know why. I guess I love seeing everything blown up and reform again. Like, what's wrong with me though? Why do I like, why do I like that?

Andrea Martucci: And I guess the prison part, it is, part of it is just a like, okay, how do we create this situation?

But I do think that Guardian, there is some commentary, on the exploitative nature of prison systems. it's not like this book is 100 percent about the prison system, but there are touches that are, I think, clear references to how prison is not about doing the right thing to help people not do crime.

It's punitive. There's money that is changing hands, that is creating incentives for companies and people to make decisions that are not in the best interest of society.

Megan Erickson: And, as I reread it, I noticed Audra does talk about that quite frequently.

She's such a smart heroine. I just love her so much.

So I write a lot of genres under Megan Erickson. it was getting a little confusing and I wanted to write an alien romance for a very long time.

I'm a big fan of Zoe Draven and Ruby Dixon. So I started a pen name Ella Maven and I love her. , she's [00:36:00] super fun to write in. So I started an alien romance series It's called the Drixonian Warrior Series. I have a free novella out right now, I'm really trying to set up the world. I try to set up what these aliens are all about. And essentially they're like a motorcycle club in space, except they don't have spaceships as of now.

But so they're on a planet and they have hover bikes and a similar hierarchy as a motorcycle club or there's like a president. They have tags they wear, which signify what group they're in, they've all separated into different motorcycle clubs, and they have a common enemy.

These women are brought to their planet by their enemy, and they don't really know why yet, especially in the novella, and in the first book, they don't have any more women in their society, they're all killed by a virus, so they have a strong creed, which is she is all, which means they protect women, in all things.

Andrea Martucci: It was basically a matriarchal society before all the women died, right?

Megan Erickson: Exactly. It was, they lived in a matriarchal society where the women were the government, the women were like the traders, and essentially the men were just their defenders. So the men were

just muscle.

They were, they were basically just muscle and like husbands, they'll mate and

Andrea Martucci: Just sperm providers.

Megan Erickson: The women did love them. the heroine kind of compares them a little bit to Spartans but in that's what they're bred for.

So they're bred to defend their world. they lived in a matriarchal society. So when all the women died, the other society really crumbled and fell apart and made them ripe for exploitation by this other alien species who they've since rebelled against by the time the book starts. So there's, it's post war in a way.

And now they separate it all into these groups, and I think this probably goes back to prison planet romances, like, some of these warriors have forgotten about that, because there aren't any women anymore.

They already know that their species won't be continued to the next generation, so why do they care? But there are plenty of others who still hold on to that ideal that, women are to be treasured and respected and protected. Because they were from a matriarchal society, for the most part, they don't mind women who have agency I would say the novella is quick, and she tries her best, but the hero drives it. But in the first book, I really tried to, I had a lot of fun with that heroine and really gave her goals, as much as she could on an alien planet..

Andrea Martucci: Did Megan and I crack this nut wide open? Maybe not, but we certainly had a great discussion, and had fun, trying.

Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out for transcripts and other resources. If you want regular written updates from Shelf Love, you can increasingly find me over at Substack.

Read occasional updates and short essays about romance at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye! [00:39:00]