Sci-fi and POV

In discussing point-of-view with a group of writers the other day, I realized how uncommonly first-person narration is used in science fiction compared to some other genres. These things are subject both to trends and to the preferences of various age-groups, of course. It’s pretty well known that teen readers prefer first-person more than just about any age group. And perhaps because of the ascendency of YA, first-person is starting to become more common in fantasy, too.

But I can’t think of too many harder sci-fi books with first-person narrators. I could speculate (no pun intended) on why: maybe it’s enough of a challenge to put a reader in an unfamiliar world or time without making them feel there at the “I” level, too? Maybe it’s because sci-fi writers and readers are weighted toward the male persuasion? Maybe it’s because sci-fi often tackles social issues or grand ideas, and first-person narrators are more likely to focus on personal stories? Maybe it’s coincidence?

Maybe I’m wrong?

What recent sci-fi can you think of that’s written in first person, and what are your speculations about the relationship between story and narrative perspective?

— Joni, who likes third-person better anyway


Filed under Joni Sensel

10 responses to “Sci-fi and POV

  1. Across the Universe is written in first-person and there are two different narrators. I love this book, but in some ways what you’re saying is very true. The story is more about the personal than the sci-fi.

  2. Out of curiousity sparked by your post I looked at several books I’ve read by male authors. I would probably call these dystopian, more than sci-fi, and they are YA of the darker sort.
    The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith is in first person, as is M.T. Anderson’s Feed.
    Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series are in third person.
    I’m not sure if this means anything other than what voice felt right to the author, and it certainly doesn’t speak to hard sci-fi.

  3. Andre Norton did some SF first person. Her stories were always about the people, though. Society and other issues were reflected through the lens of their perceptions. It makes the story more immediate and relatable, at least in my opinion.

    I used first person for my SF novel, because it worked for the character and the story.

  4. Really, Andre Norton? I read just about everything of hers, but it’s been a zillion years. And I was thinking that maybe a lot of my sense that there’s not much first-person was because a lot of my sci-fi reading was a fairly long time ago… but clearly some of it is just that I’m not remembering right!

    • She wrote several first person novels. Most of her SF was 3rd person, though. Most of the classic SF authors used 3rd person POV. I’ll have to go check my library for 1st person POV. I’m sure there are some in there…

  5. Parker Peevyhouse

    Maybe it also has to do with what I discussed yesterday. If you use 3rd person POV, you can get away with more exposition, whereas a 1st person POV narrator should already know about the world they’re in and thus can’t get away with explaining as much to the reader.

  6. L.

    Mockingbird by Walter Tevis has two first-person POVs and one third.

    And I used it recently in a SF short story… but only because Cthulhu Mythos stories are always in first person. Didn’t get any complaints.

    I had sworn off writing in first person, but that story made me compromise. That story made me compromise on a lot of things, actually… :)

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Hmmm… sounds interesting. I guess sometimes a story just has to be told a certain way, whether or not your prefer a different kind of POV.

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