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Thread: Are there any first-person present tense SF novels?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Question Are there any first-person present tense SF novels?

    I wrote a SF adventure novel in third-person past tense (the only form I've read sci-fi novels, to be frank), but when I was rewriting, I tried doing it in first-person present tense (because, while harder, people say I'm good at that). Then I let some beta readers (who read 3rd person form) read the 1st person version. Everyone said they thought it was leagues better, but one person said it'll never fly because the majority of sci-fi readers won't enjoy the 1st person present tense aspect.

    Then I went to the Baen forum boards and posted the first chapter in 1st person. Sure enough, I got someone complaining that 1st person is too limiting and not good for sci-fi, and that I should change it to 3rd person if I want to get it published (though they didn't have a problem with the story itself, just the style it was told).

    My question is two-fold: are there any major sci-fi novels that are 1st person present tense? And does anyone have experience writing/publishing 1st person present tense sci-fi stuff?

    I don't want to rewrite this whole novel only to get it turned down by every major publisher because they didn't think the narration fit the genre. :/
    Last edited by Adelle; 06-09-2017 at 05:02 AM.

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  2. #2
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adelle View Post
    I don't want to rewrite this whole novel only to get it turned down by every major publisher because they didn't think the narration fit the genre. :/
    It's really doubtful a publisher would do that. The only reason to do it would be if it were poorly done. (In which case, any book that's poorly done would get turned down.)

    1st/present is more popular in the YA category, but it has been done. Elizabeth Bear did it for Hammered (and possibly the rest of that series, but I've only read the first book) and Karen Memory. I'm sure there are others but my brain is a little puddinged right now so none are springing to mind.

    Anyway. If it works best for your book, that's how you should do it.
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  3. #3
    Gryffindor Mascot griffins's Avatar
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    Hi Adelle,
    Both The Hunger Games and Divergent series are written in first person present. The POV/tense might be more common in YA markets, though.

  4. #4
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    There definitely are in YA, mine included.

    The key with ANY POV is to be invisible. If someone notices that it's in X POV beyond the first chapter, then it's done poorly.
    Last edited by Cyia; 06-09-2017 at 05:45 AM.

  5. #5
    seņora vaca writeonleanne's Avatar
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    Red Rising by Pierce Brown is first person present tense.

    I second Aggy B.—if it works, do it. I think if a story is well-done, it won't matter what POV it's from.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    It's really doubtful a publisher would do that. The only reason to do it would be if it were poorly done. (In which case, any book that's poorly done would get turned down.)

    1st/present is more popular in the YA category, but it has been done. Elizabeth Bear did it for Hammered (and possibly the rest of that series, but I've only read the first book) and Karen Memory. I'm sure there are others but my brain is a little puddinged right now so none are springing to mind.

    Anyway. If it works best for your book, that's how you should do it.
    Thank you for those two examples! It makes me feel infinity better knowing it isn't a complete anomaly. I'll just focus on making my ms the best it can be. ^-^

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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by writeonleanne View Post
    Red Rising by Pierce Brown is first person present tense.

    I second Aggy B.—if it works, do it. I think if a story is well-done, it won't matter what POV it's from.
    Oh, Red Rising looks like it's more akin to my novel. Again, that totally lifts my spirits. Thank you! I think I'm definitely going to continue with this route. :3

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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by griffins View Post
    Hi Adelle,
    Both The Hunger Games and Divergent series are written in first person present. The POV/tense might be more common in YA markets, though.
    Mine is adult, which is what I'm worried about, but thank you for the suggestions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    There definitely are in YA, mine included.

    The key with ANY POV is to be invisible. If someone notices that it's in X POV beyond the first chapter, then it's done poorly.
    I'll keep this in mind. Maybe I'll go through all my stuff again to make sure it's as well written as possible.

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  9. #9
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    I'll also note that there will always be folks who don't like a particular POV/tense combination. The thing you need to watch out for is folks who are giving feedback who say "I normally am okay with/like this POV/tense but here it's not working for me." Then you might have a problem. But don't stress too much over the folks who don't like that thing under normal circumstances still not liking it when you do it.

    (I've won some folks over before. But I've also had folks say things like "I don't read or like this genre much, but I thought I'd check out this chapter. Here's why I don't like it." Haha. Hard to make a difference in their preferences.)
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  10. #10
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    I generally dislike reading first person present, but my current WIP is about 60% FPP. That's just how the story needs to be told. Go figure.

    That said - it's adult SF, and at least one person in SYW assumed it was YA because of the tense.
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    I'll also note that there will always be folks who don't like a particular POV/tense combination. The thing you need to watch out for is folks who are giving feedback who say "I normally am okay with/like this POV/tense but here it's not working for me." Then you might have a problem. But don't stress too much over the folks who don't like that thing under normal circumstances still not liking it when you do it.
    I've never experienced that situation (thank goodness) but I am worried about people in the sci-fi crowd of readers that will have a negative reaction to the writing style. I'm definitely going to keep Cyia's comment in mind, but I'll also keep in mind humans typically harbor biases, haha. I can't please everyone. o.o

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  12. #12
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    The vast majority of "bad" FPP I've seen suffers from cardboard stilt-filters.

    "I go to the door and turn the handle. There is a stranger outside. He's tall and wearing a trench coat like you'd see in an old movie. I smell cheap cologne. I think I might vomit as he walks past me."

    ^ This kind of thing is sadly not too far from actual published passages - best-selling published passages. It reads like a ticker tape <stop> There's no real voice involved <stop> And after a while, it's so noticeably annoying that you want to rip it out of the novel <stop> (seriously - STOP writer-people. For the sake of your readers.)

    Another version could read: The claustrophobia of my tiny, windowless room is about to send me screaming through the wall like a cartoon coyote. Before I have the chance to test the laws of physics and their effects on my sanity, someone turns the knob from outside. Joking aside, I'm not crazy; that door was locked. A silhouette cuts into the room straight out of a noir film, engulfed in a cloud of smoke that must be ninety-percent cologne-aisle roulette.

    (The point being, try writing FPP like you're talking to the person reading it and you're going to have an easier time. At least that's how it works for me.)

    I actually practiced FFP writing by taking a book I HATED the writing in and redoing it as I would have written it myself. Not a bad exercise.

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Oh my gosh! That's exactly why I love FPP! I love the feel of it being dialogue--talking straight to the reader, especially when the main character is teeming with personality (I have read FPP where the main character is a brick, and that's no fun). But FPP is my favorite to read, so I practiced for a good long time to write that way. And your example passage is exactly the stuff I love.

    Don't get me wrong, 3rd person past tense can be good too, but I've found I just prefer the personality of FPP more.

    Which bring me to SF, because that's my favorite genre. >.> (I've read a lot, but never found FPP--though now I have a few books to read).

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    Tenacious to a fault francist44's Avatar
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    Upon sending first and too wordy 230k-wrd fantasy off to a publisher it was rejected. However, the editor liked the concept plus other aspects and suggested I rewrite it with more dialogue/less narration. The MS is now dialogue-drive and present tense 3rd. It reads faster and I now favor present tense. I don’t think you will be rejected on 1st present.

  15. #15
    Migam eyeblink's Avatar
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    Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is in first present. It wasn't published as a SF novel but it certainly is one.

    It's a long time since I read it, but IIRC Ian Watson's God's World (1979) is first-person present - first person present female, which wasn't usual for a male writer at all then in SF.

    Present tense wasn't usual in genre SF until the New Wave of the later 60s, and writers like James Tiptree Jr who came to prominence then were known to use it. Tiptree's first novel Up the Walls of the World was rejected by at least one publisher (Judy-Lynn del Rey) because it was in present tense (third person IIRC) and Tiptree declined to change it.
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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eyeblink View Post
    Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is in first present. It wasn't published as a SF novel but it certainly is one.

    It's a long time since I read it, but IIRC Ian Watson's God's World (1979) is first-person present - first person present female, which wasn't usual for a male writer at all then in SF.

    Present tense wasn't usual in genre SF until the New Wave of the later 60s, and writers like James Tiptree Jr who came to prominence then were known to use it. Tiptree's first novel Up the Walls of the World was rejected by at least one publisher (Judy-Lynn del Rey) because it was in present tense (third person IIRC) and Tiptree declined to change it.
    EDIT: sorry, you mean the 60s author. How do you know that story? (and it's this kind of rejection that I'm worried about. >.>)

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    Lost In The Realms RaiscaraAvalon's Avatar
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    I was actually wondering the same thing, as mine is third AND first person and I hadn't read many books (if any) in SFF in first person, even slightly. I say just write the story the way it wants to be told.
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW polishmuse's Avatar
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    Check Fifth Season by Jemison. I think it's partly in first present, though it has multiple POVs. If you want a lesson in perspective in SFF, check her out. KINDRED by Butler might also be? I know it's first person, for sure.
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  19. #19
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Jemisin is second person.

    A lot of classic sf is first person. Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula le guin), most gene Wolfe, Michael Martin Smith books, and many others.

    First person present is more rare but it seems to work for you from what I've read so I would say don't stress too much.
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  20. #20
    figuring it all out
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    Not two months ago I published a first person present tense SF novel on Amazon, titled Technodiversity. It's by no means major, selling 1-2 copies each week (including borrowed copies through Amazon Prime), but it works and so far I had a few positive reviews as well, and a small (as in: countable with my fingers) fanbase.

    One thing I can say for sure: writing first person present tense SF is great FUN! I found it a lot more exciting than 3rd person past tense. I was able to 'feel' the action better and enjoyed my own story more while creating it.

  21. #21
    Migam eyeblink's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adelle View Post
    EDIT: sorry, you mean the 60s author. How do you know that story? (and it's this kind of rejection that I'm worried about. >.>)
    It's in Julie Phillips's excellent Tiptree biography James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. That rejection was in 1976, and Up the Walls of the World was published by another company in 1978.

    Much of Tiptree's short fiction - often novelette/novella length - is in present tense, though as often third person as first.
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  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW NateSean's Avatar
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    It's been awhile since I read it so I could be wrong. But I think Prey by Michael Crichton was done in first-person present tense.

  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Tod Moran's Avatar
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    Friday by Heinlein is 1st person narrator. If it works for him . . .
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  24. #24
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tod Moran View Post
    Friday by Heinlein is 1st person narrator. If it works for him . . .
    Is it in present tense as well? It's been so long since I read it that I can't remember, and it appears to be out of print (so I can't check the opening pages on Amazon). Anyone still have a copy lying around to check?

    Most of the fantasy novels I've run across that are FP present are YA titles, so maybe YA SF is the likeliest place to find current examples. I haven't read much YA SF, and the ones I can think of offhand are in omniscient third, or first person, past tense.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    The vast majority of "bad" FPP I've seen suffers from cardboard stilt-filters.

    "I go to the door and turn the handle. There is a stranger outside. He's tall and wearing a trench coat like you'd see in an old movie. I smell cheap cologne. I think I might vomit as he walks past me."

    ^ This kind of thing is sadly not too far from actual published passages - best-selling published passages. It reads like a ticker tape <stop> There's no real voice involved <stop> And after a while, it's so noticeably annoying that you want to rip it out of the novel <stop> (seriously - STOP writer-people. For the sake of your readers.).
    Oh my god, yes!

    This style of over filtered, bland narrative is irritating in first person past tense or in third person also, but with first person, present tense, the whole point is to have lots of voice. And when one is departing from readers' expected norms in terms of narrative, the writing really does have to be much better than average.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 07-05-2017 at 11:30 PM.
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  25. #25
    figuring it all out CindyRae's Avatar
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    My favorite at the moment: Ready Player One by Cline (the movie should be out soon, wahoo!). Some older ones by Heinlein come to mind, like Starship Troopers.

    I've ran across several science fiction ebooks that are in 1st person. They're definitely not in the majority, but I enjoyed them. The ones besides the above that stuck in my mind the most were the books with a bit more humor or a bit more a silly (but enjoyable) plot than most. Eat Fish and Die, Stray by Host, Bob Moore: No Hero (a bit of superhero -- fantasy or sf? maybe it depends on the hero).

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