Best Selling Science Fiction: Character driven or fast paced action?

IMG_0180How do you prefer your science fiction? Character driven or fast paced action?

And, is there a gender bias?

I am under the impression that women tend to like stories that delve deep into character and emotion. The reader identifies with the protagonist and enjoys the exhilarating angst of his/her life. The crux of the story is based on relationships and the evolving personality of the main character as he/she overcomes, or is defeated, by obstacles and conflict.

Time TarvelerThe Time Traveler’s Wife comes to mind here.

This story is about the love relationship between husband and wife and how they cope with his strange affliction. For humble librarian Henry DeTamble, time traveling is an affliction. He has no control over where he goes, when he goes, and always he goes naked.

Arrival in a new time period always involves a scramble to get covered up.

Author Audrey Niffenegger does a great job exploring the quirks that time travel can present. From traveling back in time to meet his wife as a child and establishing a relationship before he actually meets her in his normal timeline, to traveling to the future to console his grieving widow, the story of Henry DeTamble offers rich thoughts about how time dominates our own short lives.

The point of view remains consistent with the main character and the action revolves around different situations solely within the main character’s life.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an involving love story with a twist. And is unique in the science fiction realm.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the action driven stories that sprawl across a multitude of worlds with many characters, human and alien, and offer multiple viewpoints.

Peter Hamilton comes to mind with his Commonwealth novels and subsequent Void series. Multiple points of view, nonstop action and subplots, a universe spanning setting, the story spreads out over several large novels.

Lift them carefully or you’ll hurt your back.

Pandora's StarThe first book, Pandora’s Star and sequel Judas Unchained, tell a story of a disappearing star that leads the Intersolar Commonwealth out to investigate the phenomenon. What they unleash is an advanced alien mass-mind species called “The Prime” that is bent on exterminating all humans.

As if that isn’t enough of a problem a “Starflyer,” is discovered, which is another alien species capable of mind control, and they are attacking and destroying the Commonwealth from within. Hamilton goes on a subplot spree that the reader hopes will eventually tie together, but keeping track is tricky at best.

At one point I counted over twelve point of views in Judas Unchained alone, and keeping up with who was where, doing what was taxing. Not finished, some of his characters from the first two books reappear 1500 years later in his Void Series. Still he provides quite an adrenaline rush.Judas Unchained

And that’s the key.

To get the reader to respond.

Whether from deeply felt emotion that has you grabbing a hanky, or from the exhilaration of a joy ride in a full-on battle, the reader wants a story that stirs him/her.

What’s your preference?

And what’s your gender? Does it matter?


Filed under alien life forms, Aliens in Science Fiction, Best selling science fiction, Cutting Edge Science ideas, Hard science fiction, science fiction series, Science fiction thriller, Science fiction world building, Space opera, space ship, space travel, time travel

3 responses to “Best Selling Science Fiction: Character driven or fast paced action?

  1. I’m currently reading Judas Unchained after feverishly devouring Pandora’s Star, and I’m totally in love. I deeply enjoy reading space opera, and I’m on a subconscious level trying to find the confidence and develop the skill level necessary to write one. My WIP is the first in a trilogy of quite grand scale, but I’ve never considered it a space opera, because of it’s intimate focus on a handful of characters (and “thriller” feel) rather than on societies and wars (with their “grand concept” feel). *shrug*


  2. I love it that we girls are breaking the stereotype, Vero. I also like fast paced action and eschew the more character driven novel (Jane Austen exempted here).

    However, each of my books is a different type. “Past the Event” is definitely fast paced, while “Caught in Time” is more character centered…Having said that, the true answer is that it has to be a balance.
    You have to have both…just as your latest guest blogger said.

    I love your blogs…witty and insightful. I commend them to all.

    Good luck on the writing, and editing, especially the editing.


  3. Klaus Schilling

    I want idea-driven fiction, without character development or thrilling action. Gender is irrelevant.


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