Thursday, August 24, 2006

Old Beginnings 7


Fantasy books today. Science fiction another day. Do you want to read more, or is it time to pick up a different book? Sources posted at the bottom.


1. Kahlan stood quietly in the shadows, watching, as evil knocked softly on the door. Huddled under the small overhang, off to the side, she hoped that no one would answer that knock. As much as she would like to spend the night in out of the rain, she didn't want trouble to visit innocent people. She knew, though, that she had no say in the matter.

The light of a single lantern flickered weakly through the slender windows to either side of the door, reflecting a pale, shimmering glow off the wet floor of the portico. The sign overhead, hung by two iron rings, grated and squealed each time it swung back and forth in the wind-borne rain. Kahlan was able to make out the spectral white shape of a horse painted on the dark, wet sign. The light from the windows wasn't enough to enable her to read the name, but because the other three women with her had talked of little else for days, Kahlan knew that the name would be the White Horse Inn.

2. At the height of her singing career, which some will say came up to Billie Holiday’s rumpled ankle socks, Echo’s voice was sweet breath through a straw, a straw poked up among swamp water reeds, as predators cruised the surface; a high-yellow voice that matched her tightly stretched teenaged skin, but not her short white hair, and most certainly not those pale gray eyes, startled and ready to bolt, eyes that did not belong in any human face.

King Z and Lady Juno first saw her in the Delphi, a photo negative wandering among the zydeco musicians on a board-and-cinder-block stage. At first they couldn’t hear her; then barely could; and then Z surprised himself when he raised a hand to silence the two thugs arguing about the best place for a manicure and a blow job. The place went silent, all six odds-and-ends tables with their mismatched chairs, and their clueless tourists who knew only that they felt a hard hand gripping their hearts, with just the implication of a squeeze.

3. Todd adjusted his leather power seat and smiled. Now, this was the good life -- driving along the California coast, road stretching empty before him, cruise control set at fifty, climate control at sixty-eight, Brazilian coffee keeping warm in its heated cup-holder. Some might say it'd be even better to be the guy lounging in the back seat instead of his driver, but Todd liked being where he was. Better to be the bodyguard than the guy who needed one.

His predecessor, Russ, had been the more ambitious type, which may explain why Russ had been missing for two months. Odds around the office water-cooler were split fifty-fifty between those who assumed Kristof Nast had finally tired of his bodyguard's insubordination and those who thought Russ had fallen victim to Todd's own ambitions. Bullshit, of course. Not that Todd wouldn't have killed to get this job, but Russ was a Ferratus. Todd wouldn't even know how to kill him.

4. Lessa woke, cold. Cold with more than the chill of the everlastingly clammy stone walls. Cold with the prescience of a danger stronger than the one ten full Turns ago that had then sent her, whimpering with terror, to hide in the watch-wher's odorous lair. Rigid with concentration, Lessa lay in the straw of the redolent cheeseroom she shared as sleeping quarters with the other kitchen drudges.

There was an urgency in the ominous portent unlike any other forewarning. She touched the awareness of the watch-wher, slithering on its rounds in the courtyard. It circled at the choke limit of its chain. It was restless, but oblivious to anything unusual in the predawn darkness.

Lessa curled into a tight knot of bones, hugging herself to ease the strain across her tense shoulders. Then, forcing herself to relax, muscle by muscle, joint by joint, she tried to feel what subtle menace it might be that could rouse her, yet not distress the sensitive watch-wher.


5. The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it "the Riddle House," even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.

The Little Hangletons all agreed that the old house was "creepy." Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer's morning, when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.



Old Beginnings 7

1. Phantom....Terry Goodkind
2. Echo and Narcissus....Mark Siegel
3. Dime Store Magic....Kelley Armstrong
4. Dragonflight....Anne McCaffrey
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire....J.K. Rowling

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. Yes, I like the detail drawn to the sign. If you're hiding and looking out the store window, fearful of what's outside, fixating on a creaky sign makes sense. Plus, even that description is ominous.

2. Not my type. Plus, I don't feel the tension. So there's an alien singer that's so good that she was discovered by a king. Maybe it works for some, but not so much for me.

3. Yes. Action, with the fantasy elements introduced casually.

4. No. Even though you start off with tension, the writing doesn't make it seem immediate. If you wake up tense you might notice the smell of the cheesroom you're in, but the way it's described, it doesn't really add an awareness to the senses. Plus, it's a kind of cliched opening.

5. Considering it's Potter book 4, I would have kept reading if she started with 20 pages on a rock on the grass. But even alone, I think it works pretty well. Where it can go wrong here is if she had overdescribed the house to make it just seem like any other boring house. But she moves quickly into why it's so creepy.

HawkOwl said...

Hey, one of them I actually read! And thought it sucked! It was melodramatic and predictable, and suffered greatly from "calling a rabbit a smeerp."

Anonymous said...

Damn. The list gets longer. I must read #3 and #4. As for Harry Potter -two thumbs down. -JTC

Saralee said...

Ah, love that #5. Can't wait for the final book in the series to come out. But let me take these in order:

1. Nice opening sentence and good atmospheric description of the night and the sign (although the revelation of the inn's name is a let-down, to say the least). But I'm not interested in the character.

2. Wow. Very vivid. I'd read this just to enjoy the writing. I wouldn't care if it was fantasy or not.

3. First paragraph cruises along nicely. Nasty car-crash of information in the second. Multi-character pileup made it hard to figure out who was who -- or what.

4. I would read this. Great details, lots of emotion, the promise of uncanny powers and strange beasts and danger lurking in the dawn. Cool.

5. Very slow. It's interesting to consider this beginning as a separate piece of writing, divorced from the famous series to which it belongs. By the time I got to this book I already knew and expected so much, my own brain filled in the blanks.

Got to find out who wrote numbers 2 and 4.

Saralee

December Quinn said...

1. Yes. I liked the part about evil knocking on the door.

2. Nope, not my thing.

3. YES! That's the opening to "Dime Store Magic" by Kelly Armstrong, one of my favorite books!

4. No. The "watch-where-odor" or whatever thing turned me off, but this was already losing me.

5. Uh, yeah. That's my favorite HP book.

whitemouse said...

1. I thought the first paragraph was good, but the second slowed the pace down and didn't give me any answers to the questions I had after reading the first paragraph. That was annoying, but I'd probably read on.

Of course, I'm a ho for fantasy, so I tend to give them more opportunity to grab my attention than I would for other genres.

2. Just the opposite reaction here; I didn't like the first paragraph (it was showy and useless) but the second one began to pull me in to the story. I'd probably read on.

3. This is a fantasy novel? It reads like science fiction.

Again, I liked the second paragraph better. It raised some questions that I was curious to see answered. I'd read on.

4. Slow-moving, but the tension is there. I'd read on, but I'd be wary if it was a BFF (big fat fantasy). There are a lot of bloated, boring books in the fantasy genre, and while I'll give them a chance, I won't read 1000 pages if the first ten move like molasses.

5. Ha! Harry Potter! Hmm; speaking of bloated books...

But this is actually the most exciting one in the series, IMO.

I can't comment on whether this is readable or not, because Harry Potter is like Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings. It doesn't matter whether it's good or bad; I'm still going to be slapping down my money for it. I'm invested enough in the series that I must consume it all, even the bland/unpleasant bits.

Chumplet said...

#1 sounds like an ancient intro to Dead Like Me.
#2 sounds kind of boring.
#3 sounds like it could be The Fifth Element or something similar.
#4 and #5 I read a few times and will again.

braun said...

I was excited when I saw that these were all fantasy openings but then felt disappointed - Terry Goodkind and Anne McCaffrey aren't the kind of thing I like to read*. I just started in on Paladin of Souls, where's that? Or how about some China Mieville in the house?

* Love that Harry Potter though! And if you don't, your soul is old and withered! ;)

braun said...

whitemouse, how is LotR like HP or Star Wars? There's four books (or five, if you count The Simarillion) and that's all there's ever going to be. I haven't seen anyone cranking out expanded universe LotR novelizations lately, and if they are then they're not legal.

I think the example you were looking for was Robert Jordan.

Skott Klebe said...

1. No. Monotonous sentence structure - dum comma dum dum comma dumity dumity dum. I'd be sticking fingers in my eyes to stay awake.
2. Yes. Beautiful writing - vivid imagery, almost singing scansion. I'm with SaraLee - I'd read it just for the words, no matter what genre.
3. Maybe - I'd leaf ahead to see if every noun had as many adjectives clunking along in it. The last two sentences are a good grab; I think that the author could have gotten to them a lot quicker, maybe even started with them. Who cares about the heated cup-holder?
4. Yes, I have to say, given that I read it dozens of times between the ages of ten and twenty. It's shocking to me how clunky the writing seems in this context, although I think that this was a first novel (originally a novella).
5. Yes. Next to all of these others, you can see part of the reason that these books are so popular - exceptional writing, bereft of the self-conscious showmanship of #2. Elegant sentence structure, beautiful off-hand characterization of the (quoting of "creepy" is a delicately humorous touch); fairytale tone conveys menace without being creepy itself.

writtenwyrdd said...

I've read all but #2, and I think I'll hunt that one up just so I could read a bit further and decide if I wanted to keep going.

#1 Got me curious enough to want to know more. Who are the women with her, what is the trouble visiting innocent people?

#2 The pov was interesting. I do get tired of only 3rd person ltd. I also disliked a lot of the description - what does "voice was a sweet breath through a straw" mean? Or "a high-yellow voice". That sounds like a racial reference, but I am not sure.

It was wierd, I wasn't sure I liked it, but I was curious and would have read a couple more paragraphs at least.

#3 Dimestore magic has a strong beginning and is a decent read. I like this opening a lot because you establish the character and set me up to expect something interesting. Not sure what yet, but I'm eager to discover it.

#4 We learn a lot about Lessa here, and McCaffrey makes me want to find out more. The contrast between Lessa's internal self and her external situation as a kitchen drudge intrigued me.

#5 Harry Potter. I really like these books. This beginning is good. It doesn't knock my socks off, but it introduces us to a mystery, and I would have been willing to read on, even if I hadn't read the previous HP books. I'm not sure that this beginning would have worked had the author not been well known, however.

Anonymous said...

I thought I might like HP but then I remembered I'm an adult.

Beth said...

1.Pretty good. I like the description of the surroundings; I could visualize it all very clearly. I'm not fond of this author's books (stopped reading them years ago), but he can write decently.

2. This doesn't appeal to me. Nothing wrong with the writing, but slightly repelled rather than drawn in. Purely subjective reaction.

3. This sounds like a thriller opening, except for that last line. I'd read on just to see where it's going.

4. Yes! A classic and one of my favorite sf novels. (Though EE--this book is not fantasy; it's science fiction. The planet was colonized by space travelers. The dragons are genetically engineered.)

5. Intriguing. Has an "English" (British) tone to it. (And it shames me to admit that I didn't at first recognize this opening, even though I read the book, albeit some years ago. OTOH, while I enjoy the books by this author, I'm not wild crazy about them like some folks.)

Ashni said...

I like fantasy, to the extent that it's probably the slight majority of what I read. However, I'm picky enough about it that friends have claimed I don't like the genre at all. Without checking the Openings page:

1. I would have put this down at the first sentence. Evil knocked on the door? Melodrama, anyone?

2. Greek gods in a modern setting, always fun. I would read on.

3. This one grabbed me, enough that I'm thinking about picking it up.

4. Boring, melodramatic, and illustrative of the reasons why some people develop adjective phobias.

5. Can't judge it out of context. I was certainly hooked by the start of the first book. I remember this quite vividly, because my graduate advisor was kind enough to hand it to me a week before the end of finals.

*Checks the openings page* Sure enough, I knew I didn't like those two authors.

Gerri said...

This list illustrates the changing tastes and styles in writing over the last thirty years--the approximate time between examples 4 & 5. I had to laugh when anonymous1 said that McCaffery's opening was cliched. She was doing that kind of opening before the imitators crowded in on her heels. As for the adjective complaint of ashni, well, all I can say is that writing styles and tastes have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Look at Tolkein. Think that his writing would sell in this day and age(if it were new and not a best-selling series and movie trilogy)? And that's only 60 years or so difference.

BTW, Whitemouse, this particular Pern novel happens to be the shortest one--and isn't a big fat fantasy novel. However, the books get longer from there on out. But they're fun, light reads, unlike ponderous Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind or G. R. R. Martin.

Beth said...

Funny how we can have such different reactions to the same piece. I didn't notice any excessive adjectives in #4--most of the ones used pulled their own weight.

Evil minion #667 said...

#1 - Probably. A little too melodramatic and that last line is clunky. But it is somewhat intriguing, and gives the impression that something is about to happen.

#2 - Maybe, maybe not; depending on my mood. Sometimes I like this kind of thing. But that last sentence is kind of a turnoff.

#3 - Yes, definitely. I was starting to get bored in the first paragraph, but the second perked up my interest. Last sentence is great!

#4 - I might have read this 20 years ago, but now... Maybe. It has a nice suspenseful feel, but I'm afraid we'll get a clothing description soon.

#5 - Classic example of an opening that breaks rules - there's absolutely no action - and works anyway. It's well-written and compelling. I'd read on, I think (hard to judge this one objectively).

xiqay said...

1. I like it and I would keep reading. I was a little disappointed in the name "White Horse Inn"-found it to be cliche.

2. Loved it. Loved the imagery of singing as breath through a straw poked up among swamp water reeds. This alone did it for me. But then the hand, gripping the heart with just an implication fo a squeeze sealed the deal. WOW.

3. This was okay. Clean writing, a very masculine feel. I'd keep reading.

4. I read this book. Reviewing now, use of "watch-wher" 3 x without clarity is a bit irritating. But Lessa comes through strong and I'd (obviously) keep reading.

5. Read it (of course). Multiple times. Still like this beginning.

xiqay said...

Anon at 11:02

huh?

I'm an adult (as in widowed, and having children out of elementary school) and I love the HP series!

McKoala said...

1. No. That first paragraph is all over the place. the second one is better, but it takes an awful long time to sort out the name of the inn - so, no.

2. Yes, yes! I think this is great writing, weird, but great.

3. No. Bland, boring writing. Awkward back story.

4. No. The topic rather than the writing this time, though. Heard it all before.

5. Yes, I wanna know what happened! I didn't even recognise this as HP until I read the comments (although I did think, hey another writer used the name Riddle!). I don't rate JKR hugely as a writer, although I love the stories, but I think this piece works really well, ominous and creepy.

McKoala said...

Re. topics for discussion - the openings are great, long may they continue - but I would also like to know what you think though, oh evil greatness - if any of these crossed your desk today, would you take them on/not and why?

One thing that recurs in critiques (not always here as the pieces are short) is the importance of accuracy and logic - for example if the author has just said the a character has a glass in his left hand and a cigarette in his right, then suddenly he's also holding a hat, where did his third hand come from? It might be fun to see what kind of errors or accuracy and logic people have noticed in successful, published books.

I've found one in the 'Life of Pi' that I'm just longing to share!

Beth said...

mckoala said...4. No. The topic rather than the writing this time, though. Heard it all before.

I'm curious. If you don't mind answering, what is the topic that turned you off and where do you think this opening is heading that you find so familiar?

Anonymous said...

Beth,

Okay, so it's one of your favourite books of all time, but some of us don't actually like McCafferty. Please just accept that.

Virginia Miss said...

Nice beginnings, I liked 4 of the 5:
1. My mind wandered, so I probably would have put it down in a bookstore.
2. The voice intrigued me, although I thought the first paragraph was much stronger than the second one.
3. Very readable, final sentence of excerpt is good
4. Yes, strong opening, full of tension, although I recognized it so that may have prejudiced me in favor
5. Recognized it right away, too, so it's hard to be objective, but very atmospheric.

HawkOwl said...

McKoala - Maybe you should post it on your blog. Hehehe. Come to the dark side! Or you can leave me a comment. Any dissing of Life of Pi is always welcome on Procrastination.

Kathleen said...

#4 and #5 definitely, but of course I have actually read those.

The other 3, unless the books came recommended, I would not keep reading.

rameau said...

If you fanned the hand and said "pick one," it'd be #2, definitely, for the lliveliness and originality of the prose.

kis said...

gerri, how anyone can compare Robert Jordan to George RR Martin is beyond me. The only similarity is the length of their projects. For authenticity of setting and character, I'll take GRRM any day. I struggled along with RJ for the first six books, then gave up. There's only so many times I can read what is essentially the same book.

Although I guess I'm a creature of some habit, since #4 is the one I'd most likely shell out money for--even with those 3 annoying "watch-wher"s in the first 3 paras. I might give #5 a chance--assuming this is a blind taste test--to grab me more in the next few paras, cause the hook is decent. And I am not entirely skeptical that #1 will pick up the pace soon, so I'd maybe give that a bit more of a read. But to spend my precious dollars based strictly on what's here? As I said, #4, maybe.

Of course, I just spent money based on the first pages sample on a website, and was regretting it by page 40, so waddayagonnado?

MLR said...

1. I really didn't like the "evil knocked softly on the door" sentence. However, I did like some of the sensory detail, but as I reread it looking for examples, I want to excise parts before quoting. This is a maybe. I'd have to read a paragraph from the middle of the book before deciding.

2. No. The author begins with an extraordinary looking character, which I find overused in fantasy (and romance). It's a big, blinking neon sign that this character is special, and it's a turn-off for me. That said, I particularly liked the descriptor "a [wandering] photo negative."

3. I'd keep reading, especially after the last two lines.

4. I read this as a young woman and loved it. My reaction now is tempered by more familiarity with the genre and some critical commentary on a later scene. Trying to look at this opening objectively, I'm not sure that I would continue reading nowadays.

5. I've read this as well. Even if I didn't know it was Rowling, the opening would have kept me reading.

BuffySquirrel said...

Still catching up after my weekend of debauchery (I wish).

1. No. "Evil knocked softly on the door" leaves me cold. Also, the hivering and havering suggests a protagonist who is wimpy. Also, she needs help to figure out that a pub with a white horse painted on the sign is probably called the White Horse? Please...

2. Yet another rehash of Greek myth? No thanks.

3. No. Can't stand the protagonist.

4. I read this one when I was young. Reads a little over-written now, but has enough elements that make me curious that I probably would read it. Already I'd be asking questions that I'd want answered.

5. Maybe. It promises some interesting stuff, but the insistent tell tell tell is off-putting. If the writer didn't produce some evidence that they could "show" within the next few pages, I think I'd give up.

Beth said...

Anon 1:41

I think you got the wrong idea. My question had nothing to do with not "accepting" that others don't like the same books I do. I was genuinely curious as to what familiar places McKoala thought the plot was going after that opening.

As for liking, or not liking, McCaffrey (not McCafferty), her early work was good and innovative, but I haven't cared for anthing she's written since the early Pern novels.