Opening Lines – Dead Gone

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before.

Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her.

She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination.

Nope. She wasn’t scared before.

She was now.

It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end.

She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that.

Had to be.

from Dead Gone by Luca Veste

This tells you so much about the victim, her life and what’s about to happen to her (and who’s behind what’s about to happen) — such a good opening.

Opening Lines – Morning Star

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

Deep in darkness, far from warmth and sun and moons, I lie, quiet as the stone that surrounds me, imprisoning my hunched body in a dreadful womb. I cannot stand. Cannot stretch. I can only curl in a ball, a withered fossil of the man that was. Hands cuffed behind my back. Naked on cold rock.

All alone with the dark.

It seems months, years, millennia since my knees have unbent, since my spine has straightened from its crooked pose. The ache is madness. My joints fuse like rusted iron. How much time has passed since I saw my Golden friends bleeding out into the grass? Since I felt gentle Roque kiss my cheek as he broke my heart?

Time is no river.

Not here.

In this tomb, time is the stone. It is the darkness, permanent and unyielding, its only measure the twin pendulums of life — breath and the beating of my heart.

In. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

Out. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

In. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

And forever it repeats.

from Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Opening Lines – Staked by Kevin Hearne

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

I didn’t have time to pull off the heist with a proper sense of theatre. I didn’t even have a cool pair of shades. All I had was a soundtrack curated by Tarantino playing in my head, one of those songs with horns and a fat bass track and a guitar going waka-chaka-waka-chaka as I padded on asphalt with the uncomfortable feeling that someone was enjoying a voyeuristic close-up of my feet.

from Staked by Kevin Hearne

Opening Lines – The Book of Unknown Americans

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here.

Back then, all we wanted was the simplest things: to eat good food, to sleep at night, to smile, to laugh, to be well. We felt it was our right, as much as it was anyone’s, to have those things. Of course, when I think about it now, I see that I was naïve. I was blinded by the swell of hope and the promise of possibility. I assumed that everything that would go wrong in our lives already had.

from The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

This last sentence here is the killer. First, it’s just a great sentence, short and to the point. Capturing the naïveté about to be lost and the voice of experience soon-to-be gained. It tells (warns?) you everything you need to know about the next 283 pages (and what happened before the book started). In just 13 words.

Opening Lines – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree needs their head examined.

That’s what Elsa’s granny says, at least.

Elsa is seven, going on eight. She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven. She knows she’s different. Her headmaster says she needs to “fall into line” in order to achieve “a better fit with her peers.” Other adults describe her as “very grown-up for her age.” Elsa knows this is just another way of saying “massively annoying for her age,” because they only tend to say this when she corrects them for mispronouncing “déjà vu” or not being able to tell the difference between “me” and “I” at the end of a sentence. Smart-asses usually can’t, hence the “grown-up for her age” comment, generally said with a strained smile at her parents. As if she has a mental impairment, as if Elsa has shown them up by not being totally thick just because she’s seven. And that’s why she doesn’t have any friends except Granny. Because all the other seven-year-olds in her school are as idiotic as seven-year-olds tend to be, but Elsa is different.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different–look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.

from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

It was really hard to stop where I did, I wanted to use the first three pages, but am pretty sure that it’d get me in copyright trouble.

Opening Lines – If I Fall, If I Die

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book

The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die.

He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags. His eyeballs did not sizzle in their sockets, and his heart’s pistons did not seize. No barbarian lopped his head into a blood-soggy wicker basket, and no glinting ninja stars were zinged into his throat.

Actually, incredibly: nothing happened–no immolation, no blood-bath, no spontaneous asphyxiation, no tide of shivery terror crashing upon the shore of his heart–not even a trace of his mother’s Black Lagoon in his breath.

Somehow Will was calm.

from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

Provoke Not The Children by Michael W. Anderson

Provoke Not The ChildrenProvoke Not The Children

by Michael W. Anderson


Kindle Edition, 348 pg.
Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014
Read: August 27 – 31, 2014

Some dystopian futures seem plausible — even inevitable — 1984, The Hunger Games; while others seem impossible — Divergent, Red Rising. Anderson’s world is possibly the most plausible I’ve read.

In this future U. S., parents are no longer responsible for the day-to-day raising, nurturing, or educating of their children (they are still responsible for paying for all that). Instead, they entrust their children to the care of Proxies. Proxies are professional child-raisers. The idea is that these people know exactly what an individual child needs for full academic, social, psychological and physical progress and health, and are far better suited to ensuring children receive this care than an y parent could hope to. So after years and years of more and more parents turning to this option, it becomes mandatory for all children in the U. S. to be handed over to the professionals.

What do parents do with all this time they’re not, you know, parenting? Why, they’re making themselves the best possible versions of themselves that they can. Kids just get in the way of paying attention to yourself, your career, your well-being, and so on. (other than having someone to show off at parties and to inherit what you have left, I’m not sure what the point is to having kids in this world — but let’s just assume the biological imperatives win out or something.)

Now, with a government mandate of this size, regulations are going to come into play. And where there are regulations, you need people to enforce them. Enter our hero, Chase Stern. Chase is a Proxy Review Officer — he travels the Northwest working to make sure that children are being cared for by Proxies, and that the Proxies are doing things right.

Naturally, not all are. In fact, there’s a very disturbing number of Proxies getting away with fraud, abuse, and neglect. Chase blows the proverbial whistle on this unpleasant truth and is first publicly pilloried for this, but that soon turns into the opportunity for Chase to be part of the reforms of the Proxy Industry. The cure proposed may turn out to be worse for society as a whole, and the children in particular, than the disease.

Great premise, right? Hard to go wrong with a setup like that.

And yet, Anderson doesn’t quite pull it off. He’s close. I don’t think he was ready to write characters and a story to go with ideas this big quite yet. The pacing was strange at times, and I think the book would’ve been better served if we’d gotten to see more of the process involved — not just opening chapters with a “In the months/years since the end of the last chapter, many things happened”-type summary. Also, there’s a whole lot more telling than showing going on here, his characters gave a lot of speeches. Not quite as bad as Asimov in Foundation*, but along the same lines.

The biggest problem with this book is the characters. They’re flat. They’re not people. The novel is entirely from Chase’s perspective and he comes closest to being a person. But even he’s flat. There’s no growth, nothing other than his crusade to reform. Yes, Chase had been the kind of parent who was in a rush to get his kids Proxied so that he could fulfill himself, and then something happens and he changes into the kind of guy who cares about the welfare of children. Whatever changes he goes through — say, learning how to lobby congresspeople — just appear in between chapters.

That said, Maria, is one of the — I want to say evil, but she’s too shallow for that. Maria’s about the most wretched, vile, hateful character I’ve ever read (her husband, Conrad, is about as bad — but he does less, so maybe he’s just a self-centered twit, not a force for all that is wrong with the world). There are a couple of other characters here that are more actively malicious, too. Still, they’re all little more than amalgamation of characteristics. But Anderson has trouble with the white hat characters. Perhaps he understands human nature too well for that.

There was a very unfortunate typo in the edition I read — and I was taken out of the scene during the climatic confrontation. I’ve emailed the author and he said he’d be fixing it. That’s the big advantage of self-publishing ebooks. Anton Strout, for example, tells the story about someone pointing out a similar problem in one of his fight scenes years after the publication, which will remain in the paperbacks. Anderson’s error is gone. Welcome to the 21st century.

Provoke Not the Children had a killer concept, and a chilling world that you’ll keep thinking about for days. The story’s almost, but not quite where it needs to be. I still recommend it in the end, but don’t expect too much from the narrative. I expect in a book or two, Anderson’s execution will match his world-building.


* I remember that being very speech-filled, I think that’s even talked about in the forward Asimov wrote in the edition I last read 20+ years ago. Hope I’m not wrong about that, it’s just the best example I could come up with at the moment. Besides, being compared to Asimov in Foundation should be seen as a compliment.

—–

3 Stars