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April 28, 2007

The Evil Overlord applauds
Posted by Teresa at 06:44 PM * 312 comments

When we’re teaching SF&f writing at Viable Paradise, one of the things we always tell our students is to get the story started. Limiting yourself to dicking around with scene-setting and character introduction for the first few chapters gets you nowhere.

For an example of the other end of that spectrum, try this single-panel cartoon epic.

Comments on The Evil Overlord applauds:
#1 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 06:55 PM:

I suppose Janeane could change into a snake. Nah, that never helps.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 07:25 PM:

This is why I like watching airline movies with no headphones.

#3 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Alistair MacLean's When Eight Bells Toll begins with a single paragraph describing a Peacemaker Colt. Paragraph 2 has another couple of sentences about the effect a bullet from the gun has on the human body, and then reads:

And so I stood absolutely motionless, not breathing, for the Peacemaker Colt that had prompted this unpleasant train of thought was pointed directly at my right thigh.

That seems like a fine example of following the advice given above.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 08:16 PM:

How's this for an opening sentence?

Lianna’s life had already taught her that, when awakening in pain and confusion, it was often better if she didn’t open her eyes right away.

#5 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Or opening two sentences:

I smelled him before I saw him. In fact, I was pretty worried I wouldn’t see him at all, what with the blizzard, so I decided to slow down almost to the speed limit.
The story owes nothing to "God is an Iron," I swear.

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 08:33 PM:

I can think of successful writers who seem to have forgotten this. It's maybe not so critical with a series, but David Weber started out Path of the Fury with one woman against a band of murderous space-pirates, while he's started a Honor Harrington novel with two friends discussing politics while watching a baseball game.

Well, I suppose Patrick O'Brian could pull off tricks like that.

And I remember one contemporary thriller that felt like three consecutive short novels. And that was first publication. But while the first third started very much in the middle of things, the middle third had a very long-winded opening.

Of course, get the story started applies to all sorts of story, and Austen's "It is a truth univerally acknowledged..." is as strong an opening for that sort of story as any guy pointing a gun at the hero would be for its sort of story.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 08:47 PM:

Xopher #s 4 & 5: "There was a single fish left in the window. It stared blankly at him."

#8 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 09:02 PM:

As the flash grew brighter, Dan decided that maybe he should have cut the red wire instead.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 09:37 PM:

Hey, are you guys making fun of me?

*destroys all copies of his fiction*

Dave 6: People who buy Honor Harrington books aren't buying them because of the wonderful writing. A writer who names his crazy revolutionary character Rob S. Pierre just makes me think "orubyq gur cbjre bs purrfr."

#10 ::: RichM ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 09:48 PM:

The innards had gone an angry red color, accounting for that nasty odor, and he wished yet again that he had been able to score a better brand of grail.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 09:59 PM:

Xopher #9: No.

Hmm. Another opening: "She knew that the rules in force would prevent any action. Still, she did not see any other option but to call on the Commissioner."

#12 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Since knowing how not to start can be helpful, behold: the Lyttle Lytton Contest. One sentence, 25 words, and a whole bunch of hysterically bad ideas.

#13 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 10:37 PM:

It was Thursday, and a bad one at that, as I explained to the officer for the eleventh time that I hadn't killed that guy, I was just desecrating the corpse.

#14 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 10:37 PM:

Xopher, 9: Yep. That right there is what made me swear off Weber forever. Not even treecats are worth it.

#15 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 10:50 PM:

I heart XKCD.

That is all.

#16 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 10:58 PM:

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

J.G. Ballard, High Rise

#17 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 11:04 PM:

Dave Bell @ 6: Of course, get the story started applies to all sorts of story, and Austen's "It is a truth univerally acknowledged..." is as strong an opening for that sort of story as any guy pointing a gun at the hero would be for its sort of story.

Absolutely. There are many ways to seduce your reader into the story. (I'm sure I don't need to go further with that analogy.)

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 11:27 PM:

I remember a bit of opening dialogue from a bad 70s TV series:

"Why won't you marry me?"
"Because I'm in love with you."
"You've married lots of other people."
"But I wasn't in love with them."

That grabbed me. When they took their coats off, revealing the clerical collar on the man, I lost interest quickly.

There's a lesson in there, I fancy.

Btw, the two openings I quoted in my first two entries in this thread were actual story beginnings of mine. I didn't think they were that bad.

#19 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2007, 11:44 PM:

Erik @ 13 - In truth, I like it. It's particularly good read aloud - Gilian Anderson, perhaps.

Hope you've written the rest!

#20 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:01 AM:

Xopher #18: I'm interested. Are they posted on some pixel-stained techno-hut where I could read them? I tried searching for "I smelled him before I saw him." but all I found was a romance story which didn't seem like yours.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:30 AM:

TomB 20: No, neither is finished yet. I have this little epicyclic editing problem...

#22 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:33 AM:

I liked them also, Xopher and I'd read on if offered the opportunity.

#23 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:40 AM:

While tossing out old books recently, I came across a vein of old Zelazny, with the result that I've just reread Creatures of Light and Darkness and Jack of Shadows. Slim, trim (remember the days when you could publish a 140-page novel?) , and they move briskly, especially Jack, which has the protagonist captured on the third page (and executed on the seventh).

#24 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:51 AM:

#23: Just why HAVE SF novels gotten so damn big? (I was going to write "bloated," but wanted to be polite. He wrote, being impolite.)

The bookshelves with my SF&F collection is a couple of feet from my right elbow. The faves of my youth look like promotional chap books.

#25 ::: Nick Fagerlund ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:59 AM:

Xopher@ #18: On the other hand, here's that joke done correctly.

#26 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:00 AM:

If they made a movie of that comic, with Janeane Garofalo playing herself, I would watch the living daylights out of it.

The first sentence of what I'm working on now isn't very exciting: Lauren is in bed awake and doesn't want to get up, or can't. But I feel like I make up for that by having her tear some of her skin off before the end of the first page.

#27 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:19 AM:

Xkcd holds sway over my geeky heart.

I use to have: "The sleep of Kings is not restful if they sleep at all."
As a starting line and a paragraph that summed up the political situation as then King tosses back and forth then next thing you know murder in the bedroom. Then I said nah, and discarded it for a few years and now for some strange reason it keeps popping back up in my head. The current version starts up post murder in the afterlife.
My muse can't make up her fickin mind, what's left of it at any rate. But damn it's hard getting out of the starting gate right.
In awe of the pros.

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:42 AM:

I kinda like Xopher's two contributions, too. I'd probably fiddle with #4, but #5 would say to me, "What the heck is he doing speeding in a blizzard in the first place, and why?"

#29 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:17 AM:

"The assassin came in and ordered waffles."

#30 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:21 AM:

ethan #26 wrote:

> If they made a movie of that comic, with Janeane Garofalo playing herself, I would watch the living daylights out of it.

She's a real person? [...Googles...]

And here I was thinking xkcd was made up!

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:11 AM:

"Although Henry arrived early for the end of the universe, his personal Recording Angel was as prepared as such a being would be expected to be. Henry would probably have been more impressed if he had realized that he was dead."

The first (and currently only) two lines to a story that stubbornly has refused to be written for more than a year now. And it's not as if that were a solitary line with nothing attached; I have a pretty good idea of how the story goes. But Henry just won't let me write him until I know more about him, and he's been very unforthcoming. Characters can be a real pain in the arse sometimes.

#32 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:05 AM:

The cosmic realignment brought about by the death of God had surprised Nietzsche; that the dead had escaped hell was to be expected, that they had escaped hell as zombies pillaging heaven was not.

#33 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:13 AM:

Opening sentences in my early, unpublished novels:

Opening 1. "You're not listening to me," the woman told the soldier.

Opening 2. He was the last politician, and everyone called him "Kansler".

Too much scene-setting and certainly not enough action...
But how about this one?

Opening 3. The floor is slippery with blood and I don't know which is mine.
:-S

#34 ::: BRT ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:21 AM:

I always thought Chris Bunch and Allan Cole nailed it with the opening sentence to the first book in their multi-book STEN series:

Death came quietly to The Row.

In my own writing, it seems I always spend at least the first 50 pages setting the whole book up.... then I really get started, detach and isolate those first fifty pages, and eventually salt the most salient parts into the body of the work at later points.

I think there is also something to be said for that old trick where you jump into a real attention-grabbing scene, with action or suspense or some kind of crucial event taking place, something really juicy, and you go right up until the climax of that particular scene, at which point the main character thinks to him or herself, "I can't believe this all started out back when...."

Then you have your excuse to jump back in time (and to the next chapter) where you can give some exposition and do some character intros and work things up in a more relaxed manner.

=^)

#35 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:25 AM:

A.R.Yngve #33: The floor is slippery with blood and I don't know which is mine.

Jeez, stop telling so much and start showing, already!

#36 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:56 AM:

This one struck a little close to home. When I put in a lunch order, in the sort of place where you pay first, I typically factor the number they give me. It's a mental vacation to the 15th (?) century introduction of algebra to Europe: son-of-a-bitch, X^n-1 is always divisible by x-1!

#37 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:57 AM:

Hmmm, the published story of mine that's gotten the most notice--

(that's "Death & The Ugly Woman", which has gotten me fan letters, exclamations of "OhmigodyouwroteDeath&TheUglyWoman!", hugs, a painting based on the story, requests to adapt it for oral storytelling, and a movie option; if I'm remembered as a writer at all, it'll probably be for that story)

--started out with a long descriptive passage of a river and the towns along it. Then the death and suffering starts.

I will say, though, that D&TUW has what is probably the best ending line I've ever written:

"And the children die, gently, in their sleep."

#38 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:45 AM:

While reading a Sunday Paper Magazine this morning I was struck by this opening to an article:

Sir Paul McCartney is standing in my kitchen making a dressing for the salad. We are discussing abstract artists.

What a waste that this is non-fiction.

#39 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:27 AM:

BRT, #34: This might just be me, but I kind of hate the "Action action ACTION! ...I can't believe this all started when [boring backstory]" trick. Especially when the boring backstory drags on for fifty pages, or when the ACTION was obviously invented to try to draw me in. I have nothing against ACTION openings, but I feel they should have some sort of relevance to the story.

I dunno. I usually can't see the shape of the whole story at the beginning, which means I can't see the logical place to start it. So I go ahead and start writing, and don't worry about the beginning until I've gotten to the end, by which point I know enough about the story as a whole to make an intelligent choice about where to start it.

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:06 AM:

Stefan (24), irritating but true: Sf and fantasy novels have gotten so darned big because y'all collectively like them that way. Short novels are a harder sell. The other reason is that authors have been writing them that way. If long books stopped selling, I expect authors would trim the fat. People who think badly of editors for not doing the trimming themselves have no idea how long it takes to trim and tighten an entire book.

G. Jules (39), it sounds like you don't have a problem with the fast opening so much as a problem with the fast opening done badly.

#41 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:27 AM:

If only XKCD didn't consume so much of my time whenever anyone posted a link to it...

#42 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:36 AM:

Stefan Jones @24: Just why HAVE SF novels gotten so damn big?

I remember the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Stand On Zanzibar, and Dune. After those three, it seemed every paperback aspired to be as thick.

The book that became 'Dune', I think had been compiled out of a couple of novellas. I recall reading a critique of 'Stand On Zanzibar' that described it as two novels patched together in a movie editing fashion (and pointed to sections in the book titled 'Tracking with Closeups' to underline the point).

In my minor brush with publishing (working on what would have been a technical book for texturing in CGI), the publisher wanted a 500 page book to justify the price they were going to want to charge.

#43 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:10 AM:

#34 BRT: "I think there is also something to be said for that old trick where you jump into a real attention-grabbing scene, with action or suspense or some kind of crucial event taking place, something really juicy, and you go right up until the climax of that particular scene, at which point the main character thinks to him or herself, "I can't believe this all started out back when....""

I liked that trick too until I saw it beat to death episode after episode in the second half of Battlestar Galactica season two. How many times, you ask yourself, can they show you ten utterly context-free seconds of the actioned-packed!&trade climax, followed by a sudden cut to a serene scene-establishing shot of the fleet with a "72 HOURS EARLIER" floating placidly underneath? AT LEAST ONE MORE, APPARENTLY!

Sorry. I'm a little bitter. Ahem.

We live in the bones of our ancestors.

Somehow knowing that first sentence gives me everything I need to know about the world--its politics, its people, everything; yet, gives me no idea what the story I'm going to tell there. *le sigh*

#44 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:12 AM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 37: OMG, you're that Bruce Arthurs. ::embarrassing fangrrl squee::

I remember reading that entire story aloud to a girl I was babysitting. We were both on the edges of our seats. My voice gave out, but no way was I stopping before the end.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Call me Dawyne... (ED note: that doesn't sound right.)
Call me Bob... (ED note: that doesn't sound right either.)
Call me Ishmael... (ED note: much better. Now cut to the whaling chase. And could you find a way to sneak Jeneane Garofalo onboard the Pequod, maybe disguise her as a cabin boy?)

(Yes, I stole this... er... was inspired by the Far Side cartoon.)

#46 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:03 AM:

Bruce Arthurs #44: you can add my embarrassing fangirl squee. That was a wonderful story, and an incredible closing line.

#47 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:06 AM:

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

-- Anthony Burgess, EARTHLY POWERS

#48 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:42 AM:

"Sf and fantasy novels have gotten so darned big because y'all collectively like them that way. Short novels are a harder sell."

Teresa, I may not speak for the majority (did I ever?), but I much prefer shorter books. Who has the time to read those brick-sized novels? When do people get the time? Do they speed-read?

Please, please explain. :-S

#49 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:42 AM:

The star ship Unpronounceable approached the third planet of the unexplored system.

#50 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:43 AM:

Or for an opening line telegraphing the ending which someone managed to actually get published:

"Lew Garew..."

#51 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:48 AM:

If only XKCD didn't consume so much of my time whenever anyone posted a link to it...

Jules! You've trapped yourself in a hypothetical situation!

#52 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:53 AM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 37

OhmigodyouwroteDeath&TheUglyWoman!

-Barbara

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Heresiarch @ 43... How many times, you ask yourself, can they show you ten utterly context-free seconds of the actioned-packed!&trade climax, followed by a sudden cut to a serene scene-establishing shot of the fleet with a "72 HOURS EARLIER" floating placidly underneath?

Serene?
On Battlestar Galactica?

"Dear diary... Things are serene today. Nobody died."

#54 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 12:50 PM:

Opening lines seem to fall into two categories: the ones that make you really want to keep reading, and the ones that don't work.

This may be why "opening lines which don't work" are a popular mini-genre, featured in lots of contests and collections: Bad opening lines are the ones which work well in isolation. When you read a sentence and find yourself wishing for more, it's probably not that bad as an opening sentence.

On the other hand, a list of great opening lines is incredibly frustrating. It's like listening to the first four seconds of every song on your iPod.

May we at least discuss opening paragraphs? Or talk about the great opening lines of stories that I can actually find on the Internet, like Moby Dick? ("Call me Ishmael." Now there's a line that doesn't work without the rest of its paragraph...)

#55 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:09 PM:

A. R. Yngve @ 48

But it does explain the term "brick and board bookcase" ;-)

#56 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:20 PM:

Heresiarch @ 43

Well, it's not just BSG's fault. I'm getting awfully sick of seeing the "N houre earlier" tag myself. The trick of the catchy beginning isn't to kill as many people as possible in first 30 seconds. It's to engage the reader's / viewer's attention. But, as always seems to happen when we're talking about marketing whether, in a turkey lek or a TV ratings competition, as soon as someone finds a gimmick with any advantage at all, everyone joins in an arms race to beat it to death.

*Sigh* I suppose we'll just have to wait until one of the participants in the race grows horns so long they get tangled in the tree branches and die of starvation.

#57 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:33 PM:

TNH @ #2: "This is why I like watching airline movies with no headphones"

Good, it's not just me. Lots of movies are better with the sound off:

Conan the Barbarian*
The Chronicles of Riddick
Underworld
all Star Wars except ep. 4

*It's OK to play the Basil Poledouris soundtrack in the background if you want

#58 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:42 PM:

Steve Aylett's wonderful fantasy novella Fain the Sorcerer (which I review as a Short Take in the May Locus) starts with the perfect rationale for its brevity: "Here's the whole story of how Fain the Gardener became Fain the Sorcerer. But I'll tell it quickly by leaving out the lies."

That doesn't mean I'm not a sucker for plenty of long books too. George R.R. Martin, anyone?

#59 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:48 PM:

A. R. Yngve @ 48

Yes. Dammit.

Normally, fast reading is a blessing (when attempting to understand a technical situation or when doing translation) but when reading is also your primary means of relaxation, it can be expensive unless people publish big fat books like the ones you see today.

There are two factors I use when buying my SF; well, three, but I only figured the third out recently thanks to Charlie Stross. First: do I know the author already? Second: is the page-to-price ratio sufficiently high? Third: how close is it to cyberpunk?

Amazingly, fifteen years after the genre "split" (ish) it took somebody else posting about it to make me realize that I no longer liked a lot of the 70s SF I used to dote on.

It does make it easier on my back to move now, though. So there's a silver lining in every cloud, I suppose.

Incidentally, every time I post I want to remark on the new gide to speling just above the text area -- I get some of them; Gandhi and millennium are hard to get right. But Delany? Asimov? How do you misspell these things? Amisov or something? I'm confused.

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:48 PM:

(Continued from previous rock)

So if it's not body count that makes a great opening line (or paragraph, you're quite right, MikeB), what is it?

I'm going to go out on a limb and assert* that it depends on the reader. Body count does get to a lot of people, and certainly physical action is some sort of low common denominator. On the other hand, an opening line like

"Fair catch, guv'nor. I lied about the robot. Now what?"

has no physical action whatsoever, but I'd bet it would induce many of the ML folk to at least read on a little further. A lot of other folk might be turned off by it.

On the gripping hand, I suspect I could find a few hundred people in the world who would be intrigued by

"He noticed, with a jolt of recognition, a group of transforms isomorphic to SO8 and rotated the generator fields through 26-space to align himself with the worlds the group must represent."

but everyone else would yawn and drop the book in the fire**.

So, as always, you have to know your audience. We know certain openings well because they either appeal to a very wide audience or to none at all (Bulwer Lytton and ilk). Maybe what gripes me most about the overuse of the some of the gimmicks we've been talking about is the sense that the writers are trying to get a larger audience than the work as a whole will really support; the kind of desperation you see in really bad Hollywood adaptations.

* My intact amateur status allows me to make assertions of this type without any expectation of them being taken as more than conversational gambits. That's fine; we can solve the problems of the world for real in alt.universe.do-overs.

** I'm in that small group, but then I thought that a good part of the action in the Amber series was rather repetitious (come on, now, how many books does it take to describe a coup that completely re-establishes the cosmic order?). I read them for the fascinating hints of an over-arching metaphysical order he kept dropping. OK, I'm a nerd, QED.

#61 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Heresiarch @ #43 and Serge @ #53, BSG beats that technique to death so badly because the writing staff really likes it and think it's good. Ron Moore said so in a couple of the podcasts he did for those episodes.

I actually very strongly recommend against listening to those podcasts. I think mainlining them over a week at work played a major part in my inability to watch the show without cringing anymore.

#62 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:56 PM:

I keep wanting to post about the miniscule Tolkein ocurrence I witnessed the other day (I'm rather a connaisseur of the genre, Theresa, so I hope you'll accomodate me in my tangent) -- its really an embarrasment that I can't fully recall it's wierd run-up, but since the Millenium I've had troubles with that. See, I was reading Publisher's Weekly, as one does, and fondly recalling the stories of Dellany in Asimoff's old mag, about the heirarchy of deities in Pharoah's day... Well, suffice to say, Ghandi comes up again and again.

Or something.

#63 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Re: #48 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: "[...] I much prefer shorter books."

I don't, by any means always, but perhaps this general preference explains why I seem to have read (he says, bemusedly) more Mysteries (Historical, Ethnic, Local Color) in the past few years than I've read s-f. On another tentacle, one of my all-time favorite fiction books is the pseudo-autobiography "Tristram Shandy", in which the protagonist just barely gets born at the end. Apparently my enjoyment of books depends mostly on some other factor(s) than whether they're succinct & incisive, or discursive.

#64 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Bruce @ 60, that does sound rather intriguing. Both of'em, actually. Both at the same time would be even better:

"Fair catch, guv'nor. I lied about the robot. What next?" I extemporized, noting with a jolt of recognition the group of transforms isomorphic to SO8 and planning how best to rotate the generator fields through 26-space to align myself with the worlds the group must represent.

I'd hit it.

#65 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:14 PM:

She wanted to run the lights and siren, but if she did, Giraux would never let her borrow the car again.

#66 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:16 PM:

A.R.Yngve@#48:

Who has the time to read those brick-sized novels? When do people get the time? Do they speed-read?

I naturally read very fast. Even reading for craft hasn't slowed me down much; a slim novel will take me, at the outside, four hours to read the first time through - if I'm dead tired. That won't stop me from buying something I'm really looking forward to, but I vastly prefer books that will last me through a week or two of lunchtimes, or most of the way through a long trip. I've tried simply reading more slowly, but it hasn't worked.

#67 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:17 PM:

Scott H. @ 57

Underworld - much better with the picture off as well.

#68 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:32 PM:

#34 BRT,

Seems to me "Lost" has that trick down pat. Immediate action followed by telegraphed music cue which alerts viewer that a flashback is coming. Four or five minutes expended on flashback, then the show cuts back to now (for whatever "now" is on that blasted island).

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:40 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 67... I'd say the same thing about Conan the Barbarian. Not about Conan the Destroyer which, unlike CtB, it doesn't take itself seriously, and has Grace Jones.

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:44 PM:

Remember how 1967's Mission Impossible used to begin with a rapid montage of what would happen in the episode, instead of coming up with a teaser act? Does anybody know which TV show first used that device? Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds began that way, in 1964, but are there even older antecedents?

#71 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 02:51 PM:

With a fixed quantity of goodness-per-book, I prefer a short book over a long one. If goodness-per-page is fixed, I prefer the long.

The first rule seems more likely to hold with what I think of as plot-driven novels, e.g., mysteries and descendants of the Hornblower stories. The second rule is good for anything in which I value scene-setting, which may be interior (Balzac, Trollope), exterior (Dunnett, Braudel) or poetic (Tolkien, Susannah Clarke).


?Tanith Lee? starts a novel with the heroine regaining consciousness in an exploding volcano, which is adequately exciting, but the heroine also has amnesia, which eliminates the flashbacks in favor of going places and finding things out. It was very satisfactory pulp. I think the metaphor is useful, given that all of us are born into a world as surprising as an exploding volcano and no-one knows the full story of how we got here, or in whose handbasket.

#72 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:02 PM:

In #57 Scott H. writes:

Good, it's not just me. Lots of movies are better with the sound off:

The original Battlestar Galactica.

#73 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Great opening line:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

- Genesis, date unknown

Not so great opening line:

"The first thing he was aware of was a sensation of smooth, yielding grittiness."
- Karl Zeigfreid [Lionel Fanthorpe], No Way Back, 1968

#74 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:13 PM:

"I knew it was going to be one of those days," the Ayatollah explained over her wine glass, "when I woke up in bed with the Israeli ambassador, his catamite, and a burst Baby Jesus™ brand condom."

(I haven't written the rest yet. So there.)

#75 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:15 PM:

G. Jules @39: This might just be me, but I kind of hate the "Action action ACTION! ...I can't believe this all started when [boring backstory]" trick.

I share the hate. Especially as that's exactly the way my mind is working when I'm writing. By now I have pretty much resigned myself to writing the first chapter after I finished a story, because I always seem to start with the second one.

#76 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Emma, 65: Speaking of great openings, I read Finder last night. I cried in all the obvious places, but at the end I felt better.

A.R. Yngve, 73: Actually that's the Gospel of John. Genesis is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." John has a lot of philosophy before you get to the plot--a classic case of telling rather than showing.

#77 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Used judiciously and infrequently in a TV series, the "n hours/days earlier" thing works for me. I've seen it done well in X-Files and Angel. Once it starts getting used regularly, it loses any impact it had, and did I mention I stopped watching BSG? (Of course, at certain points in the series I stopped watching X-Files and Angel, too, but much later, relatively.)

I will read a certain number* of beginning pages of pure description and/or character introduction if it's at least well-written, trusting that the good writing means that the establishment will help support whatever conflicts are coming. Since interpersonal/inter-family/internal conflict are all things that really work better when you understand the people to some degree, it makes sense sometimes to start with them. The sooner you can throw in the hints of something being not-at-all-well, the better, of course.

[*Not a fixed number, obviously. Sooner or later, either they get to the conflit or I say "Bored now".]

Obviously I will always give more room to an author I do know and like to establish the story than one I don't, but writers I don't know who have a flair for words get a lot of slack, too.

I worry about the pace of my own novels, subsequently, as they are often much more about the people than the plot.

I read quickly, myself, which is why I re-read books often. It's very rare that I book I finish does not get at least one re-reading. Possibly if I were a slower reader, I might end up a bit pickier about openings, but some days I just really need something to read. :)

#78 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 03:44 PM:

Charlie @74: I'm sure I'm not the only member of your crit group who's thinking, "I know you haven't written the rest of it yet, stop taunting us and get on with it, you @#$%^."

#79 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:00 PM:

Here is my favorite Xkcd cartoon of all time. It explains damn near everything.

Emma, TexAnne: I re-read Finder about once every two months. Damn fine opening, and I bawl like a baby every. Single. Time.

#80 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:21 PM:

I'm a pretty fast reader--I read a novel, albeit a rather short and silly one, from start to finish over lunch yesterday without getting puzzled looks from the waitstaff--but I share A. R. Yngve's animus against long books. Even in those cases where I can't find anything in particular I would have left out, it's often just too much of a good thing. There are exceptions, of course, but not enough to keep me from needing a lot more persuading to buy a long book than a short. A specific example of something I would have bought by now if it were of normal length is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which seems like the sort of thing I would like, but damn.

Series are even worse, and these days I only read them if written by my favorite authors, and then somewhat grudgingly.

#81 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:40 PM:

#80: "A specific example of something I would have bought by now if it were of normal length is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which seems like the sort of thing I would like, but damn."

Whereas I, at least, think that if Jonathan Strange were of normal length, it would suck, by comparison if not on an absolute scale.
Come to think of it, perhaps I should find the time to reread it. I love long books.

#82 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:52 PM:

The same observation holds true for video games. The most beloved console RPG series (Final Fantasy) reliably dumps you right into the action, does the exciting sequence, radically shifts gears (often changing time (FFT, FFX), place (FF8, FFT, FFX), or perspective/style (FF9, FF6, FFT), and then gets on with the tutorial, setting explanation, and the start of the main portion of the narrative. My favorite, FFT (Tactics) starts with a semi-cryptic framing narration, shifts to a young woman praying, who quickly needs protection from an abduction attempt (this is where your character, and the first battle of the game, come in), and after that battle jumps back a good bit of time to when your character was a trainee, and close friend to the eventual abductor.

Less-beloved RPGs start with a bunch of kids harassing wildlife. This doesn't engage the player quite as reliably.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:53 PM:

anaea 61: BSG podcasts == after-the-fact pitch sessions...with spoilers.

Michael 62: Hit. Hit. Hit.

clew 71: Yes, it was Tanith Lee. The Birthgrave.

A.R. 73: TexAnne beat me to it, but I'd just like to say that I noticed it wasn't Genesis before she pointed it out. Logos == Christos == God was the innovation of the author of the "John" Gospel. And me a Pagan!

TexAnne 76: I like the version that starts "In the beginning, the Elohim created the Heavens and the Earth." Elohim, note, is a PLURAL noun.

#84 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 04:59 PM:

KristianB @ 81: Agreed. The book simply wouldn't work as the kind of book it is if were it shorter; the setup would be wrong, the tone would be wrong, it wouldn't echo the style of the era it's set in. That strong feeling of place and time is a large part of what made the book for me.

It wouldn't neccessarily be a bad book if it didn't have those things, but it wouldn't be the strong, resonant work it is, either.

#85 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:01 PM:

Serge @ 69

Agreed. The best thing about Conan the Barbarian is the set design by Ron Cobb, and you don't need the sound for that.

#86 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:11 PM:

"Okay, guys. This time, a little more shooting, and a lot less getting shot. Got it?"

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Charlie Stross #74: I'll buy that novel when it comes out.

(On a slightly related note, I've long been disappointed that Burgess did not produce a sequel to Little Wilson and Big God.)

#88 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 05:53 PM:

I'm sure I'm not the only member of your crit group who's thinking, "I know you haven't written the rest of it yet, stop taunting us and get on with it, you @#$%^."

And I'm sure I'm not the only fluorospherian who's thinking, "For every story being inspired into existence in this thread there are 30 stories that got killed off in a weekend marathon of BoomShine. Come August, only the unwired luddites will be submitting stories to the overlords of lightmaking, and they will have a clean inbox just in time for Japan."

#89 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:24 PM:

The original Battlestar Galactica is even better with both the sound and the picture off.

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:26 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 85... True, no need for sound to admire Ron Cobb's set design. On the other hand, one does need sound to appreciate Max von Sydow's wonderful granite-block-against-granite-block voice. (As for James Earl Jones's wig, that is one argument for turning the video off too.

#91 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:27 PM:

There are certain books that are all the better because they're long. Lord of the Rings is in that category for some people; for me, it's Ash: A Secret History and Cavalier and Klay. There's something about the expansiveness, the potential for a story that is huge and overarching and swallows your life whole for a month, and seems to encompass all the world--it's something that's worth going after.

It keeps me reading long books in the hope that they will be that kind of book, when all too frequently they're just decent 200-page books padded out to twice their size.

#92 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 06:38 PM:

Emily H. @ 92:

Even I have to agree that such books exist, and that it would be a boring world if no one ever swung for the fences.

#93 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:50 PM:

Bruce, #37: OMGFANGIRLSQUEEE! That story is just perfect on so many levels -- one of which is that it's almost completely non-formulaic, and therefore stands out vividly in the memory against a background of plot tics that get done over and over again. (Sometimes memorably, but still plot tics. It takes special imagination to come up with something really different.) And yes, the last line is outstanding -- it's my second-favorite ending line ever.

My favorite ending line ever? That would be from C.S. Friedman's The Madness Season:

"I made myself the body of a leather bird, and joined her."

But you have to read the whole book to understand why that's such a perfect ending line.

And, getting back to the topic of opening lines, I defy anyone not to be curious about the rest of this story:

"This year the Ribieros' daffodils seeded early, and they seeded cockroaches."

#94 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Well, my favorite opening line is...

In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by
the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest,
covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys
which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

Four paragraphs later we finally get:
The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades of that
forest, which we have mentioned in the beginning of the chapter.

followed nine paragraphs from the beginning with the first dialog:

"The curse of St Withold upon these infernal porkers!" said the
swine-herd, after blowing his horn obstreperously, to collect
together the scattered herd of swine, which, answering his call
with notes equally melodious, made, however, no haste to remove
themselves from the luxurious banquet of beech-mast and acorns on
which they had fattened, or to forsake the marshy banks of the
rivulet, where several of them, half plunged in mud, lay
stretched at their ease, altogether regardless of the voice of
their keeper.

(Ivanhoe, if you're interested. Now that's a fat, huge, sprawling fantasy tome.)

#95 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:01 PM:

I find, no matter how old I get, that there are few opening sentences better than "There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubs, and he almost deserved it."

Line from real life which is a novel in and of itself: "After I kicked heroin, I moved to Cabo to run a crummy little hotel with my mother."

#96 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:03 PM:

Lee 93: The one about the daffodils, is that from a Janet Kagan story? It sounds familiar.

#97 ::: Jp ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:04 PM:

I do think that the whole start-with-an-action-flashback trope has become so commonplace as to lose the majority of its power now. It probably needs to lie fallow for a couple of decades before it would start to become effective again.

Explicit foreshadowing seems to be in the same state for the same reason. I very much enjoyed Wilson's Spin, for example, but got tired of his repeated use of the construction, "This insignificant detail would become relevant when major character experienced as yet unencountered major plot point" at the end of what seemed to be pretty much every chapter. And he used a flashback viewpoint throughout....

Showing an endpoint, or a partial endpoint, and using the narrative to establish how things happened rather than what's going to happen is a classic Hitchcockian means of creating suspense. But it's been done to death: everyone knows what's going on, and it tastes stale. In the worst case, when you get to the "one hour earlier", you feel like you're going backwards, and that you've now got to sit through god-knows-how-much ancient history until you can actually start going forward with the narrative again. "How it happens" is theoretically suspenseful, but it doesn't have the narrative momentum of "what happens next".

This isn't a rejection of foreshadowing. I'm still in awe at an apparently throwaway line in Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters: "You'd have to be a born fool to want to be a king." The whole book is contained in that one sentence, but the key thing is that it 's not apparent until you actually reach the end. It's successful in that case, I think, because it's used to colour your understanding in hindsight and to add structure, rather than to set up and manipulate your expectations in advance.

Going back to the first chapter thing, I think that if you want to start off going straight into an action scene then the Indiana Jones/James Bond introduction structure has much to recommend it. Coming in at the end of what appears to be the previous instalment you get an instant action entrance to get you past the first page, and involved before the main story has to be set up. And if it's done well, you get your foreshadowing and arch-nemesis introduction built in, without feeling like you've actually come to a complete narrative halt at the end of it.

#98 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:51 PM:

My favorite opening line is still from One Hundred Years of Solitude:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

And generally speaking, I tend to believe that bad opening lines can be forgiven. The worst thing a book can do to me is have that boring filler quality where I look up and realize that I'm at the bottom of the page with absolutely no recollection of how or why I got there.

#99 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 08:54 PM:

Well (in response to #97) there are some works where it becomes pretty obvious early on that they're going to use the Incident-then-backstory device repeatedly. And if they're well enough done, I've been willing to go along with them for the ride.

It's been a while since I've read Zelazny's _Doorways in the Sand_, but it was clear not too far in that one that most if not all the chapters opened with some Surprising/Alarming Incident, with a fair bit of the chapter to follow giving the background to that incident. But it was was done entertainly enough that I was happy to think "okay; how is he going to have *this* end up happening?" rather than think "not this device again". Though I'd probably find it tiresome if I read book after book using that technique.

Most of the _Overboard_ comic strips consist of some incident followed by a revelation of an unexpected backstory that makes it funny. I get a chuckle out of it much of the time, but it's not to everyone's taste. Maybe it's just one of my weak spots.

And of course, the movie _Memento_ takes the convention about as far as it can go, with the whole movie being Incident -- Backstory Incident -- Further-Backstory Incident -- and so on, each shift being initially disorienting but eventually shedding light on the incidents we've previously seen. I remeber having a wonderful sense of vertigo when I first saw it, and also a feeling at the end that it wasn't the sort of thing that could be replicated. Though apparently folks have tried, judging from the various ads I've seen for movies that claim to be "like Mememto". So far I haven't been tempted to see any of them, though.

#100 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:03 PM:

Jp #97: If you ask me, the master of that technique (though her use might be a bit different than you describe) is Muriel Spark. There are very few of her novels where you don't know how they end well before the ending, and yet they consistently surprise. Not SF by any means, but if I had to pick a favorite writer of all time it'd be her.

#101 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 09:42 PM:

"[timeperiod] earlier" is the lazy way to do it. The interesting way is to have characters in the present who *don't* know what just happened try to find out. You can start right off with "The prince was dead." and have the first chapter be mostly about establishing what happened - and still be interesting. Or have two members of the survey team come back to camp on the not-yet-named planet (after seeing their shuttle make a sudden unscheduled liftoff) and find the charred remains of their tents.

If the characters don't know all of what happened, you have a convenient way to reveal it gradually to the reader, and not as an ungraceful chunk of exposition.

Of course, it helps if you're a really good writer, and have interesting things going on in the "present" as well as the "past".

#102 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:14 PM:

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, the start of the whole 'Mars' trilogy, begins in media res with a major dramatic plot inflection, then heads both back & forwards. Later I think he puts in a reference to the device, referring to a scene in a lesser-known Shakespearean play as the crossing point of the 'X' of plot arcs. Some readers have objected, saying they'd prefer to start at the 'beginning' and just go straight through. The books remain favourites of mine, though I suspect there's a lot more in them than I understand, just seeing the trailing hem of many little hints.

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:47 PM:

I like the way LeGuin does it in The Dispossessed. She starts two timelines that join up in the middle. Best line: "You can share the handkerchief I use."

#104 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:50 PM:

My entries in the "first lines of things" stakes (these are from a couple of chapters of an ongoing fanfic, which is still in the process of being proofed prior to beta-ing).

Tirren startled awake, the terror of a nightmare still strong.

It took a few minutes for the crew of the Ortega to realise what the charge on the entry hatch had done.

Oh, and could Mr Stross put me down for a copy of the novel which goes with that opening line of his, when he finds the round tuit it belongs to? Thanks.

#105 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 10:59 PM:

I won't post the first line of my current work in progress, because I know it's dreadful. It usually takes me about two pages of writing before I figure out what it is that I'm writing about, and so there's no point in showing off that drivel of mine until I've had a chance to edit it. But I'll admit I'm still fond of the image of a wizened old vampire shaking a handful of rice in someone's face, having finally counted all the grains thrown in its path.

My current favorite first line is from Tinker, which begins:

"The wargs chased the elf over Pittsburgh Scrap and Salvage's tall chain-link fence shortly after the hyperphase gate powered down."

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:05 PM:

Xopher @ 96

Yes.

#107 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Jp:

I'm still in awe at an apparently throwaway line in Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters: "You'd have to be a born fool to want to be a king."

My favorite ending line is in "And Having Writ..." by Donald R. Bensen, and does a similar stunning trick. Without cheapening the book, it converts the entire text in front of it into a giant shaggy-dog story--and if you read it before you finish the book you won't get the joke. Now that's a trick to beat...

#108 ::: Emma Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2007, 11:45 PM:

Dave Bell #6 and TNH #40: but I would pay twice as much for an Honor Harrington book that was trimmed and tightened all the way through.

#109 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:38 AM:

Xopher #103: Have you read Algis Budrys's Who? It's got the same plot structure as The Dispossessed, with the first chapter in the middle, the second chapter at the beginning, and the last chapter being the one that takes place right before the first. (Who?'s a lot shorter too, which would be a point in its favor except that The Dispossessed is one of my very favorite sf novels.)

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 03:57 AM:

Xopher, #96: Yes -- it's the opening to "The Loch Moose Monster". You can get that and the 5 or 6 other stories she did in the same universe collected under the title Mirabile.

I frequently like the kind of opening where some important back-story information is given right at the beginning and tagged with a date/time stamp, or described as "Prologue". Three examples of this being done well:

1) The movie version of Murder on the Orient Express.
2) The first X-Men movie.
3) S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire.

To me, that's like a label saying, "We'll be into the action soon enough, but you'll need to know about this once you get there."

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 04:00 AM:

This entire discussion reminds me of Aristophanes' deliciously funny play The Frogs.

The backstory: Dionysus, bored with the lack of good playwrights, goes down to Hades (with sundry adventures on the side) to bring back either Aeschylus or Euripides. But first he has to choose which one is the best.

Among the contests he puts them through is a comparison of the prologues of their plays (starting at line 1119.). They get picked apart in terms of content and meter, and even weighed (there's an excellent reason to bring in a river, or a few dead bodies - it adds to the weight). My favourite part begins at line 1200, when Aeschylus destroys Euripides' formulaic approach with an oil jug.

Ye gods, that sounds dry when I explain it. Just trust me that it's funny enough to seduce a 14 year old into a lifelong love of the Classics.

(And this xkcd makes me laugh every time I see it.

#112 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:21 AM:

Bob #47: That opening line of Burgess' sold the book to me. (Mind you, I will read anything on Emmet's say-so, but if hypothetically someone else had quoted me that line, I would still have felt compelled to buy the book then and there.) Then I actually started reading the book and a couple of paragraphs in there's a comment that makes the opening even better.

Similarly brilliant: Rose Macaulay's

"Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
(The Towers of Trebizond, 1956)

What's great about that is that it really does give you an indication of what the whole book is like.

#113 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:57 AM:

#108 I would pay twice as much for an Honor Harrington book that was trimmed and tightened all the way through.

Quite so. Less exposition and more spaceships exploding please*. On the other hand, if you took too much out, it wouldn't be an Honor Harrington novel anymore. It's almost as though editors need to be highly skilled to be able to draw the line between what the writer writes and what the audience wants to read (Originally I was going to make this point about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but was beaten to it. Also, if I used smilies, there'd be one at the end of this paragraph)

Abi - the oil jug joke gets used by Tom Holt in The Walled Orchard, when Aristophanes and the hero Eupolis are captured by theatre-mad Scilians and improvise some comedy for them. Which lead me to tracking down Aristophanes works and the rest is h/i/s/t/o/r/y comedy.


* One thing that suprised me is that, as everyone knows, for the type of naval/space-war-opera that Weber is writing, you need at least two exciting ship/space battles per novel. Yet he's confident enough by Field of Dishonor to have NO space battles in at all.

#114 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:59 AM:

Xopher #83:

No, it isn't. You can tell by the verb, which is singular.

#115 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:06 AM:

I always loved the opening sentence of the Dashiell Hammett short story Flypaper:

"It was a wandering daughter job."

which sums up the case and the protagonist in one go. It's fragile though - the French translation comes out as:

"Il s'agissait d'une affaire de fugue."

("It consisted of a case of [unspecified person] running away") which is rather a damp squib in comparison. On the other hand, I bought Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines on the strength of the opening sentence alone:

"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."

and that loses nothing whatever in translation. (Of course, French readers might have preferred the adventures of a self-propelled, voracious Paris, but that would have been an entirely different book.)

#116 ::: Phil Boswell ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:15 AM:

I would like to humbly proffer my favourite opening line from a series I am currently re-reading (in fervent hope of obtaining the latest volume from the local Library before I forget what was happening at the end of the previously-current volume):

The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.

#117 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:35 AM:

Naomi@#114: Not only is Xopher correct*, but in this case, the verb would be no help; 'created' would be used either way. Politicians created a mess, for instance, while I created this sentence.

[*You could argue the English usage of the word could be classified as a collective noun, but the actual originating word is, without doubt, plural.]

#118 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:17 AM:

Tina #117: Naomi is right, and I'm afraid your counter-argument doesn't make sense. Xopher (#83) based his point on the fact that the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is vaguely plural-looking. In Hebrew, verbs inflect for person and number even in the past tense. The Hebrew noun Elohim is governed by a singular Hebrew verb in almost every case, including the one Xopher cited, so it's no more plural than the word princess is plural because it ends in an S.

There is some evidence for multiple gods in the OT, but that isn't it. If you attempt to read Genesis without the filter of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, you can argue that the other gods are real, but one is enjoined not to worship them. The technical name for this is henotheism as opposed to monotheism.

Your best evidence for Elohim as plural is Genesis 1:26, where Elohim said [singular] "Let us create [plural] a human in our image" But it's not very convincing, because the verb is still singular. And honestly, I don't see why any Pagan would want to find evidence for several gods in the Bible. If you reject the Bible as a sacred text, why do you care about the fragments that might happen to support your world view when the vast majority is clearly against Paganism?

#119 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:23 AM:

I've always been a huge fan of the beginnings that start with:

1.Extremely off-beat statements about the universe

And then one or more of the following.
2. Moderately unusual or somewhat ordinary situation viewed in light of these statements
4. Bafflingly ancient/cosmic/literary flashback
3. Problem?

None of these are really "action," per se. They seem to appear primarily in works of humorous fiction. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams are the ones that spring to mind. These aren't so much opening lines as opening gambits, though.

I am also fond of books that star by explaining why they have to tell this story, or that the story is a lie, or, (and this is one of my favorites) that the entire text is itself a reaction to an entirely nonexistent text that will be referred to with ire throughout.

None of these are really action, but neither are they dull description. I suppose what they are more than anything else is personality.

#120 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:43 AM:

To be entirely fair, Individ-ewe-al @ 118, there is a word in Biblical Hebrew, "Eloha", which is used to mean God, in the singular, and "Elohim" is used as a plural from time to time.

But that's a bit nit-picky. Eloha is extremely uncommon in Tanakh, and Elohim is used as the singular pretty much throughout. In fact, Elohim is used as the singular for non-Jewish Gods in the Prophets (1 Sam. 5:7, Judges 11: 24 -- if it was the singular form, there wouldn't be a yud, and 1 Kings 18:27 has it meaning Baal without any ambiguity.)

#121 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:51 AM:

I am so very tired of trying to get the openings of all the things I'm working on JUST RIGHT that I believe I'm going to open all of them with:

(Please skip to Chapter Two)

and go on from there.

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Leah Miller @ 119... Extremely off-beat statements about the universe

"The Universe was out to get me."

Yes, the narrator is a cat. How did you guess?

#123 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:21 AM:

#118: Sorry, I'm not arguing about the basis behind the words, I'm arguing about the word, so most of what you wrote I'm leaving unaddressed.

The word is plural. Whether or not it's standard usage for a word meaning "gods" or just an odd usage for singular isn't my argument. The ending used is a marker of a plural word.

And, since Xopher quoted a sentence in English, naturally I was talking about the verb in English.

This is not a religious argument from my point of view, and I don't see why anyone had to go and turn it into one. I didn't read Xopher to say "Yay, the Bible promotes my viewpoint about multiple gods!" I read him to say that the idea that the sentence could theoretically be read that way struck his sense of whimsy.

Also, if that last paragraph is not simply about Xopher's religious leanings, you've made a big mistake about mine.

#124 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:39 AM:

One of my favorites is the opening sentence of Michael Innes's The Long Farewell. It is, in its entirety, "Come in!" But you don't appreciate it until you get to the end of the book.

#125 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:42 AM:

I'm allergic to long novels.

Kimiko (#94) mentioned Ivanhoe earlier; I had to read that for school (social studies, believe it or not) one summer, and it took me a good 200 pages to get into it. The last 300 pages were involving, but boy did it take a long time to get off the ground.

The last really long novel I was able to really get into was probably Richard Price's Freedomland, whose pacing can best be described as stately. It helped that it was a sequel, of sorts, to Clockers, which I greatly enjoyed, and that it's set in an urban environment reminiscent of my East New York childhood, so I felt somewhat at home there.

Emily H (#91) brings up (misspelled) Kavalier and Clay; I read the first section, found it complete in itself, and have felt no urge to read further. I'm sure I would enjoy the rest of it if I picked it up again, but...

But I have read almost no fiction at all for the last couple of years, she confessed. Reality is just too hard to look away from, in a trainwreck sort of way.

#126 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:59 AM:

I mean, what's an artificially enhanced squid to do? Write to the Cosmopolitan problem page?

(There's a Stephen Baxter story that starts off in much the same Bridget Jones-for-talking squid in space atmosphere, but I think this has more elegance.)

Things I like about this genre: you have to be careful using the word "atmosphere" to distinguish whether you mean general stylistic conditions or, well, whether the characters are breathing air or liquid methane. Or whether the characters actually breathe.

#127 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:33 AM:

"Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?"

It* then goes on to show the protagonist playing bridge with Cerberus. Not fabulous, but not bad I think.

*Cybermancy-my next book.

#128 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:34 AM:

Best first line ever (well, one of them anyway):

It is not given to every young girl to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.

Err, or words to that effect, as I'm at work and my copy of Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett is at home. Still, it's a marvelous mildly snarky line that provides a lot of backstory and makes you want to keep reading.

#129 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:40 AM:

Tina #123:

Since Xopher was talking about how a text ought to (or could potentially) be translated, naturally I was talking about the verb in the source language.

Furthermore, what do you mean by "plural?" The naive answer is that "plural" is a semantic category: Words that denote single objects are singular,whereas words that denote more than one object are plural. However, this is obviously not the case: "Pants" denotes a single object, but is plural, and "family" denotes many objects, but is singular (at least in American English.)

You seem to be arguing that "plural" is a morphological category: A word is plural if it is somehow marked as plural. However, there are plenty of words in English that are not marked as plurals in any way, and yet act as plurals: "Fish," for example. Now a lot of linguists will say that "fish," when used as a plural, does have a plural marker, which just happens to be invisible and inaudible. This is a convenient way of thinking about things (although IMHO it can easily be taken too far) but the question remains, how did we know it was a plural in the first place?

And the answer is that "plural" is, at bottom, a syntactic category: A word is plural if it takes plural verbs, agrees with plural adjectives, can be replaced by plural pronouns, or whatever rules happen to apply in the language the word appears in. We know "fish" is plural because you can say "These fish sure are tasty."

By this definition, no matter what the ending happens to look like "Elohim" is not plural, at least not in the (source text of the) sentence Xopher quotes, or most places it appears in the Bible.

#130 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:55 AM:

#108, 113: I'm afraid I can't read Weber at all right now. Current events have made it impossible for me to believe that being overly sympathetic toward monarchy and strong central authority is a harmless peccadillo that I ought to overlook if the story is otherwise interesting.

Am I being excessively touchy to judge fiction this way? I really don't think so. Portraying a system of government as working better than, in fact, it actually does work can actually mislead people who read more fiction than history (and there are many - including me, honestly).

Clearly history hasn't discredited autocracy quite as strongly as it deserves, or Weber wouldn't be such a believer in it in the first place. So muddying the waters with too-favorable treatments of it (even fictional ones) isn't something I can really approve of.

#131 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:04 PM:

My favorite opening paragraph (and it has to be read as a paragraph):
I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.
I defy anyone to read that and not want to go further.

#132 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:19 PM:

I have some preference for long books - I read very quickly, and short books are over almost before I have time to get into them. I think of books under 200 pages as short reading I can finish between getting in bed and going to sleep.

When I was a kid and novels were shorter, I would get frantic because I would read three or four novels a day after school, and my mom would get tired of taking me to the library twice a week. (The library limited me to 12 books at a time, which I thought was quite unfair.) I loved trilogies, because I could spend an entire evening reading as one them as one long story, and I loved thick books.

All that said, size isn't everything. I would also love to see some Honor Harrington novels that had actually been edited. I skip over huge chunks of eye-glazing space-battle porn and pseudo-French-Revolution politics when I read those. My most memorable Weber annoyance: "and then the BigAmazingMissileThingie did A Bad Thing. But that wasn't the WORST thing the BigAmazingMissileThingie did. It ALSO did A Really Terrible Thing. But that wasn't the WORST thing the BAMT did. It also did this Incredibly Tragic Thing...."

Note to novelists: if I can't figure out without direct instruction what the saddest thing about an incident is, this is a problem in your writing.

#133 ::: BRT ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:31 PM:

Regarding #130 (Chris),

I feel the exact same way!!!!

About Socialism and/or Communism.

Which makes it a little tough to be an SF/F fan because I have seen Communism and especially Socialism given the royal treatment (if I can use a pun) many different times over the years. And yes, I agree, I think this sort of candy-coated, eutopian selling of these two systems, through fiction, has and will continue to "buy" people over into believing in them; as if the way they work on paper, either in an academic classroom or in a fiction novel, bears any resemblence whatsoever to the way they have proven themselves to work in The Real World. (TRW)

But if we're mad that fiction is selling "bad" politics to the masses, then we're crossing a strange line in our heads; even I don't want to see my playtime reading infected with so much personal politics that I find myself putting books down because they offend my political sensibilities. LeGuin's "The Dispossessed" was a terrific sales pitch for Socialism/Anarchism, and at several points I found myself profoundly annoyed. Still, LeGuin is a masterful writer, and I read the whole book and considered it a fine read, because novels are still all about the characters and how they overcome specific problems that are personal to them; even if these problems happen to be world-shattering or overarching for the community as a whole.

Now, I've not read any Weber. Friends keep telling me I should, but I've just not gotten around to it. But if memory serves, a wikipedia on the Honor Harrington series stated that the entire franchise was simply a future re-telling of Napoleonic-era British vs. French imperial clashes. If Weber is making monarchy seem too good to be true, perhaps he is merely exercising creative license so as to build up one empire as the "benevolent" empire, so that the main character(s) are not shown to be fighting for things we in our time would consider evil?

Again, I have not read Weber. And if he is indeed trying to "sell" fascism and/or monarchy, well, I'm not going to apologize for him.

But then, fantasy stories have been "selling" us the 'benevolent monarchy' for many, many decades now; usually in the form of the evil/dastardly despot being overthrown by the young and beautiful despot who sets the world to rights and rules the kingdom happily ever after; to the benefit of every serf and peon in the land.

If we as consumers are letting such fiction sway us into political leanings which are damaging or dangerous, I don't think it's the fault of the writers or even the publishers. I think that's readers losing sight of the fact that, hey, it's just a story! It's not real. And however fun or good that story might be, we all have to realize that it's not real.

But I have to stop myself here, because I am suddenly struck by memories of the uniformed Starfleet and Klingon Defense Force personnel who attended the last Star Trek convention I went to.

;^)

#134 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Chris #130 - As I meant to say last week when identifying author's politics from their fiction was last discussed on Making Light, we should be cautious when doing so. In this example, the Star Kingdom of Manticore is actually a parlimentary democracy based loosely on (what else) 18th Century Britain; and it doesn't work all that well.

Weber might be the United States most ardent monarchist for all I know, which would make me look pretty foolish, but he seems to have a handle on some of the most obvious flaws of constitutional monarchy and a House of Lords. While the novels clearly advocate giving the "right" people the power(s) they need to do their jobs, they also show how such power is abused when the "wrong" people have it.

#135 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Naomi@114:

I was always more interested by the Omega-Point-like theology you got if you misplaced the space between the first two words. Try it -- "B'reish yitbarei Elohim et ha'shamaim...", or "Bara she'yitbarei Elohim..."
Unfortunately, the rest of Genesis sort of contradicts that.

(For those of you who don't speak Hebrew, the first is, roughly, "In the Beginning, God will be created by the heavens and the earth.", while the second is "That which God will be created by, created the heavens and the earth.").

#136 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:57 PM:

Chris #130:

Am I being excessively touchy to judge fiction this way? I really don't think so. Portraying a system of government as working better than, in fact, it actually does work can actually mislead people who read more fiction than history (and there are many - including me, honestly).

I don't think it's possible to accurately portray ANY system of government while keeping the story interesting -- unless the focus of the story is the government itself. Any story set IN a particular government structure without being ABOUT the government structure is going to have to gloss over a lot...

#137 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 12:58 PM:

BRT@133:

I've noticed something similar when it comes to anarcho-libertarian societies in science fiction. When they're written, the author always, always assumes a post-scarcity economy. But he/she almost never makes this assumption explicit (this is particularly the case in books which actively proselytize for such a social structure -- e.g. L. Neil Smith's novels).

Stross's Eschaton books are some of the few that I can see that do make it explicit.

#138 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:12 PM:

I still think the best opening line ever is from Hunter Thompson's Fear & Loathing:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."

#139 ::: arthur ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:23 PM:

"Text me Ishmael."

#140 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:29 PM:

John @ #99: I don't think it's in any way coincidental that Doorways in the Sand was first published in serial form, a chapter or two at a time. (In Galaxy, if I remember right; or was it If? Ah, those were the days...) If your reader is picking up each chapter a month after you've read the end of the last chapter, it makes sense to jump in with a fresh crisis. It sure worked for me.

abi @ #111: "... lost his little bottle of oil!" I also stumbled upon Aristophanes around 14, and I remember that well. I also was pleasantly stunned by the relentless and cheerful obscenity.

#141 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:35 PM:

After reading BRT's thoughtful comment, I now realise my last post was incomplete (and not just due to a missing apostrophe). I think we're on firm ground saying that Weber is interested in the late 18th/early 19th century British Parlimentary system, and he compares his space-opera version of it favourably to space-opera versions of other governments of the period. If we try to read much more into it, we lose sight of the "it's just a story" perspective. And with other political dimensions of the story - these are obviously things that Weber wants to talk about, but we can't be sure that characters draw the same conclusions as he does.

(In Weber's case it may be reasonable to do so as he often lays out the trains of thought explictly, but I'm extending him the courtesy I would to all authors. I might equally say the same thing about Greg Egan and Australian immigration, Stephen Baxter and the Catholic Church or Lois Mcmaster Bujold and Feminism; from their fiction I know they're interested in these subjects, but I would hesitate to put my finger on their exact position from just the stories)

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Susan @ 132... When I was a kid and novels were shorter

and so were we?

I read a couple of Honor Harrington novels and, yes, they could have used some serious editing even in areas that have nothing to do with the war porn. There was a scene where someone encounters another person, whom he describes as being almost 1m70 tall.

#143 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:07 PM:

Malthus @ 173: Stross really is the master of SF politics. I mean, who else would have a People's Libertarian Soviet eagerly proclaiming:

"The dictatorship of the heredity peerage can only be maintained by the systematic oppression and exploitation of the workers and engineers, and cannot survive once the people acquire the self-replicating means of production." -Singularity Sky

Gotta love that future shock. Of course our descendants will bizarrely recombine our political beliefs, and get all worked up over issues we can't even imagine today.

#144 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:14 PM:

Tina, I am certainly not starting a religious argument. At least not of the "my religion is better than yours" kind; it's hard to emphasize just how much I don't do that.

If you are arguing that -im is a plural marker in English, that position is not untenable, I suppose. Though Naomi has already explained why reasoning from that doesn't seem terribly sound, and on a much more advanced level than I can manage. Thanks, Naomi; reading that sort of linguistic argument makes me happy, but I can't quite pull it off myself.

I'm not making any assumptions about your religious beliefs, no. I was just commenting that it seems to be fairly common for Pagans to get excited about the spurious "fact" that the Bible sometimes uses a plural word for God. I didn't want to single Xopher out specifically. I just wanted to remark that not only is the claim basically incorrect, but I can't see how it would matter if it were true.

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Clifford @ 140

Analog. Since it's early-to-mid-70s, probably under Bova.

#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Aenea @ 61... To be fair, considering the time constraints of TV shows, I'm not surprised that they like the we're-doomed-but-first-let's-see-how-we-got-there technique because it allows them to hook you from the very beginning. And it is important for them to hook people asap.

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Another technique to hook you up from the beginning would be the one used in the James Bond movies: have the story start with the end of an earlier and untold story that has nothing to do with the movie's real plot, thus showing asasp what Our Hero is capable of. (How could one forget Goldfinger's beginning with James Bong in a frogman suit, and a seagull stuck to his head, even though no seagulls were involved in the attack on Fort Knox?)

#148 ::: Wristle ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 04:17 PM:

Clifford @140 & PJ @ 145 -
Indeed. When such questions arise, think always of the redoubtable ISFDB.

#149 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 05:09 PM:

One of the few openings that to this day stand out in my mind enough that I can recite it (well, I'm pretty sure this is correct):

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulf stream, and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

It just rolls off the tongue like poetry, and it catapulted me into the story.

#150 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Individ-ewe-al @ 144: I was just commenting that it seems to be fairly common for Pagans to get excited about the spurious "fact" that the Bible sometimes uses a plural word for God.

I heard about that from Christians, not Pagans. Their explanation was that "God" was all things, and this was shown by using a plural Hebrew noun (with both masculine and feminine characteristics) with a singular verb form.


I just wanted to remark that not only is the claim basically incorrect, but I can't see how it would matter if it were true.

Can you imagine that Pagans might be interested in pointing out some of the contradictions in a holy book of which cherry-picked sections are used to beat them on a regular basis? (Not that I'm saying this is what was happening, or what is always happening in such situations.)

#151 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:44 PM:

Serge@147: How could one forget Goldfinger's beginning with James Bong in a...

(double take)

James Bong?

I missed that movie apparently.

#152 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 06:57 PM:

There might be a mineable drift in issues that *used* to be central, burning issues and are now nigh forgotten.... what's the SF version of 'deceased wife's sister'? Her avatar, clone, self-aware PDA?

#153 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:01 PM:

Greg London @ 151... Oops. On the other hand, if his name were indeed James Bong, that'd make the seagull-as-headdress more understandable.

("James Bong will be back in Up In Smoke.")

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:03 PM:

Greg London @ 149... It just rolls off the tongue (...) and it catapulted me

We're mixing our metaphors today, eh?

#155 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:06 PM:

#148: ... or I could have just looked inside the front cover, damn it! It was Sign of the Unicorn which I read serialized in Galaxy.

#156 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:09 PM:

Clifton Royston @140: I also stumbled upon Aristophanes around 14, and I remember that well. I also was pleasantly stunned by the relentless and cheerful obscenity.

Also first read him in high school, and found him unexpectedly entertaining. It helps to have a good translation; the version I recall reading had been fairly current, and went for the sense of the words, and let meter and rhyme fall to the side. It was a popular translation; it was these editions I usually found in the used book stores I shopped at.

I had picked up a different translation, that sought to keep meter and rhyme intact (and I think it was also seeking to preserve classroom decorum). I compared a passage, and where this edition provided the phrase "probed adulterers", the first translation gave "buggered bastards".

I would be more specific (names of editions and translators), but books in boxes, boxes in attic...

#157 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:24 PM:

Wow, I didn't mean to start such a furor over the Elohim thing. I don't speak or read Hebrew, and I'm a Pagan who is damned sick of having Bible passages quoted out of context and used as an excuse for oppressing me and millions of other people, Pagan or otherwise.

OK, I didn't know about the verb. Like I said, I don't read Hebrew. But: I have it on good authority that Genesis says "Elohim" when speaking of the creation, but "YHVH" (don't quibble over W or V, I mean the tetragrammaton, OK?) by the time it gets to talking about Adam and Eve. Calling the same being by different names isn't unheard of, but that sudden change is, to my mind, suggestive.

Here's another thing. Take the word 'delicatessen'. Singular or plural? Singular—these days, in English. But in the original German (or Yiddish, which is Jewish German), it's a plural known meaning "delicacies" (as a different kind of store's sign might say "Shoes"). It's quite possible for a noun whose sense was plural to be "corrected" into singular, and used with a singular verb, once the scriptures were, you know, inscribed...which would be after the Ancient Hebrews decided to pretend they were monotheists (as opposed to henotheists, which is all the Psalms support).

Speaking of the Psalms, quoting out of context can get you to some weird places. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me...you are with me in my bed at night...in your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (or to modernize that language a little, "for days"). Yes, mutual masturbation is a form of worship! No, I don't believe that's a legitimate interpretation of that text, but it's every bit as legitimate as some of the crap I've had spewed at me over the years—which is to say, not at all.

I'm really not anti-Christian. I'm anti-Christianist. A friend asked me after Easter Vigil why it didn't offend me to sing that bit about "those who worship vain idols"—mind you, this is a friend who knows I chant before an image of Ganesha on a daily basis. "I don't worship vain idols," I replied. "Can you imagine being vain when you have an elephant's head?" I was joking, of course, but in fact my devotions to Ganesha have proven quite effective in the past. Nothing "vain" about him.

The point is, I find an excuse to be tolerant whenever possible. There have been only two hymns I flatly refused to sing; one of them called down curses on the heathen or something, and the other is "Saint Patrick's Breastplate," which I wasn't offended by at all...why I refused to sing it is left as an exercise for the reader.

#158 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 07:45 PM:

154: We're mixing our metaphors today, eh?

Hm, yes, change "catapult" to "trebuchet".
That should fix it.

wait.

oh, never mind...

#159 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:13 PM:

Xopher @ 103: Or alternatively, Iain M Banks' convergent timelines in "Use of Weapons". Which also speaks to Malthus (ha! nice) @ 137, as I believe the Banks explicitly notes on occasion that the Culture derives its social tendencies in large part from being post-scarcity.

Favorite opening line is a hard call for me, so I'll throw my dad's into the ring: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

#160 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:20 PM:

My personal entry into the first (or maybe it was last) line contest, was something to the effect of:

One by one, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

Then God woke up with a start and mumbled, "Hey, I was watching that."

#161 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 08:58 PM:

Tim Walter @ 80: Late reply, but - I assure you that despite its size and its deceptively slow pacing at the beginning, there is not a bit of padding in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's one of the few books which I finished and then immediately started reading again at the beginning.

#162 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:07 PM:

Xopher @ 157: and the other is "Saint Patrick's Breastplate," which I wasn't offended by at all...why I refused to sing it is left as an exercise for the reader.

Ah, refused to become castratus, eh?

#163 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:13 PM:

Eric @ 143 quoted Malthus @173.

Eric, there's a call for you on line two - someone who calls himself the Doctor. He says "Ha ha, very funny, now give me the TARDIS back."

#164 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:15 PM:

I am overjoyed to find, from earlier comments, that other people read as fast as I do. My entire life I've had to deal with people coming up to me as I read and saying things like "Jesus Christ, you read THAT MUCH already???" How am I supposed to respond to that? They always sound offended.

Of course, when reading fiction for the first time, I tend to gulp. I don't read every word, and sometimes skip whole sentences that don't advance the plot. My eyes skip down the page until I run across something that doesn't make sense, and then I go back and fill in, but only as much as I need to understand what just happened. I'm not actually aware that I'm doing this while doing it, but if I consciously try to read linearly, word after word, I get bored and distracted and lose the thread of the story very fast.

So yes. If the story doesn't get started ASAP, I'm likely to skip ahead to the point where it does -- almost entirely unconsciously.

One of the things I like best about reading fiction written in slightly archaic English is that it forces me to slow down and savor each word.

My reading habits make it hard for me to sit still for anything but the best-written scientific articles, too. If I have to slog through it word by word and carefully piece together what the heck the author is talking about in every sentence, because it's just not clear, I get bored fast -- and frustrated, angry, and resentful. At one point last year I put down a particularly impenetrable paper, and thought "Is all reading like this for some people? Is that why some people genuinely hate to read?" The thought made me very sad.

#165 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:23 PM:

Clifton Royston @161: Jonathan Strange is one of the odd books where I had to read it slowly because of the diction, but loved every minute of it. I ought to re-read it. It's a slow burn and completely fantastic.

#166 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 09:31 PM:

Speaking of Aristophanes, can those of you who've read non-English translations of Lysistrata tell us how the Spartans' Doric dialect was handled? British translators tend to use a Scottish accent, while American ones use vaguely Texan or Cracker ones.

#167 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:06 PM:

Xopher, 157: I can't believe I never noticed that that hymn is a spell. Of course you can't sing it! Come to think of it, I'm not sure I should be singing it either.

#168 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:19 PM:

Caroline -- My reading habits seem to be quite similar to yours, and I also find scientific papers frustrating for this reason. My approach is to read them with a pad of paper in hand, and outline notes for either a lecture, or a much better paper on the same subject, as I read. This turns my frustration into enjoyable productive thought, although it doesn't let me read them any faster.

#169 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:22 PM:

Greg London #151: So did I, in spite of the fact that it was obviously set in Jamaica....

#170 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:26 PM:

Julie L #166: 'Doric', inter alia, is the name of a dialect of Scots.

#171 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Caroline @#164: Yes! Yes! I read very fast, and am always getting that kind of remark. It often sounds both offended and accusatory, as if they've caught you cheating, somehow. I don't know how you're supposed to respond.

(I even sometimes lie and say that I'm part-way through a book someone recently lent me which in fact I have devoured in one sitting, just to avoid this sort of embarrassing conversation).

I certainly don't read every sentence of a novel on the first read. Sometimes I even miss significant plot developments in the hurry, but I can't slow down once I've got sucked into the whirlpool of reading towards the conclusion. I view the first reading as kind of checking out the terrain: I don't mind if my understanding of the book was quite sketchy in places. If I liked the story, I will go back and read parts of it more slowly, savouring the best bits, putting things together. If I really like it, I will re-re-read and go about in a miasma of text and atmosphere for days.

Sometimes I wonder if this is actually a good way to approach books, but it's an ingrained habit which I don't think I can change.

#172 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 10:55 PM:

I'm guilty of having, on occasion, accused people of reading quickly. I imagine that most people who say such things say them for the same reason I do: shock, all over again every time, that it's possible, combined with jealousy, forcing the brain to spew something out. It's a reflex, and one I tend to regret pretty immediately.

As to how you should respond, I think politely ignoring it is good enough.

I really wish I could read quickly. I have a mother who reads one or two novels in a day and a father who reads one or two pages in a day (he insists on reading them over and over and over), and I came out somewhere in the middle.

#173 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:09 PM:

Asimov's The Gods Themselves starts with a section numbered 6, then backtracks to 1, iirc.

Apropos of modern novels, if not quite SF, I recall a review of a Tom Clancy behemoth where the reviewer said to the effect of "There's a good novel in here - start at page 400 and quit at page 800." The book, alas, was over 1200 paperback pages.

Does the Reader's Digest still condense books? Quite a few modern bestsellers would be improved, I think.

#174 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:25 PM:

I read pretty quickly... unfortunately, I also sometimes really get going in a book around 11:00 PM. 400 page book = 3 AM finishing time. I don't do this as much as I used to.

It doesn't seem fast to me unless I see someone else who reads as fast as I do, reading.

(Someone once explained the vicious cycle of increasing-length books to me, possibly on this very site. People who like author X want as much author X as possible. Therefore, there is no benefit to writing shorter novels once you've gotten established.)

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2007, 11:31 PM:

TexAnne 167: You know, when I tell most people that, I get a blank stare? You just got a huge number of points added to your already-high total.

#176 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 12:56 AM:

Neil, #113: Quite so. Less exposition and more spaceships exploding please... One thing that suprised me is that, as everyone knows, for the type of naval/space-war-opera that Weber is writing, you need at least two exciting ship/space battles per novel. Yet he's confident enough by Field of Dishonor to have NO space battles in at all.

Followed by Susan, #132: I would also love to see some Honor Harrington novels that had actually been edited. I skip over huge chunks of eye-glazing space-battle porn and pseudo-French-Revolution politics when I read those.

Which only goes to show that no editing job would please everybody! As I read Weber for the characters as much as anything, I'm closer to Susan's view here, although I wouldn't characterize Weber's descriptions of battle as "warporn"; I've seen real warporn, and it's much, much creepier than that.

Chris, #130: Portraying a system of government as working better than, in fact, it actually does work can actually mislead people who read more fiction than history.

There do seem to be an awful lot of people who can't figure out that Heinlein's Libertarian societies only work as well as they do because there's an author standing over them to make sure they work well. Some of those people are published authors in their own right, and bloody well ought to get it!

Malthus, #137: Could you briefly explain "post-scarcity economy", please? I think I understand, but I'd like to see if I'm right.

Aconite, #150 and Xopher, #157: Bingo! Expecially when one is dealing with either Old Testament Christianists or Paulists who are of the "literalist" bent.

Caroline, #164: I probably don't read quite as fast as you do, but I definitely read fast enough to have evoked this reaction. It usually ticks me off just enough to mirror it back at the other person (i.e. acting surprised that they don't read that fast).

Your experience with dry science papers is similar to mine with French lit in the original. It was so frustrating to spend the better part of an hour reading 4 pages! And yes, it made me more aware that there are people for whom reading their native language is like that, and how little I would read if I were one of them.

Xopher, #175: One of the scariest things I've seen lately was a report of a Christian youth group's "flagpole ceremony". These high-school kids were gathering around the flagpole, writing the names of their "unsaved" classmates on slips of paper, and nailing said slips to a cross while chanting prayers for conversion. *shudder* Nymic spells of compulsion -- that's some of the blackest magic I can think of. And wouldn't they be offended if someone actually pointed out what they were doing!

#177 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 02:06 AM:

Rob Rusick@146 writes:

I had picked up a different translation, [of Aristophanes] that sought to keep meter and rhyme intact
Meter perhaps, but any rhymes would have been added by the translator -- classical Greek and Latin poetry was almost invariably blank verse. (And slightly different than English blank verse at that, because it worked with patterns of syllable length rather than syllable stress.)

#178 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 03:08 AM:

Aconite #150, thanks, that gets right to the heart of my confusion. I've had some pretty frustrating conversations where Christians argue circularly that the Bible says that people who don't accept the authority of the Bible, etc. And Pagans particularly have a good reason to be frustrated.

That Christian story about God as all things is cute, even if just as wrong as the comment that started the whole debate. The modern Reconstructionists use a term for God, Elohut, which Jack Womack renders with beautiful precision as "Godness". That sort of abstract noun isn't really allowable in classical Hebrew but I think that if one is referring to God in modern Hebrew it's somewhat textually supported.

Xopher #157, I am very much with you on the Bible being used as an excuse for oppression. I certainly wasn't suggesting you were anti-Christian to point out the weirdness with the names of God. (Jewishly, there's a whole body of literature based on the different circumstances when the Tetragrammaton versus Elohim is used, and at the other extreme there's Wellhausen's source criticism which says that the use of different names proves that the Bible doesn't have a Divine origin. But yes, definitely the change is suggestive.)

I absolutely agree that much of the Bible, read literally, supports henotheism better than monotheism. Also slashing the Bible is fun and certainly no more twisted than some of the supposedly Biblical basis for homophobia and other bigotry.

I knew about St Patrick's Breastplate being a spell because of L'Engle. Yay SF helping to explain Christian culture!

#179 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 04:03 AM:

Chryss @ 79: That one had me exploding in giggles on and off for the rest of the night. It also has the advantage that it can be effectively retold to friends, even non-geek friends, verbally. To this day my husband and I can cause the other to fall into hysterical fits just by throwing our hands in the air and exclaiming, "You're a kitty!"

Everyone knows to mouse over the comic and read the alt text, right? The alt text on the current one made me snicker pleasantly.

#180 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 04:27 AM:

Post-scarcity economy is (in Stross) what we will have when we have the cornucopia machines.

It means a world where concern over where the next meal is coming from is eliminated.

Examples: the Culture, the Dwellers (Banks' The Algebraist), Stross's Novy Petrograd after the telephones, the Kingdom of Heaven in a lot of PMD writings, the Gold Age in Greek mythology...

I don't like the term `post-scarcity'. There will always be scarcities; all we can do is move them around.

(Trivially, because of the Law of Conservation of Energy and Its Mass Equivalent. But for other reasons also.)

(BTW, I watched Pursuit of Happiness on a plane sound trackless. The entire movie reduced itself to Will Smith chasing public transport.)

#181 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 05:08 AM:

My response to people who comment on how quickly I'm reading is to say "oh, no, I've only read a little bit, I haven't really gotten into it yet." This is especially effective if I've read 100 pages while on my lunch break. I borrowed Outlander from a friend and returned it to her the next day, to her surprise. I think I probably read very much like Caroline at #164, but now I'm going to have to pay more attention.
I just started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell this weekend, and I haven't really gotten into it yet (but the comments here are giving me hope). I do find that generally I have to pace my reading (only reading at lunch, or on the Max) because otherwise the books take over the house.
Now I'm going to pace my commenting because thread about reading has stirred up all sorts of completely unrelated thoughts, and it's entirely too late to post them coherently.

#182 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:04 AM:

Reading the responses, I get the impression there are two segments in the reading public:

1) Fast readers;

2) Slow readers.

There's no reason why the publishing business can't cater to both. When an SF paperback 1000+ pages long appears in my neighborhood bookstore, I find myself thinking: "Where is the Reader's Digest edition?"

Well, why not make "Reader's Digest" editions also of SF lit? (I suppose asking for shortened Fantasy novels is futile.... ;-P)

#183 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:27 AM:

142: yes, they could have used some serious editing even in areas that have nothing to do with the war porn. There was a scene where someone encounters another person, whom he describes as being almost 1m70 tall

That's about five foot eight. What's the problem? Did it sound silly in context or something?

180: agree. It's an interesting mental exercise to think up "things that would still be scarce in a so-called post-scarcity society"; start with living space and go on from there.

The flagpole ceremony gives me the creeps too, and all I know about magic comes from reading TH White and Tim Powers novels. I quite like "St Patrick's Breastplate" - it sounds like a benevolent sort of spell, appealling for God's protection. Is there a reason to avoid it from a magical point of view?

#184 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:29 AM:

Addendum:

Or... are books for fast readers crowding out books for slow readers? Is this some unstoppable trend?

#185 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 08:48 AM:

A.R.Yngve @ 182

This is science fiction, surely we can find a technological solution to this problem? In fact, this might be the killer app for e-readers: ship every book in 2 versions, one short, one long. There's plenty of room on contemporary media; even a 1,000 page book will take less than 10 Megabytes, including the 250 page short version with it if you ship them together.

For real flexibility we need an AI editor that runs on the reader. Give it a reading speed and it grunts away overnight and generates an edited version of the appropriate length. Yeah, that's the ticket!

#186 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 08:56 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 179

Thanks for pointing that one out; I don't get to xcd for every new cartoon, and I would have hated to miss it.

And thank you and Xopher and others* on this list, Pagans and others, for creating a mostly Christian-atmosphere and -symbol free environment. There are many Christians I like, and some things in Christianity I admire, but having grown up in the US not a Christian has left me a trifle sensitive to the pervasive atmosphere that's supposed to be everybody's heritage, like it or not.

* And most especially Teresa and Patrick, who set the tone.

#187 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:14 AM:

#185: New from Apple, the iReader Nano - with a 20GB memory, you can carry your entire library in your pocket! Hi-res softscreen to display up to two A4 pages at a time.

And for the first time, iReader Nano includes iDrabble software, which can compress any novel to the internationally-recognised LP3 format; choose from 1,000-word, 100-word or 10-word versions of your favourite books!

iDrabble also includes the following applications:

iHaiku, which can compress any novel to a seventeen-syllable poem;

iFord, which can parody any novel in eleven styles - including heroic couplets, Anglo-Saxon epic, Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse and Savoy Opera;

and iTheresTheRub, which expresses the inward thoughts of any fictional character in Jacobean blank verse.

($1199 plus tax)

#188 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:31 AM:

The usual Christian exegesis of "Elohim" in the E source of Genesis is that it refers the the plurality of persons in the Holy Trinity, not that it represents God as "all things".

Xopher@157: The reason Genesis shifts from Elohim to YHWH is because it's two texts stitched together by a later editor -- the J source, which uses YHWH, and the E source, which uses Elohim. (The two other sources of the Pentateuch are PC, for "Priestly Code", IIRC, and D, for Deuteronomic.) In some cases there are extensive blocks from one source or another; in other cases they are merged on an almost line-by-line basis (e.g. during the Exodus narrative). There's no particular significance in the shift in names at that point, except that it reflects two somewhat different variants of the creation story which have been attached and roughly edited into one not-quite-consistent text.

#189 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:01 AM:

#176: Yikes. Doesn't that amount to crucifying them in effigy?

Re Weber: Yes, I realize Manticore (his analog of England, for people who haven't read him) is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament. Nearly every internal problem it has is directly traced (by Weber) to it having too many people who won't just shut up and do what the Queen says. Sometimes nobles, sometimes commoners, but that's always the point - the Queen knows better. She makes one major mistake that I know of - and nobody calls her on it.

The Mutineers' Moon series is worse that way. And the Hell's Gate series (which is admittedly a collaboration, although I don't remember the name of the collaborator) is even worse: there is supposedly a dynasty that has ruled some empire for something like five thousand years, without ever having had a single bad, corrupt, foolish or weak monarch.

Apparently it never occurred to Weber that there might possibly be a *reason* that never happened in our time line - namely, monarchy is risky. It works okay under a good and wise monarch but not all monarchs are good and wise, and some of the ones who are when they are crowned don't stay that way. (Tellingly, the Five Good Emperors were chosen for merit and then adopted, and as soon as this custom was broken, a bad emperor immediately resulted; has any hereditary dynasty had even five good monarchs in a row?)

That was the last straw, but after I saw that, I saw the same thing in all his other works too, to a lesser degree. (Which is one of the reasons I don't think it's the other author's fault.)


By contrast, if you look at Bujold's treatment of monarchy, it's much more realistic: there are certainly some very good monarchs, but there are also some very bad monarchs and potential monarchs, some that are misled by corrupt subordinates, some that are morally ambiguous and at least one who is crowned at the end of a book as a more or less unknown quantity. Keeping the bad ones out of office - or worse, getting them out of office once they are in - has great costs, which are not glossed over. The system is portrayed without being idealized to an unreasonable degree - "awkward, beautiful, corrupt, stupid, honorable, frustrating, insane and breathtaking. It gets most of the work of government done most of the time, which is about average for any system."

This is one of several reasons I consider Bujold a much better author than Weber.


Good points about this not only happening to monarchy, though. I just found Weber's version particularly heavy-handed and irritating.

#190 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:09 AM:

I'm not a fan of Weber's politics in the HH books; but in all fairness, he's been building a theme of "Elizabeth has an irrational hatred of Haven, plus a really nasty temper, which are going to cause major problems" for several books now. I don't think it's accurate to accuse him of presenting her as a reliable and inerrant leader.

#191 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:17 AM:

Chris - absolutely agree; Bujold's politics in the Vorkosigan series are great fun to read and very believable. (Her battle sequences are terrible. Probably why she only really wrote one set-piece battle in detail, in The Vor Game.)

#192 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:56 AM:

DavidS @ 168: I am about to attack a paper and had thought of doing exactly that as a coping mechanism. Good to know it works for you.

Jenny @171: Your habits are identical to my own. When I first read Spin (on the recommendation of Our Esteemed Host and Hostess) I don't even think I paid much attention to the revelation of the nature of the Hypotheticals, because I was so interested in what was going to happen.

My favorite kind of book is the kind that I can re-read several times in quick succession and get more out of every time. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami, is probably the best one I've yet found. Spin is actually great for that, too.

I especially like this because I go about my daily life with a book in hand, so I have to be able to re-read, since I have a finite number of books in the house. About the only things I don't do while reading are drive and shower. I have considered audiobooks for both activities.

It's not a particularly Zen way to approach reading, and sometimes I'd like to be able to slow down more, but it's pleasantly enthusiastic.

Nicole @ 179: Whenever I realize that I'm getting particularly ridiculous with the kitty-babytalk (oo's a good kitty? yes you is, yes you is, oo joo joo joo), I throw up my hands and say "You're a kitty!" to the cat in question. It's a good way of gently mocking myself.

#193 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:56 AM:

Lee @ #176:
As I read Weber for the characters as much as anything, I'm closer to Susan's view here, although I wouldn't characterize Weber's descriptions of battle as "warporn"; I've seen real warporn, and it's much, much creepier than that.

No war porn. Space battle porn. Long, loving, elaborate descriptions of the technical details of each ship, followed by equally long and loving descriptions of all the things they do when they have shiply intercourse - all those penetrating missiles going straight up their whatevers, burrowing in and violating their bodily integrity until they just explode. In one of the most recent books, there was a scene describing the frustration of the missiles at being unable to penetrate the enemy ships - I had to stop reading and laugh. I don't want my missiles personified to the point where they have feelings. Actually, I don't want them personified at all.

It all makes me really wonder about Weber.

I do like the treecats.

#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 11:02 AM:

Do Weber's treecats ever shed? I look at those black uniforms and it must be hard to appear noble with your puttytat's fur all over it.

#195 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 11:20 AM:

In the beginning we need a few lines
to lure in the readers and get them to stay.
Starting with action, then flashback's a way
to get going quickly, then fill up their minds
with backstory, setup and color.
But do this too often and readers get jaded;
they don't buy the books, their interest has faded,
and TV, so written, will not please the watcher.
Now into an arms race, each book must try harder
to get some excitement into the beginning.
After awhile it's not clear who's winnning;
I doubt, though, the reader or even the author.
Some adore the action and some insist on plot
that has a complex structure. How to pull
each kind in depends on what their type.
If you insist on hooking them, and then deliver not,
you'll lose them in the finish, they'll feel the wool
over their eyes, and they will call it tripe.

#196 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 11:26 AM:

In all this discussion of the action/flashback beginning, I don't know why I didn't think before of the opening of "Serenity". Whedon has the gall to make it a series of replayed recordings, so each bit of action is followed by a flashforward to exposition, which in turn becomes an action scene and is followed by an exposition that ... for almost ten minutes. And he gets away with it! It's a goram' tour de force, and it took my breath away the first time I saw it. I bought the DVD as soon as it came out, and I've stepped through that beginning several times to study it. It doesn't get old.

#197 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 11:40 AM:

The rule's quite simple, you must have a tale
that's worth the telling, and then you must write
with care and feeling, through the day and night
until you've got the whole thing in the mail.
From crises and odd situations never quail,
but keep the plot and ending in your sight;
it's yours to tell, so you must get it right.
The sting's not in the ending, but the tail.
You're not the one by whom it will be read,
still you must draw the reader with a line
that catches both the eye and sleeping mind.
The story takes its form in the reader's head,
the process must be both complex and fine,
and every tale should its true reader find.

#198 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 12:25 PM:

In college I had a housemate who read about 4x as fast as I did, and only needed half as much sleep. When I would go to bed, I'd leave whatever SF/F book I was reading outside my door; she would pick it up and read the whole dang thing while I was sleeping. If it was really bad she'd warn me so I could abandon it...actually it wasn't a bad system.

Among other lit majors I feel like a slow reader, but my husband is dyslexic and wants to kill me when he sees how fast I can zip through a book. It's all relative.

I tend to like long books, and hubby likes even longer books, incidentally, so the idea that slow readers like short books may not hold water. If it's difficult to really settle into a book, I want to stick with it as long as possible once I've gotten past that initial phase.

#199 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 01:48 PM:

Nicole @ 179
My husband read a few hundred xkcd yesterday. I just got to tell him that he has it to do over.
heh heh heh.
-Barbara

#200 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 02:36 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 197

Very nicely done, and in only 20 minutes! A new record time.

#201 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 03:12 PM:

I see a pattern:

Skip knew there was something in the air that evening, but at the time he thought it was just acacia pollen.

Chuy had actually begun to sober up before the tractor crashed and he went flying to the lamentably crooked furrows three meters below.

The first time Pablo learned that the war was over, it was not true.

#202 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Lee 176: Wow. Baneful and/or coercive magic, depending on how you read it. If I were one of their "unsaved" friends, I'd be irresistably inclined to say "Well, now that you've symbolically crucified me AND tried to convert me by force, we're not friends any more. Goodbye."

ajay 183: But I don't want to bind Christian power, or the power of the Christian God, to myself. That sort of thing is only benevolent if you're already a Christian, or have chosen the moment of the song to convert. Neither of which is true of me.

James 188: Or because they're from people who worshipped different gods and decided to merge their two systems by claiming they were "really" the same God. Happens all. the. time.

Chris 189 ct Lee 176: Yes, it does. And worse things, like binding their names, possibly effacing their names (a death spell), and on and on. If I had a "friend" like that, I'd be tempted to do signature-magic on them...but my oath would prevent me.

Sigh. The things Christians do to us, without thinking. Remember "when the ancient gods were petty and cruel"? Do a series about the petty cruelty of Yahoowahoo (hey, the vowels are lost, but you gotta call him SOMETHING) and see where it gets you. Yet blasphemy against OUR gods is just "can't you take a joke" material.

The hypocrisy, it annoys.

#203 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 04:54 PM:

Xopher@202: FWIW, the overwhelmingly probable (virtually certain) case is that the texts were both composed by Yahwists, but of different internal factions, so to speak.

#204 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 05:14 PM:

I have a crackpot theory that the kitty-brain-melt effect has something to do with the toxoplasma parasite, and subtle "love me" mind control effects. But it is, as I say, a crackpot theory. One thing's for certain: the more time you spend with cats, the more you do it. I've seen people go from "huh? it's a cat" to "oozjhums woozjhums." I'm way past gone.

Xopher: "vain idols": brilliant.

#205 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:04 PM:

Bruce Cohen #200: Thank you!

#206 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:09 PM:

Keir, #180: Thanks -- that's what I was thinking it was, so it's good to know I got it right.

Susan, #193: Oh. *ahem* Right. Not the same thing at all.

Now I suspect I'm going to be giggling the next time I read Weber...

#207 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:11 PM:

A J Luxton @ 204

I tend to refer to my cat as 'knotheaded kittycat' when I'm not calling her 'tailwaver'. Babytalk? Not so much. ('Please remove your claws from me', on the other hand, is a popular number.) I can't say, in hindsight, that any cat in my family has gotten a lot of babytalk.

#208 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 06:21 PM:

Where it comes to space battles and all those penetrating projectiles but without the feel one is reading porn... I quite enjoy the series The Lost Fleet by John Hemry under the pen name 'Jack Campbell'. Short books, tight and, like I said, no porn.

#209 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 08:07 PM:

james,

other sources of the Pentateuch are PC, for "Priestly Code", IIRC, and D,

so IIRC is the author(s) who is all like "and it came to pass in the third month, maybe the fourth, and verily god did smite, i'm pretty sure." i always wondered about those passages.

xopher,

Do a series about the petty cruelty of Yahoowahoo (hey, the vowels are lost, but you gotta call him SOMETHING) and see where it gets you.

sigh. for many christians, this will be just dandy, as long as you say "old testament god." cause in the new testament, jesus comes along, & god converts from judaism to christianity & becomes Loving instead of Vengeful. it is an old slander on the jews (not that our god in the ot is always consistent or easy to understand/like) & a frequent rant of mine.

(i dunno if anyone else noticed, but as it happens, the three posters arguing that yes in that text elohim is singular are jewish. i hope it's clear that it was all knowledge-geek pedantry, not prosletyzing.)

#210 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 08:21 PM:

A.J., #204, I don't talk babytalk to the cats, although I do sometimes use the high baby voice. I just talk regularly to them; I've been known to stand with my hands on my hips and say "What the heck do you think you're doing?"

#211 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:36 PM:

We talk to the cats like their human beings, or small children who should know better than to do whatever they are doing.

I clocked myself a few years ago at 2 pages per minute for a good novel (paperback). Scientific papers and other textbooks are different, and require thought, and I don't know that I could set a reading speed on them.

#212 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:47 PM:

miriam 209: I'd say, instead, that the earliest texts are the most alien, because we're far from them culturally. So the human sacrifice bits (and no, I'm not talking about Isaac) are really old, and the smiting of perfectly well-intentioned people for touching the Ark of the Covenant, and so on.

And the New Testament isn't always sweetness and light either, or does the Revelation of St. John count as NT? I count it as grotesque horror fiction myself, just the sort of thing the Westboro Baptists like best, the bastards. And Paul is pretty much a boring asshole too (except for that bit about Love). All IMO. But I just wanted to let you know that the parts I regard as the "nasty bits" are not ALL OT.

And Micah 6 is in the OLD Testament. So there.

#213 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:48 PM:

Xopher @ #202:
I did get that it was an invocation and that you didn't wish to invoke that particular Power, or those Powers. On one level I'd never noticed that it was a spell, and another I'd always felt it viscerally, if you see what I mean.

I'm interested - please forgive me if this question comes across as nosy in any way - but does the invocation require intention to invoke? Would your qualms apply to *anyone* non-Christian who sings it; or just to you, singing it in the full knowledge that it was a spell? i.e. if I understand you correctly, your objection goes above and beyond the fact that declaring your belief in the Christian God would be a lie; it's the actual form of the words that have power (so you might not mind singing a hymn that referred to the Christian God but wasn't a form of invocation). But is that always true whenever it is sung, or only by someone who, I don't know, feels its spell-nature? Does my question make sense?

I myself am not too happy singing the bit about binding Christ to myself, but I love the verse about the elements... the virtues of the star-lit heaven... the stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks, etc.

On the other topic, the idea of nailing people's names to a cross without their permission is just gross, and a form of black magic, yes, I do see what you mean.

----------

@ 192: Caroline, my twin in impetuous reading habits! I salute you! I think I must read more Murukami. I really liked Kafka on the Shore; except for a chapter in which horrible things happened to cats. I'm generally ok with a certain level of gore in books, but cat-torture I just can't deal with, for some reason. (Even when occuring in excellent books like T.H. White's Once and Future King: I still have to skip that bit). But Murukami has a beautiful, vivid style, and you really can't predict where the story's going in advance. Thanks for the recommendation. I will try to get a copy of The Wind-up Bird Chronicles.

#214 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 09:58 PM:

xopher,

yeah, it's funny, the meme of old testament god = bad god, new testament god = nice god is so prevalent that sometimes people unconsciously move books around in order to fit. i've had people tell me that revelations is in the old testament.

#215 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:00 PM:

I see that I have mis-spelt Haruki Murakami's name. Apologies, Haruki Murakami.

#216 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:06 PM:

xopher,

I'd say, instead, that the earliest texts are the most alien, because we're far from them culturally.

i've also found, sometimes, that studying the ot in the original has given me a better/more sympathetic understanding of other near-east ancient texts than mainstream christian north americans.

i got into a big fight with my art history prof my first semester of art school, when he was making fun of the code of hammurabi, quoting the bit about false witnesses being put to death & cracking a martha stewart joke.

cause i knew, from my talmud classes, that the tablets were probably referring to a murder trial or some other trial where a guilty verdict means death. with your false witness, you've put an innocent person to death, i.e., murder. punishable by death. (i don't agree with the law, being all enlightened & against the death penalty, but it makes sense in its context.)

#217 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:08 PM:

Xopher @ 212

I know one person who describes Revelation as either the DTs or a drug trip. It doesn't fit well with any of the other NT books, as varied as they are.

As for sweetness and light [lack thereof]: Herod and the massacre of the infant children, John the baptist and Salome, and Jesus and the moneychangers in the temple come immediately to mind.

#218 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Jenny 213: My qualms apply only to me, but I see what you're asking. For me, a large part of my magic is the power of my word. I say a thing, and it becomes so because I say it. So words are very, very important to me.

That particular hymn (the form in which I first encountered it) has a familiar word-shape, and the structure is magical. I'm sure old Sacath (called Patricius to create the fiction that he was of high enough birth to be entrusted with the task of converting the Irish—a task for which ONLY he had the necessary skills) knew exactly what he was doing.

The first time we had it, I started to sing it, felt the power start to move, and stopped. I read ahead, and said "Shit! I'm not singing this!" or internal nonverbal whatever to that effect.

#219 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:34 PM:

P J 217: But the first two of those are the bad guys. And the third is Jesus as the fierce boddhisatva, putting a stop to an outrage. It's a far cry from the bears tearing 42 children to bloody shreds and whatever.

#220 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2007, 10:57 PM:

Xopher @ Thanks. Huh. So it's not exactly that any passerby tripping over the formula is in danger of doing magic involuntarily; but if you have a certain power, or connection (which you might not initially even realise was there), you could go somewhere you weren't meaning to by using these words? Like the Old Speech in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea: it's not just the words but the combination of words plus person; but only certain words have this quality?

I daresay you're right that St Patrick knew he was using a magical form. I'm not even sure I know what exactly the difference between magic and prayer (prayer for a particular result) is, and the distinction in the Middle Ages was certainly far from clear: all those rhymes calling on Mary and the saints to stop your bleeding, heal your burns, etc...

This is really, really interesting, but it's past 3am where I am and I have to go to sleep, I think. Thanks for answering my question. You seem to be getting loads of comments tonight! Is this the first episode of the 'Xopher's Brain' show we were promised over on another thread? ;-)

#221 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:40 AM:

Miriam #209: Yes. That. I'm glad you said it; I went away from this conversation feeling guilty that I was being religiously offensive. I posted my first comment in exactly the spirit of "knowledge-geek pedantry" and I wasn't expecting things to get so emotional. There are all kinds of factors that make this not like the typical ML conversation, where someone repeats a misunderstood legend and others with more specialist knowledge correct the misinformation. My apologies.

Xopher and others: if you are interested in the Pagan origins of the way the Bible talks about God, I recommend Karen Armstrong's A history of God. It's a funny mix of scholarly and highly personal, but readable and covers some fascinating material. Basically El was the Canaanite chief god, usually represented as a bull or bull-headed man. Yah was an invisible god whose ethnological origins are obscure but who seems to have been a consort of Astarte in some traditions. In Armstrong's view, combining aspects of the two gave a god with both military and agricultural / fertility power.

Sorry, I'm geeking on sensitive subjects again. I'll shut up.

#222 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 09:07 AM:

P J Evans @217: I know one person who describes Revelation as either the DTs or a drug trip.

I think of the Albrecht Durer woodcuts of Revelations as the Marvel Comics of the day (or at least a graphic novel). They need more word balloons.

#223 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 10:45 AM:

A nitpick about the documentary hypothesis (the hypothesis that the Pentateuch is a minimally-edited interpolated compilation of a number of different documents, specifically E, J, P, and D as previously mentioned):

The contention is not that E uses Elohim exclusively and J uses YHWH exclusively to refer to God. This would be trivial to debunk at the first appearance of the extremely common formulation "YHWH Elohim" (usually translated into English as "the Lord God" or some such).

The key to understanding the J/E distinction is Exodus 6:2 "And Elohim spoke to Moses, saying to him: 'I am YHWH; I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaday, but my name YHWH I did not make known to them."

Thus, when the name YHWH appears in a passage _before_ Exodus 6:2, the passage cannot be assigned to E. Other than that, the names Elohim and YHWH, as well as a few others, are all used in all the documents, and, if not exactly interchangeably, at least to refer to the same God, as you can see from the passage above.

Whatever the prehistory of the names of the Hebrew God may or may not have been, it is not reflected in the text of the Bible, at least not in any obvious fashion.

I hope and believe that discussion of one's own and others' religious beliefs is acceptable here on Making Light. Attacking or mocking other people's religious beliefs may not be, but I don't think anyone has done that in this conversation.

However, for the record, and although I do happen to be a monotheist, what I was zealously defending in #129 and to a lesser extent #114 was not monotheism, but the pre-eminence of syntax in grammar.

Finally, Xopher #157, I have heard it suggested by people who don't accept the documentary hypothesis for one reason or another (or who simply wish to analyze the text we have, rather than speculating about how it got to be that way), that the creation story starting in Genesis 2:4 is a Rashomon-like retelling-from-a-different-perspective of the creation story starting at Genesis 1:1. Which makes a certain amount of sense to me, and doesn't necessarily contradict your thoughts on the matter, either.

#224 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 11:05 AM:

I must thank everyone in this thread for strengthening my faith in the faithful-- I'm so used to Christians who refuse to examine what they treat as fact, even the ambiguous parts, that just seeing people discussing things in the Bible I know very little about, and different words, and understanding the history of what people live by... this is making me so very happy.

#225 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Naomi said: ...what I was zealously defending in #129 and to a lesser extent #114 was not monotheism, but the pre-eminence of syntax in grammar.

I nominate this sentence as the Prime Directive of the Fluorosphere.

#226 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 12:32 PM:

I know one person who describes Revelation as either the DTs or a drug trip.

Good Omens, right?

"Normally [prophets] found ways of generating their own static to block out the stream of visions. Nostradamus had his collection of interesting oriental preparations. St John had his mushrooms. Mother Shipton had her ale. St Malachi had his still.
Aziraphale sighed. Dear old Malachi, sitting there dreaming of future popes. Complete piss artist, of course. Could have been a real thinker if it wasn't for the poteen."

#227 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 12:42 PM:

ajay @ 226

Maybe I should read that one. (I haven't yet, and AFAIK neither has my friend.)

#228 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:00 PM:

Apparently it's a nice allegory, Revelations, if you know the code. (I don't know the code. Someone started explaining it to me once, and all I remember is the "Seven headed dragon" was Rome,with its seven hills.)

Are allegories deservedly obsolete, or am I a barbarian? Or both, or neither?

#229 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:09 PM:

In #98, Torie writes:

And generally speaking, I tend to believe that bad opening lines can be forgiven. The worst thing a book can do to me is have that boring filler quality where I look up and realize that I'm at the bottom of the page with absolutely no recollection of how or why I got there.

Torie looked up and realized that she was at the bottom of the page with absolutely no recollection of how or why she got there. A man came through the doorway. He had a gun in his hand.

(Now read on.)

#230 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Henry Troup:

I recall a review of a Tom Clancy behemoth where the reviewer said to the effect of "There's a good novel in here - start at page 400 and quit at page 800." The book, alas, was over 1200 paperback pages.

Red Storm Rising is a much better book if you only read the chapters in Iceland. It's also about half as long...

Does the Reader's Digest still condense books? Quite a few modern bestsellers would be improved, I think.

The Reader's Digest Condensed Book of A Fall of Moondust by Clarke converts "a frustrated virgin" to "a frustrated spinster."

Susan:

Space battle porn. Long, loving, elaborate descriptions of the technical details of each ship, followed by equally long and loving descriptions of all the things they do

That's not what bothers me. It's reworking the laws of physics so you can execute 18th Century navel exercises in space that really bothers me. It brings to mind a line by Chandler about a Lord Peter Whimsey novel whose villain has devised a murder method which is so fiddly it requires "God to sit in your lap" to work.

#231 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:18 PM:

Bruce @ 230... "a frustrated virgin" to "a frustrated spinster"

That's quite a compression algorithm.

#232 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II: "It's reworking the laws of physics so you can execute 18th Century navel exercises in space that really bothers me."

How did they exercise their navels in the eighteenth century?

#233 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 01:46 PM:

Bruce Durocher (230): Red Storm Rising is a much better book if you only read the chapters in Iceland. It's also about half as long...

Yes! The Iceland parts are the only bits I re-read. Nice to know it's not just me.

#234 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 07:05 PM:

#233: It's a bleak little high-tech novella if you only read the submarine parts; kind of the same feel as The Cold Equations. You get about 150 pages of a description of a submarine raid; one of the subs gets damaged and another two are nursemaiding it as it limps back towards the pack ice and shelter. It takes ages - if they speed up the water catches the damaged part and makes too much noise. Then on the last page an Alfa appears and destroys it in a single sentence. End of story.

#235 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 232: How did they exercise their navels in the eighteenth century?

Very carefully. ::rimshot::

Oh, come on, somebody had to say it.

#236 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 10:16 PM:

I've been wanting to drag this into this thread for a while; please bear with me if it sounds a little egocentric.

I remember ages ago on the SFRT, there was a similar long discussion of the "how should stories open" question.

It might have been on Damon Knight's topic, as he was weighing in grumpily on the abuse and overuse of starting a novel/story/whatever in the middle of action. I could not resist making trouble by pointing out that the Iliad begins in medias res.

Damon instantly retorted, "Yes, but it doesn't begin 'Whang! A spear clanged off of Achilles' helmet.'"

Moral, if any, left for the readers.

#237 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2007, 10:59 PM:

Fragano Ledgister:

How did they exercise their navels in the eighteenth century?

With much contemplation in advance.

#238 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:29 AM:

I'm on the side who prefer their Weber sans spaceship porn. I read the Harrington novels for the characters. One of the joys of Weber's novels (and Bujold's, too) is the characterization of the ensemble. Honor has some of the marks of a Mary Sue, but escapes the title partially because of the degree of delegation and recognition of the secondary characters.

That's another one of my reasons for liking Weber's novels. His female characters are strong, smart, and capable. While the incidence of good heroines is increasing, it still isn't high enough. Plus, Off Armageddon Reef has a transsexual hero/ine! *wishes desperately for Cayleb/Merlin*

*wanders off, hoping she didn't fangirl too hard*

#239 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:50 AM:

P J Evans, Marilee: "Oo's a good kitty!" is, perhaps unflatteringly, the form of cat-talking brainmelt I seem to have acquired. But, yes, I have seen other versions.

One of our groups of acquaintances talks for their cat, who (through their mouths) says "Pet me, byeeetch" in a strangely specific faux Eastern European accent. We also talk for our cats, but they don't have accents. Mine says "what?" a lot.

Luthe @ 238: I haven't read Weber, but now am considering it -- the world needs more good trans characters, 't does.

#240 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 06:25 AM:

Aconite #235 & Bruce E. Durocher II #237: I'd want to find out who held the post of Chief of Navel Operations.

#241 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 06:33 AM:

Fragano #240: Or indeed the Chief of Navel Intelligence. Who may or may not employ navel architects.

And indeed, the Navel Observatory. What might that august institution engage in...?

#242 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 06:39 AM:

Navally speaking, my take on RSR is to just read the WW2-with-computers convoy escort bits. I guess that makes me a dull dog. (alternatively, amateurs discuss tactics, professionals study logistics)

But then, there's a far better British version by John Wingate, if it's 1980s alt-history ship porn you're after.

#243 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 06:40 AM:

Come to think of it, we need a genre designation for that - tankerpunk?

#244 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 07:02 AM:

Jakob #241: A close study of orange groves, no doubt.

#245 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 08:34 AM:

#243: Harpunk. (Harpoonk?)

#246 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 12:00 PM:

Those navel exercises: omphalotactics?

#247 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:46 PM:

A.J. Luxton #246: Or Omphalopolemarchy.

#248 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:50 PM:

If Teresa is still reading this, or anyone who's made her high-octane limeade, I have a couple questions. Are there approximate quantities for anything, or a lime-to-sugar-to-alcohol ratio I should plan for? I don't want to have a ton of limes lying around because I ran out of alcohol, or a series of too-small-for-anything-else bottles when I could have bought a larger size.

#249 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:51 PM:

Oh, drat, wrong thread. Terribly sorry.

#250 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 01:58 PM:

My cat doesn't say "what?" he says "I want something. Not that. Something!"

My dog, now: "there's something fun we could be doing now. How about this toy? Or you could give me a biscuit. Isn't there a pot to lick? Or you could go out and throw weeds for me. Or a walk. Wait! there's somebody doing something somewhere on the street! Can't you hear them? Do they know I'm here? I am the dog on duty! I am the dog to be reckoned with! You must play with me! See, I have a sock in my mouth! Tug the sock! Oh, well, I'll just go to sleep right here."

#251 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Diatrima #248:

The traditional Jamaican recipe for planters' punch is as follows:

One of sour, two of sweet;
three of strong, four of weak.

That is to say the ratio should be one part of lime juice to two parts of sugar to three parts of rum to four parts of water.

#252 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 02:18 PM:

One of our cats mostly says, "Whuh?" We theorize that his mental activity mainly consists of his single brain cell's Brownian motion.

The other one favors indignant screeds of various sorts-- "Where the hell were you?" or "WTF were you thinking, letting those strangers in who might've eaten us?!" or "If you'd stop wasting time staring at those stupid paper things, I wouldn't have to lie down on them"-- though he also carries out long conversations with us of uncertain portent. We are not permitted to stop meowing back until he has exhausted the topic.

#253 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Lucy, I recognize that doggie monologue all too well. Except mine, somewhere in there, goes and wrestles with the cat.

#254 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 01:28 AM:

A.J., #239, I had a trip to Urgent Care early this morning and when I got home, the first thing I saw was a box of sandwich zipbags in the foyer. I said "What the heck happened here?" and then as I got into the kitchen, I continued "What did you guys do?" They all slunk away and didn't answer. My guess is that all three of them were on the heating pad and one exited into the shelf system next to part of it and upset the wire basket that holds packages of bags and aluminuminuminum foil and such. I'm having some trouble with the Robitussin with codeine -- it doesn't matter which hand I hold the bottle or spoon in, I spill down my shirt. And it took me forever to find the measuring spoons. I can't cook anymore and I knew I kept some, I just didn't remember where.

#255 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 09:57 AM:

Fragano et al: Really, just the idea of "navel battles" boggles the mind.

#256 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 10:00 AM:

#255: I guess that's because you just don't have the guts for it.

#257 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 10:10 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @ 250... Have you been talking to my four dogs and my cat?

#258 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 10:44 AM:

Heresiarch #255: There's no depth to them, you mean?

#259 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 10:51 AM:

Fragano... The most dangerous part of a navel battle is when lint accumulates and plugs the cannons - unless one has an outie.

#260 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 11:54 AM:

Serge #259: The thing about navel warfare is that there is no risk of de feet.

#261 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 12:06 PM:

Navel warfare is a sign of belly-cosity.

#262 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Some just have no stomach for battle.

#263 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Lee@#176:
One of the scariest things I've seen lately was a report of a Christian youth group's "flagpole ceremony". These high-school kids were gathering around the flagpole, writing the names of their "unsaved" classmates on slips of paper, and nailing said slips to a cross while chanting prayers for conversion. *shudder* Nymic spells of compulsion -- that's some of the blackest magic I can think of. And wouldn't they be offended if someone actually pointed out what they were doing!

Can you give a link to that report? I may want to mention that in my blog.


Clifton Royston @ #236:
It might have been on Damon Knight's topic, as he was weighing in grumpily on the abuse and overuse of starting a novel/story/whatever in the middle of action. I could not resist making trouble by pointing out that the Iliad begins in medias res.

Damon instantly retorted, "Yes, but it doesn't begin 'Whang! A spear clanged off of Achilles' helmet.'"

But it could have, especially if Homer had been writing for the pulps at a penny per word.

If one wanted to write a really bad version of the Iliad, it might go like:

Whang! A spear clanged off Achilles' helmet.

"Jesus Fucking Christ!" he exclaimed, his ears ringing.
#264 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 12:47 PM:

Bruce Arthur @ 263... If one wanted to write a really bad version of the Iliad

Ever seen that episode of Time Tunnel where Our Heroes land in the middle of the Trojan War? The only character still around is Ulysses, which I guess helped them cut down on the costs, that along with lots of stock footage from some Italian movie about Thermopylae.

#265 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Marilee (254):
I'm having some trouble with the Robitussin with codeine -- it doesn't matter which hand I hold the bottle or spoon in, I spill down my shirt.
Your drugstore should have some tools to help you with this, ask! Or get one of your Docs to give you a few syringes in the appropriate size. Mark them with the right doses while you aren't on codeine.

#266 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Jeeze, sorry you're having such a rough time, Marilee.

#267 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Marilee @ 254: I wouldn't put it past a bunch of cats to be trying to make you feel better via misdirection... they do that in our household when something is up.

Fragano @ 262: it can be a rather hairy experience.

Random Topic Consolidation:
Spoink! A spear clanged off Achilles' navel.

(Okay, well, maybe he wasn't invulnerable in the Iliad... but I was up all night on a Greyhound bus, which lends hilarity to many things.)

#268 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 03:04 PM:

AJ Luxton #267:

You sure you don't mean "spung!"?

#269 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 03:09 PM:

joann, 268: Is his navel an innie or an outie? I understand it makes a difference in one's tactics.

#270 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 03:26 PM:

What's the range of a navel orange's cannons in a navel battle?

(Say that fast. Many times.)

#271 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 04:02 PM:

Serge @ 270

I'd think that would depend on the grade of the navel. Small ones would go farther, but have less punch when they arrived.

#272 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 04:10 PM:

P J @ 271... less punch when they arrived

Even when they hit a ship of the lime?

#273 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 04:31 PM:

And what kind of punch? Planter's or Hawaiian?

#274 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 05:01 PM:

That's ship of the lint

#275 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 05:10 PM:

I think there'd be lots of shouting about 'scurvy knaves' involved.

#276 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Scurvy knaves of the navel service?

#277 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 05:32 PM:

A.J. Luxton #267: I abdominate that sort of thing.

#278 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Meanwhile, in the gumwales...

#279 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 06:05 PM:

Not to be pithy or anything, but it sounds to me like some zesty pulp fiction.

#280 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 06:07 PM:

With seedy characters?

#281 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 07:07 PM:

Not very appeeling.

#282 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 07:13 PM:

Very juicy reading, though.

#283 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 07:52 PM:

Scurvy knavels?

#284 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 08:03 PM:

Full of blood oranges and guts.

#285 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2007, 08:46 PM:

John, #265, I figured out what was wrong. I felt stupid because I do this for other tricky things. I have to rest my upper arms on something to stabilize my hands. The vanity has too many pill bottles to do that, but the microwave top turns out to be just the right size standing up, so I'm using that.

Clifton, #266, thanks, but it's much better today. Amazing what medicine will do!

A.J., #267, I suppose they could have been misdirecting me, but the only complaint so far about me having a cold is when I cough too much and bounce them in my lap.

#286 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 05:22 AM:

#243: *punk genres are as follows.

Period of inspiration:

Key inspirational technology:

Renaissancepunk. 1450-1600. Flying machines, very early steam engines. (For example, Pasquale's Angel).
Steampunk. 1840-1900. Steamships, calculating engines, repeating rifles. (The Difference Engine or Anti-Ice.)
Gogglepunk. 1900-1920. Open-cockpit flying machines, Zeppelins, Lewis guns. (The War in the Air).
Dieselpunk. 1930-1970. The Convair B-36, the Porsche Maus tank, Little Boy. (A Colder War or Voyage).
Tankerpunk. 1970-1989. The F-4 Phantom, the Boeing 747, the Hawker Siddley Harrier. (Red Storm Rising).
Cyberpunk. 1980s-90s. Desktop computers, the Internet, VR headsets. (Too many to list).
Biopunk. 1990s-present. Biochips, slow-release internal insulin pumps. (Blood Music).

Am I missing any?

#287 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 03:34 AM:

pharoahpunk - the third kingdom, Thoth invents writing.

cavepunk - wheels and fire, hairlessness, the invention of monogamy and the two oldest professions.

#288 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 09:18 AM:

ajay @ 286 : I believe renaissancepunk is also known as 'clockpunk'; the term was coined in a column in SJG's Pyramid magazine. There even seems to be a clockpunk manifesto, mentioned at this blog: http://davinciautomata.wordpress.com/

Other (sub-)divisions:
Atomicpunk 1940-1965? Atoms for peace, project PLUTO, project Orion, etc. Glows in the dark.
Jetpunk 1950-1980 Probably just another name for late dieselpunk; XB-70, Dyna-Soar,
The Right Stuff. Does not glow in the dark.

I could point out that all of your tankerpunk examples first flew pre-1970, but that would be needlessly pedantic. The tech you mentioned does have a different feel to the 50s stuff - I'm not quite sure what it is though. I suspect it's to do with minaturised electronics and the rise of the digital, but I may well be wrong.

On the -punk ending: do the stories in this genre have to be anti-authoritarian and dystopian? Wasn't that the origin of the cyberpunk term?

Finally, whatever happened to infernokrusher?

#289 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 09:40 AM:

Jakob: I suspect so, yes; or at any rate not glowingly optimistic. (good catch on 'clockpunk') It's OK to have steam-powered vaporetti cruising around Renaissance Venice, as long as they are putting out lots of filthy smoke, and the Guild of Vaporetti Conductors is in collusion with the Council of Ten to drive up prices.

On needless pedantry:

Jetpunk and atompunk both sound like subsets of dieselpunk - certainly they happen at about the same time, and the technology has certain overlaps (Hilbert Schenk's "Steam Bird", for example, is both classic jetpunk and classic atompunk). But if you think the distinction is useful, go for it.

Cavepunk and pharaohpunk sound like straight historical fiction - the key to a *punk genre, as I see it, is to take the technology of a given period and extrapolate it. So, what would happen if the 1950s attitude towards atomic power had carried on? Answer: atompunk.
Tim Powers' "The Anubis Gates" is probably pharaohpunk - a grimy, imperfect world in which Egyptian gods and magic actually work.

Finally, infernokrusher is NOT A *PUNK GENRE. *Punk writing is about the misuse and side-effects of imperfect technology in an imperfect world. In Infernokrusher, technology is perfect - it is intended to KRUSH and BURN and DESTROY and it does so very well. Any imperfect aspects of an Infernokrusherverse (for example, things or characters insufficiently committed to KRUSHING) are merely the first things to be KRUSHED.

#290 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:23 AM:

and the two oldest professions.

farming and cooking?

#291 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:30 AM:

Renaissancepunk. Steampunk. Gogglepunk. Dieselpunk. Tankerpunk. Cyberpunk. Biopunk.

Hm, coming late to the conversation. And I'm a bit lost. Having read people's take on "punk" as a suffix and what it means about the genre, I just have to say, "what was that?"

I'm missing the distinction known as "punk" apparently and was hoping someone could try another pass at bringing a clueless but curious person up to speed on at least the basic "what is punk" distinction.

#292 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:36 AM:

"Do you feel lucky, punk?"

#293 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:37 AM:

Serge @270: (Say that fast. Many times.)

Wow, a navel orange canon.

#294 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:45 AM:

Greg London #291: It's a play on (or a joke taken too far about) cyberpunk. Cyberpunk was all about the impact of electronic and information technology on society. The other -punks play with the ideas of what might be achievable given the level of technological achievement and extrapolating. So in steampunk you have the possibility of a computing revolution - except it uses Babbage's difference engines and punch cards.

The -punk convention seems to have been popular with GURPS people, though I don't know where it originated. I've certainly always heard William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine described as steampunk, although I don't know whether it was so classified at the time. All the later -punks (after cyber- and steam-) seem to have been reasoned by analogy.

#295 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:10 AM:

Greg: I am opening myself up to being vehemently disagreed with if I try to define *punk genres, so here is the essay by Bruce Bethke, the man who invented cyberpunk:

http://www.brucebethke.com/nf_cp.html

Basically, 'punk' in this case means 'antisocial youth' - as in the 1950s "you young punks!" sense - so a cyberpunk is a technically adept juvenile delinquent. Cyberpunk, as a genre, combines computer technology with semicriminal behaviour - more generally, corrupt government, vested interests, crime, etc, and generally has a fairly cynical worldview.

If you've seen "Blade Runner", you'll know what I mean. In a non-cyberpunk "Blade Runner", Deckard (almost typed "Descartes"; OMG is this significant??) is a clean-cut uniformed policeman who hunts down the evil robots through a gleaming white and sunny City Of The Future, with spiral ramps, rocket ships etc.

#296 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:31 AM:

Bruce @283 - Have you seen Jesus Camp?

I definitely had the "How is that not a spell?!" reaction to some of their binding and invoking.

#297 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:39 AM:

That all the examples of tankerpunk Ajay gave first flew before 1970 is just a comment on the slow cycling of heavy technology. Consider the USAF's various C135 aircraft (707 variants) - they include the original Air Force One/LOOKING GLASS command posts, which are dieselpunk, the KC-135 refuelling tanker and AWACS, which are obviously tankerpunk, and the RIVET JOINT spy ship, which is highly cyberpunk. (geeks in the sky, hax0ring your cellphone!)

And they're all operating into the world of biopunk (the USANG pilots who strafed Canadian troops in Afghanistan whilst strung out on speed were borderline tankerpunk/biopunk), whilst cyberpunk has become reality around them.

Clear? Clear to stream drogue, tankerpunks!

It's OK to have steam-powered vaporetti cruising around Renaissance Venice, as long as they are putting out lots of filthy smoke, and the Guild of Vaporetti Conductors is in collusion with the Council of Ten to drive up prices.

You should write it.

#298 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:41 AM:

The suffix 'punk' as become to fiction what 'gate' has become to political scandals - an easy label that doesn't mean much anymore.

#299 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:41 AM:

Alex: unfortunately, Paul McAuley already has - that is a vague recollection of the setting of "Pasquale's Angel".

#300 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:56 AM:

That reminds me: I should stop reading sci-fi authors' blogs and get on with actually reading some of their books, already.

#301 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 12:08 PM:

here is the essay by Bruce Bethke, the man who invented cyberpunk:

cool.

Basically, 'punk' in this case means 'antisocial youth' - as in the 1950s "you young punks!" sense - so a cyberpunk is a technically adept juvenile delinquent.

Ah, that helps. and all the prefixes simply indicate what technology they're adept in.

Cyberpunk, as a genre, combines computer technology with semicriminal behaviour - more generally, corrupt government, vested interests, crime, etc, and generally has a fairly cynical worldview.

Hm, thinking about it, "punk" would be a difficult genre for me to write. juvenile delinquent, and semicriminal don't come naturally to someone with a lawful good alignment. I'd probably end up throwing a bunch of bland stereotypes into a blender and getting something that no one with any real experience coudl stomach.

Then again, it might be a good writing exercise. Will have to ponder it a bit more.

#302 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 01:16 PM:

Would you describe The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as steampunk? I'm hesitant, but it has traces of the punk side: the flawed society and the manipulation. But the antisocial characters aren't "youth".

Huck Finn, I think, is the sort of person you could centre a steampunk story on (but how would you get him into the technically-adept category?) Tome Swift has the technology, but not the attitude.

OK, Huck Finn 'prenticed to a pilot, that might be getting close.

As for the technology in general, I think it depends on a particular sort of extrapolation. Taking the example of the Convair B-36, the extrapolation is the sort you get if you put the B-36 in the place of the B-47 and write about a B-52 equivalent with nuclear steam turbines driving the props.

It's a peculiarly unimaginative extrapolation.

#303 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Dave Bell... By the current definition, LXG is steampunk. Mind you, none of the futuristic contraptions are steam-powered. By the way, it was Tom Sawyer who appeared in the movie, not Huck Finn.

#304 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 02:30 PM:

ajay 289: "The Anubis Gates" is probably pharaohpunk - a grimy, imperfect world in which Egyptian gods and magic actually work.

Excuse me, the Egyptian Gods work very hard. Especially Anubis.

#305 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 02:39 PM:

Taking the example of the Convair B-36, the extrapolation is the sort you get if you put the B-36 in the place of the B-47 and write about a B-52 equivalent with nuclear steam turbines driving the props.

Er, OK, so, this is kind of a shot in the dark, and I'm still slightly fuzzy on the definition, but would "Riders of the Storm"* be B-29-punk?

semi-criminal. middle-aged-delinquant (or does it require juvenile delinquents to fit the definition?). technically adept at B-29's and psyop gear. are a pain in the ass to the corrupt government and vested interests.

*I think that's the title.

#306 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 02:44 PM:

yep, that's its name.

#307 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 09:35 AM:

Would grapeshot be appropriate for use in a navel engagement?

#308 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Dave Bell @ #302:
Huck Finn, I think, is the sort of person you could centre a steampunk story on (but how would you get him into the technically-adept category?) Tome Swift has the technology, but not the attitude.

Actually, TOM SAWYER ABROAD semi-qualifies, when Tom & Huck cross the Atlantic in a balloon (not their own) powered by something that sounds suspiciously like a nuclear power plant.

#309 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Wasn't there a TV movie about Huck & Tom grown up? I think it was set during the Civil War, with Huck a journalist, and Tom a spy.

#310 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2007, 01:24 PM:

#305: Taking the example of the Convair B-36, the extrapolation is the sort you get if you put the B-36 in the place of the B-47 and write about a B-52 equivalent with nuclear steam turbines driving the props.
It's a peculiarly unimaginative extrapolation.

Depends how well it's done. To use another example, a story based on "what if Apple was the dominant computer model rather than PCs?" might be very, very dull and in-jokey. But if you said "well, that means that computer programs are much more visual and artistic, so people play creatively with shapes in imaginary worlds rather than shooting zombies and constructing empires" that could be a rather interesting one.
Likewise, an NB-60 story could be very dull and Clancy-ish. But if it's about an NB-60 that can't land, ever, without crashing and irradiating the area around it, because of combat damage, and has to go on circling the world for weeks after the war is over, like a sort of Flying Dutchman... well, that's a different story.

#311 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2007, 02:30 PM:

an NB-60 that can't land, ever

That's "Riders of the Storm" in #306.

They couldn't land, ever, not because of nuclear dangers, but because they'd be arrested. The inflight refueling was never directly addressed, but the movie did start with some in-air, wing-walking engine maintenance.

#312 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2007, 04:47 AM:

CORNOMANCER

The Foreword, in which our main character of parts pleads not to be took serious
-----------------------------

You may know a thing or two about me if you have read some books by a Mr. Twain about me and my friend Tom Sawyer, i have to say right now, those things were lies and the fellow who wrote them wasn't too truthful himself. And I hope wherever Mr. Twain is sentenced for his lies that he gets hung with these things perpetual.
That's all.

Chapter One, in which I lay out the technicalities.

In the vagabonding trade there are two ways you can go, the technical or the non-technical. I'm known abouts as a pretty non-technical boy myself, therefore when I knew I would be going up against the Colonel, who had sworn nobody would loaf in his barn forever, I knew to surprise him I would need be as smooth oiled as Tom Sawyer talking to a pirate.
First things I went to see Ben Tucker, who had a brand new railway man's watch he had been offering to traid anyone for a dead dawg with a swolled up belly. I had me one of those dead dawgs.

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