Put a stake in it and call it done.

Monday, May 3, 2010



So I've come to the end of my trip through vampire country, for now anyway.  Although I have picked up the first two issues of the new comic book American Vampire.  It's currently split into two related story-lines, written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and set respectively in LA in the 20's and in the 'Old West' in the 1880's.  Given the title, no surprise that it's about uniquely American vampires.  So far I'm intrigued, and I like the art, so I'll probably collect it through this first arc (five issues, I understand) and see where it goes.

I'm not going to make a big chart of vampire characteristics and powers, but the one at Wikipedia is pretty great

Also of interest, if you missed this link in a previous article: the Sliding Scale of Vampire Friendliness (Productivity warning, that's a TVTropes link...)

Instead, today I'm going to give you a quick meditation on the importance of opening lines.  A good opening encourages the reader to keep reading, but I think that a great opening should be both an effective 'hook', and tell you something immediate about the book.  Many books have memorable openings, but I noticed that all of the vampire books had appropriate opening lines.  Some are better hooks, some more banal, but each conveys something strong about the story to come.

 
Dracula
Jonathan Harker's Journal
3 May. Bistritz.--Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets.
It's a fairly benign opening, since Stoker chooses to build his menace slowly and cautiously.  The most  important information I immediately get here is that the writing is a first person account, and opening with the mundane chatter of travel helps to cement the reality of the chronicler.  Also, given that we know perfectly well that that there are bad things to come, Harker's na├»ve excitement to be in this “wonderful” foreign place only foreshadows the horror he will be subjected to before he returns home.  Not a exciting opening, but suitable grounding, before the creeping unease that shortly envelops the hapless traveler.


I am Legend
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.
Awesome, right?  I instantly know the character is in danger from some mass of things that fear the sun. Secondary implication: that he has been so for some time.  It is an immediate sense of the world that the book will inhabit, and introduces the bleak, almost fatalistic tone that much of the narrative has.

 
Salem's Lot
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
This is from the prologue, which takes place after the main action of the book.  Besides just having a nice lilt to it, this simple line is intriguing.  The two characters are not related, but are together, and not discouraging others from assuming this relationship, why?  The next line reveals that they are traveling, possibly fleeing.  It also sets up one of King's most common motifs: that the bonds of people thrown together by fate are stronger than blood.


Interview with the Vampire
“I see...” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.  For a long time he stood there against the dim light from Divisadero Street and the passing beams of traffic.
Now, I find this opening sort of dull, but I found this book sort of dull.  It actually beautifully sets up the whole premise: there is a vampire, and he is standing in a room, calmly speaking.  It's a meditative opening for a meditative book, so really it's perfect.  Not a strong hook, but fitting for what follows.


Guilty Pleasures
Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died.  His being dead didn't change that.

A strong, colorful opening, perfectly appropriate for this work.  I know it's in first person, that the narrator is sarcastic, and is facing an annoying, but apparently not threatening, undead.


Twilight
I'd never given much thought to how I would die – though I'd had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. - from the Preface.
Decent, and suitable.  The meandering phrasing introduces us to Bella's narrative style, the completely overblown dramatic thoughts that follow presage the overly dramatic characters, and we know there's going to be some action.  It's intriguing, really.  My only problem with this passage is that it's a flash forward to the climax, but when I got to the scene that it should be from, she neither repeated this mental dialogue, or even noted it with a hokey 'This is where you came in' style acknowledgement.  The fact that there is a very similar scene in the opening of the sequel (provided in the back of my library copy) confirms my sense of this preface as a shlocky tacked-on device.  But in first reading it, it does work well.


The Strain
“Once upon a time,” said Abraham Setrakian's grandmother, “there was a giant.”
The first chapter of The Strain, while not giving the reader a heads-up on the modern aspects of the story, does firmly establish the attitude of myth and legend.  Settle in, this says to the reader, the monsters are coming.  This one is a bit of a flip on Interview, it's a good hook, but doesn't give you much information about the rest of the book.


So much for the undead.  On to the fantastic!

Book posts resume normally next week with The Red Wolf Conspiracy

Coming Soon: New Theme: Pre-Tolkien Fantasy

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