[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
As the calendar rolls over to the beginning of another year, it brings with it the promise of new things and new beginnings. With that in mind, we asked this week’s panelists this question:
Q: What are your favorite beginning scenes from SF/F?
Here’s what they said:
Allen M. Steele is the author of eighteen novels and five collections of short fiction; his work has received numerous awards, including three Hugos. His most recent novel is Hex; a young-adult SF novel, Apollo’s Outcasts, will be published by Pyr later this year.
I’m sure that most of my favorite opening scenes are from the same classics that many readers would recognize — the gom jabbar test in Dune; Louis Wu’s globe-hopping birthday trip in Ringworld; the introduction of Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land — so I won’t reiterate them. And while I have a number of favorite opening lines as well — a personal favorite is from Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide: “The bureaucrat fell from the sky” — they’re not quite the same thing as a good first scene, which — if done right — will pull the reader into the book.
A perfect example of both is the beginning of The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon. Here’s the first paragraph:
They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He’d been doing it for years.
Exactly what the kid — whose name is Horty — was doing is not immediately explained. If you’re like most readers, though, you’ve probably got a good idea … particularly when you’re told that his guardians (who are not his parents; they’re introduced later) were just as horrified as the school principal, the teachers, and the other kids. But it’s not until you’re a couple of pages into the book that you discover Horty was…
So what did you think he was doing? And now that you’ve learned that it’s probably not what you were expecting, aren’t you interested in finding out why an eight-year-old boy was eating ants?
Sturgeon was a master storyteller, and he set up this scene beautifully. It is a textbook example of a perfect narrative hook.