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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Beginnings, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

William Gibson's opening line to Neuromancer is justly famous:  "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."  Descriptive and intriguing.

However, note what actually happens in the actual first scene.  Nothing really.  Case is a hacker has-been sitting at a bar.  Readers have told me they never finished it--likely because of this.  Like anything else we read, we want to know why we're reading it, and it doesn't come immediately.

There is a brief hint of something in the past that has him longing for the past:  "A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly...."  But it's vague.

Could this scene be jettisoned, perhaps saving bits here and there?  Yes.

When Gibson revisits the novel in his scripting, he backs up and puts his characters in action, showing why Case is moping around.  It's worth it.  Nancy Kress had a name for it:  her swimming pool theory.  You can't glide until you've had a big push off the side of the pool.  Push, then glide.

One of my favorite novels is Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.  It's wasn't until the reread that I realized the first tenth of the novel had nothing to do with the rest of it.  He simply used it to introduce his character in his world.  He cheated, the bastage.  Oh well.  It was fun.

"Boojum", by design, also lacks a provocative opening.  It hints, but those hints are impossible to even feel without knowing the ending.  To know would spoil the ending.  It is a tale of discovery.  We've been operating out of ignorance.  We didn't bother to ask a simple question.  The story, once it gets rolling, is a good one.

After its first appearance in Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer's Fast Ships, Black Sails anthology, it's been republished in a variety of forms maybe seven times by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer, Gardner Dozois Rich Horton, Norm Sherman, John Joseph Adams, Ross E. Lockhart.  It placed third in the Locus poll.  Quite impressive for a market that lacks the reprint anthologies of yore.

The living space ship, Lavinia Whateley or "Vinnie," doesn't want to be used as a ship but to fly free through the universe.  A genius secondary sub-story parallels and emphasizes this theme where living brains are packed into canisters against their will, and there's nothing they can do about it.

But the story opening merely sketches in the world of the story, hints at the theme, and adds some atmosphere.

You can read it yourself online, and you should as it's worth your while, but push through the opening.

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