Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beginning Again

Current Reading: Coyote Horizon, by Allen Steele

Inspirational Quote: "I've seen worse things start off better, and better things start off worse," -- Me, in a philosophical mood.

For this, I wish you could follow along with me in the pages, but I don't want to do Mr. Steele the discourtesy of quoting a significant portion of his work. If you have read Coyote Horizon, or can be convinced to go out and buy it, please do, because I believe studying its structure will be very informative.

I was reading this in the tub this morning (I read in the tub a lot. Usually until the water gets cold). I've enjoyed Mr. Steele's work, starting with Labyrinth of Night a number of years ago, and I've particularly enjoyed his Coyote novels. It's hard science fiction, and I've found his tale of the first human colony both compelling and believable, so I've really been looking forward to reading the latest installment in the series.

This morning, while developing submersion wrinkles, I delved into the prologue. Unlike my earlier post, I'm not going to concentrate on the first paragraph, but on the prologue as a whole. Nor will I quote it verbatim.

The scene opens in front of a house on an escarpment. The first paragraph is a bit dull, although the first line mentions that it is the home of two former presidents of the planet Coyote. I didn't find it as compelling as I found the openings of most of the books I mentioned in that earlier post, but to this point, Steele has never disappointed me and the promise of another of his stories is sufficient motivation to hook me.

It's the second paragraph where the questions start cropping up: why is the POV character told to arrive early? Why is the house so inaccessible? What does she want that makes climbing to the house a reasonable action?

The main conflict of the prologue is introduced right away. It looks like reporter vs. mountain, but the geography is just a manifestation of the ex-president's desire to avoid visitors. It's actually reporter vs. ex-president, with an interview as the stakes. The reporter suffers two setbacks: her recorder is taken away, and the president side-tracks the conversation. Only when the reporter rises to leave (takes action) does she get her recorder back and permission for the interview.

She has achieved her goal, but the interview she gets isn't quite what she was hoping for. Her first question elicits an explanation of the forces active on Coyote and the pressures on its people. This is for the reader's benefit, although it doesn't feel like an info dump. It feels like the reporter is challenging the ex-president with these facts, daring her to make a statement or take a stand.

Instead, the reporter gets challenged instead. The ex-president points out a ship being built to explore Coyote's equatorial river, and lets slip that the expedition is causing some trouble for the ex-president and her husband (who is also an ex-president). Far from getting an answer to her questions, the reporter leaves the encounter with a whole new set of questions.

By the time the prologue ends, the reader knows something about the backstory, has met some of the main characters, and has broad hints about the coming conflicts likely to be triggered by the ship's expedition. It's an effective setup driven by a pattern of goal, obstacle, setback.

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