Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Worst Advice On Prologues

Prologues:

Some people love them. Some people hate prologues. Some skip them. Agents don’t like them, apparently.

Personally, I don’t like prologues that have only tangential relevance to the story, and I don’t like infodumps. Some people love a good six page history lesson. Some people might love tangential prologues too, though I have never come across anyone who publicly stated it.

If a prologue is interesting and relevant, I have absolutely no problem with it. I have even written one or two.

This post is not really about the virtue of prologues. It is about the lack of virtue of a certain piece of advice related to them. It runs something like this:

A writer walks into a bar and says to the barman, “I want to keep my book’s prologue but, if I do, my book will never get an agent. Prologues have gone out of fashion like the letter thorn.”

The barman scratches his head and answers, “I just serve drinks, but it seems to me, the best thing you can do is scrap the prologue.”

The writer jumps up and down. “BUT I CAN’T!! IT’S MY BEST WRITING EVER!! I LOVE IT MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF!!”

The barman waits for the writer to calm, pours him a stiff drink, and says, “Okay. This is what you do. Make the prologue the first chapter. Agents will read it and never realize you slipped them a prologue.”

If this reads like a joke, it is because it is. Don’t be the butt of it.

Turning your prologue into Chapter 1 is a terrible idea.

(1) Readers will assume Chapter 1 is the start of the story and the characters it introduces are important to the plot. When that turns out not to be the case, they will be confused/betrayed/annoyed.

(2) Agents will work out that Chapter 1 is a disguised prologue when they start Chapter 2. Will they be impressed? No. Their reaction is likely to mirror that of the readers.

If a prologue can successfully pass as the first chapter, then it was never a prologue in the first place.

Roadside Picnic By Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

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Roadside Picnic is one of my favorite books.  Six locations around the world exhibit unearthly phenomena, presumably caused by alien intervention. Dispersed in these so-called zones are various strange objects. The function of some is understood at least superficially while others remain enigmas. Access to these Zones is restricted, but thieves called stalkers break in to poach these valuable items. The book follows the adventures of one such stalker, Red Schuhart.

Often in Science Fiction, when faced with a strange phenomenon, the main characters make educated guesses about its nature that often turn out to be surprisingly insightful. Roadside Picnic eschews this trope almost totally. There is some interesting speculation about the nature of the Zones which gives rise to the name of the book, but ultimately the reader is left to ponder their mystery. The stalkers aren’t scientists. They are more like rats in a maze, learning by trial and (fatal) error. This creates tremendous tension throughout the novel, If you like good SF, this book is a must.

If I Should Die Before I Wake By Gabriel Boutros

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

This is a very short book. It is hard to sympathize with the two main characters. Simon Wallis is a criminal on the run from his boss after he is discovered embezzling money. Frank Burke is the assassin sent to Montreal to kill him. If Simon is unlikable, Frank is a pure psychopath, ready to kill anyone to protect his identity. Though both are well drawn, we don’t learn a great deal about either’s past. And we don’t need to. The thrill of the chase and its ultimate outcome is enough.

Boutros expertly weaves the two stands of his tale into a cohesive story. He draws often ironic parallels in the two men’s experiences. For example, the hitman dreams of being on the run while his prey has dreams of being the hunter. The ending took me by surprise, but was quite apt.

All in all, an excellent if short read.

Tackling The Imago By Anyer Feanix

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I received a free copy of this book for an honest review. Lucky me. This is a brilliant book. Gina is an engaging person, and the diary format perfectly reflects her character – a pleasant, jocular veneer concealing a much darker nature.

This is a book about obsession and its roots. Feanix displays a shrewd understanding of human nature. In a couple of scenes, the depth of her insight was awe-inspiring.

There are a couple of things that a prospective reader should be aware. Do not be fooled by the levity at the start of the book. This book deals with dark issues. Also victims of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (fear of long words) may find some of the word choices challenging. (By the way, that word doesn’t appear in the book.) This is explained as a product of Gina’s study of English as a foreign language, but Gina also seems to use it sometimes to distance herself emotionally from what is happening. In any case, don’t let the language put you off. This book is really worth the effort.