Would you turn the page of this bestselling SF novel?

Okay, full disclosure: This isn’t the #1 bestselling SF novel right now. It is, however, pretty high up in the charts and #1, #2, and #3 in its three categories. I won’t tell you what those categories are just yet. Let’s start by just purely looking at the first page without knowing anything except that it’s a popular SF novel.

Oh, I’ll also mention that I’ve never heard of the author, so with luck most of you haven’t read this already and can also judge the first page cold.

***

On the anniversary of his wife’s death, Sam Anderson visited her grave.

It was a crisp spring morning in Nevada, with dew on the grass and fog rolling through the cemetery. In one hand, Sam carried a bouquet of flowers. In the other, he gripped his son’s hand. Ryan was eleven and strong-willed and introverted, like his mother. After her death, he had withdrawn, spending even more time alone, playing with LEGOs, reading, and generally avoiding life.

Counselling had yielded little help for Ryan. At home, Sam had searched for a way to get through to his only son, but he had to admit: he wasn’t half the parent his wife had been. Most days, he felt like he was simply reacting to his children, making it up as he went, working on a mystery without any clues.

He hoped the visit to Sarah’s grave this morning would be the start of turning that around.

Same’s daughter, Adeline, gripped Ryan’s other hand. She was nineteen years old, and to all outward appearances seemed to have coped better with her mother’s passing. but Sam wondered if Adeline was just a better actor than Ryan or himself. He worried about that too, about her bottling it all up and carrying the burden of unaddressed grief.

Last night, he had seen a glimpse of her hidden rage. Adeline was still furious with him over the evening’s argument. So angry she wouldn’t even hold his hand or look at him. Hence, Ryan walking between them.

But she had agreed to be there that morning, and Sam was thankful for that.

They walked in silence through the cemetery much like they had floated through life since Sara’s death: hand-in-hand, trying to find their way through it all.

Fog drifted in front of the headstones like a curtain being drawn and opened. Across the cemetery, sprinkler heads rose and began deploying water. The cemetery likely cost a fortune to irrigate out in the Nevada desert, but of all the problems Absolom City had, money wasn’t one.

At the edge of the grass, Sam thought he saw a figure watching them. He turned his head, and yes, there was a man there. He wore a dark uniform, though Sam couldn’t make it out from this distance. Fog floated in front of the man, and when Sam looked again, he was gone.

***

My first reaction: Wow, this is boring.

My second reaction: Wow, this is passive.

Once again, let me show this snippet and boldface all the “telling.”

***

On the anniversary of his wife’s death, Sam Anderson visited her grave.

It was a crisp spring morning in Nevada, with dew on the grass and fog rolling through the cemetery. In one hand, Sam carried a bouquet of flowers. In the other, he gripped his son’s hand. Ryan was eleven and strong-willed and introverted, like his mother. After her death, he had withdrawn, spending even more time alone, playing with LEGOs, reading, and generally avoiding life.

Counselling had yielded little help for Ryan. At home, Sam had searched for a way to get through to his only son, but he had to admit: he wasn’t half the parent his wife had been. Most days, he felt like he was simply reacting to his children, making it up as he went, working on a mystery without any clues.

He hoped the visit to Sarah’s grave this morning would be the start of turning that around.

Same’s daughter, Adeline, gripped Ryan’s other hand. She was nineteen years old, and to all outward appearances seemed to have coped better with her mother’s passing. but Sam wondered if Adeline was just a better actor than Ryan or himself. He worried about that too, about her bottling it all up and carrying the burden of unaddressed grief.

Last night, he had seen a glimpse of her hidden rage. Adeline was still furious with him over the evening’s argument. So angry she wouldn’t even hold his hand or look at him. Hence, Ryan walking between them.

But she had agreed to be there that morning, and Sam was thankful for that.

They walked in silence through the cemetery much like they had floated through life since Sara’s death: hand-in-hand, trying to find their way through it all.

Fog drifted in front of the headstones like a curtain being drawn and opened. Across the cemetery, sprinkler heads rose and began deploying water. The cemetery likely cost a fortune to irrigate out in the Nevada desert, but of all the problems Absolom City had, money wasn’t one.

At the edge of the grass, Sam thought he saw a figure watching them. He turned his head, and yes, there was a man there. He wore a dark uniform, though Sam couldn’t make it out from this distance. Fog floated in front of the man, and when Sam looked again, he was gone.

***

Nothing here is interesting enough for me to care who the mysterious man in the dark uniform might be. I don’t care about Sam or his children either. Why doesn’t this opening work for me?

A) If you’re going to have a static, slow, or passive opening, which is FINE, then please, let it be that way because you are setting the scene, not because you are telling me about the children’s states of mind. None of these people are real to me yet. I don’t care about their states of mind.

B) Please, please, please do not indicate that you think being an introvert is a psychiatric condition in need of treatment, or that reading is a problem that needs to be corrected.

C) Is the author under the impression that mothers don’t feel like they’re making it up as they go alone? Because my impression is that all parents feel that way almost all the time.

D) These short paragraphs would be fine for a blog post or anything else that was going to be read online, but there is nothing remotely interesting about any of these paragraphs, so there is no reason whatsoever to make them all so short. This is ten paragraphs in four hundred words.

E) This is just plain boring. This is the most boring of the various first pages I’ve posted recently, here, here, and here, and it’s not even close. A better writer could write this scene in a much more engaging way. This could involve leaving out everything about the children’s states of mind OR it could involve following the overused but admittedly sometimes relevant advice to show rather than tell OR it could involve getting to the mist-veiled figure in the second sentence OR it could involve just more engaging sentences.

What is this? It’s a novel called Lost in Time, which is currently #1 in the Time Travel category, which, granted, is probably not that huge a category.

This author, AG Riddle, has written about ten novels, it looks like, so this is not their debut.

This book is #1200 or so overall in the Kindle store, which is very solid, let me tell you, especially for an ebook that costs $12. The sales calculator at Publishers Rocket suggests that this sales rank means this book is selling about 100 copies per day. I would certainly be happy if any of my books were selling that well, especially at that price. It has about 20,000 ratings, with an average star rating of 4.4.

I absolutely swear that I am not deliberately picking books with unimpressive openings. I am definitely starting to wonder how long it will take for me to hit a popular book with an opening I love.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

7 thoughts on “Would you turn the page of this bestselling SF novel?”

  1. Definitely agree! That was a very boring opening. Furthermore, I got distracted thinking “Fog in Nevada?” I suppose it could happen, especially if they’re irrigating the cemetary, but that’s not a weather phenomenon that I associate with the desert. When I’m worrying about plausibility then I’m not getting engaged with the story-world. (I’m the same way with situations like “that street doesn’t run north-south in that city” or “that garden plant was not commercially available at that time.”)

  2. Wow, Dame Eleanor, sounds like you have a wide range of “What?” responses. Usually for me that’s implausible animal behavior or, for that matter, implausible human behavior, such as thinking “Wow, he’s so hot,” while fighting for your life.

    Also, I don’t know why I didn’t think, “Fog in Nevada?” because that does sound strange. Granted, fog is normal in MO in hot summer mornings, so I’m used to thinking of fog as something you might easily see in the morning in a cemetery. But still, with the humidity is practically zero, that seems strange.

  3. You’re right, the fog was the most interesting thing about it! I’ve never seen fog when visiting cousins in Nevada, and where I grew up in Southern California, dense fog was maybe a 3 or 4 time a year occurrence. (And of much comment when it occurred, due to that rarity.) I’d be surprised if Nevada saw it more often than that.

    If the rest of the opening were intriguing, the fog might be an intentional hint that something odd was going on, but it seems unlikely.

  4. I definitely would not turn the page. I agree that this is boring. My first reaction to it was, “This MC had better be a psychiatrist or therapist or something, because we are getting a lot of the jargon associated with that.” My second reaction was, “Actually, I hope that they aren’t a practicing therapist, because their conclusions are worrying me.”

  5. That first page is definitely not promising. It’s like it’s TRYING to be atmospheric.

    I personally would have bolded “The cemetery likely cost a fortune to irrigate out in the Nevada desert, but of all the problems Absolom City had, money wasn’t one” as an example of telling. If it’s a city with problems, and this is plot-relevant, then perhaps have at least one of the characters *encounter* some of those problems rather than just telling us they exist.

    Also, what’s with the name? Absolom City??? ABSOLOM???? Why would town planners in the United States name a city after HIM? He tried and failed to overthrow King David in a military coup; that’s what he’s remembered for – I mean, WOW, way to name your city, I wonder what the President thinks of that?! I understand “Gotham City” in Batman. It adds to the ambience and it’s a comic book FCOL. But this isn’t a comic book, and we haven’t seen the city or anything that goes on there to merit the name “Absolom City”, so the name seems awfully odd. What *possible* future history could have led these people to take HIM as the namesake for their city??? So that’s a “… what the?” moment for me. (Still, it might be explained. I’m not interested enough in the book to find out, though.)

  6. Heather, I was actually just thinking I could have bolded everything from the bouquet to the last paragraph.

    It’s probably not that Absolom. Given your comments, I Googled “Absolom City Nevada.” There doesn’t seem to be one, but there is a national park named after this guy:

    https://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/historyculture/absalom-lehman.htm

    Probably this city was named after the same person. Still a possibly odd choice, but people more familiar with Nevada might not think so.

  7. Heather, wikipedia says there’s a Cain City in Texas, although it’s a ghost town now, so there’s actual American precedent for a city to use a name with unfortunate biblical associations. (Apparently Charles Cain was a prominent citizen at the time.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top