One More Time: Would you turn the page?

Okay, this time, I typed “#1 bestselling space opera book” and got to Amazon’s bestseller list for this category. The very top book in this category was #20 in a series. I have never read anything in this series nor anything by the authors. They definitely aren’t household names and definitely haven’t kickstarted anything at 40 million dollars or anything like that.

However, this page in not from that book. I backed up to the first book in the series, which has a bestseller rank of 2287, which the Publisher Rocket sales calculator tells me is about equivalent to selling eighty copies per day. It’s #3 in science fiction space opera as I type this. Close to 11,000 ratings, average of 4.4 stars.

Here’s the first page (or so):

***

The rain slammed down in hard, unrelenting sheets, rattling on the rental car like bullets and almost drowning out the rhythmic thump of the wipers. In one hand, I held my phone, a custom-built unit that did everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t. Its screen, and the glow from the dashboard, offered the only steady light. Beyond the windows sprawled nothing but rainy gloom, split by sporadic flashbulb bursts of lightning.

My phone wasn’t why I was here, though. At least, not directly. I really was just using it for light. It was the thing in my other hand that had brought me to this place, at this time, sitting in an idling car on a gravel driveway with water sluicing from puddle to puddle.

Another flare of lightning blew apart the night. Its brief crystalline glare etched the shape of a farmhouse and a fence, beyond them a barn, and beyond that the rolling fields that had been my family’s land for — hell, I wasn’t sure how many generations. At least four. Maybe five.

Until recently, it had all been my grandfather’s. God’s green acre, he called it, a rambling farm granted to my family by the railroad at the end of the Civil War. The tracks still ran along the west edge of the property, in fact —

Another flash of lightning. This time, my gaze stayed inside the car, on the documents unfolded in my lap. They looked important, all purposeful text and signatures and seals embossed right into the paper. They even felt important, much heavier than the paper alone. They bore down with the weight of meaning.

Of course, any document starting … being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath … was weighty and important. These papers were a bridge, vaulting from one generation to the next. Or, in this instance, the generation after that. In any case, they were an end, closing another chapter of my father’s lineage, bringing it right up to date. But they were a beginning, too.

… being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath all property and goods and chattels above and below the surface of Blackthorn Farm, address County Road 1100, Pony Hollow, Iowa, United States of America, (Earth), to my grandson, Clive VanAbel Tudor III.

***

What do you think? I think this is pretty catchy. I could totally nitpick, but I think the inclination to do so is largely because the “would you turn the page?” thing makes me super-critical. I would wonder whether we need all that about the phone. I might suggest that some of the transitions are a bit clumsy (especially when moving from the phone to something else). Nevertheless, supposing I had this sample sitting on my kindle app and opened it and started reading. I’d turn the page.

What does this opening have going for it that the previous super boring opening lacked?

A) It’s almost all story, and the part that is backstory is much better integrated and far more interesting. Even though the protagonist is sitting still, there’s more of a sense of movement and more of a feeling of individuality to this opening compared to that one. The storm itself is providing some sense of movement, but you know what else is contributing? The sense of anticipation of the story opening. That anticipation is provided by the will.

B) When we have a line about “above and below the surface,” we don’t need the description to tell us that a starship (or something exciting) is definitely located below ground somewhere on this property. However, the description does in fact tell us that, and that sets up this thing with the will. Take a look at the cover and presentation of this book:

I thought this book was probably self-published, but it looks like it came out from a very tiny press, which in some cases is kind of a subset of self-published, I think. It’s Variant Publishing, with a catalogue of about 120 SF titles from about 10 authors. I would be surprised if this isn’t a co-op of some kind. Looks like they’re doing a good job.

Here’s the description:

When Van Tudor returns to his childhood home, he inherits more than the family farm.

His grandfather used to tell him fantastic stories of spacemen and monsters, princesses and galactic knights. Little did Van realize, the old man’s tales were more than fiction. They were real.

Hidden beneath the old barn, Van’s legacy is waiting: a starship, not of this world.

With his combat AI, an android bird named Perry, Van takes his first steps into the wider galaxy. He soon finds that space is far busier and more dangerous than he could have ever conceived.

Destiny is calling. His grandfather’s legacy awaits.

This is really good description. It is short, the bolded lines are eye catching, it’s catchy, it’s fun, it tells the reader exactly what kind of story to expect. Anybody who would like this kind of story is probably going to pick it up, or at least pick up a sample. I’ve been getting samples of these books so I could type in the excerpts, and I didn’t delete this one, or even remove it from “downloaded.” I left it at the top of the downloaded books and samples on my Kindle app.

Do I think the writing is super great?

C) The writing is not that great. My phone wasn’t why I was here, though. At least, not directly. I really was just using it for light. It was the thing in my other hand that had brought me to this place … why is this here? How about, “I held my phone so the light shone on my grandad’s will, balanced on my knee.” That would be much more direct and clear, avoiding all this “it was the thing” stuff.

However, if a reader is interested in a fun, probably fast-paced story about a guy being jerked suddenly from ordinary life and tossed into a baroque galactic society, then I think this page gets the job done.

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4 thoughts on “One More Time: Would you turn the page?”

  1. This one I probably would turn the page. I might buy the ebook although there being 21 in the series is a disincentive – I don’t want that sort of commitment

  2. Sue, I know what you mean! I’m betting the first one is self contained, though probably with a hook for the next book. I’m definitely not committing to red the whole series! But I might read the first one.

  3. I found this one unappealing as well, but I admit to being super-sensitive to voice and tone in writing: I will read almost anything if the narratorial voice works for me, but conversely, if the voice doesn’t appeal, I can’t stick with a book.

    If you care, the turn-offs here: “rain like bullets” implies violence coming (and a narrator who thinks in terms of violent conflict), custom-built phone implies serious tech-geekery, family land suggests generational-family-saga (not necessarily a bad thing, but likely to involve characters whose devotion to family prompts them to overlook behavior they would not otherwise tolerate), “since the Civil War” suggests roots in historical conflict that don’t resonate with me (at least it wasn’t the War of Northern Aggression!), and the documents are just waiting for historical nitpicking of the sort that most people wouldn’t care about . . .

    All that being said, if this could be re-cast with a female narrator who would be a sort of cross between the sleuth of that mystery series that always has a bird pun in the title, Cordelia Naismith, and Fortune Redding from Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune series, I’d likely go for it. Plucky, funny chick who never expected to inherit a starship and all the family angst that goes with it, but copes beautifully and in surprising ways? That’s my sort of thing.

  4. I find the writing a bit off putting in that it’s giving me the feeling the writer is trying too hard. But I’ve seen a lot worse so I may well give it a bit longer to convince me.

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