Friday, 11 March 2016


An opening passage generates expectations that are confirmed or confounded by the ensuing narrative. Unusually, the opening paragraph of A Circus Of Hells tells us exactly what we are about to receive:

"The story is of a lost treasure guarded by curious monsters, and of captivity in a wilderness, and of a chase through reefs and shoals that could wreck a ship. There is a beautiful girl in it, a magician, a spy or two, and the rivalry of empires."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 197.

However, the reefs, shoals and magician are not exactly as we expect them to be.

The opening sentence of the main text of A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows also unusually directly addresses the reader about the contents of the novel, like a friend recommending or lending the book:

"Every planet in the story is cold..."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 342.

Both openings use the word "story," although an omniscient narrator usually presents us with fictional "facts" and does not draw attention to their fictionality. If we did not know it already, the opening of A Knight... makes clear that this is a science fictional novel involving interplanetary travel - and the word "cold" sets the tone.

In his Prologue to The Mercenary (London, 1977), Jerry Pournelle raises two subsequently confounded expectations. First, we expect John Falkenberg to be forcibly transported to a hellish colony planet. Next, when a mistake has been rectified, we expect Chapter I to describe the beginning of his Space Navy career. Instead, Chapter I jumps to twenty seven years later and addresses CoDominium politics - although we do learn that meanwhile Colonel Falkenberg has built a distinguished career. Pournelle has two stories to tell: the career of an individual and a history of the future.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Unfortunately, Col. Falkenbert's career in the CoDominium Line Marines was cut short because he had made powerful enemies with long memories, such as Grand Senator Bronson. It was because of Bronson that Falkenberg eventually had to leave the CoDo Marines and organize a mercenary regiment recruited largely from demobilized Marines.