Warrior’s Apprentice/Lois McMaster Bujold
The tall and dour non-com wore Imperial dress greens and carried his communications panel like a field marshall’s baton. He slapped it absently against his thigh and raked the group of young men before him with a gaze of dry contempt. Challenging.
All part of the game, Miles told himself. He stood in the crisp autumn breeze and tried not to shiver in his shorts and running shoes. Nothing to put you off balance like being nearly naked when all about you look ready for one of Emperor Gregor’s reviews-although, in all fairness, the majority here were dressed the same as himself. The noncom proctoring the tests merely seemed like a one-man crowd. Miles measured him, wondering what conscious or unconscious tricks of body language he used to achieve that air of icy competence. Something to be learned there . . .
“You will run in pairs,” the non-com instructed. He did not seem to raise his voice, but somehow it was pitched to carry to the ends of the lines. Another effective trick, Miles thought; it reminded him of that habit of his father’s, of dropping his voice to a whisper when speaking in a rage. It locked attention.
CATEGORY: Character’s Thoughts, maybe Opportunity. I want a category for Impending Action.
EMOTIONAL RESONANCE WHY: Since the non-com is looking at him with contempt and challenge, plus he’s shivering and feels off balance, I’m immediately rooting for the main character. Miles doesn’t seem afraid or intimidated by him, so he also is a strong character, which appeals to me. I’m interested in the way Miles analyzes people-why does he want to know tricks of command? It hints at his goal or ambition and I can sympathize with someone who wants to better himself. The idea that he’s about to compete in some military-type competition catches my interest because I already want him to do well. I like science fiction and the reference to a ‘command panel’ tells me this is probably futuristic, and “Emperor Gregor’s reviews” gives me a sense of the culture.
WHAT CAN’T BE LEFT OUT: At first I thought the description of the non-com right at the start could be dropped. But as I analyzed the passage, I’m seeing the contrast and purpose of the character. I thought maybe the reference to his father could be left out, but it widens the reader’s perception of Miles to include a family which makes him even more sympathetic. Plus his father is important to the story, but we don’t know that yet.
YOU COULDN’T SEE outside the train windows at night; the conductor had opaqued them. Most people probably wouldn’t want to see out anyway. I looked around at the rest of the passengers in the car-I’d noticed when I got to my seat that I was the only one there who was under thirty years old. I’d seen flashes of fancy railcars like this in vids, and while waiting for track clearance at the Springs station, when I’d been down there with my Master. Stepping into the sleek silver tube with its rows of heavily padded blue-gray seats had felt unreal. As I covertly examined the people around me, in their clothing that was obviously not handmade, I wondered if they were trying to figure out why I had invaded their expensive, important world. They’d been studiously leaving me alone in that way that said they were curious but didn’t intend to actually say anything, while I stared at the reflections in the dark windows and wished I were back in my little room. Or maybe they already knew what I was. Master Kedo had told me on the drive down to the Springs station that all the personnel on the train were told about me, so maybe the passengers were too.
Now I was the only one still awake. Pretty much everyone else had their seats in the recline position, their cocoons on, and their privacy hoods over their heads and shoulders. It looked like a scene out of one of the drama-vids we watched now and again, the ones that turned up in the weekly mail. I didn’t care for them much, but my best friend, Kei, loved them, so I always sat through them without a complaint. That’s what friends do, right?
Well, okay, maybe some of them were watching their own selection of vids in there, but you couldn’t tell; they’d have their buds in and their glasses on. There was just row after row of reclined seats, skewed so no one quite had his head in someone else’s lap, each person bundled up tightly like a swaddled baby, with soft black mounds over the top halves. The cocoons were made of some fabric I’d never seen before, soft and plush, like kitten fur. I’d watched as they settled in for the night, and a lot of them had asked for Nightcaps. If something bad happened now, they would all die without ever knowing they’d been in danger.
CATEGORY: Travel, maybe Scene and Opportunity
WHY RESONATES WITH ME: She’s a fish out of water, in a place she’s never been, doesn’t want to be there, and she doesn’t fit in with the other passengers. She has a Master, what kind? Hopefully not a slave master. Hopefully one who teaches her, so she has a skill or knowledge that others may not have, and the Master felt the need to tell personnel “what” she was. There’s a possibility of danger with the feeling that she will watch for it. Maybe she will deal with it since she refuses to be swaddled. It’s really an ominous scene of all those other swaddled passengers. I want to know how she’ll deal with being in a new place and probably facing danger. I want to see what she is. The funny thing is that I usually skip over setting and description, but all the descriptions mean something. Just like they’re supposed to. 🙂
WHAT CAN’T BE LEFT OUT: I went through line by line but each one contributes. Even the line about the vids and her friend let you know a little about her status and what she’s leaving behind. The lines about the opaqued windows could be ominous or not, but it tells you there is technology and someone else is controlling it.
AH-HA MOMENT: I always want to start with action, but neither of these openings does that. Yet I’m intrigued, not bored. I always feel like setting and thoughts slow things down. But I’m comfortable with this pace and feel grounded in character and place in both of these openings. There are little hints of backstory but they’re quick and pertinent to what’s going on. Lots for me to absorb and learn.