‘Out of Media Res’ transitions

May 28, 2012

So, I dove into reading Jim Butcher’s “Grave Peril” this morning. I’d dipped my toe into the book back in late March, reading a bit from the first chapter, and didn’t get any further because I was trying to catch up on Elizabeth Twist’s short story challenge and just getting to some of the good parts of ‘Game of Thrones.’ So this morning, pulling out my Kindle on the bus, I started from the beginning again.

It’s an exciting opening, with Harry Dresden and a holy knight going to a big Chicago hospital to save some babies from a formidable ghost. And then, just at the most exciting part of the scene… we find out that it was an ‘In Media Res’ opening, starting in the middle of the action, or at least a point after the chronological beginning of the narrative.

A lot of the time when you have an IMR opening, it’s fairly obvious, but this one snuck up on me, partly because it wasn’t a trick Butcher had used in the previous Harry Dresden books. (Incidentally, this is also the first that I’m not reading in audiobook format, so it’s somewhat odd the way James Marsters’ voice is sticking with me, giving life to Harry’s words inside my head.) I knew that there were a few things going on that had to be explained about how Harry and Michael Carpenter got where they were, but hadn’t actually clued in that there would be flashback scenes to go along with the explanation, or that this was a flash-forward scene.

So I’ve started thinking about the moment when you come out of ‘In Media Res’, and transition back to the chronological beginning of the story. Sometimes, with a narrator in a book, he actually tells you ‘But wait, I’m going to have to back up a bit…’ or something of that sort. In a movie or television episode, there might be nothing to signal the transition but a bare caption: “23 and a half hours earlier…”

What are your favorite ‘In Media Res’ openings? Were you taken by surprise, or did you know that they were using the In Media Res technique from the start? How did they handle the transition back in time?

When you play this game, you win or you die

May 18, 2012

So – after nearly two months of reading off and on, I finally reached the end of George R.R. Martin’s big fat fantasy novel, “Game of Thrones.” I enjoyed it, though it probably won’t make any best-books lists I may write, and I do plan to read on in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series… but not until I’ve caught up with a few other series, like Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, (huh, how about that!) and Discworld.

A few of the things I particularly liked:

  • The characters are well portrayed and engaging, though, because I was warned about the author’s propensity for gut-wrenching twists, I found that I was avoiding attaching too closely with any one character, for fear of being put through the wringer as they’re tortured or grieving when they’re killed – or both.
  • There’s something very refreshing and fun about a fantasy world where the majority of the characters are – uncooth, vulgar, earthy, and carnal. A lot of the high fantasy I’ve read takes the opposite tack, and it somehow seems more realistic to be in a gritty world where the characters swear freely, at least based on the situation: Lord Ned Stark will go profanity for profanity with his good friend the King, but is always more delicate with his lady wife, Catelyn, and she is lady-like in most situations… unless she really gets pissed off.
  • Some of the surprise twists are pulled off really well, especially when the author takes a situation in a way that is fairly natural based on the characters, but violates the usual tropes of storytelling and good triumphing in the end, so that you’re left reeling and trying to figure out how this defeat will affect the wider-canvas story being told.

Have you read any of ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ or watched the ‘Game of Thrones’ series on television? What do you think? Please, no spoilers!

What I’ve been reading – early May edition

May 8, 2012

Well, it’s been nearly four months since I checked in on my ’52 books in a year’ and other reader details, so guess what I’m blogging about today? My 52-books count currently stands at 19 since I finished ‘Equal Rites’, by Terry Pratchett, which sounds pretty good to me… though now that I’m doing the math it looks like I’m not ahead of the game like I thought I was. But the important thing is, I’m loving every word of it! A few highlights:

  • Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon. A nice little science fiction piece, alternately fun and gritty. I’ve never read anything written by Moon alone, though I loved ‘Sassinak’ which she co-wrote with Anne McCaffrey – apparently a lot of the detail in Sassinak about space ships and what it was like to fight in one, and live in one while the environmental systems are limping along, were Elizabeth’s, because she visits the same kind of territory to great effect with this book. Soon after I wrote it, I found some of the themes popping up in the next short story I wrote – ‘The Shuttle.’
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Another great installment in the series, with things going from bad to worse for Harry and his friends at Hogwarts. The school is taken over by a noxious Inquisitor from the Ministry of Magic, and Harry finds out the secret that connects him to the Dark Wizard Voldemort!
  • Mort, by Terry Pratchett. This is one of the first Discworld books that I’ve read, but I really loved the humor and the sense of detail that Pratchett gives to his characters and the wacky world they find themselves in. This book did remind me a lot of Piers Anthony’s ‘On a Pale Horse’, as they both look at the Grim Reaper as a character with an uncomfortable job, and examine the possibilities of the job passing from one Death to another, but Terry Pratchett makes the premise his own as he takes it to the Discworld. (Disclaimer, I have no idea if Pratchett knew about ‘On a Pale Horse’ when he was writing this book – since Piers’ book was published four years earlier, it seems just about possible.)
  • Power of Three, by Diana Wynne Jones. A great little stand-alone fantasy tale, with a fun twist that comes in just about half-way through. I won’t say anything more for fear of spoilers.

I also read a few of the ‘Star Trek: New Frontier” series, and enjoyed “Inheritance” and “The Puppet Masters” as audiobooks. Right now, I’m a little over three quarters of the way through “A Game of Thrones”, right in the middle of the war of the heirs, and hoping that Ned Stark will be free by the end!

What have you enjoyed reading lately?

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