Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Novel Openings - Shivering World

I recently picked up Shivering World by Kathy Tyers (Bethany 2004). I'd read and loved her Firebird Trilogy so was eager to check out her newest book when I finally came across it. Here is how she handled the novel's opening:

The ten-passenger landing craft's hatchway admitted a swirl of foul, rigid air. Wrinkling her nose, Graysha Brady-Phillips gripped her seat's armrests and stared out a tiny viewport. Yellowish-tan crater walls curved upward close by, like the monstrous rib cavity of some prehistoric beast that had swallowed the lander whole.

So this was Goddard, humanity's newest habitable world.

Habitable being a relative term, of course.

A tall figure stepped on board--a woman, Graysha decided after comparing shoulder and hip widths. Swathed in a belted brown coat that hung almost to her knees, the woman dangled a second hooded coat by its shoulders.

In that instant, everything Graysha had heard about planetary surfaces became real. There was no climate control out there. The very thought made her head pound...or was it just due to hunger?

Under the stranger's quilted parka hood, brown eyes gleamed over a proud, firm nose. "I assume you're Dr. Brady-Phillips." She had a throaty feminine voice. "I'm Ari MaiJidda, with a capital J. Colonial Vice-Chair." Raising her arm, she let the extra coat slide onto Graysha's lap.

Startled by the woman's abruptness and chilled by the blast of outdoor air, Graysha stood up and eased into the parka. She took special care to settle it gently on her shoulders. Her legs trembled, which she attributed partly to the mandatory three-day landing fast to prevent acceleration/ deceleration sickness. That made it especially hazardous to someone in her medical condition. But even more than the fasting, she attributed her trembling to sheer dread. Panic gripped her when she thought about standing on an unenclosed planet.

This was 2134. Born in a comfortable, enclosed space-city habitat, Graysha had never visited open air.

No wonder Gaea Terraforming Consortium offered triple frontier-duty pay to scientists and technical experts. Orbital habs provided greater opportunities and better air than any of the three established planets--dying Earth, sulfurous Venus, or not-quite-terraformed Mars.

And now Goddard...

"Are you feeling all right?" MaiJidda broke into her thoughts. "I heard you're terminally ill."

Annoyed, Graysha looked up from fastening her parka. All travelers arrived hungry! "All I need is to break my landing fast, Vice-Chair MaiJidda. Spending three days without solids leaves everyone looking a little peaked. And my complexion is fair, even under normal conditions." She had tied back her blond hair. Rare among the increasingly interracial settlers of space, it usually attracted compliments.

The science fiction feel comes through strongly from the first, and conflicts regarding Graysha's illness and her fear of the *open air* planet are obvious. We see a little less of what Graysha looks like, but there are a few hints. Enough for a reader like me, who likes freedom for the imagination to roam. If you like more character description, do you have ideas for ways it could be woven in? Does anything already in the story feel data dumped...or merely necessary to set the stage?

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