How to Begin an SF/F Novel

I’ve been thinking about one of the golden rules that all writers are taught: grab your reader with the first line. It’s good advice, but (like so many golden rules in writing) can be followed badly. Writing a dull opening is bad – but so is writing a opening that yells at the reader for attention but does nothing to set up the novel as a whole. Writing the ideal first line is a craft in itself, and it can be interesting to see how different writers have tackled the challenge.

With this post I decided to look at the openings to a selection of fairly recent SF/F novels – specifically the first sentence or, if that’s too short, the first two sentences. For a little variety, I’ve gone with the novel finalists for two very different awards: the literary-leaning Hugos and the down-and-dirty Splatterpunk Awards.

Let’s start with this year’s Hugo finalists…

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Werewolf Wednesdays: How to Make a Monster

Another week, another chance to take your mind off the apocalypse with an instalment of my Killer Horror Critic column on the history of werewolf films! This time I’m looking at the little-known meta-horror sequel to I Was a Teenage Werewolf: How to Make a Monster

Past instalments:

Fight Comics #1

Having looked at Jungle Comics #1 I was curious enough to dig into some of the sister titles that came out of Fiction House, a prolific publisher of Golden Age comics. Amongst these is an action-oriented number by the name of Fight Comics. The debut issue was cover-dated January 1940 and the comic as a whole had a good run, eventually ceasing publication in 1954.

Readers who picked up that first issue would have been confronted with an all-new set of two-fisted heroes. And for those of us in 2020, well, each of these characters is out of copyright, so anyone who wants to shoot their own comic-book movie will be spoilt for choice…

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The Pumpkin Period Approaches


We’re more than halfway through September, and if you’re a horror-blogger, that can mean only one thing: time to get stuck into some content for the Halloween season.

For me, writing in the lead-up to Halloween is more than an opportunity for nostalgia about pumpkins and pick-n-mix. I like to dig deeper into horror, exploring cultural influences on the genre and shining a light on lesser-known and under-explored areas. I’m planning to do so this year, but until then, here are some past pieces of mine that you can peruse over your pumpkin… or perhaps even your turnip. I like to think that my readers are that hardcore.

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Eccentricity Archives: Blessed Quietness Journal

My latest research rabbit-hole entails digging up fundamentalist Christian websites from the turn of the millennium (you know, when these fine fellows were crusading against the unholy trinity of Harry Potter, Pikachu and Osama bin Laden).

One such site I’ve turned up is Steve Van Natten’s Blessed Quietness Journal, which I vaguely remember coming across in the early 2000s; I was surprised to find that it’s still onlie. It’s not as wonderfully demented as Demonbuster, but it’s still pretty eccentric.

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Werewolf Wednesdays: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll

In this week’s post in my Killer Horror Critic column on the history of werewolf films, I’m digging up a bit of an oddity: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, a 1957 film that decides Mr. Hyde was a werewolf. And a vampire, too, apparently. Read on…

Past instalments:

Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire

After I took a look at Jungle Comics #1 there was one character who stuck in my mind: Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire. Credited to “CAW” (apparently this was an artist named C. A. Winters, but I can find little information about him online) the original strip was an imitation of H. Rider Haggard’s She that ended with the titular Camilla dead. But later issues not only revived Camilla, they eventually turned her from villainess to heroine. I decided to take a closer look at how the transformation took place…

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Jungle Comics #1

11-1I’ve been on a bit of a Golden Age comics kick lately, so I decided to take a look at Fiction House’s Jungle Comics. This is a series that ran for 163 issues from 1940 to 1954 and sums up a genre that was once very popular. There are a number of possible reasons why the jungle adventure comic eventually fell out of favour: one is the decline of empire and, with it, the concept of Africa as merely an exotic playground for adventurers; another is the rise of censorship, not particularly healthy for a genre so filled with violence and bikinis (notably, Jungle Comics ended the same year that the Comics Code was launched); still another is the rise of sword and sorcery as a rival genre, with Conan ultimately ageing better than Tarzan.

Whatever the causes of its downfall, this is a genre that once flourished – and Jungle Comics #1 is a snapshot of when it was hale and hearty. Let’s slash away at the vines and see what treasures we find within…

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