At midnight tonight voting will close on the first round of Fourth Fiction, the first blog based literary reality show. All twelve contestants have posted their response to the Round One challenge: Write the first sentence to your novella, and only Igor, as the winner of the pre-competition popularity vote, is safe from this round of voting.

For the last few days, I have turned my attention to each contestant’s opening, dealing with the sentences in the order they were posted on the Fourth Fiction website. This third post deals with the first sentences of Tuck, Isis, Omar and Nora.

Tuck was easily the most controversial contestant of the pre-competition Twitter phase, while in the challenges he managed to provide some of the most interesting responses. I for one expected Tuck to be in the forefront of the competition at this early stage, judging by his challenge responses. Sadly, his opening sentence has proved largely underwhelming.

‘Our top informant just delivered intelligence that leads us to believe there is a plot, likely al Qa’ida-based, to assassinate the president before the new year,” the bureau chief said to Frank Braun, “so what I need to know, Frank, is whether your private dislike of the Obama administration might in any way handicap your new assignment: to track down and, where necessary, eliminate the terrorist operatives.’

On first impressions his novella appears to be a substandard 24 riff, with the most obvious of satirical swipes at the current US administration. In his bio Tuck promised that his writing ‘may piss you off but it won’t bore you.’ Sorry mate, you’ve achieved both the later and the former as far as I am concerned. Must try harder.

Talking of boring people, Isis was someone who’s tweets and challenge reponses bored me stupid in the pre-competition phase. A whole host of new-age, quasi-spiritual nonsense seemed to feed into everything she typed. At the time I put it down to the juice fast she embarked upon during the pre-competition phase, but after reading her first sentence I can see that her tweets were not the ramblings of a food starved brain.

‘Lucid dreaming had helped Willow face her inner Kali and uncover the gem-studded glories of her inner bodhiverse, but only after she returned from her first astral projection, bathed in tears of joy and Universal Light, did she realize that there are no walls or barriers, that all life is pure energy, and that the only limits to our absolute freedom are those that we impose upon ourselves.’

What is there to say that can’t be covered with the words, over-long, meaningless and twaddle? The best thing I can say is the tail end of the sentence sounds the tiniest bit like Bill Hicks. Except Bill Hicks made those kinds of points by being a) funny and b) kick-arse cool. This is neither. Sorry Isis, this is even more boring than Tuck’s effort. Om shanti.

Omar was somebody who I failed to really take note of in the pre-competition phase. As I write this I can’t really remember anything much about his contributions to the twitter feed, which made his first sentence a truly pleasant surprise.

‘Once upon a time,
(’twas the year 1284 to be exact),
the Hamelin hamlet suffered;
its easy days attacked;
the victims were the children,
and hence the elders too,
Pied Piper the offender,
revenge for payment due;
just two returned, one blind, one dumb,
they both had lagged behind;
of the blind boy’s life I now shall tell:
his tale deserves our time.’

How could I have failed to really notice the contestant who lists his hero as Cacofonix in his bio? All I can do is apologise. That and applaud Omar for producing something interesting. Looking forward to seeing the familiar story from the viewpoint of the blind boy. I’ll be paying attention to you from now on Omar.

Which brings me to Nora, the last to post a sentence. Nora was often the voice of reason during the pre-competition phase and her challenge responses were often emotive without being sentimental. Here first sentence stays true to form, dealing with ideas of family she describes as so important in her bio.

‘Every unhappy family is indeed unhappy in its own way, but the truth is that it is no different for the happy ones.’

The sentence is a play on the opening of Anna Karenina; ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Nora’s reworking, while thematically solid, could have done with a little redraft as it’s second clause borders on making no sense or perhaps too much. It could be read to mean that happy families are also unhappy in their own way (obviously Nora’s intended meaning), or that each happy family is happy in its own way. Multivalence is never a good idea in an opening sentence. Nora should take comfort in the fact that here sentence is, at least, not the worst on offer.

That’s my assessment of the final four responses to the Fourth Fiction Round One challenge. Feel free to use the comments to voice your views on the contestants’ efforts. And don’t forget to vote before polls close at midnight.