My recent post on the rec.arts.science fiction.composition usenet group about prologues that I want to save, so I'm posting it here. I've probably posted similar things here over the years, but that's never stopped me before and won't now. ;)
In response to a post about immediacy of books that don't have prologues.
I've read prologues that quickly set up something intriguing that turns out to be in the past yet will play a vital role in the actual story and I've read openings that are first chapters that read like infodumps or meander through setting up the ... uh, setting. Many books without labeled prologues have them. They end up being the first few paragraphs or the first scene of the first chapter. Even the use of a "Galactic News" or "Encyclopedia Galactica" item at the start of a chapter serves that purpose.
I've always read prologues as first chapters. Just because there's a particular label on it doesn't make it any less a part of a book. Some books start in the wrong place but that's true for ones with a labeled prologue or that start with chapter 1. Some books don't even have chapters.
One of the more delightful books I've read in years -- and a first novel, I believe -- is The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, a fantasy that starts with a few pages of first person narration explaining hobgoblins and what they prefer to be called and so on. I thought it was a slow start, yet it was intriguing enough for me to keep reading. Fortunately, it wasn't too slow and I was well rewarded for sticking with it. And given how much info the opening pages covered that were vital and how much more info needed to be covered as the book progressed, it worked. It set the tone, and pulled me into the story. Everyone I've recommended it to has loved it.
And I think I knowing something the characters don't doesn't eliminate surprise because there are all sorts of other things to discover. Books with multi povs work that way. In my WIR, I have pov for the protag plus one of the not so good guys and the reader, due to reading scenes from the not so good guy's pov, knows things the protag doesn't. Yet I like to think I have surprises there, too, because I don't show everyone's pov.