If you came in on the middle of a movie, would it make sense?

Not as much as if you had seen the movie from the start. In fact, the middle, without what comes before, could be very puzzling and hard to follow. The problem is the lack of context.

In a sense, the start of a book has that problem – it starts in the middle of a person's life. Things have gone on before that provide useful context to understanding what is happening, why, and the implications. And also caring for the characters.

So a start is always less meaningful than if the same event had context.

Intrinsically Meaningful

But, without any background, some events make more sense than others. Suppose a sneering man has a gun to the head of a 4-year-old girl. You would guess she's in danger, he's the bad guy, and you would care for her. There's still things missing, but you could understand a hefty portion of the scene. And you could be wrong, but those were reasonable guesses and likely to be right.

In contrast, the book Read Me begins with the main character making coffee in the kitchen for her. Who is she? We don't know. He doesn't want to turn on the light because he doesn't want to wake her. Why? We don't know. If you came into the middle of a movie at that scene, you wouldn't know what was happening. Neither did I.

The author was prolonging mystery. Skipping the philosophical start:

I'm making tea in the dark. Why? Good question. Because I want to bring he something comforting when I go upstairs, but I don't dare turn on the lights. Why don't I dare? Because I don't want to risk waking her. Why? Because I want to ake her later, at the right time....

The point is this: Scenes differ in their intrinsic meaningfulness. One advantage of the action start over a random time in the middle of a movie is that the author can begin will an event that is somewhat meaningful without any context.

Filling In

Another advantage, over staring at a random time in the middle of the movie, is that the author knows the reader is beginning the story at the start. So the author can plan accordingly, filling in setting and background information as needed.

But this author didn't create an interesting mystery or fill in information as needed.

"No! I don't want the mangosteen." Anderson Lake leans forward, pointing. "I want that one, there. Kaw pollamai nee khap. The one with the red skin and the green hairs."
The peasant woman smiles, showing teeth blackened from chewing betel nut, and points to a pyramid of fruits stacked beside her. "Un need chai mai kha?
"Right. Those. Khap." Anderson nods and makes himself smile. "What are they called?"
(The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi)

This has begun with action. But the action is boring. The story takes place in a biologically-ravaged future. So the new fruit is amazing. You need that context to appreciate the scene. Lake is trying to find new plants, so the fruit is of special interest to him.

Ironically, the reader could have been given all of that information, and then the scene would contain an interesting mystery – what is the fruit and why does the women have it? And why is that important. Or at least some hint, that can be enough for mystery:

"No! I don't want the mangosteen." Anderson Lake leans forward, pointing. "I want that one, there." The fruit he had never seen before. "Kaw pollamai nee khap. The one with the red skin and the green hairs."