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Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
July 25, 2008 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Great Opening Sentences From Science Fiction from io9.com.
posted by blue_beetle (105 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category. He's got esprit up to here. Right now he is preparing to carry out his third mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachno-fiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armorgel: feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books."
posted by googly at 7:55 AM on July 25, 2008 [15 favorites]


This is a great post because the opening sentence is about as far as I've gotten in some of those books.

Ah, memories memory.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:56 AM on July 25, 2008


This list lacks any credibility for omitting:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun..."
posted by Pastabagel at 8:04 AM on July 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


And now I see the title of the post, and hang my head in shame. Curse you, blue_beetle!
posted by Pastabagel at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2008


Curse you, blue_beetle!

Thank you. With this, I have just begun my first crappy SF novel.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:07 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


"It was a pleasure to burn."
posted by tocts at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The five small craft passed from shadow, emerging with the suddenness of coins thrown into sunlight." — Scott Westerfield, The Risen Empire. This one, I was on the fence about. It's a little adjective-heavy, and it has the passive construction at the end. But I really liked the coins thrown into sunlight, it's a lovely image and it's about the last thing that comes to mind when you think about spaceships emerging from somewhere.


um.... is it just me or is the only adjective in that sentence the word "small"?
posted by 256 at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2008


Of these, I have only read Neuromancer and A Deepness in the Sky, but I didn't find either of those openers particularly memorable. Calling it science fiction is a major stretch (in fact...it's really just not), but my favorite opener is, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

The Deliverator...

The first ten pages of Snow Crash are brilliant, which is why I'm convinced he wrote them long before the rest of the novel, then stuck them in a drawer to molder for years before attaching them awkwardly to the front of a book that differs markedly in tone. In fact, those ten pages are the only thing he's written that keep me from registering nealstephensonisahack.com. That guy is so full of tortured similes. Ugh.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:10 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Several times I have picked up a novel at the store, read the first sentence, and thought, "Intriguing. I'll take this one home."

Those books have all been stinkers.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:10 AM on July 25, 2008


"It was a dark and stormy night, and the sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Yeesh
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:14 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is that Neuromancer cover just awful? It reminds me of the first edition cover of Shadowun. Books, judging and cover and all that.

I don't really remember lines out of books though... just images and sensations and the general plot. I can't give a book review that's worth anything. ::hangs head in shame::
posted by Sam.Burdick at 8:17 AM on July 25, 2008


I forgot the Deepness opener, but I realize it made a big impression on me. The hunt for [spoiler redacted] is such a tragic and wonderful way to open that story, and the opener kicks it off really well.
posted by grobstein at 8:18 AM on July 25, 2008


Re: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

That's the first thing I thought of as well, but I struggle with calling it sciFi. Plus a lot of what follows it I found to be fairly worthless.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2008


Note to aspiring sci-fi writers: The best way to create a memorable opening line is to take a good opening line from general fiction and give it a sci-fi twist.

Examples:

Mother died today in the post-apocalyptic future.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a robot wife.

Call me Ishmael (in space).

posted by burnmp3s at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2008 [27 favorites]


"It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen."
posted by plexi at 8:23 AM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Note to aspiring sci-fi writers: The best way to create a memorable opening line is to take a good opening line from general fiction and give it a sci-fi twist.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was back in time.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:24 AM on July 25, 2008 [10 favorites]


um.... is it just me or is the only adjective in that sentence the word "small"?

Technically "five" is an adjective in that sentence as well, but the point stands.
posted by jedicus at 8:24 AM on July 25, 2008


The iconic first sentence, always quoted in how-to-write-science-fiction books of the '70's, is: The door dilated.
posted by mono blanco at 8:24 AM on July 25, 2008


Huh? None of these are particularly good opening sentences.
posted by QIbHom at 8:25 AM on July 25, 2008


John Varley's Steel Beach opens with the line "In five years, the penis will be obsolete."
posted by cerebus19 at 8:28 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The iconic first sentence, always quoted in how-to-write-science-fiction books of the '70's, is: The door dilated.

That's not a first sentence, just a sentence. Read the link you provided.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:29 AM on July 25, 2008


You know the funny thing about that Neuromancer line (They sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel) is that the meaning has changed to the complete opposite since it was written.

In the 80's a television tuned to a dead channel would produce "snow" or grey static, implying an overcast or cloudy sky. Now, a television tuned to a dead channel produces a blue screen, implying a clear blue sky.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:30 AM on July 25, 2008 [6 favorites]


> The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

'Neuromancer' was written when televisions still had analog switches that clunked between channels and needed fine tuner knobs to accommodate signal drift. I wonder if kids these days assume Gibson meant a blindingly bright synthetic blue sky.
posted by ardgedee at 8:31 AM on July 25, 2008


"Clone families are all alike."
posted by Iridic at 8:31 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Damn you, Pastabagel.
posted by ardgedee at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2008


On and on Coeurl prowled!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ugh. With the exception of the Delaney line, none of these are first lines to write home about. They're just workmanlike action-adventure sentences that get the plot moving.

Consider some REALLY GOOD first lines:

"The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended."

"Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood."

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."

"The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us."

"I tell about war and the hero who first from Troy's frontier, displaced by destiny, came to the Lavinian shores, to Italy."

"HUMAN reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer."
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, 'as pretty as an airport'."
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:34 AM on July 25, 2008


And while we're on Wells...

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:37 AM on July 25, 2008


Pastabagel : Now, a television tuned to a dead channel produces a blue screen, implying a clear blue sky.

I've been pondering this for a while. I really wonder if TVs show that clear blue sky color because of that line from Gibson.
posted by quin at 8:38 AM on July 25, 2008


"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a laser lay crossed."
posted by Iridic at 8:38 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans."

Ah, hell: check out the comments sections these two Crooked Timber posts for a good review of firsts: lines & paragraphs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:39 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:43 AM on July 25, 2008


All hoopy froods are alike; all unhoopy froods are unhoopy in the same way.
posted by stavrogin at 8:43 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


A dead channel? Like, with analog static?

Neuromancer is the only Gibson book I've enjoyed, but even with that one, the first thing that stuck out at me was that this seminal "cyberpunk" novel about a digital world begins with an obviously-destined-to-become-dated non-digital metaphor.

Most of my favorite novels (e.g. Mote in God's Eye, Gateway) have very mundane opening lines; it takes more than a sentence or two to figure out what's interesting about that navy or that psychiatrist. I don't think that's a bad thing, though; do people really go through the bookstore deciding what to read based on the first sentence?

Someone praised Heinlein in the io9 comments, and while he obviously didn't care to force every first sentence to be a "hook", I like a couple of the exceptions.

All my life I've wanted to go to Earth. Not to live, of course - just to see it.

"Lot ninety-seven," the auctioneer announced. "A boy."
posted by roystgnr at 8:45 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay, it's official, Adams wins:

"High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse." - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:46 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


It was the best of times, it was the submersed of times, it was the age of beach front property, it was the age of SPF 850, it was the epoch of prayer, it was the epoch of denial, it was the BBQ season, it was the season of fire, it was the spring of new beginnings, it was the winter of all that came before, we had the future floating before us, we had history sinking beneath us, we were all going direct to Canada, who sent us all packing direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like forty degrees to the present period, that some of its wealthiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of cost-analysis only.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:48 AM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


The lead line of the Chernobyl article featured a few threads down would have made for a pretty good science fiction opener; "Deep in the radioactive bowels of the smashed Chernobyl reactor, a strange new lifeform is blooming." In fact, it was so good that I clicked on it and was disappointed to learn that it was referring to (*SPOILERS!*) fungi.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:49 AM on July 25, 2008


I remember when I was 11 years old and my cousins gave me a set of books. The first line grabbed me and yet it was so simple: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

And there's this classic from the late great Roger Zelazney's Lord of Light:

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god."
posted by Ber at 8:52 AM on July 25, 2008


"`James Bolivar DiGriz, I arrest you on the charge--'

I was waiting for the word `charge.' I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it, I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling.


-- The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

The Jinmoti of Bolzen two kill the hereditary ritual assasins of the new yearking's immediate family by drowning them in the tears of the continental empathaur in it's sadness season.

-- Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

burnmp3s writes: Note to aspiring sci-fi writers: The best way to create a memorable opening line is to take a good opening line from general fiction and give it a sci-fi twist.

How about:
“This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying…but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice…but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks…but nobody loved it.”

-- The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:05 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying...but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice...but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks...but nobody loved it.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:08 AM on July 25, 2008


I scream at my lack of previewing, but no one can hear me...for I have no mouth.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:09 AM on July 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


> ...the first thing that stuck out at me was that this seminal "cyberpunk" novel about a digital world begins with an obviously-destined-to-become-dated non-digital metaphor.

Hardly obvious at the time, least not as a near-future prediction. His descriptions of cyberspace were sufficiently fantastic and plausible that those of us reading Neuromancer in the early 80s didn't mind the technical inconsistencies in his future physical world.

Gibson also failed to predict cellphones, the prevalence of text in online communication, and that single-industry firms like Microsoft could be as powerful as all-assimilating chaebol/zaibatsu/whathaveyou like Toshiba or Samsung. His future also posited Japan as the economic emperor, also highly plausible at the time since it held the position in the late 70s that China now holds, as major exporting nation with significant economic holdings in the U.S.

It's still a good story. Gibson's fiction is about how people work in a hypothetical scenario. If you want fiction about how a given technology will work, Gibson's stories will be much less satisfying than other SF writers'.
posted by ardgedee at 9:09 AM on July 25, 2008


SCENE I. Elsinore. A robo-platform before the techno-castle.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not only one of the great opening sentences, one of my all time favorite sentences: Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.

(All right, more fantasy - but it is freaking Ray Bradbury.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:13 AM on July 25, 2008


Pastabagel: In the 80's a television tuned to a dead channel would produce "snow" or grey static, implying an overcast or cloudy sky. Now, a television tuned to a dead channel produces a blue screen, implying a clear blue sky.

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere: The sky was the perfect untroubled blue of a television screen, tuned to a dead channel.

Charles Stross, Accelerando: Manfred's on the road again, making strangers rich.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:19 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere: The sky was the perfect untroubled blue of a television screen, tuned to a dead channel.

"... it was a very small joke, essentially pointing out that since what is arguably the most famous opening sentence in SF was published in 1984, the nature of what a "dead channel" looked like had completely changed..." -- Neil Gaiman
posted by ardgedee at 9:28 AM on July 25, 2008


Not sci-fi, but the greatest opening line in English literature:

Marley was dead, to begin with.
posted by rusty at 9:29 AM on July 25, 2008


Closely followed by the second greatest:

Who's there?
posted by rusty at 9:31 AM on July 25, 2008


to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.

posted by sourwookie at 9:38 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks, RDG. If I'd quoted, I'd also mock the questioner for not catching the joke & also assuming Gaiman weren't, um, literate.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2008


Is it just me or is that Neuromancer cover just awful?

FTFY

Not sci-fi, but the greatest opening line in English literature:

Christmas Carol has time travel and alternate universes!
posted by DU at 9:49 AM on July 25, 2008


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

This is still my favorite opening line. Very evocative for such an economical sentence.

As for Neuromancer being dated? It's fared far better than one might think. I did smile at the line about someone smuggling 4megs of illegal RAM, though.

I don't think science fiction becomes invalid when the expiration date has passed. 2001 hasn't suddenly become a joke and Videodrome is not irrelevant even though it doesn't deal with bluray. Hell, the monochrome, text-based computers in Alien never have and never will take me out of the experience. It'll be far more embarrassing when people look back on trite like iRobot where all technology looks like it was designed by Apple's iPod department.

Also, I'd go for a more subtle start to (cyber) Moby Dick (in space):
Call me Ishamel 7.

posted by slimepuppy at 9:51 AM on July 25, 2008


I've never understood that Neuromancer channel line. How is static a color?
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on July 25, 2008


IRFH: I have wanted all my life to write books, but I have never wanted to write a specific book so badly.
posted by penduluum at 9:56 AM on July 25, 2008


That is, "so much". Not "so poorly". You see why up until now I have written no books.
posted by penduluum at 9:57 AM on July 25, 2008


A screaming came across the sky.
posted by Skot at 9:57 AM on July 25, 2008


First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in SPACE?
Second Witch
When the AWESOME SPACE FIGHT's done,
When the battle's lost and won IN SPACE.
Third Witch
That will be ere the set of TWIN sunS.
First Witch
Where the place?
Second Witch
Upon the DOOMED PLAINS OF BUR'RINTOK UNDER THE CRYSTAL SKY OF THE THIRD MOON OF GREAT HORTH.
Third Witch
There to meet with DARTH Macbeth.
First Witch
I come, Graymalkin 2.0!
Second Witch
Paddock calls FROM INNER SPACE.
Third Witch
Anon.
ALL
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
HoverTANKS through the fog and filthy air.

I HAVE SAVED TEH GENRE!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:58 AM on July 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


I've always been kind of partial to the opening line to Stephen King's The Mist: This is what happened.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. This line always evokes for me one of the best opening lines ever: None of them knew the color of the sky.
posted by marxchivist at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2008


Man, a lot of these are truly great opening lines, at least to an illiterate schmuck like me. Keep 'em coming, and thanks all around!!
posted by Anderson_Localized at 10:04 AM on July 25, 2008


Also, the Bestest Opening Line:

The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:08 AM on July 25, 2008


I wonder if kids these days assume Gibson meant a blindingly bright synthetic blue sky.

IIRC, Wired did a photo spread with the line as a pull quote, and in the photo, the sky was blue.
posted by drezdn at 10:12 AM on July 25, 2008


The opening line to NEUROMANCER is iconic. It exemplifies so much about science fiction that it's hard to know where to begin when talking about it. So I'll leave it at: One thing that line shows you clearly is that science fiction isn't about the future, it's about the present. At least good science fiction.
posted by Justinian at 10:15 AM on July 25, 2008


"Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert."
posted by plexi at 10:18 AM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


"`James Bolivar DiGriz, I arrest you on the charge--'

I was waiting for the word `charge.' I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it, I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling.

-- The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison


Not according to my addition...

Before we get to that we have the rather more prosaic paragraph beginning with:

When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up.

Though, I had remembered it more interestingly....

A slight cheat (missing out the introductory poem):

'Tell me, what is happiness?'
'Happiness? Happiness... is to wake up, on a bright spring morning, after an exhausting first night spent with a beautiful... passionate... multi-murderess.'
'... Shit, is
that all?'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:21 AM on July 25, 2008


It was a dark and stormy galaxy. Some called it the Milky Way but for others the way was as clear as sterling crystali-crystals. Prophets called these with truest vision ‘heroes’, and that they most certainly were, but not heroes in the traditional sense, that of being a normal, healthy, God-fearing and authority-respecting galactic American; but in the real sense, that of being an actual hero, one that does heroic things, even with reckless disregard for his own safety, if not especially so.

--Alpha Squad 7: Lady Nocturne: A Tek Jansen Adventure
posted by logicpunk at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler."
posted by plexi at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


marxchivist: I seem to remember King explicitly saying he stole that Mist opening line from somewhere else, in an introduction or something. I can't remember (or find) what it was though. But I'm pretty sure it's not his.
posted by rusty at 11:38 AM on July 25, 2008


I posted too soon. It appears it was Douglas Fairbairn, in Shoot.
posted by rusty at 11:40 AM on July 25, 2008


(Link in previous comment only included for cite of original author, not for its nearly fatal level of irony. Read at your own risk.)
posted by rusty at 11:44 AM on July 25, 2008


I've never understood that Neuromancer channel line. How is static a color?

It's not a colour. That's kind of the point.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2008


Bah! robocop is bleeding beat me to it!

The Eye of Argon

It's beyond greatness by orders of magnitude! I have never been able to read past the first page, since my sides hurt so much and the tears blur my vision.
posted by Xoebe at 12:15 PM on July 25, 2008


But I'm pretty sure it's not his.
posted by rusty at 2:38 PM on July 25


Yes, I recall him saying that somewhere also. I think it was from some 1950's science fiction potboiler.
posted by marxchivist at 12:17 PM on July 25, 2008


"progris report 1 martch 3

Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on."

-- Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
posted by digaman at 12:31 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


"I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and then two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train..."

-- Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
posted by digaman at 12:48 PM on July 25, 2008


Gah, Naked Lunch. Hated that book. Good opening line, though.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:57 PM on July 25, 2008


I realize it's a translation, but how about Kafka's "The Metamorphosis?" I'd call it sci-fi.

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."
posted by cerebus19 at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2008


I've also always loved the first line of C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

Yeah, I know, it's fantasy, not SF, but it's still a great first line.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2008


Contrary to the aesthetics in the linked list, it seems to me that the best are those which refuse to announce themselves as science fiction: Who can match the first line of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed? "There was a wall." Unless it's Olaf Staledon in Star Maker: "One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill."

A few more from personal favorites collected here.
posted by gerryblog at 1:39 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


“It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.”

“This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game.”

Fifteen Metafilter Points to the person who can identify them.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:48 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll see your Shadow of the Torturer and Player of Games and raise you:

"The elm tree planted by Eleanor Bold, the judge's daughter, fell last night."

"There is entwined seven-tentacled lightning."

"to wound the autumnal city."
posted by Iridic at 2:01 PM on July 25, 2008


Peace and dhalgren are the first and last... what's the middle one?

“When Zozz, home from the pit, had licked his fur clean, he howled before John Bananas' door.”
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2008


There's a difference between opening lines and gimmicky opening sentences... ymmv of course, but I'll take Le Guin's "There was a wall. It did not look important..." over "There is entwined seven-tentacled lightning" anyday.

Just speaking as someone who read Neuromancer in 1984 shortly after it first came out (and I can't express its incredible degree of coolness at that moment in cultural history) the metaphor of the dead channel made perfect sense, not just because of the image-- a screen full of dancing grey static-- but because of what it implied about the world we were about to enter, and its flaws and dangers, and what it told us about the book to follow.
posted by jokeefe at 2:30 PM on July 25, 2008


"My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male."

"In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality."

"The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth."

Ahh... I love the classics. Dang, now I have to start to re-read my library.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:44 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fifteen Metafilter Points to the person who can identify them.

Dunno about the first one, but the second one is Iain M. Banks's The Player of Games.

"I tell about war and the hero who first from Troy's frontier, displaced by destiny, came to the Lavinian shores, to Italy."

"HUMAN reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer."


Did you have typos in those, because if not, I disagree. Those are twisted and unnatural in their grammatical construction, and I had to read both repeatedly to try and figure out what they meant. Good first lines don't require repeated attempts at understanding.

That said, I always liked "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

Also: "You needn't think I'm crazy, Eliot--plenty of others have queerer prejudices than this."

Also: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

But none of those are exactly sci-fi.
posted by Caduceus at 3:14 PM on July 25, 2008


"I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn."

- Harlan Ellison's "On the Downhill Slide."
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:21 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm partway through Gibson's newest, and now you've all made me curious what the (now forgotten) first line was. "Rausch," said the voice in Hollis Henry's cell. "Node," it said.

Meh. But then I've found the first ten chapters of this book almost intolerable.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:31 PM on July 25, 2008


Did you have typos in those, because if not, I disagree. Those are twisted and unnatural in their grammatical construction, and I had to read both repeatedly to try and figure out what they meant. Good first lines don't require repeated attempts at understanding.

Well the first sounds like a translation of the Aeneid opener, which would explain why it doesn't sound natural in English. Not sure whose translation.
posted by grobstein at 4:25 PM on July 25, 2008


"Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence."
posted by Justinian at 4:27 PM on July 25, 2008


what's the middle one?

Fourth Mansions, R.A. Lafferty.
posted by Iridic at 5:01 PM on July 25, 2008


Well the first sounds like a translation of the Aeneid opener, which would explain why it doesn't sound natural in English. Not sure whose translation.

That's a good excuse.
posted by Caduceus at 5:19 PM on July 25, 2008


Rusty: For my money "Who's there?" is the best opening line. Instant mystery and conflict.

So many of my faves have been done, but so many more to go!

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n.

A burning woman stalks the streets. Ten stories tall, her naked body a whirling holocaust of fire.

Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair.

I shall clasp my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.
posted by wobh at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


"En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor."

And lookie, quite a few more --in English-- here.
posted by papafrita at 6:14 PM on July 25, 2008


Fantasy, not science fiction, but I adore:

"This is my favorite book in the world, though I have never read it."
posted by crossoverman at 9:03 PM on July 25, 2008


A screaming comes across the sky.

All this happened, more or less.

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.

Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.
posted by kyrademon at 3:48 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Olaf Stapledon won this race, at least in the science fiction division, before it had even been run:

"Observe now your own epoch of history as it appears to the Last Men."

I love that book.

No, the introduction doesn't count.
posted by No-sword at 5:58 AM on July 26, 2008


In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying had reached a nearly intolerable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.
posted by dangerousdan at 6:38 AM on July 26, 2008


I picked up the first book I saw today (Remember The Alibi; Elizabeth Daniels Squire), and read the first line:
"I couldn't really blame my Swiss-cheese memory with the holes in if for landing me with a gun at my head"

Seems to be as good as most of the ones cited.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:04 AM on July 26, 2008


The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.


- The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2008


"My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male."

"In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality."


Gateway by Frederik Pohl and Ringworld by Niven, right? Don 't know the third.

Oh, and as a general shout to the heavens, Gene Wolfe kicks so much ass.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:12 PM on July 26, 2008


"I couldn't really blame my Swiss-cheese memory with the holes in if for landing me with a gun at my head"

Seems to be as good as most of the ones cited.


Not really. Saying "swiss-cheese memory" and "with the holes in it" is redundant.
posted by crossoverman at 6:43 PM on July 26, 2008


"Here is Edward Bear, coming down THE LANDING RAMP now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his SPACE HELMET, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and CONSULT THE SHIP'S COMPUTER."
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:05 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


adamdschneider: ""My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male."

"In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality."


Gateway by Frederik Pohl and Ringworld by Niven, right? Don 't know the third.

Oh, and as a general shout to the heavens, Gene Wolfe kicks so much ass.
"


Correct! Third one is Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith - a much-overlooked author whom I heartily recommend to all fans of "traditional" SciFi.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:24 AM on July 27, 2008


Ah, Cordwainer Smith. Sublime. Just sublime. Hard to beat "No No, Not Rogov!" for an opening line:

That golden shape on the golden steps shook and fluttered like a bird gone mad—like a bird imbued with an intellect and a soul, and, nevertheless, driven mad by ecstasies and terrors beyond human understanding—ecstasies drawn momentarily down into reality by the consummation of superlative art. A thousand worlds watched.

One of the very few genius prose stylists of the genre. (Delany and Leguin are probably the only other ones.)

What a great thread.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2008


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