Thursday, March 31, 2011

8 Opening Lines From The Greats of Sci Fi

Countless hours of creative agony. A months-long artistic marathon full of toil and loneliness. 350 pages of blood, sweat, and tears.

And here I am, about to package it all up as a tidy email attachment. As I prepare to push Send, hoping to catch the fleeting and jaded attention of a that one agent or editor who’ll smile on my work and help usher me into the hallowed Order of The Published, I find myself taking a second look at what they’ll see first.  Five words out of a hundred and five thousand.  

My opening line.

The Opening Line
Everyone will tell you the opening chapter of any book is important. Your first page is even more important, and your first paragraph more important still.  

Your opening line? Well, you get the idea. It’s that first lonely spark that either gets the fire going, or sputters and dies in darkness.

Then I wondered – how might I stack up against the openers from the best-selling classics we know and love? That’s something I can’t answer yet (or maybe I just don't want to), but I thought it might be fun to go through a few and see how well they do the job.  So here they are – the inaugural words from some of the heavyweights of science fiction:

"His name was Gaal Dornick, and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before."
--Foundation by Isaac Asimov

A little passive and not very urgent. But we get the idea this Trantor place might be a pretty cool to see.

"In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, and old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul."
--Dune by Frank Herbert

Kind of long, with lots to digest here. Modern eyes might say this could use some tightening.  But there’s a frenzied trip and reasons to scurry.  And visits from old crones are never good.  Already feeling trepidation for the future Kwizatz Haderach here.

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

Simply put, this opener rocks. It’s got great mood, amazingly cool tech, and I already want to be Louis Wu.  I only wish I had liked the rest of the book as well.

"I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one."
--Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Someone’s eavesdropping in a pretty up-close-and-personal way.  On “the one.”  And it’s not Neo.  Tell me more.

"A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard."
--Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Hmm. Blade Runner opens to spitting flames lighting up a dystopian city skyline. Pretty awesome. The opening line of the book? Ehh, not so much.  To be fair, though, the next few lines make up for it some as Deckard bickers with his wife.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
--Neuromancer by William Gibson

Here we have Gibson’s hallmark, hard-boiled cyberpunk mood spilling out from the get-go.  Dark and hopeless. What’s not to love?

"And so we came here."
--Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

A little grandiose and formal, but it makes us want to know what lies behind this momentous achievement.

"The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category."
--Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The Readerator already wants to know - what the heck is a Deliverator?  What makes him or her so elite, so hallowed?  And this is a great distillation of the half tongue-in-cheek voice Stephenson uses so well throughout the story.

So what do you think?  Any favorite opening lines that stand out from your reading, sci fi or otherwise?  Any that really stink, but the book sold like mad anyway? Maybe some that were just so quirky or different you simply HAD to keep reading? Leave a comment and let us know!



The good news:  This topic was true brilliance.  Kudos to whoever thought of it!
The bad news:  Looks like it wasn't me, but Charlie Jane Anders over at io9.  Three years ago, lol.
The other good news:  At least there's not much overlap, and I really enjoyed reading her take.


  1. You left out the most important opening line of all... Yours.

  2. Very true, Becca. I suppose should correct that. Here's a link to the entire prologue: