Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Forty Fabulous First Lines of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Over on Quora someone asked for favorite first lines from science fiction novels.  It would make a great diversion for lots of you - (briefly escape from politics!) - to chime in with favorites in comments, below.

If a man walks in dressed as a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he’s a spaceman.  – Robert Heinlein’s Double Star

Earth is dead! They murdered our Earth!  – Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday

It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

It was a bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell's 1984

All of this happened, more or less. - Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries. - Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. - Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.  - Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama

He woke, and remembered dying. Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal

The space lift rose from the Pacific, climbing the cords of anthrax bacteria. - Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier

Go, traveler. Go anywhere. The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest. - Philip Jose Farmer's Venus on the Half-Shell

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. - Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This book is predominantly concerned with making money, and from its pages a reader may learn much about the character and the literary integrity of the authors. Of boggies, however, he will discover next to nothing... -- The Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings.

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god; he preferred to drop the Maha- and -atman, and called himself Sam. - Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light.

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door... - Fredric Brown's Knock

Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we? - N.K. Jemison's The Fifth Season

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. - M.T. Anderson's Feed

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. - Neal Stephenson's Seveneves

He was one hundred and seventy days dying, and not yet dead. - Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination

Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man. - Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.

I first saw the light in the city of Boston in the year 1857. - Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman. - John Varley's Steel Beach

"Afterwards, Thomas Blaine thought about the manner of his dying and wished it had been more interesting. -  Robert Sheckley's Immortality Incorporated.

The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time. - Philip Wylie's The Disappearance.

She was born a thing and as such would be condemned if she failed to pass the encephalograph test required of all newborn babies. - Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang

The student wouldn't stop doing her homework, and it was going to kill her. - Annalee Newitz's Autonomous.

I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion. Fucked. - Andy Weir's The Martian.

Rarely is it given man to know the day or the hour when fate intervenes in his destiny, but, because he had checked his watch just before he saw the girl with the hips, Haldane IV knew the day, the hour, and the minute. - John Boyd's The Last Starship from Earth. 

Of course there’s William Gibson’s Neuromancer opening: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

And Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. 

Other classic openings come from The Hobbit, The Handmaid's Tale, Clockwork Orange, Dhalgren, The Color of Magic, Beggars in Spain, The Dispossessed, The War of the Worlds, and of course, The Princess Bride. Oh, that one is so wonderful I dare not sully William Goldman's wit by typing it myself. I dare you to read it... and not keep reading, entranced.

== A few of my own! ==

But what the heck, let me offer up some of my own. (I can cut and paste them in, easier than sifting and retyping from my shelves of other books, so it’s laziness, less than self-promotion!)

Twenty-six months before her second birthday, Maia learned the true difference between winter and summer. Glory Season

It’s hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn’t amount to much. Even when you’re just a lump of clay– Kiln People

Long ago, Gordon once heard someone contend that there was nothing more dangerous than a desperate man. No defeat was so total that a determined person could not pull something from the ashes by negotiation . . . by risking all he had left. - The Postman

An angry deity glowered at Alex. Slanting sunshine cast shadows across the incised cheeks and outthrust tongue of Great Tu, Maori god of warEarth

Kato died first.  Heart of the Comet

Pain is the stitching holding him together... or else, like a chewed-up doll or a broken toy, he would have unraveled by now, lain his splintered joins amid the mucky reeds, and vanished into time.  Brightness Reef

“As for me... I am finished.” Those words resonated -- they clung, like the relentless blanket that Hari Seldon’s nurse kept straightening across his legs, though it was a warm day in the Imperial Gardens– Foundation's Triumph

The lecture was really boring.  - The Practice Effect

As a little kid, I used to think every family was annoyed by time travelers. After all, why should visitors from the future want to bother us, in particular? – “Gawkers”

I started out this life, if you call it life, as a simple message -- a walking, talking Dear-Jane letter -- dispatched by a cad who lacked enough guts to break up with his girlfriend in person– Kiln Time  (unfinished)

== Brin news ==

TIME Magazine on August 2018 listed Earth as one of “8 books that eerily predicted the future.” And in the same week, Barnes & Noble published a run-down of novels that won both Hugo and Nebula AwardsStartide Rising is rated in the upper half, so…

Speaking of Earth, here’s Predictions Registry fodder. Recall in that novel (1989) I predicted the world would be inundated by prosperous Chinese (Han) tourists by 2030? Well, it’s begun

Another for the registry? Fred R. writes: “In Earth, you had people who fought to preserve quiet areas, untrammeled by human activity.  Another prediction!”

And folks have been writing in about the “augment” super soldiers from the last portion of The Postman.  Mind you I was glad Costner left them out of the film – (though with a sly dig at me in the Sound of Music scene). And yet… The Defense Dept is developing techniques, including genetic engineering, brain implants, and shrinking robotics, for augmented soldiers. For example"a soldier wears a skullcap that stimulates his brain to make him learn skills faster, or reads his thoughts as a way to control a drone. Another is plugged into a Tron-like "active cyber defense system," in which she mentally teams up with computer systems "to successfully multitask during complex military missions." Augmented muscles and reactions?  Yes, those too.

Some folks have asked about the audio book for Heart of the Comet. It’s not in the regular Audible catalogue, but instead produced by Skyboat. It’s pretty good!
Now onward. Remember how rare science-fictional (impudent!) thinking has been, across 6000 years of feudalism and darkness. Our impudence will be repressed, if feudalism returns. So resist. And vote.


Chris Heinz said...

The 1st lines of the prologue to "The Stars My Destionation" are, ala "A Tale of Two Cities".

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.

more weight said...

Greg Egan's “Distress”: “All right. He’s dead. Go ahead and talk to him.”

more weight said...

China MiĆ©ville's “Railsea”: On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago.

greggle said...

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.

I sort of consider GR a science fiction book. Not traditional Sci Fi, but close.
I am waiting for a grand Pynchonesque science fiction novel, but perhaps I have missed some unloved gem awash in the seas of traditional scifi.

Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Put down that wrench!

dazed said...

When We Were Real, 1999, William Barton
(Probably my favorite underrated sci-fi author)

"Stories, they say, should always have happy endings. Only life is permitted to sputter out in a diminuendo of misery, dissolving through drab shades of gray before reaching some pointless fade to black."

dazed said...

It goes on to say;

"When I was a boy, immersed in seemingly pointless study, I would read the biographies of the ancients and see that shadow hanging over every one of them. A man would be born, full of promise, would lead his famous life, fulfilling that promise, and then ...

Well, you know. Every biography is a tragedy. The hero always falls. The great man is always humbled in the end."

Matt said...

I made my list years ago, as a set that could be run together in some semblance of a story.

The man in the bare steel chair was as naked as the room's white walls.
Brunner: The Shockwave Rider

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead
You know this one.

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create
anything starting with /n/.
Lem: The Cyberiad

It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton.
Shea & Wilson: Illuminatus!

The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious
and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.
Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

It is possible I already had some presentiment of my future.
Wolfe: Shadow of the Torturer

I shall simply copy, word for word, the proclamation that appeared
today in the /One State Gazette/:
Yevgenny Zamyatin: We (Check this out; it predates 1984 and outdoes it)

It was starting to end, after what seemed like most of eternity to me.
Zelazny: Nine Princes in Amber

sgs said...

"It was around the hub of the evening on the planet of Porlumma when Captain Pausert, commercial traveler from the Republic of Nikkeldepain, met the first of the witches of Karres."

And if you want a real sock in the gut, and are willing to allow more than one sentence, check out Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters". (My copy has gone walkabout and I don't want to mess things up with a bad quote.)

duncan cairncross said...

THE creature crept.
It whimpered from fear and pain, a thin, slobber­ing sound horrible to hear. Shape­less, formless thing yet changing shape and form with every jerky movement.

A. E. Van Vogt - The Vault of the Beast

DP said...

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. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment. - War of the Worlds

DP said...

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

DP said...

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, Community, Identity, Stability. - Brave New World

DP said...

Limp, the body of Gorrister hung from the pink palette; unsupported—hanging high above us in
the computer chamber; and it did not shiver in the chill, oily breeze that blew eternally through
the main cavern. The body hung head down, attached to the underside of the palette by the sole
of its right foot. It had been drained of blood through a precise incision made from ear to ear
under the lantern jaw. There was no blood on the reflective surface of the metal floor.
- I have no Mouth and I Must Scream

DP said...

“It was a pleasure to burn.” - Fahrenheit 451

DP said...

I always get the shakes before a drop. I’ve had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and
it stands to reason that I can’t really be afraid. The ship’s psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and
asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn’t fear, it isn’t anything important —
it’s just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate.
- Starship trooper

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

I can't believe no one else did this one:

"They're made out of meat."

- Terry Bisson, "Meat" (

Unknown said...

David caught himself tapping the arm of his chair. The receptionist glared at him as if he were damaging the silverwood. He stopped tapping. -No Road Among the Stars

David Brin said...

Some good stuff!

Yes, re GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49 and Vonnegut’s PLAYER PIANO should be embraced by the genre.

Yes Barton is under-rated.

Tony Fisk said...

A couple from John Wyndham:

"When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere."
- "The Day of the Triffids"

"When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city - which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was."
- The Chrysalids

Not quite science fiction, but a wonderful example of what to describe, and what to leave to the imagination...:

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet."

- Neil Gaiman "The Graveyard Book"

CHip said...

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.

The bologna weighed the raven down, and he almost didn't make it out the window.

Both Beagle; the 2nd only approximate, because my copy of A Fine and Private Place (his first novel) has gone walkabout. We decorated all the pillars at Noreascon Four with first lines we thought people should know, but all the rest have gone out of my mind in the last 14 years.

Jim said...

The Opening of Old Mans War by John Scalzi always Grabs me every time I read it.

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.
Visiting Kathy's grave was the less dramatic of the two.”

Jon S. said...

Most of the really good ones have been cited already, but...

"I hadn't meant to shoot the cat."
- Spider Robinson, Telempath

"I was fifty-four years old the first time a dead person spoke to me. Wouldn't you know it? It was the wrong one.
"To be fair, he did manage to save my life. Just for openers."
- Spider Robinson, Very Bad Deaths

A.F. Rey said...

What an odd coincidence that you mentioned Dhalgren, which I just finished--don't ask me how, or why. :) An 800 page book without a plot or storyline. Yet every incident and sentence meticulously observed and crafted, making it feel it held deep significance beyond the surface appearances. Perhaps one day I'll understand all that I just read.

But not today. :)

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"briefly escape from politics!"

Thank you, whew. 2 weeks until we find out about my prediction on The Rise Of The Normals, or if it's the Victory Of Apathy. Until then, only engaging people on broader ideas, leaving the furious minutiae of the headily shrill to their own semiprivate hell of 6-hour media cycles.

No matter what happens, Nov 7th my new bumpersticker goes on. It's yellow, a coiled snake on the right 1/4, black block letters to the left:

"Don't Vote? Then
I Tread On You"

David Brin thought:

"Kiln Time"

Ooo, licking chops, but be careful, do it right. What makes KP a hoot is the ridiculous puns. Was halfway through it, someone asked me "what are you reading lately?" Told them, and their eyes went saucer and said "What?!?" It was only then, already half thru the book, realized the grandest pun is on the cover.

A good 1st line:

"Call me Ishmael. Yeah I know, but in this case it's really my name: Ishmael Horatio Wang." --Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell

Laurence said...

Away from books I notice Big Finish Doctor Who have made a few eerie predictions. Live 34 is creepily similar to both Putin and Trump, with a populist tyrant denouncing fake news and inciting mobs of his followers to attack "rebel propaganda" (I.e. "fake news") from the eponymous radio station, Time of the Daleks features an authoritarian yet inept female British prime minister waging "the euro wars", while Jubilee is set in an alternate timeline in which Britain is a fascistic empire ruled by a merciless dictator named...Nigel!

BAzz said...

The creature screamed.

A.E.van Vogt - Voyage of the Space Beagle

Tony Fisk said...

@yana, if memory serves, the cover pun was unintentional. It got picked up in the UK publication as "Kil'n People"

(Personally, I cringed at all the puns until I stopped to ask myself just what it was I was reading. There are times when my thought processes could give a three toed sloth a run for its money...)

Greg said...

‪“As I dressed that morning I ran over in my mind the long list of statistics, evasions, and exaggerations that they would expect in my report.”

‘The Space Merchants’ by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth‬

Darrell E said...

"We are the children of conflict. We have been shaped by struggle: against the Collective and its descendant, the Hegemony; against the Adamantines, machines turned masters; against the Shiidra, ancient and implacably hostile; and against the diluting force of interstellar distance. To the student of humanity, it often seems that what we are depends as much on what opposes us as on what sustains us." [The Phoenix In Flight, Exordium Book 1 by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge.]

I've always gotta throw a plug in for that series when these sorts of discussions come up. I think it is one of the finest examples of grand space opera ever written, and yet other than a robust cult following it never made it big. I think the reason is probably that it is too complex, too dense, too many different things going on for the average reader to enjoy, but those are some of the things that I like about it.

Darrell E said...

"In 1987 it became possible in the United States of America for a young person to sue his parents for the way he had been raised."

Anybody know that one? Without looking?

Tacitus said...

"My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name."

-Shoeless Joe
(later the movie Field of Dreams)

T. Wolter

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

@Darrell E. That's Vonnegut, and I'm pretty sure it was Slapstick?

Darrell E said...

A couple from one of my all time favorite short story writers, Fred Saberhagen.

"In Malori's first and only combat mission the berserker came to him in the image of a priest of the sect into which Malori had been born on the planet Yaty. In a dreamlike vision that was the analogue of a very real combat he saw the robed figure standing tall in a deformed pulpit, eyes flaming with malevolence, lowering arms winglike with the robes they stretched. With their lowering, the lights of the universe were dimming outside the windows of stained glass and Malori was being damned." [Wings Out Of Shadow]

"After some hours' work, Herron found himself hungry and willing to pause for food. Looking over what he had just done, he could easily imagine one of the sycophantic critics praising it: A huge canvas, of discordant and brutal line! Aflame with a sense of engulfing menace! And for once, Herron thought, the critic might be praising something good.

Turning away from his view of easel and blank bulkhead, Herron found that his captor had moved up silently to stand only an arm's length behind him, for all the world like some human kibitzer.

He had to chuckle. "I suppose you've some idiotic suggestion to make?""
[Patron Of The Arts]

Darrell E said...

Sturgeon's Lawyer,

Close, but not quite! Something slightly more vulgar.

Larry Hart said...

I almost hate to throw this one in, but:

It was a period of Civil War.

Really, I could continue on with the entire opening text, from memory from 1977.

gregory byshenk said...

In the last thread, Duncan Cairncross said...

Saying that – from here (NZ) your registration system appears to be DESIGNED not to register people

And that is not entirely false. In the beginning, the US electoral system was set up to ensure that only the 'right' people (basically, white male landowners) were enfranchised.

Unknown said...

Here's a few of my favorites:

"Bob Wilson did not see the circle grow." Do I even have to identify it? Heinlein's *By His Bootstraps*.

(After a short quote): "The occupants of each floor of the hotel must as usual during the games form their own protective groups..." *The World of Null-A", A.E. van Vogt

"Here in the flickering darkness of the temple, a questioner stood silent before the Ancients, waiting an answer he knew he could not trust." "Judgment Night", by C.L. Moore, and a real underrated classic

Troutwaxer said...

I had reasons to contemplate television a couple days ago, and realized that a modern television "tuned to a dead channel" usually defaults to blue, and that this has been the case for many years now. Sad, that kids being raised today will never get that particular line.

jim said...

From Peace on Earth from Stan Lem

I don’t know what to do. If I could say “I’m miserable,” it wouldn’t be so bad. I can’t say “We’re miserable” either because I can only partly speak for myself even though I’m still Ijon Tichy. I used to talk to myself while I shaved but I had to stop because of my left eye’s lewd winking.Coming back in the LEM, I didn’t realize what happened to me just before lift-off. The LEM, by the way, doesn’t have anything to do with the American NASA module manned by Armstrong and Aldrin to collect a couple of moon rocks, it was given the same name to disguise my secret mission. Damn that mission. When I returned from the Calf constellation, I intended to stay put for at least a year. But I agreed to go for the sake of mankind. I knew I might not come back. Doctor Lopez said my chance of survival was one in twenty point eight. That didn’t stop me: I’m a gambler. You only die once. Either I come back or I don’t, I said to myself. It never occurred to me that I might come back but not come back because we would come back. To explain I’ll have to release some highly classified information but I don’t care. That is, partly. I’m writing this too only partly and with great difficulty, typing with the right hand. The left I had to tie to the arm of the chair because it kept tearing the paper out of the machine.

Larry Hart said...

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Larry Hart said...

Not a first line, but...

Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton:

Can we get back to politics?

James Madison:


donzelion said...

“The Hegemony Consul sat on the balcony of his ebony spaceship and played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor on an ancient but well-maintained Steinway while great, green, saurian things surged and bellowed in the swamps below.” - Hyperion

An impressive start.

donzelion said...

Greg Byshenk/Duncan: re voter registration in America

"Saying that – from here (NZ) your registration system appears to be DESIGNED not to register people"

It's designed to register MOST people...people with fixed addresses for long-term, who pay utility bills and have bank accounts or rental agreements in their own name. That excludes the young, a disproportionate number of the poor (often these are the same people), and a shockingly large number of folks with unusual name spellings (minorities, immigrants, and others), many of whom wind up living together in a shared household in which only one of the residents has the little niceties that prove address.

Behind those problems is the exceptional horror a considerable religious community holds for any true national identification card - routinely regarded as the work of Satan (and that is not an exaggeration). An American idiosyncrasy with political significance lost on most observers because it's just so...quaint. And yet, from this tiny wellspring, a vast confluence of insanity grows - you'll find this group is also at the core of the groups rejecting evolution, the UN (and anything it offers - like global warming), vaccinations, homosexuals - and most minorities.

John La Bouff said...

"Lovelace had been in a body for twenty-eight minutes, and it still felt every bit as wrong as it had the second she work up inside it."

Becky Chambers--A Closed And Common Orbit

Larry Hart said...

@John La Bouff,

Until you gave the reference, I thought that line was from a Vonnegut Story, "Ready To Wear".

sociotard said...

Cracked has an interesting speculation: the rise of transparency* may have curbed the age of the Serial Killer, and given rise to the age of the Spree Killer.

*including the transparency of being able to see whose DNA was left at the scene, to track the cell phone movements of the victim so we know where they were taken and probably when, in addition to the surfeit of cameras.

Effectively, the hidden stalker approach became far more difficult. Transparency makes it easy to stalk people, but just as easy to finger anyone who enacts violence or even stalks to hard. But if the criminal accepts immediate death, then a knifing spree through a nursing home or a truck through a crowd will get similar numbers and a camera won't do diddly.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, this is why both John Brunner (in Zanzibar) and I (in Earth) portrayed "muckers" -- people who suddenly run amok -- in the future.

Glenn Vanderburg said...

“Hayden Griffin was plucking a fish when the gravity bell rang.”

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Alfred Differ said...

"The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear." {More than Human - Theodore Sturgeon}

"Questions, always questions. They didn't wait for the answers, either." {The Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon}

Some stories come back to haunt you later in life when you have finally accumulated the experience necessary to make some sense of them. 8/

Unknown said...

“These are the stories that the Dogs tell when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north.”

—Clifford Simak, City.

It goes on as follows: “Then each family circle gathers at the hearthstone and the pups sit silently and listen and when the story’s done they ask many questions:
`What is Man?’ they’ll ask.
Or perhaps: `What is a city?’
Or: `What is a war?’

There is no positive answer to any of these questions. There are suppositions and there are theories and there are many educated guesses, but there are no answers.”

Clifford B. Simak. City.

matthew said...

“Of course, following the Great Master’s death, I will kill myself.” - Walter Jon Williams "Dread Empire Falls" Book I of the Praxis

“You see, I had this space suit.” - R.A.Heinlein "Have Spacesuit Will Travel"

Spud said...

Here is the opening line from my own fiction.

I was less than thrilled to see my girlfriend lying on the ground with her right leg cut off at the knee.

David Brin said...

Good stuff guys. GR best of luck with the story.

donzelion said...

Sociotard: "First, what in the hell happened in the 1970s that suddenly filled society with unimaginable monsters?"

The answer is pretty well-known among legal practitioners familiar with criminal justice: 'police accountability' - or specifically, the notion that a large backlog of open cases would be used against the police, starting in the 1970s. The pressure to clear the backlogs resulted in a proliferation of serial killers who - oddly - confessed to a number of killings, in many cases, killings they couldn't possibly have committed, but which nobody had any incentive ever to acknowledge they had to be the work of a totally different person (and not a copycat killer either).

The FBI involvement was at least partially a product of a sort of self-promoting entrepreneurism, as were a number of the bad scientific methods used by earlier crime labs (before DNA was available). Transparency worked best in compelling police crime labs to start verifying and dropping certain 'backlog cleaning' claims in favor of harder science-based forensics.

Spree shootings also have a much simpler explanation: ready availability of the means of shooting a large number of people in a hurry. When Columbine happened, there were tens of thousands of similar assault weapons grandfathered past the assault weapons ban. Since the ban expired in 2004, there are many hundreds of thousands of assault weapons. One should expect that a certain percentage of folks buying them do so with intent to use them, and one should expect an increase in the number of such incidents.

donzelion said...

Oh, and as for the discussion on voter registration, Oregon is once again leading the way:

"Under new Oregon law, all eligible voters are registered unless they opt out"

Oregon was also one of the first states to move to 100% mail-in ballots, an intriguing step because it immediately wipes out a whole host of polling stations tricks (e.g., put polling stations in certain churches, police/fire departments, schools, or other locations where players have certain political attachments...).

Ray Radlein said...

He never gets mentioned in these things, but every Ron Goulart story has a bang-up first line. I think my favorite is

"The assassin came in and ordered waffles" -- Hello Lemuria Hello

Unknown said...

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

Anthony Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange"

jim said...

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Is actually the start of a great science fiction novel.

TheMadLibrarian said...

“I'm pretty much fucked.
That's my considered opinion.

Mark Watney, "The Martian" by Andy Weir.

Larry Hart said...


"It was a dark and stormy night."

Is actually the start of a great science fiction novel.

John Byrne did a riff on that one at the start of a comic book. He went on to such expository prose as "The sea heaved and rolled, like some big heaving, rolling thing."

TheMadLibrarian said...

"The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory."
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Anonymous said...

Good to see a few more classics showing up here. For some reason I forgot one of the best:

The doorknob opened a blue eye and winked at him

("Lewis Padgett", The Fairy Chessmen)

TCB said...

Re: Arthur C. Clarke's opening line of 2001: a Space Odyssey. He says thirty ghosts stand behind each of us: an estimated one hundred billion people have lived on this planet. When 2001 was written, the population was about three billion souls. We're now at 7.7 billion, and about fifteen ghosts apiece.

It's funny: I used to think it was quite odd that I should live at this point in history. But really, it's only beating 15-to-1 odds.

A.F. Rey said...

There is a hollow, holey cylinder running from hilt to point my my machete. When I blow across the mouthpiece in the handle, I make music with my blade."
Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection

brian t said...

Sometimes the first line of a story tells the whole story. Case in point:
"This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game."
- Iain M Banks, "The Player of Games"

more weight said...

"Dear Newcomer,

Welcome to the Epsilon Eridani system.

Despite all that has happened, we hope your stay here will be a pleasant one."
Alastair Reynolds, "Chasm City"

more weight said...

"Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the final extinction of my One True Love, as close as I can date it. I am drunk on battery acid and wearing my best party frock, sitting on a balcony beneath a pleasure palace afloat in the stratosphere of Venus."
Charles Stross, Saturn's Children.

Darrell E said...

"It was a game, shon'ai, the passing game, Kel-style, in the dim round hall of the Kel, the middle tower of the House - black-robed men and a black-robed woman, a circle of ten."

[The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh]

more weight said...

"I was born in a house with a million rooms, built on a small, airless world on the edge of an empire of light and commerce that the adults called the Golden Hour, for a reason I did not yet grasp.
I was a girl then, a single individual called Abigail Gentian." Alastair reynolds, House of Suns.

more weight said...

"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 deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

more weight said...

"There was a wall." Ursula K. Le Guin

Laurence said...

If Brin gets to plug his own work in his opening sci-fi lines, then so do I:

From my novella Hope:

Orbit. The final leg of a short voyage from Eros to the ruined and shattered cradle of the human species: Earth. Orbit. The simple and routine culmination of any spaceflight. But to orbit the earth was to be confronted by the darkest and most sobering view anyone could witness.

Antonym said...

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
Stephen King, The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)

I dare anyone to top that. mic-drop.

David Brin said...

cool stuff!

now onward


Mihail337 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vince said...

"This book, unlike most others, started its life as an offhand comment made by a bright green Tyrannosaurus rex." -- Machine of Death, ed. Ryan North

Honestly, I could do an entire blog post that's JUST Ryan North one-liners.

Brett Danvers said...

Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger.

Scanners live in vain.
Cordwainer Smith

Louis Schwitzer said...

Glad I read this far down, as I was going to post exactly this.

Emanuel Andrei Cosutchi said...

"One thousand years before Ki'wk'we began to travel among the stars with their strange and flexible segmented worm-shaped ships, and the last Qex'en to take with him into the grave the secrets of his aquatic species, on a distant colony of the Terran Empire, two important events took place. Tiitus Risto became Governor, and the inhabitants of the colony did not celebrate the Emperor's birthday in time." - "The Emperor's gift" by Emanuel Andrei Cosutchi

This is the opening of my science fiction story, "The Emperor's gift", which is part of my collection "Tales from the asteroid belt". I've just submitted it to traditional publisher in my country and I'm waiting for an answer now. I'm not sure if they will take me into consideration, because I'm not a well known author.