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  1. #1

    Greatest Opening Lines

    Restricted to just one sentence.

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

    "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - 1984 by Eric Blair

    "' 'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die.' " - The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

    The third doesn't exactly count as science fiction, but it's simply so awesome that I don't care :P It should also be read in full, the first full paragraph, which is probably the greatest literary opening I've ever read.

    What say you fellas?

  2. #2
    Damn fool idealist DailyRich's Avatar
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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." Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

  3. #3
    Registered User JimF's Avatar
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    Are you wearing space pants? - oh you mean an opening line from a book.

    It was a pleasure to burn.

    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  4. #4
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    A random few . . . .

    Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn't matter, there was a tall, skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either.
    --The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs

    Whereas in other cities they had taken him to see the bears and lions, the dancing girls and dancing boys, or the chambers with the painted walls, all quite commonly done, and in one city they had done a thing by no means common: they had shown him the treasury, crammed with rubies of balas and Balas-shan, male spider rubies and females of the same, diamonds and adamants and pearls the size of babies' fists, ancient golden anklets and silver newly brightly minted, chryselephantine with turquoise and sapphire and stone of lapis lazuli--here they had taken him, with every mark of respect and favor, to see the torture-chambers instead.
    --Vergil in Averno, Avram Davidson

    Picture a summer evening sombre and sweet over Spain, the glittering sheen of leaves fading to soberer colours, the sky in the west all soft, and mysterious as low music, and in the east like a frown.
    --The Charwoman's Shadow, Lord Dunsany

    And, of course the greatest of all ever, albeit not from speculative fiction (or is it?):

    Call me Ishmael.
    --Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

  5. #5
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    "It was a dark and stormy night ..."

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    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zuul View Post
    "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - Neuromancer by William Gibson
    "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." - Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

  7. #7
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    The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category. He's got esprit up to here. - Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

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

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

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DailyRich View Post
    "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun." Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    This is probably my all time favorite opening line.

  9. #9
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    Several years ago i did a post on FBC with some of the most memorable opening lines I've read and here are some; will leave the books for you to figure out and will include sf, f and a little non-genre, but with strong associational ties to sff:

    "It was a time of masquerade. It was the eve of the High Transcendence, an event so solemn and significant that it could be held but once each thousand years, and folk of every name and iteration, phenotype, composition, consciousness and neuroform, from every school and era, had come to celebrate its coming, to welcome the transfiguration, and to prepare." (sf obviously)

    "On Tuesday a genetic materials test confirmed my guilt (but of course this confirmation was only a formality) and on Wednesday I was beheaded. My crime was adultery." (sf though a little less obviously)

    The level was at his top lip now. Even with his head pressed hard back against the stones of the cell wall his nose was only just above the surface. He wasn't going to get his hands free in time; he was going to drown.(sf but less obvious)

    Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened. I am not your brother, you’ll retort, and I don’t want to know. And it certainly is true that this is a bleak story, but an edifying one too, a real morality play, I assure you. You might find it a bit long—a lot of things happened, after all—but perhaps you’re not in too much of a hurry; with a little luck you’ll have some time to spare. And also, this concerns you: you’ll see that this concerns you. Don’t think I am trying to convince you of anything; after all, your opinions are your own business.(masterpiece and multiple prize winning historical fiction with strong sff associations)

    After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.(historical fiction)

    I AM BLIND. BUT I AM NOT DEAF.(historical fiction)

    Space outside the attack cruiser Beezling tore open in five places. For a moment anyone looking into the expanding rents would have received a true glimpse into empty infinity. The pseudofabric structure of the wormholes was a photonic dead zone, a darkness so profound it seemed to be spilling out to contaminate the real universe. (sf obviously)

    I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple once told me.(historical fiction)

    You will have heard the story of Carl Castanaveras; of Suzanne Montignet and Malko Kalharri; of our ancestors. They made plans for they were human, as you and I; and the universe, which cared no more for them than for us, struck them down. Its tool was nothing less than a pair of Gods of the Zaradin Church, one of them myself, fighting a battle in a war that was ended nearly sixty-five thousand years before they were born.(sf obviously)

    'The quickest way to a man's heart,' said the instructor, 'is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.'(fantasy)

  10. #10
    A chuffing heffalump Chuffalump's Avatar
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    Good job it's not a competition. I only recognise two off the top of my head although a couple of the others ring a few faint bells.

  11. #11
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    i like the idea of a quiz.

    I think [hope] the last line is from Devices and Desires by K J Parker. Great Choice.

    my submission is about the difficulty of grabbing the reader's attention from the very first line:

    Inasmuch as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher Castle, in the county of Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have owned it since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, in these days of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching. Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.

  12. #12
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    Um . . .

    A lot of the offered quotations are cheating. The original proposition was explicit on the opening being just one sentence. Expanding that to a couple of sentences or a paragraph radically changes the game.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by owlcroft View Post
    A lot of the offered quotations are cheating. The original proposition was explicit on the opening being just one sentence. Expanding that to a couple of sentences or a paragraph radically changes the game.
    Actually all the examples I chose are of the "one sentence" type in spirit in the sense that you could erase the periods and put ands and such and get a coherent long sentence; I omitted some examples I really like precisely because they contain two or more disparate ideas like this one which may be my all time opening paragraph:

    "JULIEN BARNEUVE died at 3:28 on the afternoon of August 18, 1943. It had taken him twenty-three minutes exactly to die, the time between the fire starting and his last breath being sucked into his scorched lungs. He had not known his life was going to end that day, although he suspected it might happen."

    Also I truncated a bunch and while I like them this way, they are even more striking in full; forgot one more liner in The Dream of Scipio above kind where the whole 500+ pages novel that follows is an elaboration of that line:

    "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."
    Last edited by suciul; April 26th, 2011 at 04:48 PM.

  14. #14
    The level was at his top lip now. Even with his head pressed hard back against the stones of the cell wall his nose was only just above the surface. He wasn't going to get his hands free in time; he was going to drown.(sf but less obvious)


    Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by theguardian1130 View Post
    The level was at his top lip now. Even with his head pressed hard back against the stones of the cell wall his nose was only just above the surface. He wasn't going to get his hands free in time; he was going to drown.(sf but less obvious)


    Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks
    sure Though here the awesome line that is still among the best ever comes 3 sentences further or so and is:

    The Jinmoti of Bozlen Two kill the hereditary ritual assassins of the new Yearking's immediate family by drowning them in the tears of the Continental Empathaur in its Sadness Season.

    That was the first Banks I read what seems a lifetime ago and it is still of the "blow me away kind" especially compared to the scene at the time (1991 or so)

    Now there is much more "baroque" sf with the lines from JC Wright Golden Age above being probably the most awesome such in the 00's, though I also love the simplicity of the lines from Land of the Headless

    It was a time of masquerade. It was the eve of the High Transcendence, an event so solemn and significant that it could be held but once each thousand years, and folk of every name and iteration, phe-notype, composition, consciousness and neuroform, from every school and era, had come to celebrate its coming, to welcome the transfiguration, and to prepare.

    Splendor, feast, and ceremony filled the many months before the great event itself. Energy shapes living in the north polar magnetosphere of the sun, and Cold Dukes from the Kuiper belts beyond Neptune, had gathered to Old Earth, or sent their representations through the mentality; and celebrants had come from every world and moon in the solar system, from every station, sail, habitat and crystal-magnetic latticework.


    The other answer about KJ Parker's Engineer 1 is also on the money and that is another great opener...

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