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What’s The Best Opening Line For A SF/F Book?

A recent post at the Dragon Page got me thinking there have been a few (three to be exact) books or stories whose opening lines or paragraphs really made me take notice for one reason or other.

Here they are. Two are short and sweet and are from books. The Gibson one is so popular, I remember it and I haven’t even read the book! The third is a bit longer and from a 1943 short story.

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

– William Gibson, Neuromancer

“In five years the penis will be obsolete,” said the salesman.

– John Varley, Steel Beach

Have you ever dreamed of murder? Have you ever set your elbows on the desk and let your head slump down on your hands, and closed your eyes, and dreamed of how it would feel to drive a knife up to the hilt in a scrawny, wrinkled throat, and twist it until the thin old blood begins to slime your fingers and drip from your wrist – until the piercing old eyes roll back and close, and the skinny old legs crumble and sag? Have you felt the blood pounding in your own temples, and savage satisfaction swarming up in you as you stare down on the hideous, sprawling thing that you have destroyed?

– P. Schuyler Miller, “As Never Was”

I’m curious to know if others have come across other memorable opening lines.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on What’s The Best Opening Line For A SF/F Book?

  1. Fred Kiesche // March 26, 2005 at 3:18 pm //

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    From memory, but it got me hooked oh those many years ago.

    The opening line from “Neuromancer” is one of my favorite openers. You read that and it makes you think…what? A television tuned to a dead channel…then the imagery flows.

  2. Dreaming in Smoke by Tricia Sullivan has an awesome first paragraph (which may even be one sentence). I’m too lazy to type it in, but trust me it’s great. (It doesn’t appear to be online anywhere which is crazy, if I was the publisher that paragraph would be online now…)

  3. My current read (Old Man’s War by John Scalzi) has a nice opener:

    I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

  4. “Coming back from the dead can be rough.”

    From Richard K. Morgan’s first book “Altered Carbon” one of the best science fiction books of recent times.

  5. The above-mentioned paragraph from Dreaming In Smoke:

    The night Kalypso Deed vowed to stop Dreaming was the same night a four-dimensional snake with a Canadian accent, eleven heads and attitude employed a Diriangen function to rip out all her veins, then swiftly crocheted them into a harp that could only play a medley of Miles Davis tunes transposed (to their detriment) into the key of G. As she contemplated the loss of all blood supply to her vital organs it seemed to her that no amount of Picasso’s Blue, bonus alcohol rations, or access privileges to the penis of Tehar the witch doctor could compensate for having to ride shotgun to Azamat Marcsson on one of his statistical sprees with the AI Ganesh. She intended to tell him so–as soon as she could find her lungs.

  6. Anonymous // July 4, 2006 at 8:05 pm //

    “It all began with the aurochs…” Paradise War; Stephen Lawhead

  7. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”


    “The Time Traveler (so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”

    THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells.

    “I always get the shakes before a drop.”

    STARSHIP TROOPERS, Robert Heinlein.

    “Once upon a time there was a martian named Smith”


    “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitment in Hobbiton.”

    IF YOU DON’T KNOW THIS QUOTE, Why are you reading SFSignal?

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


    “In the night-time heart of Beruit, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flickered into reality.”

    RINGWORLD, Larry Niven

    ” ‘Who is John Galt?’ ”


    (and, yes, I call this science fiction. I mean, a superscientist/superman hiding out from the evil socialist enemy? Supermetals made by supergeniuses, and invisible sound-ray weapons? A classic ‘what if this goes on’ premise? This is SF for sure.)

  8. A. Bowdoin Van Riper // March 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm //

    “Below me, on Earth, the twentieth century is dying.”

    Arthur C. Clarke, “The Call of the Stars”

  9. Anonymous // March 1, 2009 at 11:06 am //

     “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tan Hauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die. ” Blade Runner although it was loosely based on a novel by Philip K. Dick called to Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? Hampton Fancher and David Peoples wrote the screenplay.

  10. Anonymous // May 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm //

    When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It had been a money-maker – but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same sombre expression and heavy foot that they all have – and the same lack of humour. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.

    ‘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 crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop’s head. He squashed very nicely, thank you. T

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