Far Out: Best First Lines of Sci Fi and Horror Novels (that I Think You Should Read)

The modern American reading public has the collective attention span of a stressed-out, sleep-deprived gnat with ADD. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom would have us believe. English teachers, editors and published writers all seem to tell aspiring writers every day that they’ve got to hook readers with the first line or they’ll lose them. Disgusted editors, they are told, will fling their manuscripts disdainfully into the slush pile if they’re not captivated by the opening lines. As a member of the reading public, I find these assumptions vaguely insulting.

And a little true – though I tend to give an author a few paragraphs or pages before I make any summary judgments about his or her skill. So I don’t require that a “hook” be buried in that first line to keep me engaged. But I have to admit, I love a good opener.

So here are a few of my favorite first lines from my two favorite genres, science fiction and horror. Not only are these intriguing sentences, but each begins a book that I would highly recommend reading. See what you think:

 “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
1984, George Orwell
  
 
 
 
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
 
 
 
 
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.”
2001 – A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke.
 
 
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
 
 
 
 
 
 
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.””
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
(Okay I know this is two sentences but it could have been one and it’s one of my favorite openers.)
 
 
 
 
 “No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
 
 
 
 
 
 “The story so far: In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
The Restaurant at the End of the UniverseDouglas Adams
(Two sentences again, I know. But it’s my list and I can cheat if I want to.) 
 
 
 “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
 
 
  
 
 
“My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I’m not sure you should care who I am or that I exist.”
Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
 
“Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it.”
Night WatchTerry Pratchett
 
“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”
The Golden CompassPhilip Pullman
 
 
 
 
  
 
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
ITStephen King
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.”
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
 
  
 
 
“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.”
War of the Worlds, HG Wells
 
 
 
 “The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.”
Life, the Universe and EverythingDouglas Adams
(Nobody opened a story like Douglas Adams.)
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Distressed Relief – Eighteen Ways to Manage Extreme Tension and Latent Hostility in Your Life

  1. Don’t pay for therapy. Stress management that costs that much and doesn’t involve a beach house and a hot tub is counterproductive.
  2. Do exercise. Vigorously. Every day. Then you’ll be too tired to choke the living s*** out of all the idiots you have to share the planet with.
  3. Don’t turn on the news. Just because the world is going to hell in a bucket, doesn’t mean you have to watch.
  4. Do have furry pets. (Not hamsters, though. Hamsters are little balls of evil with teeth. And it’s hard to reduce your stress while you’re bleeding.)
  5. Don’t drive. Ever. Sharing a road with maniacs who speed, tailgate, weave through traffic, or honk at you for stopping for the school bus in front of you (true story) all while talking on a cell phone will do nothing but make you fantasize about choking people again.
  6. Do spend as much time as possible outside. Away from people. That part’s important. Away from people and by the ocean is ideal.
  7. Do lighten up. If you don’t have a pirate hat or a puka shell necklace, buy one now.
  8. Don’t open your kids’ progress reports. If you feel obligated to see it, be sure to have a couple of cocktails first. (Points for style if you put little umbrellas in the drinks.)
  9. Do listen to Jimmy Buffett. The man is a master of stress reduction. And he sings too.
  10. Don’t go to dentists. They are harbingers of pain and misery and they own tiny drills. Not a good combination.
  11. Do read funny books. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re laughing.*
  12. Don’t teach your teenager how to drive. You’ll be doing him a favor, because bracing your feet on the dash board and screaming every time he steps on the gas won’t do much to improve his skills or build his confidence.
  13. Don’t allow your children to make any major life decision on their own until they are at least 25. Add 5 years for boys.
  14. Do watch The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is the funniest character ever written for TV. Watch it if you haven’t already. You’ll see.
  15. Don’t go anywhere you may have to stand in line. A little known corollary of Murphy’s Law dictates that the person directly behind you will either be a bitter old lady who will bump you in the butt with her cart until the line moves or a large sweaty man in a dirty t-shirt who has no concept of personal space.
  16. Do eat mint chocolate chip ice cream. (But send someone else to the grocery store to buy it.)
  17. Don’t talk politics with friends (that you want to keep) or family. I think every American kid knows this one by the time they’re old enough to join an adult conversation, but it’s good to review the basics.
  18. Do throw away the To-do List. (Ya’ll know why.)

*My favorite funny authors: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, Janet Evanovich, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris.