Great opening lines from science fiction novels

I was listening to Slate’s Culture Gabfest last week, one of their topics was great opening lines from novels. The hosts trotted out the usual collection of ‘books you are meant to acknowledge in a discussion like this’ such as Ulysses and Moby Dick. Zzzzzzz.

So here are some great opening lines from novels that you won’t normally hear about in discussions about great opening lines from novels. Add your favourites in the comments!


“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed”The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


John Wyndham_1951_The Day Of The Triffids

“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 by John Wyndham



“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



“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”Neuromancer by William Gibson



“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.”House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds



“Mars was empty before we came.”Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson



“Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.”Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke



“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.”The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursuala K. Le Guin




  • Phil

    I may be a big Clarke freak so biased somewhat, but that is
    a great opening line. I guess for any book let alone sci-fi. So obvious yet
    still so effective.

    Also, I think that whole opening sequence of Rendezvous with
    Rama opening sequence, setting a story about asteroids hitting earth, then the
    development of detection, is really really solid story telling.

    It’s a shame, because the end of the book becomes a bit non-senseical
    and the follow one series takes a sharp turn in direction from the first book.

    • Mark Harding

      Rendezvous is one of my favourite SF books of all time. Such a simple idea told so effectively. I didn’t stick with the sequels.

  • What about “Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.” One of my favourites.

  • “Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.”

    • AnnabelSmith

      Totally intriguing but also for me, totally offputting.

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

    • AnnabelSmith


  • So many good ones. I can’t decide on my favourite, but Neuromancer is up there.

  • Nicola Santilli

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

    • Mark Harding

      How did I miss that one? Brilliant!

  • “No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were 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 affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

    • Mark Harding

      Chills! Great choice. I always read that with Richard Burton’s voice in my head.

  • Laurie Anne Ormond

    My favourite opening from a fantasy novel is this from Guy Kay’s “A Summer Tree”.

    “In the spaces of calm almost lost in what followed, the question of why tended to surface. Why them? There was an easy answer that had to do with Ysanne beside her lake, but that didn’t really address the deepest question. Kimberley, white-haired, would say when asked that she could sense a glimmered pattern when she looked back, but one need not be a Seer to use hindsight on the warp and weft of the Tapestry, and Kim, in any event, was a special case.”

    I love the references to all these mysterious events, it makes me want to rush on and become as familiar with them as the narrator is.

  • Steve Gazzo

    “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows.”

    • Wobut

      That’s two lines 🙁

      • Steve Gazzo

        yeah, but I wanted to save everybody the googling, so I made sure to include the phrase ‘Bene Gesserit’.

  • Andrew Kelly

    Not Sci-Fi but a classic none the less:

    “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages
    come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to
    myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth
    comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to
    come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind
    was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the
    turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

    Change the next to last line and it is the opening line for all of them.

    • Wobut

      That’s more than one line 🙁

  • AnnabelSmith

    I hate books (and films) that open with someone getting woken by an alarm clock. Such a cliche. So I have to beg to differ on the Philip K Dick. The Alastair reynolds one is brilliant. I love openings that convey an immediate question which you hope will be answered.

  • Gary

    “Man,” said Terl, “is an endangered species.” – Battlefield Earth (great book, really lousy movie)

  • F

    hmm.. Stumbled upon this and thought it was a good. Wanted to comment but noticed that the last comment was 4 years ago,


    Here’s another one I thought intriguing,

    “All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses;”
    – A

  • Peter Palludan

    “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” – Did one of King’s PR people pay to have this appear here? I would put it among the cheesiest.

  • “If they had been any good, I’d be dead.”

  • Dave Dawkins

    “It was a pleasure to burn’. -Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

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