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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Some Memorable First Lines

Inspired by Larry's post here and considering that I am a sucker for books that hook me on the first page, I decided to do a post with some of the most memorable book openings that made me want to read that book *now*.

These are lines that stayed with me for a long time and from novels I've read quite a few times each. I will present some of those openings in no particular order and then my top five openings.


I AM BLIND. BUT I AM NOT DEAF. Because of the incompleteness of my misfortune, I was obliged yesterday to listen for nearly six hours to a self-styled historian whose account of what the Athenians like to call “the Persian Wars” was nonsense of a sort that were I less old and more privileged, I would have risen in my seat at the Odeon and scandalized all Athens by answering him.


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. Then ships were suddenly streaking up out of the gaping termini, accelerating away at six gees, twisting round on interception trajectories. They were different from the spherical Garissan naval craft which they had tracked between the stars, graceful, streamlined teardrop shapes. Larger and dangerously powerful. Alive.


I, LARS TURMS the immortal, awakened to spring and saw that the land had once again burst into bloom.
I looked around my beautiful dwelling, saw the gold and silver, the bronze statues, the red-figured vases and the painted walls. Yet I felt no pride, for how can one who is immortal truly possess anything?
From among the myriad precious objects I took up a cheap clay vessel and for the first time in many years poured its contents into my palm and counted them. They were the stones of my life.


A burning woman stalks along the streets. Ten stories tall, naked body a whirling holocaust of fire. Terrified people on Bursary Street crumple into carbon at her passing, leaving behind only black char curled into fetal shapes. The heat she radiates is so powerful that structures burst into flame as she passes. A storm of paper, sucked out of buildings by uncontrolled drafts, spiral toward her and are consumed. Uncontrolled rivers of flame pour from her fingertips. Windows blast inward at her keening, at the eerie, nerve-scraping wail that pours from her insubstantial, fiery throat.

In a city that girdles the world, all-devouring fire is the worst thing imaginable.


Read these runes! They were inscribed by Thorn the Mannamavi, and at no master's dictation, but in Thorn's own words.

Hearken to me, you who live, you who have found these pages that I wrote when I, like you, was alive. This is the true history of a time that was. It may be that these pages have lain gathering dust for so long that, in your lifetime, the olden days are remembered only in your minstrels' songs.


It was just a run-​of-​the-​mill ship­ping dis­pute, noth­ing more; a dis­agree­ment over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a poor­ly word­ed con­tract, some mi­nor dis­crep­an­cies in var­ious bills of lad­ing, co­in­cid­ing with a no­to­ri­ous grey area in the mer­can­tile statutes. Prop­er­ly han­dled, it could have been set­tled out of court with no hard feel­ings. Not the sort of cause you’d choose to die for, if you could pos­si­bly help it.


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

This was back in a time when I did not believe in fortunetellers, when the world was not yet filled with wonder and mystery. I cannot recall her appearance now, the woman who read my face and touched the lines on my palms. She said what she was put into this world to say, to those for whom her prophecies were meant, and then, like every one of us, she left.


THE AIR WAS heavy with incense and the sweet odor of hot wax.
Cam Chulohn loved the plain stone chapel. He knelt on the hard bench and watched the crystal water dribble across Father Curry's fingers into the silver bowl held by the postulant. The timeless symbol of man's effort to evade responsibility, it had always seemed to Chulohn the most significant of all the ancient rituals. There, he thought, is the essence of our nature, displayed endlessly throughout the ages for all who can see.

His gaze lingered in turn on the Virgin's Alcove (illuminated by a few flickering candles) and the Stations of the Cross, on the simple altar, on the hewn pulpit with its ponderous Bible. It was modest by the opulent standards of Rimway and Rigel III and Taramingo. But somehow the magnificence of the architecture in those sprawling cathedrals, the exquisite quality of the stained glass windows, the satisfying bulk of marble columns, the sheer angelic power of the big organs, the sweeping choir lofts: it all got in the way. Here, halfway up a mountainside, he could look out over the river valley that the early fathers, in a burst of enthusiasm, had dedicated to St. Anthony of Toxicon. There was only the river, and the ridges, and the Creator.


'Tell me, what is happiness?'
'Happiness? Happiness... is to wake up, on a bright spring morning, after an exhausting first night spent with a beautiful... passionate... multi-murderess.'
'... Shit, is that all?'


Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.


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.
I have told this story before, and I shall someday tell it again, in a different fashion; but for Now, know the story so:


Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.


'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.'


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.


These are my top five openings:


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.



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



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.



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.
In the darkness of the cell, in its stink and warmth, while the sweat ran over his brows and tightly closed eyes and his trance went on and on, one part of his mind tried to accustom him to the idea of his own death. But, like an unseen insect buzzing in a quiet room, there was something else, something that would not go away, was of no use, and only annoyed. It was a sentence, irrelevant and pointless and so old he'd forgotten where he had heard or read it, and it went round and round the inside of his head like a marble spun round the inside of a jug:
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.



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.


Anonymous said...

Some great opening lines. Thanks for sharing these and reminding us how important a good opening is.

Calibandar said...

Liviu, could you list which books they belong to, in order of the quotes appearing?

They're some of interest there but I'd like to know where they belong to.

Errant Knave said...

Awesome! But what are they from?

Fabio Fernandes said...

Same here. Great opening lines indeed, Liviu. You have an excellent ear for the music of those words.

Liviu said...

Creation - Gore Vidal
Reality Dysfunction (Night's Dawn 1) - PF Hamilton
Etruscan - Mika Waltari
Metropolitan - WJ Williams
Raptor - G. Jennings
Colors Steel (Fencer 1) KJ Parker
The Gift of Rain - Tan Eng
A Talent for War - J. McDevitt
Use of Weapons - IM Banks
Captain Blood's Odyssey - R. Sabatini
Emerald Eyes - DK Moran
Blind Assassin - M. Atwood
Devices and Desires (Engineer 1) KJ Parker
The Golden Age - JC Wright

The top five:

The Kindly Ones - J. Littell
The Meaning of Night - M. Cox
Land of the Headless - A. Roberts
Consider Phlebas - IM Banks
Dream of Scipio - I. Pears

Larry Nolen said...

I knew a few of those, but I see I have several more to read if the lines that follow the first few are near that level of quality :D

Dave said...

Fantastic... I love books with a memorable first line. Going to work on that for the next novel I write ;)


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