Impressive first lines from your favorite novels

I am currently rereading “Gone South” by Robert R. McCammon.

McCammon usually writes unimpressive, kinda stupid horror, (IMHO), but this book rocks!

First line:

“It was Hell’s season, and the air smelled of burning children.”

Makes more sense once you get the protagonist’s back story.

Also, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”

It’s usually a good sign if the first line of grabs me.

Anyone else?


“A screaming comes across the sky.”

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

“In the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

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

Steel Beach by John Varley
He had to have planned it because when we drove onto the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor no electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting , nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness.

Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow
To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  1. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

  2. One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it – it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.

  3. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

That would have to be Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen:

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.


“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

The Stranger, Camus

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport”.

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

It was a dark and stormy night…

The thread is still new, but I’m surprised no one mentioned

Anna Karenina so far, although Moby Dick shows up.

A typical translation is

Every happy family is alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A recent thread on this topic, for those looking for other suggestions – including my nomination of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by GG Marquez.

This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

She came out of the store just in time to see her young son playing on the sidewalk directly in the path of the grey, gaunt man who strode down the centre of the walk like a mechanical derelict.

Stephen Donaldson, Lord Foul’s Bane

It was a nice day.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

Stephen King, The Shining

“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

Clarice Starling’s Mustang boomed up the entrance ramp at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Massachusetts Avenue, a headquarters rented from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon in the interests of economy.

Thomas Harris, Hannibal

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

Ian Banks - The Crow Road.

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during the young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert. Never before had Brother Francis actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but that this one was the bona fide article he was convinced.

Walter M. Miller, Jr, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Some stories of terror and the supernormal start with a moonlit face at a diamond-paned window, or an old document in spidery handwriting, or the baying of a hound across lonely moors. But this one began with an eclipse of the moon…

Fritz Leiber, The Wanderer

Whilst every one at court was busily engaged upon his own affairs, a man mysteriously entered a house situated behind the Place de Greve. The principal entrance of this house was in the Place Baudoyer; it was tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, enclosed by the Rue Saint-Jean by the shops of tool-makers, which protected it from prying looks, and was walled in by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and verdure, like an embalmed mummy in a triple coffin.

Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask

I hadn’t meant to kill the cat – Telempath, by Spider Robinson.

While not a favorite

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

A Confederacy of Dunces

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

Orwell, 1984

“Even on Earth, shadows are frequently a good place to hide.”

Hal Clement, Needle*

“He was a hundred and twenty days dying, but not quite dead.”

Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

“Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith”

Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

" . . . to wound the autumnal city."

Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren

“New Wichatah City is laid out in a neat, logical pattern, alphabetically from east to west, numerically from north to south, all in little neat squares a hundred meters on a side. Its inhabitants reflected the design—there wasn’t a decent bar open after the twentieth hour.”

I’d be delighted if anyone recognizes that one. :wink:

And, of course, my sig.

Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont no why but he says its importint so they will see if they can use me. I hope they use me becaus Miss Kinnian says mabye they can make me smart.

<cut the rest of the book out, go to the final entry in the notebook>

I did a dumb thing today I forgot I wasnt in Miss Kinnians class at the adult center any more like I use to be. I went in and sat down at my old seat in the back of the room and she lookd at me funny and she said Charlie where have you been. So I said hello Miss Kinnian Im redy for my lessen today only I lossed the book we was using. She started to cry and run out of the room and everbody looked at me and I saw alot of them wasnt the same pepul who use to be in my class.

Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

<I couldn’t leave out the ending. It’s one of the saddest endings in any book I’ve read. Maybe a fit subject for another thread.>