Saturday, October 06, 2007

First sentences, first paragraphs

Since I'm participating in a Capclave panel on great first sentences and first paragraphs, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite openings.
The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm. In it were seventeen men, including a captain. The crowd at the Ohio field had shouted and waved their hands up into the sunlight, and the rocket had bloomed out great flowers of heat and color and run away into space on the third voyage to Mars!
-- Ray Bradbury, “Mars Is Heaven” (1949)

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
-- Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
-- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

1. This is a test. Take notes. This will count as ¾ of your final grade. Hints: remember, in chess, kings cancel each other out and cannot occupy adjacent squares, are therefore all-powerful and totally powerless, cannot affect one another, produce stalemate. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion; the sect of Atman worships the divine spark of life within Man; in effect saying, “Thou art God.” Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox on the corner. Not everyone tells the truth. Operational note: these sections may be taken out of numerical sequence: rearrange them to suit yourself for optimum clarity. Turn over your test papers and begin.
-- Harlan Ellison, “The Deathbird” (1973)

Eric was night, and Batu was day. The girl, Charley, was the moon. Every night, she drove past the All-Night in her long, noisy, green Chevy, a dog hanging out the passenger window. It wasn’t ever the same dog, although they all had the same blissful expression. They were doomed, but they didn’t know it.
-- Kelly Link, “The Hortlak” (2003)

We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.
-- Margo Lanagan, “Singing My Sister Down” (2004)

The first bar I ever went to was The Tropics. It was and still is situated between the grocery store and the bank along Higbee Lane in West Islip. I was around five or six, and my old man would take me there with him when he went there to watch the Giant games on Sunday afternoon. While the men were all at the bar, drinking, talking, giving Y.A. Tittle a piece of their minds, I’d roll the balls on the pool table or sit in one of the booths in the back and color. The jukebox always seemed to be playing “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin while I searched for figures, the way people do with clouds, in the swirling cigar and cigarette smoke. I didn’t go there for the hard-boiled eggs the bartender proffered after making them vanish and pulling them out of my ear, or for the time spent sitting on my father’s lap at the bar, sipping a ginger ale with a cherry in it, although both were welcome. The glowing, bubbling beer signs were fascinating, the foul language was its own cool music, but the thing that drew me to The Tropics was a thirty-two-foot vision of paradise.
-- Jeffrey Ford, “A Night in The Tropics” (2004)

The man’s head and torso emerged from a hole in the ground, just a few feet from the rock where Pearl Hart sat smoking her last cigarette. His appearance surprised her, and she cussed him at some length. The man stared at her during the outpouring of profanity, his mild face smeared with dirt, his body still half-submerged. Pearl stopped cussing and squinted at him in the fading sunlight. He didn’t have on a shirt, and Pearl, being Pearl, wondered immediately if he was wearing pants.
-- Tim Pratt, “Hart and Boot” (2004)

Henry asked a question. He was joking.
“As a matter of fact,” the real estate agent snapped, “it is.”
-- Kelly Link, “Stone Animals” (2004)

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