Three Great Examples of How First Impressions Count in Sci-Fi
By Imogen Reed
They say that you only get one chance to make a first impression; a revelation which may at first be painfully obvious given the nature of the adage, yet bears closer scrutiny. In the making of first impressions comes the time where you have the one chance to grasp the attention of whomever you are interacting with, which is fairly indicative of an important action and this is doubly so for writing of any kind.
The opening line of a novel – science fiction of otherwise – is arguably one the single most important lines in the entire thing. It is the chance that an author has to proverbially grab their audience and keep them hooked and in some ways, the chance to create a lasting impression. Sad though it is to say, there are people that have such a short attention span that they will come to their own conclusion as to a book’s merit and worth within the first few lines, with the first being the most important. Obviously, not everyone is like this, but nevertheless the first line and by proxy the first impression is one of the most important aspects to a good read.
The first sentence or two “hooks” you, draws you in with intrigue, anticipation, verdant imagery, excitement, or a mixture of the aforementioned. Like waiting for a city link package, the first line instils that bizarre feeling of expectancy, as if the first line were to somehow encapsulate the feelings that would exude from the book for the duration of reading it. With the overall tone for the novel set, the reader is free to experience the rest of the novel in accordance with how they felt right from the start.
Many opening lines have come before this time and hopefully many will come after. Each writer will have their own particular style and substance, so we – as readers – are guaranteed an abundance of emotions with regards to each new opening line. There are many different ways to go about creating the perfect opening line, with the greatest and most memorable being stuck not only in the mind of a particular reader, but also in the societal collective consciousness. Lines such as these:
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Taken from the classic 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451. Chronicling the life of a “fireman” whose job it is to burn books, all of which have become illegal in this bleak envisioning of the future. The line grabs the attention as much as the subject matter (fire) does for pyromaniacs. The reader is at once curious as to what it is that is being burnt and why it might be a pleasure to do so, thus being completely drawn into the world of the firemen and their burning. All that is left is for the reader to experience it for themselves.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
This line is from the opening for George Orwell’s 1984, which was published in 1949. 1984 follows the life of one Winston Smith and how he rails against an oppressive regime in a dystopian version of London (in an area called Oceania in the novel). This opener grabs our attention by contrasting the mundane notion of the weather, coupled with clocks striking. The unique part is obviously that the clocks are striking thirteen, a number which is typically not included on traditional clocks, lest they be of the twenty four hour variety. This conjures up some bizarre imagery as to why the clocks would be referenced as striking such a number and the reader’s imagination is captured and drawn into discovering why this might be occurring.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Arguably the one line that everyone remembers somehow and a great example of how to create exciting and vivid imagery that captivates and entrances the reader, almost willing them onwards to the conclusion of the novel. The line itself is of course from Neuromancer, William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk novel, about a has-been computer hacker named Case, as he gathers allies and resources to pull off the ultimate hack.