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So back in the day, actually in the late 1960s, when Star Trek The Original Series struggled with non-existent budgets, grief from the studio, and a plethora of other obstacles, Gene Roddenberry et al did come up with some pretty cool aliens for the time. Sure, most of them were guys dressed up in costumes, but never mind, they were still okay. Well, some were more okay than others.
Here's a collection of aliens from Star Trek The ORiginal Series that I love... my top 6 collection, in no particular order. Oh, and I'll be adding more once I have some more time, because there's lots of 'em!
episode: The Arena
Okay, this really is nothing more than a guy dressed up in a lizard suit, but I remember watching this episode as a youngster and being totally creeped out by Lizard Boy. And who among us could ever forget that epic battle between Kirk and the Gorn when the Metrons first place them on the planet. Kirk's two-handed judo chop... the Gorn in super slo-mo, taking a swipe at the good captain. And so on and so forth.
episode: Devil in the Dark
Oh, those crazy horta, burrowing through rock, depositing their silicon eggs everywhere... these were an interesting life-form because they survived by extracting minerals from rock itself. Turns out, this became a boon to the miners, but not until they'd blasted a bunch, injured the Queen Horta that McCoy had to fix with concrete (I'm a doctor, not a brick layer!), and the famous Spockian mind-meld. Still, for me this was one of the more interesting creatures because it didn't look like a guy dressed up in a suit or have some weird eyebrows or something. Set me on a course to become a geologist!
It’s ridiculously difficult to limit this list to only ten books, and to limit the quotes to opening lines only, and for sure this is about as subjective a topic as you can get, but still, let’s have some fun with it and be sure to add your favourite lines in the comments section below.
Here, in no particular order are my top 10 opening lines to science fiction books.
“If the stars should appear one time in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God?” - Issac Asimov, Nightfall
This is actually from the short story by Asimov, featuring the planet Lagash and its configuration of six suns such that the people there never experience night time except for once every 2000 years or so. Rumours abound about these “stars” that appear and make you go crazy and, indeed, like Yeats’ historical gyres, the lagashian civilization destroys itself when the overwhelming night eventually arrives. By far, this is one of my favourite Asimov tales.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” —William Gibson, Neuromancer
What can you say about Canadian author William Gibson’s famous cyberpunk opening line that hasn’t already been said? This sums up the mood of the story perfectly. As Stan Lee would say ‘Nuff said!
“I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” — Christopher Priest, Inverted World.
For me, it’s the kind of opening line that is at once intriguing and mysterious and non-sensical, perhaps a bit like 1984 that way. The use of distance to measure age suggests time manipulation of some kind, but let’s read the story and find out. Oh, and not to be confused with Han Solo’s use of “parsec” – a measure of distance – as a measure of time in A New Hope.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.”
George Orwell, 1984
For the longest time, the writers in my workshops and I focused on the contrast between the normal world (first part of the line) and the dystopian, I mean, how on Earth could clocks be striking 13? Yet, in military time, 13 hundred hours is one o’clock and this gives us a hint as to what’s happening in the story. At the same time, clocks don’t normally strike 13, do they, even if it is in a military context. So this opening line has so much going on, it almost forces the reader to keep going.
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451
I love Bradbury’s stories, especially his short stories, and this opening line is another one of those odd, intriguing set ups. How could burning something be a pleasure, unless you’re a pyromaniac? In this case, it’s about a man whose job it is to destroy books, and like any hard-working man, he takes pride in it. But there’s also a hint of something more here. It’s the burn of passion, not just for the man who torches books, but for all of us and all of our passions for life.
“There was a wall. It did not look important.” – Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed
This was the first Le Guin novel I read and I found it fascinating, especially the degree of world building in it. But never mind that: it’s the opening two lines that hooked me. Simple, matter of fact. A wall. But after considering the wall, the narrator determines that the wall did not look important, and that’s what I found so interesting. It speaks to a certain aloofness, perhaps, but that wall, even though it did not look important, carried with it a powerful message.
“Avalon outlink station lay on the border of the Polity, that expanding political dominion ruled by artificial intelligences and, to those who resented unhuman rule, the supreme autocrat: Earth Central.”
Neal Asher, Prador Moon
Chronologically, this is the first story in Asher’s Polity world and the opening line sets it up perfectly showing the contrast between the two bodies, the sheer size of it in space, and the fact that humans are a nuisance in a world of AIs.
“It had been a bad night, and when he tried to drive home, he had a terrible argument with his car.”
Philip K. Dick, The Game Players of Titan
Who among us has not talked to our cars, especially when they don’t start in the morning. In this case, the car talks back and sets up the kind of futuristic story where man and machine are interconnected.
“All this happened, more or less.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Slaughter-house Five
Not everyone considers S-5 to be science fiction. In my own local bookstore, it’s in the fiction section, but if I look at it from a SF lens, it ticks off a lot of the genre points. Time travel? Check. Aliens? Check. So let us consider this one of those stories that is so good, it’s considered classic fiction as well as science fiction. No matter, the opening line sets the stage for a story that the reader could begin at any chapter and understand it (if you haven’t tried reading S-5 starting at any random chapter and reading around, try it!). The ambiguity of the first line is what draws us and creates a fog around all of the “war bits” and meetings with Tralfamadorians.
“I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer.” -Ernest Cline, Armada
Cline’s opening line here is simple and yet intriguing because of the (wait, what?!?) flying saucer. One cannot help but keep reading here to find out how, when, where, what, who and why.
What are your favourite opening lines? Comment below!
One of the questions I ask in The Crying of Ross 128 is: will we be ready if and when an alien life form contacts us?
Different books and films have imagined what first contact looks like. Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed us friendly alien abductions. Carl Sagan’s Contact was about building a special ship to meet them. Alien Nation showed us struggling to co-exist with lizard-type creatures, and Independence Day can be summed up in that one famous line, “Let’s nuke ‘em . . . let’s nuke the bastards.”
Taking Hollywood out of the discussion for a moment, is there any kind of formal terran code to follow if one day we hear a distant alien signal? Well, in the 1980s, the UN actually came up with a set of protocols. These were guidelines only and developed to help the US and the Soviet Union share information. For example, if you hear a weird signal from space, this is how you should share it so others can help figure it out.
Then, the International Academy of Astronautics developed protocols in the 1990s again focusing on post-detection protocols. The UN took another run at these in the 2010s. The problem, though, is these alien post-detection protocols are guidelines only and are not enforceable. So if and when an extra-terrestrial contacts us or is detected, anyone anywhere could essentially do whatever they want to connect with them, irrespective of whether they should.
Two Sides of the Alien Post-Detection Argument
One group of scientists believes that whenever we do hear an alien signal, we should share it with everyone immediately. The idea being that more people working on figuring out what the signal means, the better. This would naturally increase the likelihood that we’d learn about the signal’s origin sooner rather than later, and can then take whatever next steps are appropriate.
But another group is more like Hold The Phone! Why would we want to telegraph where we are to some potentially evil-minded bug-eyed monster? The thinking here is: let’s keep this signal quiet, work on it in isolation until we figure out what it means, and then determine whether we should respond or not. The last thing we should be doing, so the argument goes, is to advertise where we are.
The bottom line, though, is no consistent, enforceable protocols exist for how to deal with alien first contact. The truth is, there may be millions of signals coming our way right now and we’re just not capable of detecting them either because we don’t understand the full breadth and depth of propagation physics behind them, or we simply can’t recognize their patterns in any discernible way.
This much is true, though: for me, it’s not a question of if we’ll make contact one day . . . it’s a question of when. And if we’re smart, we’ll figure out how to handle that day now.
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Hi, I'm David. I'm a science fiction writer, lover of Star Trek, fascinated by alien contact, galactic space battles, and near future dystopia. Want to know the darker details? Click here.
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