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05 February 2011 @ 11:16 pm
Writer's Block: The start of something wonderful  
What is your favorite opening line of a book, and why?

What is your favorite opening line of a book, and why?

Once upon a time, there was a Martian named Smith.

—Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Eclipseeclipsegryph on February 6th, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
*applauds* Well done.
castleclear: Castle Clearcastleclear on February 6th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
Very nice! Is the why/because part so self-evident that I'm missing it?
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on February 6th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
It was late, I was sleepy, and ultimately, I realized that there was nothing I could say about Heinlein's classic opening line that would be more eloquent than the line itself.

However, to be rather less eloquent:

It's my favorite opening line, not just because Stranger almost always tops the list of my favorite books, but because it's just so efficient. It's fraught with implications, and the book itself is an exploration of those implications: how is it that an entity that can be accurately called a "Martian" came to have an eminently mundane North American name like "Smith"?

I must confess that I deliberately misquoted, however. There are two editions of Stranger, each with its own variation of the opening line. The 1961 edition opens with:

Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.

The "Complete, Uncut" 1991 edition, based on Heinlein's much longer manuscript, opened instead with:

Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith.

The simpler version I used was closer to the line that inspired the novel: when giving a speech at a a science fiction convention about "unpronouncable" alien names, Heinlein concluded with: "Besides, whoever heard of a Martian named Smith?"

Edited at 2011-02-06 08:03 pm (UTC)
castleclearcastleclear on February 6th, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
LOL! Thanks for the explication. I also enjoy Heinlein's juxtaposition about a story about a Martian with Once Upon a Time. Have a great day!
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on February 6th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
If you haven't read Stranger, I highly recommend it. Either edition.
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on February 7th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
You know, I think I have that somewhere...

...buried in a box somewhere that got moved around by people while I was out of state.

castleclearcastleclear on February 7th, 2011 07:54 am (UTC)
Thanks :-) I first read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND in high school, though my first and remaining favorite Heinlein novel was his juvenal/young adult novel FARMER IN THE SKY. (creative spelling error on Juvenal, but it's late and I'm too fatigued to look up the correct standardized spelling.)