In this post for my First Sentence Musings blog series, I will concentrate on first sentences that lets the reader know one thing: We’re in Space!
I love a good Science Fiction opening, and one of the classics is the introduction to setting, i.e., the setting of outer space. Many classic Sci-Fi novels, and even movies, start out in the great emptiness, situating the characters and the readers (or viewers) in a setting of mystery, wonder, and even some level of fear.
Space can be frightening. Or freeing. Or overwhelming. Depending on what your heroes or villains are doing in space can set the tone for how you describe space to the reader.
Sometimes, that tone is set from the very first sentence.
In C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, the opening line lets the reader know several things. We’re (possibly) traveling through an unexplored frontier. To humans, that is space or deep under the sea. The characters don’t know exactly where they are. They also have the ability to build robots, but that doesn’t ensure their safety.
In this opening line, Cherryh underlines the uncertainty of the destination of the characters from the very beginning. Although the line speaks of uncertainty, for the reader it can also exude a sense of excitement. Anything can happen.
First sentences, however, are also the harbingers of first paragraphs, and it is this first two paragraphs in Foreigner that Cherryh really lets the reader know what kind of relationship the characters in her novel have with space.
It was the deep dark, unexplored except for robotic visitors. The mass that existed here was Earth’s second stepping-stone toward a strand of promising stars; and, for the first manned ship to drop into its influence, the mass point was a lonely place, void of the electromagnetic chaff that filled human space, the gossip and chatter of trade, the instructions of human control to ships and crews, the fast sporadic communication of machine talking to machine. Here, only the radiation of the mass, the distant stars, and the background whisper of existence itself rubbed up against the sensors with force enough to attract attention.
Here, human beings had to remember that the universe was far wider than their little nest of stars – that, in the universe at large, silence was always more than the noisiest shout of life. Humans explored and intruded against it, and built their stations and lived their lives, a biological contamination of the infinite, a local and temporary condition.Foreigner, by C.J. Cherryh, pg. 1
A great first sentence does a lot, but if the next few sentences aren’t up to snuff, it can drive away the reader. Cherryh introduces the setting in her first sentence, then in the subsequent sentences shows how her characters interact with the setting, which in this case is empty space. She does it with broad strokes, not naming any particular character yet, but letting the reader know that humanity has reached the stars, and in reaching them, has found themselves in a great and all-encompassing silence.
Write a first sentence for a story or novel where the setting is space. How would you introduce the setting to the reader? How would you make the sentence unique to your own story? How would you relate how your characters interact with the setting?
Feel free to leave your examples in the comments! Let me know what you think!