Great Opening Lines - A Challenge List - VOLUME TWO

  • 36. HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES by Salman Rushdie. Contributed by lbangs, identified by tallus: "There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name."
  • 37. GREAT APES by Will Self. Contributed by lbangs, identified by jgandcag: "HoooGraa!"
  • 38. SKINNY LEGS AND ALL by Tom Robbins. "It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey." Contributed by lbangs. Identified by buddy.
  • 39. THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT by Steve Erickson. "I want you at the end of your rope, lashed to the mast of my dreams." Contributed by lbangs. Identified by Dave O'Neil.
  • 40. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James. Contributed by lbangs, identified by bertie: "The prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the Modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they had left by the Tiber."
  • 41. SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by Conrad Aiken: "Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said; nor could it even have occurred to him to ask." Contributed by lbangs, identified by Amy Kessler.
  • 42. SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW by Peter Hoeg. Contributed by lbangs, identified by Jim: "It's freezing - an extraordinary 0 degrees Fahrenheit - and it's snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik - big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost."
  • 43. LUCKY YOU by Carl Hiassen. Contributed by lbangs, identified by Jim: "On the afternoon of November 25, a woman named Jo-Layne Luks drove into the Grab N' Go minimart in Grange, Florida, and purchased spearmint Certs, unwaxed dental floss and one ticket for the state Lotto."
  • 44. DAVID COPPERFIELD by Charles Dickens. Contributed by Jim, identified by jenhowel: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
  • 45. HELEN O'LOY by Lester Del Rey. Identified by sk: "I am an old man now, and I can still see Helen as Dave unpacked her, and still hear him gasp as he looked her over."
  • 46. THE ROADS MUST ROLL by Robert Heinlein. Identified by sk: "Who makes the roads roll?"
  • 47. MARS IS HEAVEN by Ray Bradbury. Identified by sk: "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."
  • 48. BORN OF MAN AND WOMAN by Richard Matheson. Identified by bitterms: "This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch."
  • 49. COMING ATTRACTION by Fritz Leiber. "The coupe with the fishooks welded to the fender shouldered up over the kerb like the nose of a nightmare." Identified by Amy Kessler.
  • 50. THE MAGUS by John Fowles. Identified by jgandcag: "I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria."
  • 51. PAINGOD by Harlan Ellison (from the collection DEATHBIRD STORIES). Contributed by Jim, identified by bertie: "Tears were impossible, yet tears were his heritage."
  • 52. THE AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH by Gabrile Garcia Marquez. Contributed by Jim, identified by tallus: "Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur."
  • 53. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad. Contributed by Jim, identified by PrBaron4: "He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull."
  • 54. ILLUSIONS - THE ADVENTURES OF A RELUCTANT MESSIAH by Richard Bach. Contributed by kbuxton, identified by Min: "There was a Master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne."
  • 55. GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA by Douglas Coupland. Contributed by kbuxton, identified by jgandcag: "I'm Jared, a ghost."
  • 56. WHITE NOISE by Don DeLillo. Contributed by kbuxton, identified by ender22d: "The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus."
  • 57. DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson. Identified by cmonster, contributed by kbuxton: "Guilford Law turned fourteen the night the world changed."
  • 58. BEN HUR by Lew Wallace. Identified by lbangs: "The Jebel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that its tracery on the map gives it a likeness to a caterpillar crawling from the south to the north."
  • 59. THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins. Identified by jacq: "This is the story of what a woman's patience can endure, and what a man's resolution can achieve."
  • 60. THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane. Identified by lbangs: "The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army streched out on the hills, resting."
  • 61. MORE THAN HUMAN by Theodore Sturgeon. Contributed by Jim, identified by jgandcag: "The idiot lived in a black and grey world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear."
  • 62. FOUNDATION'S EDGE by Isaac Asimov. Identified by dvcas1: "The first galactic empire was falling."
  • 63. A FALL OF MOONDUST by Arthur C.Clarke. Identified by dvcas1: "To be the skipper of the only boat on the Moon was a distinction that Pat Harris enjoyed."
  • 64. STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A.Heinlein. Identified by dvcas1: "I always get the shakes before a drop."
Author Comments: 

This list is the second volume of this list, which was getting too big to load before our minds started drifting back to what was on t.v., or to considering whether another beer would be too many, or even whether it was time to get back to work.

Identifications scores:

Amy Kessler: 2

Antihero: 3

bertie: 8

bitterms: 1

buddy: 1

cmonster: 2

Dave O'Neil: 1

dvcas1: 3

ender22d: 2

jacq: 1

jenhowel: 6

jgandcag: 4

jim: 4

kbuxton: 2

lbangs: 9

Min: 1

Nadine: 2

PrBaron4: 1

sk: 3

tallus: 4

44 = David Copperfield or no?


#46 "The Roads Must Roll" by Heinlien. #45 Is "Helen O Loy" can't remember author.

Two correct. I would prefer answers to give both title and author, and if you know one it isn't too hard to use a search engine to find the other - that wouldn't be cheating. I just entered "helen o'loy" into Google (quotation marks too) and the author's name was on the summary of the very first hit; I didn't have to go any further.

#48 & #49 were both published in an anthology that we have discussed in previous lists. I can't seem to remember the names of the stories but as I recall #49 was a great story.

I'll give the hints for my challenges, if you don't mind :-) By the way, someone has made a guess at the challenge you issued. You should go to Volume One and tell me whether it's correct.

Jim, you said you had several new challenges to issue. Where are they?

"Tears were impossible, yet tears were his heritage."

Hint: This was pulled from the same book as one of bertie's other "first lines."

Got it, Jim. But in the spirit of fairness I'll wait a few days (a few week-days) and let others have a fair go.

Well, Jim, it's been more than a few week-days, it's been a few weeks, and nobody has taken the hint. Ellison must be feeling like an utter has-been. I'd claim it now, except I've forgotten the story's title, and my sf collection is still largely in moving-house-limbo. Is someone going to beat me to it before I can dig out my copy of D........ STORIES? Only time will tell. Oh my! the suspense.

"Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur."

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull."

Dammit, Jim! I considered this one myself not long ago. Now I can't remember where I found it. I'll get back to you - I hope.

Jim, I know now where I saw this one before and why I didn't use it. I won't claim the identification - if you want to know why, send me an e-mail. Sir bertie.

Darn it! #48 is in that compilation of short stories by Asimov that I have at home!!!
It's one of my favorite stories in the book, and I think in the forward Asimov claims to be slightly jealous of the author (first name Cyril?) because his first story became a classic. Is that right? Ahh, but I can't think of the name, and I can't check it until I get home!

OK, maybe a few hints would stimulate some guesses on my challenges.

36 - Cat Stevens probably has not read this book.

37 - You could be forgiven for mistaking this novel for an evolution treatise if you indeed judged this book by its cover.

38 - Cult writer mostly known for his seventies work and a terrible film based on one (not this one) of his novels.

39 - A novel from last year; something of a cult writer.

40 - No one has guessed this yet? A classic, if slightly lesser known, novel by one of the greatest novel writers of all time. Many of his works were converted into films over the last few decades.

41 - This is the toughest of my challenges. I'm not dropping any hints only because I want to be amazed at the well-read genius who recognizes this one.

Is the author of 38 William S.Burroughs?

No, this Seattle author is not quite that well-known.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Is the author of 40 E.M.Forster?

No, but you're thinking in the right mode.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Based on the hint alone, is #36 The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie?

No, but you do have the author correct. Very close.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

#48 Born of a Man and Woman by Richard Matheson. Any thoughts on this story and what is being described? It's just so strange a story that I feel like my theory, thoughts, whatever...are just too simplistic.

Glad to see someone other than sk get one of this group. Not that I've got anything against sk; it's just that I was worried he might be the only one who'd have any idea.

It's been years since I've read it. I'll re-read it within the next few days and get back to you.

Re-read done. It's very short, isn't it - almost a vignette. It's simply about a rather gross mutant/monster that has been born to an unfortunate family. They've kept it in the cellar all its life. It's not unintelligent (somehow it's learned to read the old movie mags it's found), and it's naturally starting to rebel against its imprisonment. It's soon going to be strong enough to escape, and its parents' future survival prospects look poor. The story's classic status is due to its very economical telling in an intriguing style.

Somewhat of a random guess, but could #52 be "Raging Bull" by Jake La Motta?

That could be too obvious though.

*sigh* typos are the bane of my existence... I meant #53, of course

Good guess based on content, but incorrect.

HINT re. #50: Meryl Streep starred in the movie version of one of this author's other novels.

In that movie, Streep played two roles: a movie actress in the present, and a seduced-and- abandoned woman in the 19th century.

The French Lieutenant's Woman, though I only got it because of the movie clues, and may in fact have provided the wrong title.

Right movie, but you haven't got to the book yet.

HINTS re. #47: As should be obvious, the author of this story is one of science fiction's greatest stylists. The planet the ship is coming down to is Mars.

Further hint: sk has expressed great affection for this one. (Sorry, sk.)

The scraping sound you hear is me trying to remove # 47's egg from my face. Mars Is Heaven...Ray Bradbury

HINT re. #49: The author of this one also wrote the "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" series.

Here's a few more:

"1. There was a Master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne."

"I'm Jared, a ghost."

"The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus."

"Guilford Law turned fourteen the night the world changed."

PLEASE HELP ME to choose the ten best opening lines on this list. Everyone is invited to submit ten numbers, chosen from both volumes of the list, being the numbers of the quotes you think are the ten best. The results will eventually be posted in the 'Author Comments' section. PLEASE NOTE: anonymous submissions will not be counted.

I guess I should lead the way, so here are my ten choices: 1, 2, 7, 8, 16, 22, 25, 28, 38, 47.

Do I have to pick ten? For me, these six standout from the rest: 2, 11, 14, 18, 19, 22.

No, you don't have to pick ten, but if you do you stand a better chance of having more of the ones you like included in the top ten.

And here's a confession (for your eyes only, Jim): I concocted this survey as a way of getting around the fact that I don't have the heart to deem any of the quotes 'unworthy' and remove them from the list. I envision that the Top Ten will be a 'purer' version of the existing list.

I had a hard time cutting down from 13 to 10 but here goes: 2,6,12,18,25,27,29,30,33,34.

14,16, and 20 just missed.

Is #54 Vonnegut? my guess is Sirens of Titan if it is

nope. Not Vonnegut.

is #56 "White Noise" by Don DeLillo? sounds familiar

yes, indeed

Isn't 53, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad?

It is indeed LORD JIM. On behalf of plain old Jim, I'll accept it as correct.

"Plain Old Jim." I like that. If I ever get new business cards, I'll have to print that on them. Or maybe, "Just Jim".

How about "Jim, Lord of The Listology"?

Nah, I definitely prefer "Plain Old Jim." I'd rather be underestimated than overestimated.

HINT re. #58: This novel was filmed in 1907, 1925, and, most famously, in 1959.

Ah, now I know it, but since I only know it from the clue you gave, I'm not guessing. Good choice!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Not sure I take your meaning here, lbangs. The hint was given in order that someone might get the answer and claim the identification.

Oh, I just feel guilty getting a book quiz entry based on film knowledge. Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

HINT re. #59 : Mystery fans should know this one, it's a classic of the genre.

Okay, I practically gave 58 and 60 away. But I won't be giving this one away. No more hints on 59.

HINT re. #60: I know some of you must surely have been assigned this at school. It's a famous Civil War novel.

Based solely on your hint, I'll guess The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. I thought that line sounded familiar, and if that's the source, then I now know why.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Some further hints to stimulate guesses:

36 - The author has already been guessed, so all I'll add is that this is something of a children's story. Sorta.

37 - This author was recently mentioned on the site. For this quote, it is very important to know one's Self.

38 - This author has been talked about quite a bit lately, as he has finally released another novel. Cult writer, Seattle, recent new novel. A few people here have cited this as a favorite.

40 - A film version is being released soon and, I believe, played at Cannes this year.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

For #38 I have to guess Tom Robbins, just 'cause it seems Robbinsish. But I'm pretty sure it's not from one of his that I've read...

Good ear! Tom Robbins it is. He hasn't written too many novels, so do you wish to take a stab at which one it might be?

Again, good call, especially since it was based on style.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Oddly enough, I was just looking at the list. came to #38 and said "That's one of the Tom Robbins books I've read." but I'm at work so can't check which one. Scroll down and that much had been figured out already!

Re. # 40: I did use the internet (one of my bookmarked movie sites) to find the answer to this one, but I didn't use a search engine. According to my rules that's not cheating, and I hope you won't consider it to be. Ivory makes Golden Bowl - he's a class act. The answer is THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James, brother of the pragmatist philosopher.

Assuming this is what you did . . .

"So how does one identify an opening line within the rules? - well, by recognizing it or by having a hunch (or following one of the challenger's hints, if any) and finding it by looking through actual paper books. Use of search engines is out, but if you used one of the library sites to confirm your hunch about a quote, that would be okay."

. . . that would be okay.

Thanks, Jim, but the matter won't really be resolved for me until I hear from lbangs. He's pretty strict with himself (didn't want to claim an answer because it was gained from cinematic rather than literary knowledge), so I won't blame him if he's strict with me too. When I say use of search engines is out, I mainly mean putting the actual quote into one.

Sorry so scarce. I'm out of the office today, so my Listology time has been little.

The quote is definitely yours, Bertie, and congrats for getting it. The book is wonderful, and I hope some might be tempted to try it.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

If 36 is a childrens story then it 's almost certainly Haroum and the Sea of Stories, is it not?

Correct! 36 is Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie. Great job!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm going to hazard a guess at no 50 being by George Orwell, Keep the Apisditra Flying, posibly.

52 is "The Autumn of the Patriach" by Gabrile Garcia Marquez - one of my favourites


#54 is...Illusions-The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. One of my all-time favorite books by Richard Bach. Funny how books come into your life at the time when they are supposed to and when they are most meaningful...

Welcome to The Listology, Min. Jim, whose site this is, has been very busy in the real world lately. About your answer: I can't confirm it, so we'll have to wait for the challenger to get back to us. Hope you'll feel like contributing some lists - maybe when you've explored the site a bit. There's lots of interesting stuff here. Enjoy!

that's it.

41 = I am David??

lbangs, if he notices, will have to be the one to say yay or nay to this, since he's the challenger on this one.

lbangs! Calling lbangs! Someone (jacq) has tried to identify one of your challenges (no.41) on this Challenge List. Bin waiting a while. Please oblige with your yay or nay. Message ends.

Sorry. I apologize for the wait. I am can be so oblivious sometimes...

No, I am sorry, 41 is not I am David. Good try!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

59 = The Woman In White

Correct. Congrats. Your name will now (or soon) be placed on the prestigious list of Good Guessers ('Author Comments' section, above).

Oh, just a quibble: strictly (I'm very strict) you should include the author's name in your identification. Tsk Tsk !

55. "Girlfriend in A Coma" Douglas something...Copley maybe..

Good book, ending is a little weak.


yup, that's it. Coupland.

Oh how could I have missed 37: "Great Apes" Will Self

Loved this and most of this guys stuff. I highly recommend.


I'm impressed. You're right. I wasn't sure if anyone was ever going to guess that one.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

It's one of 2 of his I haven't read yet. Guess it'll have to get moved up in the queue

"The idiot lived in a black and grey world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear."

Sounds familiar, jim. It's an sf story, I think (it would nearly have to be sf for me to recognise it).

Ah, yes, I know it. Just went to my bookshelves to confirm. But this is too much of a gift. Before I claim it I'll give others a chance with the following hints. It's the author's best-known novel, and its author inspired another author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, to name one of his characters "Kilgore Trout".

Come in, #51, your time is up! PAINGOD by Harlan Ellison.

61. is Theodore Sturgeon's "More than Human" a nice book.

57. Is "The Magus" by John Fowles

Correct on #57, and THE MAGUS is a very engrossing read, btw, I recommend it. There are two versions of it, it was an early work (Fowles' first or second novel, I think) and he published a re-written edition because wanted to correct its youthful imperfections.

I believe you are also correct on #61, but Jim has the final say on that. 'Nice' isn't the word I would choose to describe MTH - I found it rather intense. But Sturgeon was among the very best writers of 'soft' science fiction.

Attention: lbangs. I see that Merchant-Ivory have made a movie version of James's THE GOLDEN BOWL, starring Nick Nolte and Uma Thurman. How feel you?

I am certainly interested, but also cautious. Ivory's last few films (Surviving Picasso, Jefferson in Paris, etc.) actually verged on being what his earlier films were unfairly accused of being - boring as all getout. Hopefully, this film will prove better. If he is sticking to the book (which, of course, he needn't do), the casting is interesting and borders on inspired. He certainly chose one of the very best English novels ever to work from. We'll see...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Your 61 has to be "A Fall of Moondust" by Arthur C Clarke - I don't have a copy to hand so I can't check it, but I'd be very surprised if it's anything else.

No, not 61. Please make sure 61 is the number you mean.

Finger trouble! I meant #63

...but while I'm here #62 has to be from the Foundation and Empire books by Isaac Asimov - the phrase is used in the preamble to the early ones, but prefixed with "When" so I'll go for Foundation's Edge

and #64 is Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

You got the Big Three: Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. Good to see that fans of classic sf are not yet extinct. I expected these three gifts to be snapped up much fastly, but they've been on offer for...must be over a year.

My thanks to you for closure on this moribund list...unless you'd care to issue a challenge.

Actually it looks like 38, 39 and 41 are still open.

So are 49 and 57. Wishful negligence on my part. Since you're so familiar with Golden Age sf, why don't you clear up 49 for me?

Oops! Sorry kbuxton. More negligence. I assumed I was still talking to dvcas1.

That's ok. I'm just amused because I just reread #38 and thought "I'm pretty sure that's Tom Robbins" and looked through the posts and realized I'd said the same thing last time through ;)

57. Darwinia - Robert Charles Wilson

kbuxton! Calling kbuxton! Is cmonster correct re. #57?


Aaaah, criminy... I KNOW I've read #41. This is killin' me...

lbangs-the-tormentor strikes again :-D

Bertie! Nice to see you! So where've you been? Have you gotten any e-mails from me?

Jim, I do owe you an explanatory e-mail. I did get yours. My bad for not replying yet. Sorry.

No worries, just glad to see you resurface!

To the person who recently e-mailed me about No.39: I'll get back to you.

lbangs....Attention lbangs...please check your e-mail.

Whoops! I am such a slacker...

The emailed guess is correct, and I am impressed!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm pretty sure #38 is Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins. Of course, I've read loads of them and it may have been one of the others, but I'm going with SL&A.

Yep! Good job!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Number 49, "Coming Attraction" by Fritz Leiber, has been identified via e-mail by AmyK. (Amy, if you have no objection to being identified by your full name just e-mail me and I'll make the change.)

Attention lbangs - Amy Kessler, who recently identified no.49 on this list, has now made a guess at no.41. She asks if it is "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken. Please confirm or deny. Thanks.

I'm impressed. She nailed it. Yes, she is correct.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Are you making a new list? I think this one has pretty much had it.

Bless your curls, miss! Thanks for pointing that out.

I think what I'll do is make a new list out of some new challenges plus whatever's left on Volume One, and then archive these two.

Thanks again.