First Lines from the Best SF & F Books of 2023

It’s the last month of 2023 which means this is the last first lines post for the year so of course it’s a Best Of post.

First Lines is a series of blog articles posted on around the first of the month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

Space Opera

The cover of Fractal Noise shows the back of an astronaut walking on an undulating red planet approaching a huge swirl of red flames or clouds with nothing but the white title on black in the center.

On July 25, 2234, they discovered the anomaly.

It was ship-night inside the SLV Adamura, and all the lights were off or else dimmed and set to red to avoid disrupting the crew’s circadian rhythm.”

Fractal Noise, Christopher Polini

Superhero Fantasy

The cover of starter villain is a cat's head on the body of a man in a suit. The subtitle is "meet the new boss"

I learned about the death of my uncle Jake in a deeply unexpected way, which was from the CNBC Squawk Box morning show.

I had Squawk Box on from force of habit; when I was a business reporter for the Chicago Tribune I would turn it on in the mornings, in rotation with Bloomberg and Fox Business, while I and my wife Jeanine got ourselves ready for our respective days.” 

Starter Villain, John Scalzi


The cover of upgrade is white with blue circles with straight tails (kind of like sideways lollipops) of various sizes up the page and piercing the letters of the title and author's name. There is a blue shadowy silhouette of a man in the background,

We found Henrik Soren at a wine bar in the international terminal, thirty minutes from boarding a hyper jet to Tokyo.

Before tonight, I had only seen him in INTERPOL photographs and CCTV footage.

Upgrade, Blake Crouch 

Hard Science Fiction

The cover of War bodies is of a large black crablike creature hovering over green hazy planet type of structures there is a sun glaring through clouds just above the creature and it appears that space ships are shooting light rays but missing the creature

Piper visualized the thing inside him, wound through his skeleton and his guts, ready to uncoil and snarl at the world at the slightest provocation. Whenever it occupied him fully, his eyes seemed to become a sick yellow, and claws threaten to break from his fingers.”

War Bodies, Neal Asher

Time Travel

The cover of the sea of tranquility shows a green meadow leading to hills in the background and above the hills is a full moon partly set against a bluish sky

Edwin St. John St Andre, eighteen years old, hauling the weight of his double-sainted name across the Atlantic by steamship, eyes narrowed against the wind on the upper deck: he holds the railing with gloved hands, impatient for a glimpse of the unknown, trying to discern something—anything!—beyond sea and sky, but all he sees are shades of endless gray.”

Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel

Murder Mystery in Space

The cover of deep sky is dark black with a multi-colored rope looping back and forth. In the center of the center loop is a pink spotlight like effect with a black bird sitting in the bowl of the light

“There were many things Asuka did not consider when she agreed to travel from one sun to another. That is, did not allow herself to consider. Like how she would miss lying on her back in rough grass, the scent of damp earth in her nose as she scraped her nails against a real, periwinkle sky.

Deep Sky

Yume Kitasei

Occult Fiction

The cover of silver nitrate is bright red with silver colored title at a diagonal and between the two words is a red and black photo of a woman's eyes wide with terror.

An engorged, yellow moon painted the sky a sickly amber hue, illuminating a solitary figure. A woman, standing between two sycamore trees.

It had rained, and the earth was slippery as, breathing with difficulty she ventured toward the cabin.”

Silver Nitrate

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The cover of Rouge is black with bright red title and a rose that appears to be a cup with steam rising from it

“After the funeral. I’m hiding in Mother’s bathroom watching skincare video about necks. Cheap black dress that chafes. Illicit cigarette. Sitting on the toilet amid her decorative baskets, her red jellyfish soaps, her black towel sets.”


Mona Awad

Asian & LGBGQ+ Fantasy

The Water Outlaws' cover is in styled like a chinese watercolor on silk--the primary image is of a warrior in browns and beige astride a black horse with blue and orange livery. The background is green windswept mountains with silhouettes of warriors in the sky appearing to be caught in the winds but trying to fight the warrior on the horse.

Every morning just after dawn, Lin Chong taught a fight class for women. 

The class was always well attended, and Lin Chong welcomed any from the lowest beggar to the highest socialite. Women choosing to apply themselves so seriously to the arts of war and weaponry might have been seen as unusual, even in the highly modern Empire of Song, but Lin Chong was so well established in the prefecture, and so well respected, that men rationalized the participation of their wives and daughters.”

The Water Outlaws, S.L. Huang

Native American Fantasy

The cover of To Shape a Dragon's breath  has black and pink and yellow shapes on a dark red background. The shapes create a stylized dragon's head with flowers on each side of it and silhouetted trees in the background.

I was gathering mussels on Slipstone Island when I saw the dragon.

I’d never seen a proper dragon before, but there was no mistaking it for anything else. It had come walking out of the scraggy stand of pine trees at the base of the temple mound and was standing on the rocky hillside, looking out to sea.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath, Moniquill Blackgoose

Alternate History Dystopian

These titles may not make very many best of 2023 lists, but I hope you’ll love these first lines:

The cover of Fellowship is of a two dimensional church spire over a royal blue sheld with wings. The bottom of the spire flares out to be the same size and shape as that of the shield. In that space a silhouette of a young man in a shorts runs toward the reader.


One word and Ian Hobart’s world teetered into not safe. The reporters’ voices fell, the remainder of their conversation now muted by the clack and ratchet and ding of their typewriters. 

Ian plastered a smile on his face and plopped back into his seat on the copyboy’s bench. The relentless thump and clatter heartbeat of the presses in the basement vibrated the floor, his shoes, his bones as if in warning.”

Fellowship, Companion to the Fellowship Dystopia, Lynette M. Burrows

The cover of My Soul to keep is of a two dimensional Washington Monument in two shades of yellow-orange over a royal blue shield with wings. The bottom of the Washington Monument flares out to be the same size and shape as that of the shield. In that space a silhouette of a woman in a dress walks toward the reader.

The giant bronze angel of death loomed over Miranda Clarke’s shoulder. The statue, Shield of Mercy, Hand of Justice, stood at the grand entrance of the Fellowship Center as it had for all of Miranda’s life. With Uncle Sam sheltered in her great black wings, the angel hovered over the fallen body of President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt and pointed to the pile of ash where the assassin had stood. Was it the statue or was it the tiny flare of rebellion that made Miranda hesitate?”

My Soul to Keep, Book One in the Fellowship Dystopia series,
Lynette M. Burrows

Cover of If I Should die features a green 2-D statue of liberty over a purple shield with wings. The base of the statue flares to be the base of the shield and in it is a silhouette of a woman with a weapon running toward the reader.

Miranda Clarke guided her yacht, Lady Angelfish, alias Serenity, down the Illinois River, desperate to deliver the package on time. A snafu at the locks outside of Chicago had cost them hours. Though she itched to open the throttle, she steered the yacht toward the Mississippi River as slowly as a late fall vacationer.”

If I Should Die, Book Two in the Fellowship Dystopia series, Lynette M. Burrows


Beginning December 15th, my books will be available at a 25% discount from A girl’s gotta eat, so I rarely discount my books. I do it now to thank readers for their support over the past three years. 

Remember, book three of the trilogy will be published next year. 


There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. This month’s books came from several “best of” posts currently on the net. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Of course, if you buy my books, I get paid…and I get to eat.

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? 

Check out previous First Lines posts

Did I miss one of your Best of 2023? Please take a moment to share in the comments below.

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