Category Archives: Opening Lines

Ray Bradbury’s Small Assassin

Dime Mystery Nov. 1946

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

The idea that a newborn, a tiny baby could be an assassin aiming his sights on his own caregivers, aka his parents, is absurd. Yet, that is the premise of “Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury that was reprinted in the first edition of Suspense Magazine. The story’s first appeared in Dime Mystery (Nov. 1946).

Despite the premise, the story is well-written and has been reprinted in multiple anthologies, including one named for the story. It was adapted for an EC comic book and an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater television series and even has a page on Wikipedia.

Here’s the opening paragraph:
“Just when the idea occurred to her that she was being murdered she could not tell. There had been little subtle signs, little suspicions for the past month; things as deep as sea tides in her, like looking at a perfectly calm stretch of cerulean water and liking it and wanting to bathe in it, and finding, just as the tide takes your body into it, that monsters dwell just under the surface, things unseen, bloated, many-armed, sharp-fanged, malignant and inescapable.”

Image from the Wikipedia page.

A science-storyette from S. Fowler Wright

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

“Obviously Suicide” by S. Fowler Wright
. A prolific author who wrote dozens of science fiction, mystery and historical novels between 1924 and 1954. In addition to his own name, Wright often wrote under the names Sidney Fowler and Anthony Wingrave.

His novel, The Adventure of Wyndham Smith (1938) was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1950.

At the time he wrote “Suicide” for Suspense, he was the magazine’s senior contributor at age 70. It’s not exactly science fiction—Suspense labels it a science-storyette (a short or shortened story)—in this case three pages. The opening passage serves as a good summary:

“In about two seconds the Earth would dissolve in a blaze of fire,” the research worker at the N.U. Laboratory told his wife. “There would be a burst of light and—one planet less in the universe. The amazing aspect is its very simplicity. Ii could be made in a backyard shed. All one needs is a combination of three substances, all easy to obtain, and then nothing more than a loop of heated wire.”

Laughing masks when luck’s running good

The final story in the final Ellery Queen digest-sized collection of Dashiell Hammett shorts—Mercury Mystery #233 (1962)—is “When Luck’s Running Good.” The opening paragraph follows:

“A shriek, unmistakenly feminine, and throbbing with terror, pierced the fog. Phil Truax, hurrying up Washington Street, halted in the middle of a stride and became as motionless as the stone apartment buildings that flanked the street.”

Originally titled “Laughing Masks,” the story first appeared in Action Stories in November 1923 under Hammett’s Peter Collinson pseudonym.

(Image from Galactic Central.)

Showdown by Charles Beckman, Jr.

Charles Boeckman (1920–2015), an original pulpster, dropped the “o” from his name and wrote as Charles Beckman, Jr. His story “Showdown” appeared in Flying Eagle’s Gunsmoke in August 1953. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Dave Segel awoke with a start, reaching for his gun with the instinctive movement of a hunted animal. He lay half-crouched on his blanket, peering into the Stygian blackness with red-rimmed eyes. He had picked this spot shrewdly, knowing that the tangled brush surrounding it would give warning. And he had been right. For it had been the muffled crack of a twig snapping under a stealthy foot that had penetrated his fitful dozing and brought him wide awake.”

Beckman’s stories appeared in pulps and digests of nearly every genre. Recently, two collections of his work have been published: Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers (2012) featuring crime fiction and Saddles, Sixguns & Shootouts (2013) featuring westerns.

Asteroid of Horror

Ed Emshwiller illustration from Super-Science Fiction Oct. 1959

Our final Super-Science Fiction post for now features the opening lines to James Rosenquest’s “Asteroid of Horror” from the last issue which landed on newsstands in October 1959.

“He was a clay pigeon, a sitting duck, a target.”

The story intro explains: “It was a graveyard in space, a feeding ground for an abominable thing that had lived for millions of years and filled its lair with tons upon tons of bare bones.”

The opening spread displays the illustration shown of the abomination by Ed Emshwiller that harkens back to Kelly Freas’ cover painting seen earlier that June.

The dimple in the morgue

Originally titled “The Dimple” when it appeared in Saucy Stories, October 15, 1923, this short, short tale by Dashiell Hammett was retitled “In the Morgue” for Mercury Mystery #233, February 20, 1962. Here’s the opening from the latter:

“Walter Dowe took the last sheet of the manuscript from his typewriter with a satisfied sigh and leaned back in his chair, turning his face to the ceiling to ease the stiffened muscles of his neck. Then he looked at the clock: 3:15 A.M. He yawned, got to his feet, switched off the lights, and went down the hall to his bedroom.”

To introduce the story Ellery Queen informs readers, “A generation or so ago, when this story was first published, an author was not permitted to refer in print to a woman’s legs—they had to be called “limbs”. . .” Even in a magazine called Saucy Stories?!?!?

(Image from Mike Hubert’s Dashiell Hammett website.)

Incident, as in trouble

“Incident at the Bar W” by Robert Turner first appeared in the digest Gunsmoke #2, August 1953. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The sun was getting low and Esther was out in back of the house, pouring sour milk into the hog trough, when she saw the first rising of dust, several miles southward, across the rolling range. She straightened, sucking in her breath and dropping the wooden bucket. Her hands flew to her hair, glinting yellowly in the late sun, hanging tumbled and loose about her shoulders.”

Turner (1915–1980) wrote under the pseudonyms Ken Murray, Franklin Villa, Glenn Wood and house name Roy Carroll. His stories appeared in Mike Shayne, Pursuit, Manhunt, Chase, Verdict and many other titles. Assuming it’s the same “Robert Turner,” he also wrote the collectable Gunsmoke hardcover based on the television series for Whitman Publishing in 1958.

Top flight fiction

Black Mask, November 15, 1923

“The Second-Story Angel” by Dashiell Hammett first saw print in Black Mask, November 15, 1923. It was reprinted in Ellery Queen’s final digest-sized Hammett collection, Mercury Mystery #233, February 20, 1962. Here’s the opening line:

“Carter Brigham—Carter Webright Brigham in the tables of contents of various popular magazines—woke with a start, passing from unconsciousness into full awareness too suddenly to doubt that his sleep had been disturbed by something external.”

Image from Sean Levin and Win Scott Eckert’s Crossover Universe.

Dirk Clinton’s Angry Giants

Ed Emshwiller’s illo for “Planet of the Angry Giants” SSF Aug. 1959

Writing as Dirk Clinton, Robert Silverberg’s novelette “Planet of the Angry Giants” debuted in Super-Science Fiction August 1959. Here’s the opening line:

“Commander Laurence Burke, who headed the Terran colony on the Planet of Dunhill V, was a small man, as Earthmen went: he was a wiry figure no more than five feet six inches tall, with hardly an ounce of superfluous fat on his body.”

Another Silverman pseudonym, Eric Rodman, is also onboard the issue with another tale of terror, “Monsters That Once Were Men.”

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Bill Gulick’s Courting Feud

December 31, 1949 with Bill Gulick’s “Danger High Tension”

“Fresh from his Saturday evening bath, and dressed in his best courting clothes, Judd Kimbrough reached for a brush to give his curly blonde hair a final lick. Ping! Like a shot, a button flew off his skin-tight pink silk shirt and bounced against the bureau mirror. Swearing, Judd pawed for it.”

That’s the opening paragraph of Bill Gulick’s “The Courting Feud” from Gunsmoke August 1953.

Bill was one of the issue’s six writers with a short bio on the inside back cover’s “Roundup.” Here’s what editor John McCloud wrote:

Bill Gulick has been scribbling for a living for some thirteen years, during which time he’s published a hundred or so shorts, serials, etc. in several dozen magazines from Western pulps to adventure mags, women’s mags, ‘The Saturday Evening Post and what-have you.’ He’s also done a couple of books for boys, and a couple of Western novels, the first of which was made into a movie retitled Bend Of The River. He further adds, ‘As hobbies I do a bit of vegetable gardening (which my agent deplores) and dabble in amateur theatricals (also a time-consumer, but we can’t work all the time, can we?). I’m game for anything that keeps me away from the typewriter—as what writer isn’t?’”

(Image from Galactic Central.)