Last night at dinner we were talking about the first episodes of TV series, many of which are quite dreadful. There is much to be done in that first 30 or 60 minutes, which are, of course, nowhere near 30 and 60 minutes with commercials. Introductory information can often result in a very tedious, connect-the-dot-like experience as one character after another appears, someone says his or her name, and something has to happen to identify what he or she is doing there and what they have to do with whatever it is that's supposed to be happening in front of us.
I immediately thought of the openings to books. They're incredibly important for reasons similar to those TV opening episodes. They can be just as clunky, too, with one character after another appearing, his or her name being said by someone else or worked into a narrative that may sound clunky to our reader's ear. It can take a very long time for a reader to be brought up to speed.
I happened to have just started reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Cinder takes Cinderella and places her in a futuristic cyberpunk world. The first paragraph begins "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted..." The last sentence in that paragraph includes a reference to Cinder's "prosthetic steel hand." First line in second paragraph: "Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket."
Immediately--and I mean immediately--you know the kind of environment you're dealing with, and you have a Cinderella reference to a foot. There's no first-person narrator telling you all kinds of information that you need to know in order to accept the story's premise. You are just there, in the story.
I can't recall the last time I got into a science fiction story so rapidly. I don't know how I'll feel by the time I get to the last chapter, but the first one was very impressive.