Consciousness must start from somewhere, or be triggered by something. The science is contested, but gives us some paradigms and suggestions of what could be the hallmarks and drivers of sentience. We relate these to examples by Calvino showing the emergence of purpose, Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrating the influence of reflection and associative learning on independence of mind and Tchaikovsky’s superspiders as emerging social cognition. We move on to examples of the power of inner narrative and metaphor to awaken AI from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Catherynne Valente’s Silently and Very Fast. Finally, we find further triggers to consciousness in Stanislaw Lem’s automaton and Greg Egan’s synthetic humans.