People are always asking where they should start reading particular authors. This series of posts working their way through the alphabet as represented by my bookshelves, is an attempt to answer those questions. The popular “A” list can be found here, and the full alphabetical index is here. Please comment to add any B writers that I may have missed, and of course to argue with my choices.
I’m linking to my posts on the books where I have made such posts.
My B shelf begins with a disturbingly large number of copies of Destinies, a paperback SF magazine edited by Jim Baen in my own personal golden age of the late seventies and early eighties. How I loved it and waited eagerly for new copies to arrive in the bookshop! There doesn’t seem much point recommending it now—but if you happen to see copies lying around it’s still worth picking up for the Spider Robinson reviews (lacerating books most people have now forgotten) the Pournelle essays on space futures and technology, the stories from new exciting authors like Orson Scott Card and established favourites like Anderson, Le Guin, Pohl, and Sheckley. Start randomly, but if I had to pick one it’s the copy dated Fall 1980, with part of Heinlein’s Expanded Universe. I put my hand on the blue spine of that issue unhesitatingly, with a little thrill even now. But maybe you had to be fifteen.
Iain Banks: The Crow Road, definitely, far and away the best of his mainstream books.
Iain M. Banks: The same person, incidentally, but he uses the M for SF. Where to start Banks is something you can reasonably argue. He started the Culture series with Consider Phlebas, which I do not like. I started with Use of Weapons, which is phenomenally brilliant but also deeply disturbing. I think perhaps the best place to start is Against a Dark Background, which is a standalone novel set in an old old civilization in one very isolated solar system. It showcases his worldbuilding and society building and his way of writing. It’s really Shelley’s Ozymandias on a larger and more science fictional scale.
John Barnes: Well, either A Million Open Doors or Orbital Resonance. Barnes is a terrific writer who can make anything seem immediate and important, which is great except when he writes about really nasty things.
Greg Bear is a hard SF ideas writer, and nothing shows his form better than his short stories. This volume includes “Blood Music” the story that caused my husband to become a geneticist. At novel length Moving Mars seems to me a good place to begin, great terraforming, unexpected science, and a fast moving plot.
Alfred Bester wrote two awesome classic science fiction novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination aka Tiger, Tiger. Or you could start with his short stories, collected as Virtual Unrealities, which again are classics. Bester’s futures seldom feel dated.
Terry Bisson is one of the very best of working science fiction writers, but he’s under-appreciated and I have no idea why. Start with either A Fire On the Mountain or the collection Bears Discover Fire. Or Talking Man, which is an American fantasy of the kind of which there is so little.
James Blish: Again this is one where there could be a lot of legitimate argument. I suggest A Case of Conscience. If you like The Sparrow, or if you hate The Sparrow but think the theological issues are interesting, do read A Case of Conscience. The other good place to start Blish is with the much lighter Cities in Flight.
L.M. Boston: Start at the beginning with The Children of Green Knowe. This is an odd British children’s book about a house and a family and ghosts and a walking statue and the way time works. I often re-read it at Christmas. The later ones in the series are much less good.
Marion Zimmer Bradley: definitely Hawkmistress.
Gillian Bradshaw writes historical fiction which sometimes oozes over into fantasy. My favourite of hers is The Beacon at Alexandria, which would just barely count as fantasy except that the correct prophecy happens to be historically attested.
David Brin: Sundiver. A thoroughly enjoyable mystery on a trip to the sun, with great aliens and introducing the Uplift universe.
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights. Duh.
Mildred Downey Broxon: Too Long a Sacrifice. This must have been vastly overprinted because for years you could find large piles of it in every remainder bookshop in Britain, and I eventually gave in and bought it. It’s a fantasy about two people from ancient Ireland who come out of a magic lake in modern (1970s) Ireland and get involved with terrorism.
John Brunner. Brunner wrote a lot, and some of it is fairly slight. I’d start with either Stand on Zanzibar, 1969 Hugo winner, set this year in an overpopulated future or The Shockwave Rider which prefigures cyberpunk and invents the concept of computer viruses before there were modern computers.
Lois McMaster Bujold: I’ve got to go with Shards of Honor.
Emma Bull: Bone Dance.
Anthony Burgess: Probably most people start with A Clockwork Orange, but I strongly recommend Earthly Powers.
Most of A.S. Byatt will appeal to genre readers, but definitely start with Possession.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.