OK, where do I start with that?

OK, where do I start with that? M

This week in the ongoing series of good places to start reading we reach M, which turns out to be a remarkably prolific letter for science fiction and fantasy writers. I have no idea why. Is it because it’s half-way through the alphabet? Is it because of all the Scottish and Irish influence?

This is a set of personal recommendations, done by me looking along my bookshelf. Please add authors I have forgotten, neglected, or never read, with your own starting points for them. Or if you disagree with me, or with each other, about where is a good place to start, please don’t hesitate to post that—for someone coming new to a writer, knowing why people think some starting points are better than others can be very useful.

My M shelves begin with a large block of Rose Macaulay, an English writer of the mid-twentieth century who write historical and contemporary novels. Definitely start with The Towers of Trebizond, which begins ‘“Take my camel, dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.’ It’s moving as well as funny, and it’s largely about a trip to Turkey in the 1950s.

R.A. MacAvoy—she’s written a lot but do start with Tea With the Black Dragon (post).

Anne McCaffrey—I think I’d still say what I’ve always said, which is start with Dragonflight

I’ve only ever read one book by Mary McCarthy, The Group. It wasn’t the first book I read about people going to university and having fun, but it was the first one where the people were girls, and that meant a lot to me at the time. I originally read it from a school library, and bought this copy a long time ago. This was also one of the first books I read set in the US that wasn’t either historical or science fiction.

Jack McDevitt—start with A Talent For War.

My old George MacDonald books seem to have been visited by the sexism fairy and the Victorian sentimental morality fairy, but when I was a kid I loved The Princess and the Goblin.

With Ian Macdonald you could start at the beginning with Desolation Road (post) or you could start with one of his recent brilliant books like River of Gods.

Ian McEwan is a British mainstream writer. Start with Atonement, which is about what it’s possible to say and not to say in fiction.

Maureen McHugh is one of my favourite writers. Start with China Mountain Zhang (post).

Vonda McIntyre, definitely start with the award-winning Dreamsnake.

It’s difficult to say where to start with Robin McKinley. How about The Hero and the Crown? (post)

Ian Macleod—I haven’t read his Clarke Award-winning latest novel, but I’ll probably pick it up when I’m in the UK. I started reading him with his short fiction, which I think is outstanding, so how about the collection Breathmoss?

Ken Macleod—now that’s an interesting question. We once had a thread on rec.arts.sf.written about MacLeod reading order that went on for months. Start with the Fall Revolution books, and start them with… The Stone Canal. No, read them in any order you want as long as you read The Sky Road (post) last. Or you could start with Cosmonaut Keep (post).

George R.R. Martin—well, nobody would want to start an unfinished series, so you’d do much better to start with The Armageddon Rag (post) or Dying of the Light (post). Or if you want to start the series, it begins with A Game of Thrones (post).

Anita Mason—start with Bethany or The Illusionist. The Illusionist is about Simon Magus, a conjuror in the first century BC. Bethany is contemporary, it’s a novel about how cults work, from the inside. Both of these have a positive attitude towards gay people and are immensely readable. 

Lisa Mason—I’ve only read Summer of Love, which is a fantasy novel about hippies.

W. Somerset Maugham—start with Cakes and Ale, it’s far and away his most approachable book. If you really really like it, then read everything else.

Yves Meynard has only published one novel in English, though he’s an award winning author in French—he lives in Montreal and is so completely bilingual that ideas for stories come to him in one language or the other. I hear he has a fantasy trilogy in English that may be coming soon. Meanwhile The Book of Knights is absolutely terrific, it’s a very unusual fantasy.

Walter Miller—either start with A Canticle for Leibowitz or a short story collection. I tend to re-read his short stories more often. Someone should reprint them.

With A.A. Milne, if you’re grown up and have really never read any, you should start with his poetry, because it’s objectively worth good light verse. When We Were Very Young.

Hope Mirrlees actually did write more than just Lud in the Mist, but Lud in the Mist is where any sane person would start. It’s a lovely early fantasy novel.

Nancy Mitford—start with The Pursuit of Love, sometimes bound in one volume with Love in a Cold Climate. I’ve rather gone off the Mitfords recently myself.

Judith Moffett—I started with her short stories. Pennterra seems to be in print and the Hefn books not, so start there.

Sarah Monette—start with Melusine (post).

Most people begin L.M. Montgomery with Anne of Green Gables when they are eight years old. If you didn’t, you may yet enjoy it, or you might enjoy The Blue Castle more—it’s an adult novel.

With Elizabeth Moon there are several potential starting points depending on what you like. The Speed of Dark (post) strikes me as her best novel, or there’s always Once a Hero (post).

Michael Moorcock—again there are lots of potential places to start. If you are not a particular fan of heroic fantasy, which I am not, then I suggest Behold the Man, or the astonishing Pyat books (begin with Jerusalem Commands) or this excellent collection of his outstanding short fiction.

Ward Moore wrote the classic US Civil War alternate history novel Bring the Jubilee.

Daniel Keys Moran—the first one is Emerald Eyes, but you might do better to start with The Long Run which is a better book.

Chris Moriarty, one of the best new writers of this century—start with Spin State.

Jan Morris is mostly a writer of travel books and historical travel books, but Last Letters From Hav is travel writing about an imaginary place.

I think one of the best places to begin with James Morrow would be his novel The Last Witchfinder, and another would be the collection Bible Stories for Adults.


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.

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