Apr 19 2010 9:33am

OK, where do I start with that? A.

initialThere’s a question that frequently gets asked on my posts here, and it’s: “Where should I start with [that writer you just mentioned]?” I’ve answered it more than once for some writers when I’ve written about a lot of their books. It seems that it might be worth listing good places to start. I’m going to do a series of posts covering this in alphabetical order, and I’d like you to add authors I don’t mention, with good places to start, but only as I reach the right letter, to keep it easy for people to find in future. (A complete index of these posts is here.) Oh, and as always feel free to argue if you disagree with me.

Edwin Abbott has begun my bookshelves for many years now. I only have one book of his, and it’s Flatland a whimsical book about geometric planes.

Daniel Abraham, on the other hand, is a fairly new addition to my shelves. Begin with A Shadow in Summer.

Douglas Adams is famous for writing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series, novelizations and eventually movie. But my favourite book of his, and where I’d suggest readers new to him start, is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Richard Adams is a no brainer. Start with Watership Down. Then stop.

Joan Aiken wrote a lot of whimsical children’s stories, and a lot of gothics, and some sequels to Jane Austen. I’d suggest starting with The Serial Garden for the children’s stories, any gothic you can find (none of them are in print) and leaving the Austen sequels alone.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women. Well, what did you expect me to say?

Poul Anderson: Anywhere. There are some books I like more than others, but he doesn’t really vary in quality very much, not does he write series that have to be read in order.

Isaac Asimov: Foundation. Or any short story collection. Or any science essay collection. Or his autobiography.

Margaret Atwood: The Robber Bride. Or The Handmaid’s Tale.

St. Augustine: The Confessions, definitely. City of God is offputtingly long.

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations. I’m informed on good authority that the ideal place to read this is in McDonalds in Paris.

Jane Austen: Persuasion. Lots of people would say Pride and Prejudice, but that’s my least favourite.

Please add your own A authors with good places to start. Oh, and you’re right: I don’t own any Piers Anthony. But if you really want to read him, start with Steppe. I loved that when I was twelve.

Index | B »

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.

Rob Munnelly
1. RobMRobM
Piers Anthony - I like his early, out of print books, especially Macroscope and the Omnivore series. Mindbendingly and (re Macroscope in particular) mindblowingly clever. I'd love to see you find Macroscope and give it a read and review. It was nominated for a Hugo in 1969 and deserved it.

EDIT - Available at the store but the write up is horrible. Focus of the story (but unmentioned in the boring write up) is on an apparently failed special program to breed and train geniuses that was, in fact, not a failure at all - and how some of those graduates interact with a found piece of powerful alien technology.

On the guilty pleasure side, the first Xanth book -A Spell for Chameleon is well done and lots of fun, more in YA way than for adults. Very good set up: a teen dubbed the "spell-less wonder" subject to exile in a world of magic learns he has Magician-caliber (strongest possible) magic -- if he can just figure out what it is. Less fun as the series continues and the magical jokes and related puns get attenuated (although books 2 and 3 aren't bad either).

I also read a lot of Brian Aldiss in my youth but I can't remember any of them.

Lloyd Alexander for YA fantasy - the Prydain series is one of my favorites of all time.

Re Austen, P and P and Persuasion are tied as my favorites.
Ruth X
2. RuthX
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen. But I don't know if people should start there. It was written later, the style's a bit different and a bit sadder. I'd say start with P&P or S&S. Then read Persuasion. Then Mansfied Park & Emma. Then Northanger, but recognizing it as a first novel & a bit of a gothic spoof.

I'm trying to think of other "A" authors who I'd make recommendations about. Must muse on that and come back later if I think of one.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
RobMRobM: My teenage self agrees on Spell for Chameleon but I don't know if I'd like it now.
zaphod beetlebrox
4. platypus rising
Richard Adams is a no brainer. Start with Watership Down. Then stop.

Not even Shardik?

Re:Anthony - did you mean

But if you really want to read him, start with Steppe. I loved that when I was twelve.

or I'm reading too much into it?

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Kingsley Amis, The Alteration

Eleanor Arnason - you did cover her already, didn't you? I've often copied the text/sent the link of her short story "The Grammarian's Five Daughters" to friends not generally interested in sf/f. I find it delightful.
5. snoweel
(Douglas Adams) I can remember a hundred scenes from the Hitchhiker's trilogy but only one or two from Dirk Gently.
René Walling
6. cybernetic_nomad
I would never recommend the first Xanth book to anyone, especially not young girls. It has such a demeaning female character -- either a complete idiot and beautiful, or ugly as sin and a genius -- I want my daughter to grow up not thinking she has to choose between beauty and brains.

On to more positive thoughts:

Robert Asprin: Start with The Bug Wars, but don't expect his best known work (The Myth series, Phule's Company, etc...) to be remotely like it
Rob Munnelly
7. RobMRobM
Jo @3 - I'm going to need to re-read it as well. Lots of sophomoric humor and teen titillation -- and for guilty pleasure purposes I'll need to put them aside. But the magic system is suprisingly well conceived. Bink, Trent and the other main character are appealingly drawn. And, of course, nice payoff at the end re Bink's talent (especially in light of the confusion engendered by the book's title).

Do you know that the store has 102 entries for Anthony and I can name a dozen other books of his I read through the years that didn't make the cut? There are many duplicates but really....

In case anyone has a few days to kill, I strongly recommend the Omnivore series (two of which are at - and, again, the descriptions are terrible in explaining why the books are appealing); and enjoyed both the Battle Circle series (one book - Sos the Rope - at the store; other books might be found in the world elsewhere) and the Cluster series (none at the store). Ah, memories....

Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Platypus Rising: Good catch. Eleanor Arnason -- I'd say start with Ring of Swords or her new collection, which I don't have yet but all her short stories I've read have been brilliant.
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
Oh, man. This would be so much easier if my books were unpacked or at least cataloged. Most of what I can think of has already been mentioned.

Asimov, I think I would recommend his short stories and some of his earlier novels over anything Foundation related. Still, he is something of a must.

Piers Anthony, his early works are interesting, though sometimes a bit too far out for my tastes. As for Xanth, kill it with fire and then nuke it from orbit. Yeesh.

Seconding Lloyd Alexander for YA fantasy. The Prydain books and both Prince Jen and The Iron Ring are all wonderful.

Aldiss has won lots of awards, but never really made much of an impression on me.

Other than that, I don't know. Maybe A just isn't a great letter. Ummm, Apuleius?
10. a-j
Poul Anderson - 'Hrolf Kraki's Saga' and 'The Broken Sword' if you like vikings and norse mythology. Probably best avoided if you don't.

Definately Joan Aitken. Her ghost stories are excellent though hard to find.

Eric Ambler? Not SF/F I know but this site does touch on spy fiction and while 'The Mask of Demetrios' is probably his most famous, I'd suggest 'The Levanter', 'The Intercom Conspiracy' or 'Passage of Arms' for a new bug.
11. a-j
Ah, just seen that you've posted on Poul Anderson. Above written before I'd seen it (I read from top down, don't know why).
12. herewiss13
Not to harp on Piers Anthony, but I've always had a soft-spot for Prostho Plus...if only because it's the only example of xeno-dentistry I've ever seen.
Caroline Kierstead
13. ctkierst
I just started Joe Abercrombie, and quite liked his first book, "The Blade Itself".
Only other 'A' author in my collection that hasn't been mentioned.
14. hapax
Catherine Asaro is often recommended as a good choice for those who want to try SF romance. PRIMARY INVERSION is definitely the place to start; the convoluted politics of her universe make it almost impossible to figure out what is really going on without genealogies and a map. If you can't get your hands on that one, though, CATCH THE LIGHTNING is still somewhat accessible.

I'd add that for Augustine's CONFESSIONS I'd *strongly* recommend Gary Wills' annotated translations. He breaks it up into several books, and I don't think (unfortunately) that they are available as one volume, but they are graceful and crystalline translations, and the introductory essays are marvellous in putting the book into context, and point out the elegance, subtlety, and even humor (really!) in Augustine's style.
15. Kvon
I had Lloyd Alexander and Catherine Asaro on my list too (demetriosx, I have it easy since all my books are listed and sortable on librarything). Start Alexander with The Book of Three (or the set of Prydain Chronicles). I'm not sure where to start Asaro, I keep jumping about in her list.

I like the early Robert Asprin Myth books, starting with Another Fine Myth. I also enjoyed Phule's Company (although not the sequels).

I think a list of Jump the Shark points for various series would be another (and contentious) post.
Declan Ryan
16. decco999
Kevin J Anderson: Start with Book 1 of The Saga of the Seven Suns serial and take it from there. Such tomes are not to everyone's taste, I know, but all seven would be my choice for the proverbial desert island.

And someone must have a Jeffrey Archer favourite, surely. Only read one of his myself.
17. Doug M.
"he doesn’t really vary in quality very much"

Umm. I realize space was short. But... Three Hearts and Three Lions, The Devil's Game, Brain Wave and The Broken Sword, on one hand.

A Game of Empire, Operation Luna, and -- yeah, gotta go there -- The Avatar, on the other.

Doug M.
Alex Brown
18. AlexBrown
Douglas Adams - I'm going out on a limb here and suggesting "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency". It's a great way to get into Adams if you're not heavy-duty SF and not feel overwhelmed by Vogons and Probability Drives. And if British humor is a terrifying thing, this is a good book to get to understand it. If you can handle Dirk, you can handle any Douglas Adams, even his non-SF stuff like "Last Chance to See" and the two "Liff" books. It's what I usually introduce teens to before veering them to "Good Omens", then back to H2G2, then off to Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley, and before they know it they're SF geeks :)
Clark Myers
19. ClarkEMyers
On Poul Anderson I'd agree with anywhere that is there is no standout lure nor anything to bounce of off.

Perhaps with a standing caveat for most genre fans adding that appeals - I suppose that always goes without saying.

I'd expect that some - many? - would find say Ys not to match their taste in SF - as being perhaps over long and a letdown to some at the end - such science fiction fans as readers might never start this particular fantasy and if started might never finish.

Similarly I'd advise against picking a single short. That might well give something to bounce off.

A unique selection from the many many shorts produced over a long time may not be a fair introduction to any writer(?) (shades of a high school textbook collection of readings) though I'd think almost any single author assortment as collected would do.

Tales of the Flying Mountains is perhaps weak but nothing to repel - that is taking a single short haphazardly to evaluate the whole corpus - including say Ander-Saxon - though I might make that a specific suggestion to a certain sort of reader - is not a beginning I would suggest in general.

Still unlike say Mr. Heinlein where I'd begin by saying don't start here or there or there I can't eliminate anything much of Poul Anderson a priori for a general audience.

For Asimov I'd call the as by Paul French books stinkeroos and again find it easier to eliminate than to suggest a unique perfect introduction. After elimination whatever is left will do.
Jo Walton
20. bluejo
Clark, Doug M: I think if someone picks up a random Poul Anderson odds are they'll like it. But I had kind of forgotten that the Ys books, which I read all of one long ago wet weekend, were Anderson, so I'd endorse that -- don't start there, they are atypical.
21. Doug M.
Oh, the Ys books. There was a decent historical fantasy trilogy in there, struggling to get out.

Odds are... probably. I'd just hate to be responsible for some poor fan picking up _The Avatar_, is all.

Doug M.
David Veskadiaga
22. DavidVeska
On my list I also have Neal Asher (his story in YBSF 23, I haven't read his novels; Lynn Abbey (a story from Asprin's Thieves World) and Jean M. Auel's Children of the Earth cycle (I love it).
Ada Kerman
23. momerath
For Joan Aiken, I like Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home - and her longest series starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (this is an alternate history - if I recall, the Jacobite uprising was successful - they are always fighting crazy Hanoverian plots). As well as the Prydain books, a Lloyd Alexander book I love is The First Two Lives of Lucas-Kasha.

My LibraryThing records remind me that cartoonists Bill Amend (Fox Trot) and Scott Adams (Dilbert) come under A also. I'd say one could start anywhere with these comics.
24. reddwarf
no Neal Asher fans out there?
Gridlinked is the first in the series but The Voyage of the Sable Keech is probably the best one that doesn't rely on the prequels.
25. reddwarf
Sorry Dave - your comment didn't show up when I first read the post
Ole Anders Bae
26. OleAnders
Jo, this seems like the sort of series I would like to find later. How about giving it a unique tag? Perhaps "Jo's starting point" or "Author starting point" or something better that you come up with?

On a related note, I notice that your re-reads now are tagged with "re-reads". Which is nice, but how about an additional tag unique to your re-reads? (This would not be much in demand if the search was any good, but when a search for "walton ward" does not turn up your re-read of Stranger at the Wedding, I conclude that search is not well cobbled together.)
Jed Reinert
27. Durandal
Brian Aldiss: Hothouse, Nonstop or Greybeard for stand-alone novels; the Helliconia series if you want something bigger.

Neal Asher: Brass Man isn't a bad place to start.
29. aleistra
Poul Anderson: Anywhere. There are some books I like more than others, but he doesn’t really vary in quality very much,

Are you forgetting Harvest of Stars (which I remember only as being book-hurlingly bad libertarian axe-grinding, with characters stopping midplot to discuss 20th century politics that by then was centuries past), or are you fortunate enough that you haven't read it?
30. herewiss13
I _thought_ I'd posted a comment on Asher, but it's vanished. Gridlinked is good, but I'd go for "The Skinner" rather than "Voyage of the Sable Keech". Either makes a good intro to the Polity Universe.
Jo Walton
31. bluejo
Aleistra: I seem to have a developed terrific ability to blot out books I don't own and didn't much care for. I have a vague memory of thinking it wasn't up to his usual standards.
Jo Walton
32. bluejo
OldAnders: OK, just for you I have inserted a tag "starting points" which I now just have to remember to use... I tend to tag my posts "rereading" rather than "rereads". The best way to find one you remember is to search for a combination of author and title.
Clifton Royston
33. CliftonR
I'd also say Brainwave is one of the best Poul Anderson SF novels to start with, if you want to be told someplace to start. It's a standalone. For fantasy-treated-sort-of-like-SF, Three Hearts and Three Lions or

I agree with the specific Brian Aldiss recommendations too; Nonstop is probably a good starting place, relatively conventional SF, and the Helliconia series if you want something with a huge scope.
Clifton Royston
34. CliftonR
Sorry about the previous; malformed markup.

The end of the first paragraph should have read "or Operation Chaos."

and I had meant to add:

Robert Aickman's short stories of the supernatural deserve a wider readership; the collections Cold Hand in Mine or Painted Devils are excellent places to start, but almost all of his work seems to be out of print.
Tony Zbaraschuk
35. tonyz
Agree that Operation Luna is not Anderson at his best. (I think it falls under "sequels grow bad in proportion to the length of time between original and sequel, with this gap being really long.)

Augustine is good but usually a bit wordy and repetitive. He will make sure you get the point he's trying to make. City of God is really good, but more so in the later parts. Read the first chapter (sack of Rome), skip the whole part where he trashes the Roman gods (unless you're very interested in same -- that section is one of our few lengthy pieces of writing on them, and he quotes Varro at great length, preserving large chunks), and then start about book X-XII and go from there.

Robert Asprin, start with Another Fine Myth and read Myth books until you no longer like them (it's another of those monotonically-decreasing-in-quality series like the Ringworld books). Bug War is sui generis and pretty good.

Robert Adams, where the Horseclans books are good (if wildly non-PC, and not for the gore-phobic) up until about #8; you could start with #1 or #3 but after that read in order.
36. Jim Henry III
As for Poul Anderson, I'd second the disrecommendation of A Harvest of Stars; it's the only one of his books I haven't enjoyed. Tau Zero, Three Hearts and Three Lions, The Dancer from Atlantis and Brain Wave are particularly good.

I enjoyed Richard Adams' Shardik but wouldn't recommend it strongly.

I've enjoyed most or all of what I've read by Aristophanes, but no single play stands out in my memory as better than others.
Alex Brown
37. AlexBrown
CliftonR @ 33: Hmm...I think you need to close your italics in your original post...
38. 'nother Mike
@Hapax? Quite a few Asaro books are available from Baen in ebook formats. Take a look at

Primary Inversion and Sunrise Alley are Baen Free Library Books, which means you don't even have to pay to read them :-) Just download and enjoy.
Rob Munnelly
39. RobMRobM
Aristophanes - Clouds, then Birds, the Lysistrata. Clouds definitely in first place.
40. ofostlic
Although "The Serial Garden" is conveniently in print, I'd actually recommend starting Joan Aiken's children's stories with one of the other collections: "All you ever wanted" or "More than you bargained for". I like the added variety from not just having the Armitage stories, and some of the others are really excellent. 'Long Day Without Water', in particular, wants to be read aloud.
Clifton Royston
41. CliftonR
Milo1313 @ 33:
I'd love to, but that bbCode bracket-slash-i at the beginning of the next post was my best shot at doing so. I think whatever bbCode tag ate the rest of my first paragraph left an open HTML italics tag, and I can't see any way to close it.
(Or did somebody just fix it? Now the posts look OK in preview.)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
42. pnh
Clearly all knowledge is contained on I was going to suggest Garry Wills's translations of St. Augustine, but I see that commenter hapax has beaten me to it at #14. I also recommend Wills' short bio of Augustine, both because a lot of nonsense has been purveyed about Augustine, and also because I'd read a Garry Wills book about asparagus or plumber's helpers.
Alex Brown
43. AlexBrown
You know what, to hell with what she calls herself. I'm gonna put Margaret Atwood on this list, for she may think she's literary but she's most certainly SF, so I'll go with "A Handmaid's Tale" or the "Flood" series.

CliftonR @ 41: Well, it seems to have sussed itself out, so there ya go!
john mullen
45. johntheirishmongol
I think are if you are going to talk about scifi and fantasy, you really need to start with Hans Christian Anderson. There are some excellent collections out there, and how much of the basis of fantasy comes out of his mind?
46. James Warner
Aw c'mon, The Plague Dogs is good too, so is Richard Adams's autobiography.

Paul Auster, The Music of Chance.

Vasily Aksyonov, Generations of Winter.

Alaa Al Aswamy, The Yacoubian Building.

Tamim Ansary, West of Kabul, East of New York.
Nancy Lebovitz
47. NancyLebovitz
Macroscope-- on my most recent reread about ten years ago, I noticed it was creepy about women. It's still impressive big concept sf.

Adam's Maya isn't a complete waste of time. The main character is extremely beautiful, and instead of it being imagination candy for the reader, it has a plausible warping effect on the characters around her.

And a bit about how all religions look hopelessly weird from the outside.

If you like Flatland, check out The Planiverse, a more recent and detailed exploration of the same idea. Strip tectonics! Biology with internal zipper structures because you can't have tubes!
Hypatia James
48. hypatiajames
I adored Piers Anthony as a young adult - read everything I could get my hands on. And my suggestion for where to start is Incarnations of Immortality then stop. Those seven books are the only ones I can still read and enjoy.

And there are positive female role models in the series to boot.
individ ewe-al
49. individ-ewe-al
I don't agree about Joan Aiken; I think the starting place is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Then you have that whole set open to you, besides which it was one of my favourite books as a child. Some of Aiken's stuff is too weird to be really enjoyable, but Wolves is just the right level of atmospheric.

I have only read a couple of her gothics and was generally less impressed with them than the YA fantasy.
50. Tocks Nedlog
Absolutely Brian Aldiss! "Hothouse" is a perfect place to start. Unforgettable.

I find it interesting, and a little bit intriguing, that Jo has neither mentioned him nor commented on others bringing him up. Not a favorite?
51. Elaine Thom
Chiming in with #49, I also wouldn't start Aiken with the _Serial Garden_ unless it was the only one I could find. But it suffers a bit from being all Armitage stories. I like them best sprinkled amongst others. So I'd say grab any 'kids' anthology of Aiken you can find - I have Faithless Lollybird_, Not What You Expected_, Necklace of Raindrops , and... at least two more, somewhere downstairs...

But I think my first Aiken was Black Hearts in Battersea , which I enjoy more than Wolves to which it is a sequel. It's the insoucient attitude, I think. I remember one of the minor characters (a trainee artist) explaining the difficulties of painting in the park in London with hungry wolves around, wtte "you're painting away and suddenly snip, snap, slobber. All your paint water is spilled."

You don't need to have read Wolves, though.

For people who love straight historical fiction, her series which contains Go Saddle the Sea might be the best to start with.

I've also run across some vociferous recommendations elsewhere for starting with the Arabella and Mortimer stories, but when I did pick them up they left me cold. I think I was the wrong age.

BTW, does anyone remember an Aiken story with the magic words being "lancashire hot-pot"? i read it as a child, and cannot find it again. That's how I wound up with so many Aiken collections - I was looking for that one. Not that I object to having the rest, of course.
Paul Andinach
52. anobium
hypatiajames, apparently there's an eighth Incarnations of Immortality book now. This is not, obviously, a recommendation that you seek it out; personally, I intend to run away screaming if I ever find it and myself in the same room.
53. Shannon Turlngton
Thanks for the suggestions! More, please. I'm eagerly awaiting B.
Liza .
54. aedifica
Elaine Thom @ 51, it may have been "Up the Chimney Down" in the collection of the same name, but I'm not certain--it's been a long time since I read it.

@ various, re Aiken: I love having all the Armitage stories in one place in The Serial Garden, but my absolute favorite book of hers is the collection Not What You Expected. I have an old and treasured copy of it. I also agree with various others' recommendation of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or Black Hearts in Battersea as good places to start.
Jo Walton
55. bluejo
Aedifica: Well, my favourite Aiken collection is A Small Pinch of Weather. But that's largely because it contains "The Serial Garden" which is one of my favourite short stories of all time. I don't think I've ever read it without both laughing and crying.
Liza .
56. aedifica
"The Serial Garden" is one of my favorites too, but for me it doesn't quite beat out "A Long Day Without Water" or "Hope."
Rick Rutherford
57. rutherfordr
Orson Scott Card is a no brainer. Start with Enders Game. Then stop.
58. a-j
'A Small Pinch of Weather' is my starting point for Aiken as well though it was 'The Apple of Trouble that was my favourite story originally. 'All You Ever Wanted' in the first Puffin annual was my Aiken introduction. She is possibly my favourite children's author (though Tove Jannson, well, I'll save her for 'J') and while I'm not overly found of the Dido Twite series, I adore her short stories.
59. beket
Oh, happy day! At last I've found someone who likes Persuasion and says P&P is their least favorite. Ditto. LOVE Persuasion. P&P feels like she was still learning her craft. Much of it is just dialogue, and much of that without any indication of who is speaking. For Austen, my vote is Persuasion first. I also like Northanger Abbey, but it helps to know it's a spoof of the gothic genre. Avoid Austen's Juvenalia (sp?), which is humorous in very very small doses but an entire text is tedious (and sadly, some publishers disguise it under various titles, like Lady Catharine).

All the other A authors I thought of were ancient Greeks--

Aeschylus -- the Oresteia (trilogy)-- where someone discovered for the first time you can have two characters on stage at the same time... or was it three? Also lots of social and political issues still applicable to the modern world.

Aristophanes -- Lysistrata. A comedy. About gender roles. Okay, it's the only one by him I've read.

Aristotle - the one where he says characters are secondary to plot... because characters who do nothing are boring. Imagine that. (Sadly, I can't remember which text it was. It'll come to me in the middle of the night.)
David Levinson
60. DemetriosX
Oooh, I should have thought of Aristophanes. Of course, it helps a lot if you know something about the time and place he lived and have a well-annotated edition.

Also in an ancient vein, Apollonius of Rhodes is a decent read. It's probably the best known ancient telling of the voyage of the Argo. You could combine it with a viewing of Harryhausen's Argonauts movie.
Michael James
61. Mpjames
AA Attanasio - Radix. Definitely a keeper.
Evan Jensen
62. eoghanacht
Whoever wrote the email Tor newsletter this week, using that Carbon Leaf quote was the best way to get me to come read this. : ) And it was likewise worth every second spent.

Thanks for all the great advice, Torimites.
David Ratnasabapathy
63. sohcahtoa
Re: Poul Anderson, I'd recommend starting with The Man Who Counts. Available in Baen Webscriptions The Van Rijn Method.

If not that his There Will Be Time is an excellent yarn about a time traveler.
64. beket
What about Anonymous? She wrote quite a bit. Any recommendations there? (The only things I can think of are The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf, neither of which I really liked.)
Jo Walton
65. bluejo
Beket: With dear Anon, so prolific and excellent, I suggest starting with:

O Western wind, when wilt thou blow
And the small rain down can rain.
Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in bed again!

That's where I started reading Anon, and there's hardly a wet morning that I don't think of that. It's in the Faber Book of Children's Verse that I won as a school prize, and at the time I thought it was very daring, not only the sex but with the invocation of Christ that could be swearing.
Paul Andinach
66. anobium
Aeschylus -- the Oresteia (trilogy)-- where someone discovered for the first time you can have two characters on stage at the same time... or was it three?

Three. There's that very dramatic moment at the climax of part two where Orestes and his mother are arguing about where his duty lies, and Orestes turns to his best friend Pylades for advice, even though Pylades can't possibly answer because both thespians are already occupied and he's just a voiceless extra - and, even so, he answers.
67. David DeLaney
A few more, from looking through my list:

Lynn Abbey - I have a lot by her, and like her (I believe)... but can't pick a "start here" one for her.

Robert (not Richard) Adams - Everything of his I have is in the same series, so start at the very beginning, _The Coming of the Horseclans_.

I don't have anywhere near as many Aiken collections as I'd like, but most of them are a good starting point. One that wasn't mentioned (that I saw) is _Arabel's Raven_.

Lloyd Alexander - _The Book of Three_.

Aaron Allston - _Doc Sidhe_.

_Operation Chaos_ is another possible starting point for Poul Anderson.

Kelley Armstrong - _Bitten_.

68. Leroy F. Berven
Neal Asher: His Shadow of the Scorpion, although one of his most recent volumes, is largely a prequel to the rest of the Cormac/Polity series. It struck me as both more accessible than some of Asher's earlier-written/later-set stories, and less intensely violent than most. (If this one exceeds your violence toleration quotient, you probably won't like the rest of the series.)

Poul Anderson: Second the recommendation for The Man Who Counts, as well as mid-career Flandry stories like The Rebel Worlds and A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, and non-series novels including Three Hearts and Three Lions and The Corridors of Time. Although, even choosing at random, the odds are quite good that you're going to get a story that is at least good enough to show why Poul was (and is) so well respected a craftsman, and very often an immensely satisfying read indeed.
Paul Andinach
69. anobium
Lynn Abbey - I have a lot by her, and like her (I believe)... but can't pick a "start here" one for her.

On the basis that any suggestion is better than no suggestion, I nominate her Catwoman novel, especially for anyone who likes the sort of realistic approach the recent movies have taken to the Batman milieu.
70. filkferengi
Sarah Addison Allen--Garden Spells

Ruth M. Arthur--(far too) long out of print, but fun YA, often with echoes from the past
71. fizzchick
Second (third?) the recommendation of Black Hearts in Battersea as more engaging to a new Aiken reader than Wolves of Willoughby Chase. As for Lloyd Alexander, though I love The Book of Three, I think I might recommend starting with the Westmark Trilogy instead. It should be read more than it is.

Asimov: The Foundation novels drive me nuts. I'd start with any of the short story collections. Caves of Steel is my favorite novel, but a bit harder to jump into.
72. affreca
Only one on my shelves that I haven't seen listed here:
Ash, Sarah - has two intertwined series. I recommend starting with the first book of the first trilogy, Lord of Snow and Shadows.
73. janetl
bluejo @ 65: That poem is permanently engraved in my mind, too.

Atwood: My current favorite it is her "The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus". The Odyssey is quite different from Penelope's point of view.

Margery Allingham. Technically you should start the Campion books with "The Crime at Black Dudley", but since they don't make all that much sense, you can really start anywhere. British country house sleuth nonsense. Frothy entertainment.

Catherine Aird. Another British mystery writer. Better writer than Allingham. This has prompted me to look up her books and discover -- to my delight -- that there are quite a few that I've never read.
74. HelenS
Re Aiken, you lot are all mad (oops, except for individ-ewe-al). The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the obvious place to start and a fabulous book. (I will admit I am not much of a short story reader, so while I like the short stories I would never put any of them first, however brilliant.)

Though really my favorite Aiken is _The Whispering Mountain_, which reads like a sequel, but isn't one as far as I know.
Nathaniel Smith
75. njs
Catherine Asaro: I want to like these, but I read Primary Inversion and the prose, well, made my teeth hurt. OTOH, it was a first novel -- do they get better?

Sarah Ash perhaps deserves a mention -- I've only read the series beginning with Lord of Snow and Shadows, but it was quite fascinating (though a difficult read at times) for the way it followed through on the occasionally grotesque consequences and choices engendered by its magic and epic fantasy setting.
76. Elaine Thom
Though really my favorite Aiken is _The Whispering Mountain_, which reads like a sequel, but isn't one as far as I know.

Yes, it does seem as if there should have been a previous 'adventures of Owen and Arabis", doesn't it?

But as far as I know, and I've not read nearly all Aiken ( she wrote a lot) it only links up to the Wolves series, rather tangentially. Owen's father is the sea captain who brings Dido back to England. And Owen is seen briefly at the coronation in The Cuckoo Tree .

I love both tWM and tCT.
77. qiihoskeh
Nobody's mentioned Paul(ine) Ash(well)'s excellent _Unwillingly to Earth_ by! Her other SF book is pretty good too.

As for Piers Anthony, most of the early Xanth (i.e. the first 23 books) is astonishingly good, if in part because he takes a bunch of writing don'ts and makes them work. It's definitely not a young person's series (except for all the lame puns, most of which were suggested by young persons). I like the first 6 Incarnations (while noting that #4 seemed dull and #3 a confusing soap opera -- but I suspect I might have that reaction to Murasaki's opus as well) and hate the 7th, and PA himself has said #8 isn't up to par.

I endorse the suggestions to read Asimov's short stories (same for most golden age writers when Jo gets to the appropriate letters). IMO his most thoughtful novel is _The Currents of Space_.
78. HelenS
What about Margery Allingham? To the best of my recollection, she really first hits her stride with _The Fear Sign_ (_Sweet Danger_), but I could be forgetting something.
Madeline Ferwerda
79. MadelineF
Jon Armstrong: has only written one book so far, _Grey_, but it is a gonzo crazy read that is distinctly worth reading. If you are like "Where has the weird stylism of the 70s gone?!" it has gone to _Grey_ after improving itself.
80. Ouish
For a good introduction to Poul Anderson, I'd recommend the Earth Book of Stormgate collection.

For Piers Anthony, I'd try Chthon. I enjoyed Macroscope, but it's awfully digressive, and I'd have preferred for it to have been boiled down to the length and intensity of Chthon. A Spell for Cameleon is a lot more fun than the subsequent series would suggest and is also a good starting place. There aren't that many good ones in his bibliography, but there are some.
81. goodfellow_puck
I've gotta agree with some of those above...

I read the hell out of second-hand Piers Anthony books when I was a tween and teen, but the older I got, the less I could gloss over the female characters being so damn offensive and ridiculous.

I also would only recommend the Immortality series. I haven't read that in many yrs, but I remember it being the only one that didn't make me annoyed about the bad female themes.
Rob Munnelly
83. RobMRobM
Back to my comment @1. I was at my town's dump the other day, which has a used book drop off/pick up area, and what did I see but a copy of Piers Anthony's Macroscope (1969). So fun to re-read it and see him writing really hard core science-based science fiction. Enjoyed it very much. Hope someone drops off the Omnivore trilogy at some point....

Robert James
84. DocJames
Aristotle, "The Poetics" -- absolutely required reading for the author or critic, even if you disagree (and Silverberg tends to base all his writing on Greek concepts of tragedy, which start here).

As for Asimov, I have come to believe that his nonfiction was simply the best ever produced by an American writer (hell, I may even go so far as to say world writer); his "Asimov's Guide to Science" (3rd edition) got me through most of my science textbooks' poor writing, until I actually understood what they were saying because he explained things so well. His fiction hasn't aged as well as others (Clifford Simak or C.L. Moore/Henry Kuttner's collaborations, for example), for instance), although "I, Robot", the original Foundation trilogy, the first two Robot detective novels (Caves of Steel and...the other one), and "The Gods Themselves" must be read by anybody interested in SF history.
Ben Oldham
85. Engelbrecht
Some names not previously mentioned - Kobo Abe, Steve Aylett, and Apuleius.

Kobo Abe, noted Japanese author, was something of a surrealist existentialist whose work edged into sf and fantasy. His most popular book was Woman of the Dunes (1962), later made into a fascinating movie, but later works such as The Box Man (1973) are more accomplished. Either way, Abe is an author not to be missed.

Steve Aylett is the master of satiric one-liners, but his best work is his earliest work - Bigot Hall (1995) and Slaughtermatic (1997). Don't look for strong plotting when reading Aylett - he's more of an absurdist.

Apuleius wrote the amusing The Golden Ass (late 2nd century), sometimes spoken of as one of the ur-texts of fantasy.

The variety of Poul Anderson favorites is interesting, but perhaps this bears out Jo's original comment about his quality being pretty consistent. For me (with 20 of his books read), my clear SF favorite is Tau Zero (1970). Less representative, but even better are his bleak Norse fantasies - The Broken Sword (1971) and Hrolf Kraki's Saga (1973).
86. Jeff Dougan
The only fiction of Taylor Anderson's that I'm familiar with is the Destroyermen series, my new favorite in the alternate history subgenre. Start at the beginning, with Into the Storm.
87. Deck Deckert
Alma Alexander - start with the "Hidden Queen"/"Changer of Days" books - i fyou like YA read the Worldweavers trilogy - and then go on to "Secrets of Jin Shei" and (if you're lucky and/or British or Canadian) "Embers of Heaven".
Tyler Connolly
88. contyler
Ummm, the Harry Potter series. I'd start them reading at a children's park. If ever I would have coffee at Starbucks, that would be The Lord of the Rings.
Jo Walton
89. bluejo
Contyler: I think you're unclear on the concept.
90. neroden
Wow, another fan of Persuasion!

This means you're a romantic. :-) When I sit down with my analytical hat, I think Sense and Sensibiilty is more interesting, but I also prefer Persuasion.

Piers Anthony: _Prostho Plus_. All the clever humor which makes him popular, with very little of the ick factor.

Ben Aaronovitch: Sorry, his best work is Doctor Who tie-in fiction, and it's all grotesquely continuity-heavy. I wouldn't start with any of his standalones and I wouldn't start with any of his tie-ins. Good author... but hmm.

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