Apr 25 2010 11:00am

OK, where do I start with that? B.

initialPeople 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.

Lloyd Biggle Jr: Either Monument of The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets. These are old fashioned science fiction, short, to the point, funny, and clever.

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.

Anne Bronte: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Though maybe I should read Agnes Grey again because I might not have been old enough for it.

Charlotte Bronte: I can’t believe anybody wouldn’t say Jane Eyre, but I fully expect comments arguing the superior virtues of Villette.

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.

Steven Brust: Jhereg or Agyar. Or for creators of any kind, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. All links are to my posts.

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.

Octavia Butler: Wild Seed. Except for mainstream readers who will get on better with Kindred.

Most of A.S. Byatt will appeal to genre readers, but definitely start with Possession.

« A | Index | C »

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.

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
You forgot a really obvious B: Ray Bradbury! I'd start with his earlier work and stay away from when he starts writing what are almost self-pastiches. His short works are best (Martian Chronicles, S is for Space, R is for Rocket), but one or two of his longer works are also good (Farenheit 451, of course, and Something Wicked This Way Comes).

Gillian Bradshaw also wrote a really nice semi-historical/semi-Malorian Arthur series. Start with Hawk of May.

Definitely Sundiverfor David Brin, but also Earth if you're more into large-scale, multiple viewpoint narratives.

John Barnes: I quite liked his Timeline Wars trilogy and Mother of Storms.

Steve Barnes is probably best known for his collaborations with Niven and sometimes Pournelle, but his work in the last decade or so has really matured into something impressive. Lion's Blood is very good.

Octavia Butler should be on this list, too, but I'm really not familiar enough with her work to suggest a starting point.
2. mdunnbass
I've always wanted to know where best to start with Ben Bova?
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
Oh wait. Now I see you did include Octavia Butler. My mistake.

Gregory Benford: I'm not a big fan of his Galactic Center stuff, but I did like Timescape (I went to UCSD, so there's a connection there for me) and Artifact.
4. Susan Loyal
Elizabeth Bear. Start with Undertow, which is classic SF, other planet with aliens. If you like it, then read her first SF trilogy Hammered/Scardown/Worldwired. I loved the trilogy, but Scardown is far better than Hammered, and you really have to read Hammered to get to it. I'd suggest starting her fantasy with New Amsterdam. She really never does the same thing twice, so in a sense you're starting every time you pick up something by Elizabeth Bear.

I'd also vote for starting Gillian Bradshaw with Hawk of May. It looks like it will be reprinted in September. And when I looked that up, I found a new historical, published last November, titled London in Chains. Must go buy . . .
5. Lynnet1
I personally started Brin with Startide Rising, which I thought was a great place to start. I've never read Sundiver or Earth, though.

With Bujold, I recommend that women start with Shards of Honor and that guys start with The Warrior's Apprentice. If the person is into theology or religion I recommend that they begin with The Curse of Chalion.

Authors you didn't mention:

For Jim Butcher I recommend that people start with Storm Front, and warn them that the books don't start to get great until the 3rd book.

Does anyone have any recommendations for where to start with Kage Baker or James Blaylock?
6. Susan Loyal
Kage Baker. I'd start at the beginning of the Company novels with In the Garden of Iden.

I started James Blaylock with The Knights of the Cornerstone, when it came out last year, and then I started trying to find everything else as used books, since much of his work is not currently in print. It worked well enough.

There are too many Bs! Holly Black. Start with Tithe.
David Levinson
7. DemetriosX
I would start Blaylock with The Digging Leviathan. It's one of the few books that I've ever wished I could completely forget having read, so I could read it for the first time again. It may or may not help to have read Tim Power's Anubis Gates first.
8. Susan Loyal
I am becoming very old and forgetful. Peter S. Beagle. Start with the short stories. I suggest either Mirror Kingdoms or We Never Talk about My Brother. (There are two strongly held positions on the novels. Many would suggest beginning with The Last Unicorn. I'm the other school: definitely start with The Folk of the Air.
9. JV Mallory
Chaz Brenchley - I would start with the Outremer saga (first book - Tower of King's Daughter), because it's got really pretty words and great women, and also because it's got several queer love stories.
Ursula L
10. Ursula
For Bujold, unless someone has a dislike for fantasy, I'm inclined to suggest starting with "Curse of Chalion." Later Bujold being generally stronger than early Bujold, and starting with a three book series is less likely to intimidate than a series with a dozen-plus books. Or perhaps even "Paladin of Souls" - it stands alone fine on its own, and Ista is awsome.
11. Daniele A. Gewurz
What about Ballard?
Rob Munnelly
12. RobMRobM
Jo - you missed a few:

Terry Brooks - I read Sword of Shannara back in the day and not much else but he deserves to be in the mix.

Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read everything he wrote back in my teens. Not just Tarzan but John Carter of Mars and Pellucidar as well.

And, of course, L. Frank Baum....

@1 - Bradbury, yes! I like his short pieces better than his novels.

@5 - both men and women should start with Shards of Honor and Barryar - otherwise much of the emotional high points in the later works don't make as much sense.

@10. I'd also stick with Chalion before Paladin - otherwise you don't fully understand the depth of what goes on. (Agree that Ista is very cool.)

Out of genre, how about Peter Benchley's Jaws???? Scared the pants off me as a teen.

Sandi Kallas
13. Sandikal
I think I'd recommend The Postman or The Practice Effect for an intro to David Brin. Sundiver is good, but I'd recommend something that's not part of a huge series first.

For Terry Brooks, I really like Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!. It's a very funny take on the fantasy genre.
Alex Brown
14. AlexBrown
Byatt...ugh...I slogged through "Possession" (and its terrible movie). I've tried reading the newest one - "Children" something? - I just couldn't seem to care enough to check it out.

On a side note, I had for Black History Month we did a display at my library that included a few Butler books and I had a battle with a patron who insisted she didn't belong there because "they didn't write science fiction". I had to pull up her picture on Google Images before she would believe me. Wanted to smack her. And, just to spite her, when we put up the SFF display in a few weeks I'm putting Butler back up.
David Levinson
15. DemetriosX
With Terry Brooks, I'd stay away from Sword of Shannara. I found it terribly derivative. Some of his other stuff isn't bad, but that was very much a first novel and could have used a lot more editing than it had.


You can add some Steve Barnes, too. Then you've got two of them who write it.
16. liontime
Don't see Leigh Brackett.Or Neal Barret Jr. or Stephen Baxter.
Clifton Royston
17. CliftonR
I'd recommend The Paper Grail as the best place to start with Blaylock, but then I haven't yet got my hands on The Digging Leviathan. I just finished Knights of the Cornerstone and Grail is like it but definitely better, to me. I'm trying to hook my wife on it, so I can see how that experiment goes.

Possession is a book people either fall in love with... or don't. (I did, but I've seen it not work for some people.) It is probably the right place to start, in that if you don't like it, you won't like Byatt's other books either and now you know.

The only writers I can think to add, from my collection, are Clive Barker and Marie Brennan.

A number of Barker's horror novels can be viewed as dark fantasy. If you don't mind occasional doses of the grotesque, grim, or bloody, I recommend Coldheart Canyon as being at or near the top of his form, and also recommend Weaveworld.

Marie Brennan is a fairly recent author and I only have her Midnight Never Come but I liked it: Faerie power struggles in the time of Queen Elizabeth's court.

(Just noticed the previous post - Leigh Brackett, definitely, but is any of her work still in print?)
Clark Myers
18. ClarkEMyers
Busby - anything you run across - perhaps more to be honored as fan than a significant writer.
zaphod beetlebrox
19. platypus rising
J G Ballard - The Crystal World

Fredric Brown - Collected Short Stories
Clark Myers
20. ClarkEMyers
Not so much the best lure for the given author as the ones to read if you're reading only one.

Ballard - Empire of the Sun
Bates - Farewell to the Master for completists
Bixby - It's a Good Life
Nelson Bond - anything not so much worth great efforts to find as important to the development of the field.
Fredric Brown - Arena - bearing in mind this is the original for much
Boucher/White The Quest for St Aquin
Budrys - Rogue Moon - worth finding - other writings might be as good or better an introduction - I liked the man - including his criticism.
Burgess - well worth getting beyond the genre work and reading as well as seeing the movie - but see the movie if nothing else.
Bulmer - anything on the library or used book store shelf is an adequate introduction - nothing I think is worth searching for but a writer I enjoyed in my youth and when he was active
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
I'd say for Bradbury -- all of which my son took with him when he moved out so it wasn't on the shelves to remind me -- start with Fahrenheit 451 or the collection R is for Rocket.
22. lynnet1
@12: I actually feel that both men and women should start with The Warrior's Apprentice. I don't think that Shards and Barrayar segue into The Warrior's Apprentice very well. I think they're much stronger as prequel books than as the beginning of the series. I might be biased, though, because I started with The Warrior's Apprentice.

Most of the time when I'm recommending Bujold to women, I'm trying to get middle age women who don't read science fiction to give it a try. So I start them on Cordelia's Honor, which I feel is a much more feminine book.
Mary Aileen Buss
23. maryaileen
Bujold: I started with The Warrior's Apprentice on a friend's recommendation, and it worked very well for me. Shards of Honor is certainly a reasonable place to start, though.

Boston: My favorite Green Knowe book is Treasure...; they're all worth reading, although some are slighter than others. I actually started with River... because that's the one I saw first. The characters are different--although one boy repeats later--so it worked as an alternate entry-point.
David Goldfarb
24. David_Goldfarb
I really have to disagree with Bone Dance for Emma Bull -- I love War for the Oaks and would give it pride of place.

@14 & 15 There's also N.K. Jemisin, who just made a terrific debut with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
25. Kvon
I enjoyed Gael Baudino's Gossamer Axe, which had feminist rock and roll vs the Elves. She became more strident with the following series however.

I unreservedly recommend C. Dale Brittain's series, starting with A Bad Spell in Yurt, except that it's out of print (she has the first book on her website). A funny fresh-out-of-school wizard has to solve a mystery and make moral choices.

For Jim Butcher, skip the first two and start with Grave Peril.

Of the fifteen authors in the initial post that I've read, I started with Jo's suggestions ten times. Not bad. (Although the school system had something to do with the Brontes.)
26. kfazz
Jim Butcher: I'd recommend the Furies of Calderon over the Nightside books. the Codex Alera is a great fantasy series and the later books haven't lost any steam.
27. ofostlic
Emma Bull: It depends on the reader -- for a younger reader I think I'd recommend starting with 'Finder' .

eBear: I would have said 'Carnival' rather than 'Undertow'.

John Barnes: I might recommend starting with 'One for the Morning Glory', just as reassurance that he's not always like whatever it is you read next. The really important thing is not to start with 'Kaleidoscope Century'.
René Walling
28. cybernetic_nomad
For Stephen Baxter, I started with Raft which I think was a good place.

Authors unmentioned so far, but I'm not sure where people should start with them: Robert Bloch, Tobias Buckell
Samantha Brandt
29. Talia
@ kfazz:

Nightside books? You're confusing Jim Butcher with Simon R. Green, I'm afraid.

Butcher writes the Dresden books. I would strongly recommend the Dresden books over the Codex books - In general they're much better, IMHO. (although the Codex books are enjoyable enough).
David Levinson
30. DemetriosX
I agree with Raft for Stephen Baxter, or maybe Anti-Ice if you like steampunk.

For Robert Bloch, I would suggest finding his collected short stories and reading the earliest ones you can find. For my taste, he is better when he's doing weird than when he's doing psychological.
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
For Lawrence Block, The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep. The Evan Tanner books or the Bernie Rhodenbarr, Burglars Can't Be Choosers are good entry points.
Michal Jakuszewski
32. Lfex
For R. Scott Bakker, obviously The Darkness That Comes Before - first book in his series. Tobias Buckell, equally obviously Crystal Rain. As for Marion Zimmer Bradley, I think I would go with The Heritage of Hastur, but several other starting points are equally valid.
john mullen
33. johntheirishmongol
First, I don't know how you can do this list without including Edgar Rice Burroughs. I would start with A Princess of Mars. (Yes, ERB was racist, but if you take in time context, he wasnt that bad)

Brin- I would highly recommend The Uplift War, which is his best book.

Butcher - Both series are very good so start with either beginning with the 1st.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr - All the Colors of Darkness

Bujold - Warriors Apprentice is a good starter
34. ZCam
Can we include YA in the list? Hilari Bell's Farsala trilogy is quite well done. Her other works are simpler, but that trilogy is nicely complex.
Brook Freeman
35. longstrider
Brin: I agree with Sundiver if you are looking at the series. But Earth is the place to start if you want to get a feel for his stand alone books.

Bujold: Do you want SF or F? If SF then Shards. If Fantasy then Curse #10 Ursula is completely wrong on this series more than many others it's far worse to skip the first book. If you read Paladin first you've ruined Curse's mystries for yourself.

I have to agree with the various others that have said War of the Oaks for Bull and One for the Morning Glory for Barnes.
Paul Andinach
36. anobium
J. M. Barrie - anybody want to argue for something other than 'Peter Pan'?

John Bellairs - either 'The Face in the Frost' or 'The House with a Clock in Its Walls'

Barbara Ninde Byfield - the only one I've read so far is 'The Man Who Made Gold'; it would not be a bad starting point.

Algernon Blackwood - I've read two collections of his stories, but I'm not sure I'd recommend either. Both have blurbs praising the story "The Willows", but neither actually contains it...

I believe Lynne Reid Banks has done fantasy, but the only one of hers I've read wasn't. Anybody?
David Goldfarb
37. David_Goldfarb
Tobias Buckell is an easy one: start with his first novel, Crystal Rain.
Liza .
38. aedifica
I would recommend War for the Oaks as a starting point for any potential Emma Bull fan who has spent time in Minneapolis.
David Levinson
39. DemetriosX
Another one I should have thought of earlier is Thomas Bulfinch. He's best known for his Age of Fable, which is more commonly known as Bulfinch's Mythology. But he also wrote Age of Chivalry (Arthurian tales) and Legends of Charlemagne, stories about Charlemagne and his paladins (Roland, Ogier the Dane, and so on). They're available on-line and are often collected together in print.
40. Rowanmdm
Patricia Briggs: Start with either Dragon Bones or Raven's Shadow. Both are the first book in a duology and are really well done. They are fully self-contained stories, but the second book flows naturally from them. I like her stand-alones and duologies a lot more than the urban fantasy series.
41. a-j
George Mackay Brown: better known as a historical novelist, Magnus plays with the idea of time as a tapestry as does Beyond the Ocean of Time. Vinland is a great historical novel about Orkney in the time of the vikings.

Julian Barnes: Arthur & George, a fictionalised account of the Edalji case that Arthur Conan Doyle campaigned over. A great novel and a must for Holmesians.
Samantha Brandt
42. Talia
Oooh, oh oh. Anne Bishop. Start with 'Daughter of the Blood,' first in the wonderful 'Black Jewels' trilogy.
Fabien Roy
43. lokiloki265
Top of your day BluJo. I apologize for barging in on the conversation. I could not find any other way to ask if it would be possible for you to read my novel, Buckyball. I do not know what the protocol is in these matters so I will leave it at that.
Thank you.

Fabien Roy
larry shirk
44. lorenzo
Michael Bishop: Ancient of Days
Marion Zimmer Bradley: Mists of Avalon - This one is (IMNSHO) more powerful than any of the Hastur books, or any of the later Avalon books either.
John Brunner: I'd say start with Shockwave Rider - it's more up-beat than The Sheep Look Up or Stand On Zanzibar - but you should read all three. The only Brunner I would recommend you just pass on is Players at the Game of People - while Brunner has done many distopias where things don't go so well, that one left me depressed.
Jo Walton
45. bluejo
Lokiloki265: You could have sent me a private message. But since you asked here I'll reply here -- I don't review on request, sorry, absolutely not going to happen.
Madeline Ferwerda
46. MadelineF
What are we doing with authors who wrote or have written so far only one major book? Like Max Brooks, who wrote the mixed-bag/fantastic _World War Z_? He technically qualifies for also having written _The Zombie Survival Handbook_ but that wasn't really a novel...
47. CassR
A second on the call for Bova?
Jo Walton
48. bluejo
The Bova book I have most enjoyed is Millennium.
Fabien Roy
49. lokiloki265
Thank you. I couldn't find a private message link.
Have a great day.
50. Shireling
Carol Berg: her fantasy series starting with Transformation

Second the motion of 42 for Anne Bishop and
Daughter of the Blood

Richard Bowes -- Warchild (sadly out of print; not to be confused with the book by Lowachee)

Gillian Bradshaw wrote at least one pure SF book, The Wrong Reflection
51. Shireling
@36 re Barrie: Dear Brutus, aka Mr. Lob's Garden is genre (if you enjoy reading plays) -- not easy to find, however
52. a-j
Not a huge Bova fan, but first I read was Colony and I remember enjoying that. I liked the idea of Mars, but the actual plot irritating.
Jo Walton
53. bluejo
Shireling: The Wrong Reflection is a terrible book, and would be an appalling place to start with Bradshaw, who is an excellent writer of historical fiction and historical fantasy but from the available evidence hopeless at SF. Do not start there whatever you do. If you become a complete Bradshaw fan and have read everything else, then try it.
54. sunjah
Jo@53: Would you include Bradshaw's Dangerous Notes when you say she is hopeless at SF? The science isn't bad, and I wonder what you think of the story. I am perhaps blinded by my love for stories about brain damage and identity.
55. aleistra
For those recommending Earth as a place to start with Brin: has it aged well? I read it not long after it came out, and enjoyed it a lot, but has it suffered as near-future SF so often does?

(Personally, I started with Startide Rising and would recommend it; in my head, Sundiver is a prequel and I always have to remind myself that it actually was written first.)
56. Shireling
(whispers) But I loved The Wrong Reflection -- thought it was a very satisfying SF novel.

Considering that everything in this discussion is an opinion, could we perhaps leave words like "terrible" and "appalling" out of it?
Jo Walton
57. bluejo
Shireling: I didn't mean to cast aspersions on your taste. I found it extremely disappointing. I still hold that it's a terrible place to start with Bradshaw.
58. R. Emrys
Bujold: I've never thought of the distinction as men and women, though I suppose it could be. I would give Shards to someone who thinks of themselves as a parent, or is solidly settled in their career, and Apprentice to someone who hasn't yet crossed those thresholds. Or, alternatively, Shards to someone who is finally giving in to my "This is the best series ever" prodding, and Apprentice to someone who needs, right now, to be convinced that life is worth living and they haven't screwed up all their options forever. They'll have to go back and read the Cordelia books before starting Brothers in Arms, but the situation is usually less urgent by that point.

Why, yes, I do prescribe books medicinally. Doesn't everyone?
59. beket
I would add--

Boethius _Consolation of Philosophy_ -- it helps with Chaucer when we get to C.

Aphra Behn- the only thing I've read by her is _Oroonoko_ which I would NOT recommend (generally viewed as an anti-slavery text-- and later stage adaptations did help the anti-slavery movement in England-- its real theme is probably the divine right of kings as it was written on the eve of the Glorious Revolution). She is given credit for being the first woman to earn her living by writing in England. Can anyone recommend something ELSE by her?

Thank you for the Anne Bronte recommendation. I love CB's _Jane Eyre_ (I would avoid _The Professor_) but hate EB's _Wuthering Heights_ (but it might help to think of some characters as vampires).

There is another B author... or at least I think his name starts with a B (it may be his middle name). A South American writer of fantasy whose name I don't know. Hopefully, someone knows whom I'm talking about and can recommend a good starting point.
David Levinson
60. DemetriosX
@59 beket

You're probably thinking of Jorge Luis Borges, who definitely ought to be on the list. Unfortunately, I have no idea what a good starting point would be. Anybody?
61. beket
@60 Thank you. That sounds right, as when I've heard the name before, my first thought is usually, "Wasn't he a piano player?"

One other comment-- I LOVED Byatt's _Possession_ (but hated her _Angels and Insects_). I think it is one of the great novels of the 20th Century, but it can be difficult, and I can understand some readers not liking it.
62. Jim Henry III
For James Blaylock, I'd probably recommend starting with The Last Coin, but any of his novels from that period would be good starting points -- they're all stand-alone and all very good. I think his later period, from Night Relics onward, is also good, but less likely to hook people on his work. His earliest books are an invented-world fantasy trilogy, less good than his later stuff but still fun. Don't start with Winter Tides, but read it if you like his other later, darker novels. His short stories are fun, but less excellent than his novels.

Jorge Luis Borges: I'd suggest starting with Labyrinths, which is a very strong collection, though it doesn't have all of his best. John C. Wright has been writing a series of reviews of his best short stories on his Livejournal, some with links to available online versions.

For Michael Bishop, Ancient of Days is good, or Count Geiger's Blues or No Enemy but Time.

For Kage Baker, I'd suggest starting with the short stories in Black Projects, White Knights. In the Garden of Iden is the first novel in the Company series, and probably essential for fully understanding the later books, but I think it much less good than some of the later books. I haven't read much of her stand-alone work.

For Leigh Brackett, I'd suggest starting with the collection The Best of Leigh Brackett. Her novel The Starmen is quite good. I haven't read much by her. Haffner Press has been doing a reprint collection series, but I suspect that, as with other chronological "Collected Stories of so-and-so" series, no single volume would be a good place to start sampling her work.

No one's mentioned Ernest Bramah. I quite enjoyed Kai Lung Unrolls his Mat and The Moon of Much Gladness. The Wallet of Kai Lung is the first of that series, but I found it less good than the later ones, and it's not a series where reading order matters much, IIRC.
alsafi khayyam
63. alsafi
A small warning might ought to be noted on the Ernest Bramah mentioned above, though--like Burroughs, he's very much a man of his time. I'm having real trouble getting through The Wallet of Kai Lung, not because the writing or stories are bad, but due to the author's blithe racism.
S. L. Casteel
64. castiron
Frances Hogdson Burnett: The Secret Garden or A Little Princess are traditional starting places, but I'd actually recommend one of her books for adults, like That Lass O' Lowrie's. Or The Shuttle, if I find it as powerful a book on reread as I did on first read. (And while it has many weaknesses, A Lady of Quality is a great deal of fun.)
65. daharyn
@59: For Aphra Behn, start with The Rover, The Feigned Courtesans, or "The Disappointment" (poem).
66. Charlie Butler
Francis Bacon. Not the Essays, which are tedious and don't hold a candle to Montaigne, and certainly not New Atlantis. I'd go for the Advancement of Learning.

Roland Barthes. Mythologies - all downnhill from there...

William Blake. I guess the Songs of Innocence and Experience, but if you want to dip your toe into the long prophetic books, I recommend starting with Milton.

Sir Thomas Browne. Probably Religio Medici, but for those much possessed by death, go for Urn Burial. The Garden of Cyrus is beautiful, but hardcore - Browne's Silmarillion.

James Boswell. His first London journal. Irresistible.

Mary Butts (an underrated author IMO). I think Armed with Madness is her most accessible and characteristic long book, but there are some wonderful short stories.

For my own books (of course!) I'd suggest starting with The Fetch of Mardy Watt.
67. melopoeia
If you *hated* "Mists of Avalon", both for the seemingly gratuitous sex (not all of it was gratuitous, but much was) and all that mother goddess stuff, is "Hawkmistress" still worth a read? I read "Mists of Avalon" all the way through, hated it with a passion, proceeded to watch "Monty Python and The Holy Grail", and never read her again. I'm wondering if I did something incorrectly.
Stephanie Leary
68. sleary
Poppy Z. Brite: perhaps better known for her vampire work years ago, but her more recent non-SF series about chefs in New Orleans is brilliant (as PNH and TNH have noted). Begin with Liquor.

To disagree with Rowanmdm @40, I think Patricia Briggs's Moon Called is one of the best examples of modern urban fantasy, whereas her traditional fantasy did absolutely nothing for me.

For YA, Holly Black's trilogy beginning with Tithe is excellent.
Nathaniel Smith
69. njs
Re: Kage Baker: I started with Black Projects, White Knights, and am a bit disappointed that I did -- a major part of the joy in the main-series Company books is the slow unfurling of the metaplot, and BPWK contains spoilers for that. So if you just want a taste to find out if you'll like it before committing to a long series, then BPWK might still be the right choice, but there's an argument for leaving it until later. I might actually recommend starting with Sky Coyote -- it's technically book 2, but the first few books are almost independent of each other, and it's true that In the Garden of Iden isn't as suck-you-in as the later ones...

Re: Patricia Briggs: I also like the urban fantasy stuff, and Moon Called is very good, but I have to agree that esp. Raven's Shadow + sequel is one of the best fantasies I've read in ages. It probably depends on the person where to start; I can imagine situations where I'd even recommend Hobb's Bargain, because while less mature than some of her later works, it's one of the books I most enjoy snuggling up with.
Jo Walton
70. bluejo
Melopoeia: I hate The Mists of Avalon myself, and I say yes.

With Kage Baker, definitely In the Garden of Iden and take them in order from there for the full unfolding.
71. HelenS
With Beagle, I'd start with _Tamsin_ -- that's the only one of his books that I can read over and over again with complete satisfaction (not that it's a perfect book -- it's not -- but it draws me in and absorbs me every time).
72. qiihoskeh
Definitely (re)read AB's _Agnes Grey_. The characters are 3-dimensional like real people should be. This is not the kind of book I could read if it weren't so well-written. CB's _Jane Eyre_ is quite different: a satirical and very theatrical work with charactures, and therefore lots of fun. I never finished EB's _Wuthering Heights_ due to boredom, but the beginning was worth reading for the setting.

other possibilities:

Reginald Bretnor's allegorical _Gilpin's Space_.

Ben Bova's biographical _The Starcrossed_ (but I'm told this isn't typical).

Fredric Brown: _The Lights in the Sky are Stars_ is also not typical, but very good. Otherwise, anywhere; FB is a lot like PKD except for a totally different writing style.
73. Mem Morman
Nice to see the Lucy Boston books on your list. I had the opportunity to visit her home (The Manor at Hemingford Grey) while in the UK for Eastercon this year, and it is still full of bits and pieces that tie in to her lovely Green Knowe stories. Tour was conducted by her daughter-in-law Diana Boston.

I'm flummoxed as to why you suggest starting MZB with Hawkmistress! Could you elucidate?
Jo Walton
74. bluejo
Mem: When I re-read the Darkover books recently, Hawkmistress was the one I uncritically enjoyed. Also, it stands alone, it's a good positive female story without leaping onto soapboxes, and it has a great central character.
Gray Woodland
75. Greyhame
Elizabeth Boyer wrote eight books drawing heavily on Nordic mythology, most of which I enjoyed as they came out over the course of the 1980s. The two obvious points of entry are the light and slightly YA-ish The Sword and the Satchel, which is the first of the earlier standalones; and The Troll's Grindstone, which begins the denser, darker, and frankly complicated Wizard's War tetralogy.

I've never been able to decide about starting-places in Bujold - I read the Vorkosigan books in chronological order, and it's rather difficult to mentally undo that now. Worked for me, though. For fantasy, I think it depends... Curse of Chalion for the lover of modern mainstream fantasy; but The Sharing Knife, which I like even better, for the more pastoral, the jaded, or perhaps for those just dipping their toes into the waters.
76. reddwarf
Thanks Greyhame - I was wondering if I should mention Boyer.

I don't see Clive Barker mentioned anywhere? Mostly horror but he has written some fantasy - I would recommend Weaveworld or (for kids) Abarat.

I've always loved Mayer Alan Brenner's Catastrophe's Spell series - out of print but available on his website last I checked
Clark Myers
77. ClarkEMyers
As much a claim on genre as anybody and a writer whose books I've enjoyed: Robert Barnard alt history as by Bernard Bastable. I'd have no argument with starting haphazardly including picking any of the series in medias res.
78. Ouish
For Edward Bryant, I recommend finding a copy of Particle Theory.
79. bartkid
>You're probably thinking of Jorge Luis Borges, who definitely ought to be on the list. Unfortunately, I have no idea what a good starting point would be. Anybody?

Start with The Aleph, then Dreamtigers.
I also recommend a four-cd set of recorded english-language lectures he gave.
Paul Andinach
80. anobium
The mention of Nicholas Fisk in the F thread has reminded me circuitously of Clare Bell, whose Ratha's Creature was adapted for CBS Storybreak (as was Fisk's Grinny).

I read the book itself some years later, and found it considerably more sophisticated and interesting than the half-hour children's TV adaptation. (Which is perhaps not surprising.)
81. orokusaki
Terry Brooks definitely will satisfy if you're looking for escapism. I find his style to be extremely accessible. Though, if you want really high fantasy (deeper world-building and character dev), he's not your author. I have all the current paperbacks of anything with Shannara in the title. No Landover novels on my bookshelf yet, though they're next on my list once I finish... other authors not starting with B. :) Brooks shouldn't be left off the list, IMO. Sword only makes sense as a start, or Wishsong if something more serious and darker is your interest.
David Levinson
82. DemetriosX
I don't know why this just occurred to me, but Ambrose Bierce deserves a mention here. He was a major contributor to early weird fiction. I believe he was the one who created both Hastur and Carcosa, which would later be merged into the Cthulhu mythos.

His best known work is probably "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and it is excellent, though out of the genre. For more genre-related works, try "Oil of Dog" or "An Inhabitant of Carcosa". Much of Bierce is available on-line.
Jeff Domer
83. jqueasy
For Terry Bisson; Numbers Don't Lie. Bears Discover Fire is great as is In The Upper Room.
JS Bangs
84. jaspax
An alternate recommendation for Carol Berg: The Song of the Beast. A standalone fantasy novel which may be easier to get into than a her trilogies.
Nancy Lebovitz
85. NancyLebovitz
Barrington J. Bayley-- I recommend The Garments of Caen-- it's got alien mind-controlling business suits. And communal insect intelligence. And the emotional effects of a culture where people spend all their time in space suits.
88. CathWren
Coming a little late to this but no one mentioned Mary Brown's The Unlikely Ones.
89. bard
Very late into this, but wanted to argue for starting Brust with The Phoenix Guard. A wonderful twist on the musketeer legend, and great fun.
mark tranter
90. antiloquax
I realise I am horribly late to this thread, but I have only just read my first Jo Walton (Among Others) which lead me here.

I would like to add to the mentions of Borges. I think the place to start is with the Penguin "Collected Fictions" (translated by Andrew Hurley).
Then, these stories are favourites (although I think it's all wonderful):
"Funes, his Memory"
"Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"
"The Lottery in Babylon"
"Borges and I"
Also read "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" which is (sort of) an essay.

My other recommendation is The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. It's a very non-pc book about a man who can stop time and he uses this ability mainly for sexual purposes. It's very funny and the way Baker describes the fermata is brilliant (I think).

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