May 3 2010 9:25am

OK, where do I start with that? C.

initialWhen I write about an author, people often ask me where would be a good place to start with reading them, and these posts are an attempt to answer that. These are personal recommendations—I’m not trying to cover every writer in the world, just the ones I’ve read and have suggestions for. I’m pretty much going along my bookshelves in order. Please do add your own suggestions in comments for authors I don’t mention, and feel free to argue with me, and with each other, if you don’t agree.

This is the third in an ongoing alphabetical series—previous letters can be found here.

My C shelves begin, controversially, with Orson Scott Card, who was one of my favourite authors for a long time but whom I can no longer read. I started reading him with Hot Sleep and A Planet Called Treason in the early 80s, and I stopped in 1997, so I have read absolutely everything up to then and nothing since. I stopped reading him because he said in his book on how to write that the best way to get readers engaged was to have appealing innocent characters and torture them, and after that I kept seeing that he was doing that and it kept jerking me out of the story. Probably his best book, certainly his best known, and beginning a series, is Ender’s Game. It’s probably fair to say if you don’t like that you won’t like any of his work. If you prefer fantasy, Seventh Son begins the Alvin Maker series which is an alternate early America with folk magic. If you want a standalone, The Folk of the Fringe is a fix-up that contains some of his most powerful writing.


Terry Carr was an editor more than a writer, and while he was a pretty good writer he was one of the greatest editors the field has ever known. His taste is best represented in the anthology series Universe.

Lin Carter was also primarily an editor, though he wrote some fantasy which I cannot recommend at all. What you want is his anthologies of pre-Tolkien adult fantasy, fantasy from before fantasy was a genre. Start with The Young Magicians, if you can find it.

I’ve written about Raphael Carter’s incredibly brilliant The Fortunate Fall, which is the only place to start because it’s the only novel Carter has published. I hope there will be more one day.

Lewis Carroll—I think everyone starts with Alice in Wonderland.

Sarah Caudwell wrote four funny clever mysteries about barristers in contemporary London, which I read in entirely random order and came to no harm thereby. The first is Thus Was Adonis Murdered, but don’t hold out for it, as they’re not the kind of thing where order matters. You can read any one you happen to find.

Now we come to the immensely prolific C.J. Cherryh, one of my favourite writers who is still writing. Cherryh has written some difficult books, and some very odd ones, and she’s written a number of series, some of them with loose chronology. I’d suggest starting with either Rimrunners or The Paladin, depending on whether you like science fiction or fantasy. Rimrunners is part of the Union/Alliance series but it’s a standalone self-contained book. The Paladin is entirely standalone, and relatively upbeat. Another good place is The Pride of Chanur, which begins a series but has good closure.

G.K. Chesterton—for genre readers, definitely The Man Who Was Thursday. But what I really like is his poetry.

I started reading John Christopher when I was a kid, and I started with Beyond Burning Lands, the middle book of the Prince in Waiting trilogy. If you are 10, you could do a lot worse. I also loved the tripods books, which are sort-of sequels to a variant War of the Worlds—with mind control for all adults, so only teenagers can hope to save the world. Unlike every other writer in the world, when Christopher wrote a trilogy the middle book was always the best. These are definitely Young Adult or even younger, but none the worse for that. For adults, Christopher wrote a lot of cosy catastrophes, of which you should start with The Year of the Comet since it has the inestimable advantage of being in print. The best one is probably The Death of Grass.

With M. Tullius Cicero, the best place to start is the Selected Letters. Most editions of his letters arrange them by person, which is just annoying, but Selected Letters puts them in chronological order and is almost like reading someone’s blog. You definitely want to start with his letters rather than with his speeches or his moral pontificating, because you really need to be his friend—in all his pompous slightly uncertain vanity—before you’re prepared to put up with that.

I also began reading Arthur C. Clarke as a kid, and I can’t think it’s possible to do better than start where I did with the collection Time and Stars, or failing that with his Collected Short Stories. His most famous book is certainly 2001, and indeed so much Clarke is classic that starting with anything he wrote alone and before 1970 is going to work.

Susanna Clarke has so far written one novel and one short story collection. I first read her story The Ladies of Grace Adieu in Starlight and that made me eager for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell when it came out.

James Clavell—well, genre readers will certainly enjoy Shogun. There may be problems with cultural appropriation and with Clavell getting Japanese culture wrong, but as a portrait of a man utterly alone in a strange culture and coming to like it more than his original culture, it’s amazing. Shogun reads best as a first contact novel.

Michael Coney is easy—start with Hello Summer, Goodbye, which is just so good it’ll make you want to read his others. I should do a whole post on Coney soon.

Glen Cook—The Dragon Never Sleeps. And it’s back in print, huzzah. This is SF, and it’s excellent. He has also written lots of fantasy of a kind which I mostly don’t care for, but if you vastly prefer fantasy start with Chronicles of the Black Company.

Susan Cooper, well, the first book in the Dark is Rising series, Over Sea Under Stone, is considerably more childish than the books that follow. I generally suggest starting with the second, The Dark is Rising, which gives a much better feel for what you’re going to get. They’re all YA, but OSUS is the kind where you have to make allowances for that, and the others aren’t.

Jennifer Crusie, either Welcome to Temptation or Faking It. Both of these are funny, clever, and have enough other things going on that you won’t gag on the fact that you’re reading a romance. She’s amazing at dialogue and at the kind of humour that arises out of situations. She’s also good at things most people aren’t, like friendship, and kids, and what it does to family dynamics when your sister’s husband happens to be a drag queen.

« B | Index

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
Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Carey - I'll leave others to make recommendations.

How about Michael Crichton? Or perhaps he doesn't keep you rapt-or at attention?
Heloise Larou
2. Heloise
John Crowley - Probably Little, Bigbeing the best of his more straightforward genre novels. Or The Solitudes, the first volume in his four-part Aegypt cycle, his most ambitious work so far. Or The Translator, a non-genre novel I've always been very fond of.

James Branch Cabell - No doubt, Jurgen´, being both his most famous and most infamous, and also a rollicking romp of a read.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
With Arthur C. Clarke, you can start just about anywhere, but I would stay away from anything he wrote after the first time he retired (so nothing after 1980, basically).

I really like Glen Cook and the Black Company books are interesting, if bleak. I'm less fond of the Dread Empire and related series. His greatest strength here is world building. For (relatively) lighter fare, try the Garrett, P.I. series (starting with Sweet Silver Blues. He does a great job of capturing the whole noir/Chandler/Hammett voice (with a dash of Nero Wolfe) and blending it with a fantasy setting. Fun but also moving at times.

Jack L. Chalker should be here somewhere. The Wellworld books are his best known, though IMO it's one of those series that you should stop reading to avoid disappointment. The first 3 are fine, after that read at your own risk. I'm quite fond of his rare short stories (collected in Dance Band on the Titanic) and some of his smaller, stand-alone novels like And the Devil Will Drag You Under. There is also his fantasy parody/pastiche Dancing Gods series. To get a basic feel for his most underlying theme, try The Identity Matrix. It is to Chalker's basic theme what a book by Phil Dick that was specifically about paranoia would have been.

Oh, and Hal Clement! He's a Grand Master, after all. We mustn't forget our history. Most people seem to like Mission of Gravity. I'm quite fond of both Needle and Iceworld.

Also from a historical PoV, the highly problematic John W. Campbell. Find a short story collection.

On the horror front, I'd also suggest Ramsey Campbell, who is sort of the British Steven King. I liked Midnight Sun and some of his Lovecratiana is also quite good.
James Goetsch
4. Jedikalos
If you read "Downbelow Station" by Cherryh to start with, you might be hooked on her stuff forever (personal testimony!).
Marcus W
5. toryx
I was thinking about Jack L. Chalker too, but it's hard to pick a place to start with his work. I think I'd probably go with the Soul Rider series, beginning with Spirits of Flux and Anchor.
Hypatia James
6. hypatiajames
With Jacqueline Carey one must start at the beginning, Kushiel's Dart. I personally didn't care for Banewreaker, but if you like war novels, go for it, and follow up with Godslayer. If you're looking for a stand-alone, Santa Olivia is a gem, as well.
Jo Walton
7. bluejo
With Hal Clement, definitely start with Mission of Gravity. Also, it helps if you're twelve.

RobM: With my habit of re-reading, I don't care for books that are only worth reading once. Creighton, unless he has changed recently, writes books where plot is everything, you are on the edge of your seat, and once you know, you know. There's not much interest in going back to a book like that. So I find it isn't worth bothering the first time.

Jedikalos: I could not get into Downbelow Station when I tried to read it without having read any other Cherryh after it won the Hugo. It's an odd book. I know a lot of people really like it, and it has grown on me, but I don't think it's a good place to start.
Kate Nepveu
8. katenepveu
Hooray for Sarah Caudwell and Jennifer Crusie!

(Alas, Crusie's latest co-authored book, _Wild Ride_, is uncharacteristically thin on, err, characterization.)
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
toryx@5: Odd, Soul Rider did nothing for me. The thing about The Identity Matrix is that it stands alone, so that you don't necessarily have a big investment to get the whole story, but really boils down his central themes of identity and form, so that you can get a good feel for his work.

I also wanted to add A. Bertram Chandler. Although there is a sort of internal chronology to the John Grimes novels (he was originally the Hornblower of the Spaceways), you can pretty much read them as you find them (kind of like Retief stories). Kelly Country is an odd little alternate history that you can probably only really appreciate if you're Australian. I'm not, I liked it, but an Aussie would probably get more out of it.
Declan Ryan
10. decco999
Two novelists I remember enjoying from a long, long time back:
Edmund Cooper I recall being a great action writer; one for the teen boys perhaps. I started with The Expendables series, "The Deathworms of Kratos" (1975).
Richard Cowper was one of my few forays into fantasy, but I remember his books being very serene to read - my young opinion, anyhow. The Kinship series, "The Road to Corlay" (1976).
Michal Jakuszewski
11. Lfex
With Louise Cooper I would start with Indigo books which I really liked. First one is Nemesis. Jonathan Carroll, definitely Land of Laughs, IMHO. With Julie Czerneda I would go with A Thousand Words for Stranger and subsequent books of the Trade Pact trilogy.
Gabriele Campbell
12. G-Campbell
My C-shelf (ok, I don't sort alphabetically, but you get the gist) also holds

Bernard Cornwell: Warlord trilog (The Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur - my favourite version of the King Arthur legend), the Saxon novels, Azincourt, The Archer's Tale and sequels. He does battles really, really well

Colleen McCullough: the Rome novels (First Man of Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favourites, Caesar's Women, Let the Dice Fly, October Horse, Antony and Cleopatra). Intrigues, politics, sex, battles, a few pirates, a bunch of big bad Germans and rebellious Gauls, more sex and intrigues, Sulla, Marius and Caesar. And Cleopatra. Did I say politics and sex? Well researched, written in an enterntaining colloquial style.

Elizabeth Chadwick: The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage - biographical novels about William Marshal and his father. Her approach is a bit like Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels, more episodic without one big plot arch other than what the biographical sources offer. Chadwick has also written some historical romances which are better researched than your average Harlequin Historical. Sourcebooks has recently started publishing her books in the USA.
13. Dholton
I'll throw in Jo Clayton, who was rather prolific in the '70s and '80s, sf and fantasy or cominations of both. Her books are part of my memories of the classic yellow spine Daw paperbacks. I'd start with her Diadem series, Diadem from the Stars.
14. beket
Regarding Michael Crichton-- I have such mixed feelings about his work. They're easy to read and great if you're going to be stuck in a car/airplane for 9 hours. But afterwards, I forget I've read them. The plot in each novel I've read seems to be-- "Hurry up, Hurry up, run, run, run, (required word count reached) oh look, the helicopter's here, we're saved." That said, I think Jurassic Park is probably the best starting point (and it's down hill from there).

Geoffrey Chaucer - oh, where to start given you have to learn Middle English. Go for a few short poems first, then just go for the Prologue of Canterbury Tales and then skip to The Miller's Tale-- funniest thing ever written in the English language (okay, completely debatable, but it's up there with the best).

There's also Tom Clancy and Agatha Christie.
15. beket
Wilkie Collins. Any suggestions where to start with him?
Rob Munnelly
16. RobMRobM
Ah, Chaucer. Second the Miller's Tale, which could easily be filmed as an R rated summer teen movie today. I'm also fond of the Pardoner's Tale (the classic story of the three men out to cheat death and all buy it in the end - and is essentially a fantasy/horror tale). For pure entertainment, I also like the Tale of Sir Thopas - which is Chaucer's parody of a courtly knight story and hilariously subverts the entire genre until the narrator is interrupted and told to stop.
Jo Walton
17. bluejo
Chaucer -- I'd say start genre readers would do well starting with the Wife of Bath's tale, which is fantasy, funny, and supports a feminist reading. Or you could start by reading his blog.
Clark Myers
18. ClarkEMyers
For Chaucer I'd say there is a real place for interlinear translations for the general reader. A resource often overlooked but with a proper place for folks who have long left school and aren't going to be graded.

Clancy and Crichton - fall into a category I call - based on an old TV commercial - I could have had a V8 and my suggestion as above would be don't start or perhaps have the movie on in the background while doing something else - sharpening kitchen knives, waxing the cat what have you.

For Clarke I like Tales from the White Harte - seriously dated of course but nothing to bounce off or The Deep Range - even Glide Path for those who remember or have an interest in the period. Agreed that early is better than late and some late is to bounce off.

Cogswell - The Friggin Falcon The body is small enough that any place works as well as the next and for an understanding of the genre though I think the stories are still clever.

Conklin - as an editor - anything and often found in libraries yet today.
Laura Conrad
19. laymusic
Jo writes:

G.K. Chesterton—for genre readers, definitely The Man Who Was Thursday. But what I really like is his poetry.

"The Flying Inn" is good in a way similar to "The Man who was Thursday", but has more poetry. I'd still suggest "Thursday" for a first-time reader, but if you know it's the poetry you like, go straight to "Flying Inn".
David Levinson
20. DemetriosX
beket @15: For Wilkie Collins, I'd start with The Moonstone. It's fun and there are some interesting characters, especially Sergeant Cuff and young Gooseberry. (I'm surprised no one has tried writing some late Victorian mysteries with Gooseberry as the detective.) The Woman in White is a little less to my tastes, but YMMV.
Gray Woodland
21. Greyhame
Chesterton: His Father Brown stories take place in a Universe where, according to the super-sleuth protagonist, miracles definitely and absolutely happen. However, since they're detective stories, every plausibly supernatural incident in the whole canon must be proven, by reason, to be mundane. Fr Brown believes, most profoundly, that superstition is irreligious, and therefore he's more than rationalistically proof against it.

This is important in the more-than-Doylean grotesqueries he gets into. More than any other writer I know of, Chesterton can infuse the most mundane suburban scene with purely elvish deliriums of wonder or horror. I think of all writers of non-fantastic works, he comes closest for me to the distilled spirit of fantasy itself. At his best, he can do with a hint and a set of bizarre harmless clues as much as Lovecraft could with a flapping gibbering skein of byakhee across the Moon.

Lord knows he has faults - a few of his yarns are, to my mind, actually unbearable in their facile and eloquent venom - but as a rule, I should say he beats many explicitly fantastic authors for just that enchantment for which I seek out fantasy in the first place.
22. Kvon
I started reading Cherryh with Downbelow Station and loved it. Granted, I had to go back and reread it about four Cherryh's later to see what was going on with the politics, but it's a fine starting place. I started Jo Clayton with Drinker of Souls.

Ted Chiang does only short stories but they're well worth reading any of them. His collection is Stories of Your Life and Other Stories.

Bruce Coville is in the smarter YA set (and sometimes younger). Try Jennifer Murdley's Toad first.

Suzy McKee Charnas' quadrilogy spans several decades of struggling with realtime feminism, but start with Walk to the End of the World.
zaphod beetlebrox
23. platypus rising
Calvino - The Complete Cosmicomics, probably. Alternatively The Cloven Viscount or perhaps the Marcovaldo stories.
Elizabeth Coleman
24. elizabethcoleman
I started Glen Cook with The Tower of Fear, and was perfectly happy with it. And, if you skip the epilogue, it's not too bleak.
25. joelfinkle
Eleanor Cameron: Some of the first SF I ever read, definitely dated, but don't skip "Wonderful Voyage to the Mushroom Planet."

Beverly Cleary: More YA, some genre stuff like "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" but start with Henry Huggins" or "Beezus and Ramona". The stories were originally more about the young teens (Beezus and Henry) than the pre-teen Ramona.

Pat Cadigan: One of the few female writiers in the Cyberpunk stable, start with "Fools" or "Synners" -- they're all independent.

Martin Caidin: "Marooned" was adapted as a movie of the same name, and "Cyborg" is a much harder SF book than "The Six-Million Dollar Man" it spawned. Start with that, there's some cool hard-SF sequels.

What about Michael Chabon? I haven't read enough yet to say where to start, but he's definitely genre.

I need to ask my spouse where to start on Jane Louise Curry -- more in her reading stable than mine.
David Goldfarb
26. David_Goldfarb
Orson Scott Card was one of my favorite writers in the 1980s as well; and then Debbie Notkin made the same observation about his writing that you do -- not from seeing it in his book about writing, just from reading it. Also he said some really repulsive things in an essay called "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality", which further turned me off of his writing.

In re Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road is fast and fun, I'd say start either there or with The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Jo Walton
27. bluejo
Michael Chabon -- start with The Yiddish Policeman's Union which is brilliant and readable and well deserved all the awards.
Rob Munnelly
28. RobMRobM
Chabon (doh!). Yes with Jo's recommendation - one of my favorites in years ans actually can be classified as more fantasy/sci fi (as it is set in an alternative future where the Jews settled in Alaska rather than Israel). Agree with @26 that Gentlemen of the Road is fast and fun. I had to work too hard to enjoy Kavalier - it is a tome. I also enjoyed his nonfiction book of essays on fatherhood that just came out - they essay on overprotectiveness alone is worth the price of admission.

Beverly Cleary - no comment but a movie of Ramona and Beezus is coming out this summer.
29. Elaine Thom
I need to ask my spouse where to start on Jane Louise Curry -- more in her reading stable than mine.

I like Curry. I think what I first read of hers was Beneath the Hill which was a perfectly fine starting place. I think her best was the time-slip novel Poor Tom's Ghost wherein the ghosts of one of Shakespeare's men and his brother intersects with a modern actor's family. She wrote a followup much more recently with more focus on the brother, another time slip, but I didn't think it was nearly as good.

Beneath the Hill was the first of several linked books dealing in some fashion with the immigration centuries earlier than modern times of Welsh fairie folk to America, more or less Ohio, IIRC. One novel started in Wales, and several more featured various modern Americans finding people or remnants, but the libraries have all gotten rid of those books and I can't remember the titles. I read them probably in the 70s and they were new at the time.

Oh, and The Sleepers a stand alone dealing with the legend of Arthur sleeping in a cave, and the Thirteen Treasures of Britain. And Merlin in the tree, and the Eildon Tree.... and Morgan le Fay, and Medraut. I loved it.
Bradley Beek
30. beeker73
Jeffery Carver's "Chaos Chronicles". I enjoyed them a lot. The first 3 of 4 are available from Baen Books as free downloads.
31. Lsana
@14, 15 beket,

Second The Moonstone for Wilkie Collins. That was excellent. I never did manage to get through The Woman in White, though I may try again this summer.

As far as Agatha Christie goes, I would say The Tuesday Club Murders for Miss Marple; it's a collection of short stories loosely tied together by a frame story. Those stories give a good sense of the flavor of the Miss Marple stories and don't seem to have the flaws that annoy some people (not me) in the Marple novels. For Poirot, I would recommend Murder on the Orient Express; I don't think any of the Poirot novels are really better starting points than any of the others, so you might as well start with what I think is the best of them.
Tex Anne
32. TexAnne
Ugh, not the Tripods. I loved them as a kid. Then I grew up, met some gay people, reread the Tripods, and realized that they're presented as gay pedophiles. Plus the girls' only function is being pretty when they're dead.
33. Lynnet1
I just read Julie Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy, but they are the only books of hers I've read and I'd be interested to hear where other people think is a good place to start.

I agree that Kushiel's Dart is the best place to start with Carey, but I've just recommended that a friend who refuses to read anything with sadomasochism begin with Naamah's Kiss. I'm looking forward to seeing how that works as a starting place for her.
Clark Myers
34. ClarkEMyers
Of Agatha Christie for genre fans I suggest The Mysterious Mr. Quin For all of them deal with mystery and some of them with crime, they are, nevertheless, more like fairy tales.
Joe Romano
35. Drunes
@beket for Wilkie Collins I agree with the others, try "The Moonstone" first, but this might sound weird: read "Drood" by Dan Simmons before you actually read anything by Collins.
36. prometheus
Julie Czerneda - loved Species Imperative and Stratification. And Cherryh is just amazing. I love authors who do aliens well.
Madeline Ferwerda
37. MadelineF
Raymond Chandler: I say _Farewell, My Lovely_. Which was awesome, much better than _The Big Sleep_, and then some goodly chunk of the way through I doscovered that Roger Zelazny had nearly lifted a chunk of it for _Nine Princes in Amber_ which hey, if you're going to be inspired, take inspiration from the best...

Bernard Cornwell: I would suspect the first Sharpe book, _Sharpe's Eagle_.

Also, pleased to hear that one-off authors qualify! Will go add stuff to A and B.
Christopher Key
38. Artanian
About the only thing on my shelf that takes up any significant space not mentioned here is Clive Cussler, which are enormously fun popcorn books. With him I'd start towards the beginning of the Dirk Pitt books, and probably skip the later collaborations until much later.
Chris Hsiang
39. Grey_Area
Ahem, Ted Chiang. By no means productive and he will probably Never Ever write a novel, but Good Grodd, every piece he writes takes my breath away.
Jo Walton
40. bluejo
Ted Chiang.

(I've lent it to somebody. This is the problem with doing the alphabet along the bookshelves, books loaned and books read from the library (Chabon) get forgotten.)
Sam Kelly
41. Eithin
Karel Capek: Famous mostly for RUR, but the only thing I've actually read of his is War with the Newts. I recommend it wholeheartedly; it's dense, nicely historical (full of newspaper-clipping and scientific-proceeding footnotes), and blackly funny in the way of Czech writers between the wars.

Hugh Cook: His entire Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series is fantastic. I wrote an appreciation of them a while back, if you'll forgive a brief self-linkage. I want to write the whole thing over again here, but that would be absurd. My favourite is The Wishstone and the Wonderworkers, because it's utterly crazy, full of amazing imagery, and loopily metatextual. The best place to start for most readers, I think, would be The Walrus and the Warwolf, unless you're Jo, because it is about pirates.

This may also disrecommend Leslie Charteris's Saint books, which are classic pulp caper fiction in the set-a-thief tradition, with Bond-grade superscience. (Simon R Green's Golden Torc series drops in a few homages here and there.)

The only other C I have in the house, and who hasn't already been mentioned, is Trudi Canavan. I'd recommend either her first, The Magician's Guild, or The Magician's Apprentice which is a far-prequel to the first trilogy.

Regarding Chesterton, I'd like to put in a good word for The Napoleon of Notting Hill. It's about banality, and the inherent depression of modern life, and mediaeval pageantry, and why going to nationalistic war to relieve boredom really isn't a good idea. That said, though, everyone who can should read all of his work.
42. Sayeth
+1 on the Capek. War with the Newts is great and often overlooked.

For Wilkie Collins, I recently finished listening to the Librivox recording of Woman in White and absolutely loved it. I haven't read The Moonstone yet. Both are incredibly long, so there's some major time investment.
43. a-j
Arthur C Clarke - for me his YA novel 'Islands in the Sky', very dated now but a great "it could have been like this" exploration of the future as perceived in the 1950s. Also 'Rendezvous With Rama', I know the chirpy optimism and minimal characterisation annoy some (possibly many) but for sense of wonder and a nifty rundown on orbital mechanics, it's hard to beat.
Susanna Clarke - 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' took me a couple of runs to get into it, but when I did...
Orson Scott Card - 'Ender's Game' and no more, it's not worth the pain and sorrow.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes - any of his short stories. If you're not aware of him, a ghost story writer with a wicked sense of humour, very like Joan Aiken.
Angela Carter - 'The Bloody Chamber', aka 'The Company of Wolves'.
Ramsey Campbell - 'Cold Print', a collection of his Lovecraft inspired stories which (whisper it who dares) surpass HPL himself at times, imho.
44. a-j
Oh and Chaucer, take a deep breath and dive in with 'The General Prologue...'. You'll get the middle English soon enough and the sheer joy of realising that the knights, priests, nuns, reeves etc being described here are being described by someone who was there. 'The Nun's Priest's Tale' is fun. But the main thing, disdain translations. I speak as one who failed all my French exams and wasn't even allowed to take my German ones as I was so bad at it and I remember the sick horror the first time I opened up the General Prologue, but it came to me and if I can manage Middle English, anyone can.
45. icehawk
Orson Scott Card:

But worst, for Card's sadism to his characters, is 'The Worthing Series'.

It tortures characters not just to advance the plot and characterisation, but because that's the Theme.

It never mentions god, or theology. But reading it, it becomes clear that it is one long rebuttal of the Argument from Evil. The Argument from Evil is "If there was an omnipotent all-loving god, the world wouldn't be this nasty". The standard rebuttal is "you need evil and nastyness in order to grow and change and appreciate what's good".

So the Worthing Series is all about perfect-but-futureless societies locked in statis being lucky enough to experience painful revolution, people breaking out of their perfect-but-dully-sterile lives due to some nice useful murder of those they love, children experiencing torture and horror in order to grow, emperors who've ruled for millennia being pleased to have their perfect rule finally overthrown with chaos, etc, etc.

Given Card's love of torturing his characters, it's a work of love.
Rob Munnelly
46. RobMRobM
@44 Yes, it is readable. Find a version with explantory footnotes to help you out.


Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);

i.e., ode to Spring and how it gets nature moving.

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

i.e., really nice image that the same factors that get nature going in Spring also get people going on pilgrimages -- in this case, to Canterbury.

Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In southwerk at the tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.
But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.

So - the 29 pilgrims of various classes (sondry folk) are at an Inn and the narrator decides to describe who they are and what stories they tell while on the road in "what degree" - i.e., starting with the one of highest rank, the Knight, given that this is a rank-concious time. Of course, shortly after the Knight tells his interesting, honorable story full of chivalry, the Miller blows up the proceeding by rank approach and tells one of the raunchiest tales in the Western European canon... of an old rich man obsessed by thoughts of Noah's flood coming and his hot young wife and the student who lives with them who decides to convince the man to sleep in a boat tied up high in the eves of his house so as to have his own fun with the wife ... and the Tales are off and running.

47. AlexG1234321
I stopped reading Orson Scott Card when he started writing Bible fiction and milking the Ender's Game universe for all it was worth. As far as I know, he still hasn't finished the Seventh Son series after 15 years or something.

Politically, he's also some kind of right wing nutcase, which is weird because his books seem to have compelling, compassionate characters who are multicultural and tolerant.
48. Rush-That-Speaks
Angela Carter-- I have three separate suggestions. For those who like high fantasy, gorgeous language, and feminist reworkings, The Bloody Chamber is a good starting point, but I keep running into people who think that this is all there is to Carter. Persons who are fond of Shakespeare, musical theatre, high comedy, and relentless pragmatism in an acerbic and useful way should go straight to Wise Children, which is a novel that dances on the edge of genre and also a book meant purely and simply to make you happy.

And if you're not a fantasy person, you're still missing something without Carter's collected journalism (the U.S. version is called Shaking a Leg), which holds no cow sacred and covers everything from travels through small-town literary festivals to the semiotics of fashion.
49. Zanita
For Orson Scott Card, I would suggest starting with Pastwatch. It is about people from our future going back to the time of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World to change the past so that the genocide doesn't happen.
50. bartkid
>+1 on the Capek. War with the Newts is great and often overlooked.

War w/the Newts should be required reading.

Re: Clarke, when I reminisce about Children of the Stars, I keep on thinking how it seems to predict the always-connected Generation Y.
Steven Halter
51. stevenhalter
Mike Carey's Felix Castor books--Start with the first, "The Devil You Know". There are 5 so far. Felix is a freelance exorcist in a contemporary UK setting where the dead and other things have started to return. Really good stuff.
52. PatrickG
When it comes to Michael Crichton, I think his book most worth re-reading was "Sphere" though the rest do seem to be all plot.
53. filkferengi
_Starbridge_ is an excellent place to start A. C. Crispin's fun series.
Nic Castillo
54. NicNac
I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one unimpressed with much (all) of Card's recent work. I loved the Ender's Game series, and some of his short stories, but a lot of his work is just plain preachy, and it loses my interest for that reason.

Jacqueline Carey is wonderful, but I would go with her Kushiel series over Banewreaker any day. I still haven't been able to get through that.
Paul Andinach
55. anobium
Paul Collins - Dragonlinks. I discovered recently that it's the first book in a series now, but when I read it it was a standalone, and it worked just fine that way.
Paul Andinach
56. anobium
John W. Campbell. Find a short story collection.

A short story collection with "Who Goes There?" in it.
57. 'nother Mike
Let me suggest one out of the mystery field (sort of) -- George Chesbro. His Mongo stories about a
criminologist, ex-circus headliner, martial-arts expert, and private eye, who also happens to be a dwarf are unusual and in my opinion excellent. Start at the beginning, with Shadow of a Broken Man.
58. Formerly Underhill
The recent and amazing Y.A. books by Suzanne Collins:" The Hunger Games" and "Catching Fire". Third one out later this year - eagerly waiting for it.
Linden Wolfe
59. Lilith
I definitely support the comment re: Mike Carey's Felix Castor books.
His comic series, "The Unwritten", while off-topic for this discussion, is also recommended.
60. daharyn
*cough* how about Anne Carson, for a little Canadiana? It's not genre fic but it's pretty much all amazing. Start with The Autobiography of Red, then do Glass, Irony and God. (I am less fond of Eros the Bittersweet than most, but I wouldn't dismiss it entirely, either.) I just got her newest, Nox, in the mail yesterday--and I am all kinds of excited. Very possibly her best yet? And the structure might be extra fun for those like me, who enjoy adventures in form as much as content.
61. Electric Landlady
For Agatha Christie, I will also wave a tiny flag for the Tommy & Tuppence books. International intrigue! Daring escapes! Tea at Lyons Corner House! Start with The Secret Adversary. Don't bother with By the Pricking of my Thumbs, it's grim and sordid. She has a few stand-alones as well; the first Christie I ever read (also the first "grown-up book" I ever read) was They Came to Baghdad, which still holds up reasonably well.
Paul Andinach
62. anobium
Hurrah for Tommy & Tuppence! If memory serves I've read more of their books than I have of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot put together (which, when you consider the respective proportions, is really saying something).
63. Doug M.
"John W. Campbell. Find a short story collection."

And for the love of God avoid his essays or, worse yet, his letters.

The essays range from good through provocative to cranky and, in his later years, obnoxious, arrogant, and a little nuts. The letters extend the spectrum further to unapologetic white supremacist racist nutcase. If you read the whole volume, you'll probably end up hating his guts and also believing he was probably, on the whole, more a malign influence on the field than otherwise.

That said, yeah -- several of his stories make the list of "Golden Age shorts that are still readable today". Since that's not a terribly long list, we must give credit where it's due.

Doug M.
64. elsiekate
another person disrecommending _downbelow station_ as a starting point for cherryh--i could not make myself finish it, whereas i love the _foreigner_ series--a person could do worse than to start with those.

the first agatha christie i ever read was _a murder is announced_, which is good mid-range miss marple. _funerals are fatal_ was my first poirot, but i can't remember it. i wouldn't start with _murder on the orient express_ or _the murder of roger ackroyd_ or _the big four_--hitting her middle period where she's in her prime and then going back for early and late ones (some of the late ones, she's really lost a step), would be my recommendation.
David Levinson
65. DemetriosX
Remembering Ambrose Bierce as I just did, also reminded my of Robert W. Chambers. He was a turn of the century writer who dabbled in the weird and outre. He is probably best known for creating the King in Yellow, who would later be merged into the Cthulhu mythos. His collection The King in Yellow is public domain and can be found all over the Internet. Worth a look.

ETA: BTW, the link on the index page to this page is broken. The section of the URL that has blog/DATE is duplicated.
John Adams
66. JohnArkansawyer
For Jacqueline Carey, I recommend starting with John Ringo's Ghost.
Laura Southcott
67. tallgrass
The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish is of interest as an example of really early proto-SF. It was written in the seventeenth century. It's sort of a utopia story but also talks about the process of imagination itself.
68. DJMoore
For those who prefer fantasy to SF, start Cherryh with Fortress in the Eye of Time, then finish the Fortress cycle. Like most of her works, it's really a political thriller cast as fantasy or SF. Oddly, out of all my books, the first three books in that series are the ones I seem to read over and over, like comfort food, although there are long sections I don't bother with anymore.
69. katrinka
For Chabon, another starting point is his juvenile fantasy, "Summerland," which centers around kids playing baseball to save the world.

A new author, Gail Carriger, is writing humorous steampunk fantasy/science fiction in The Parasol Protectorate series. Start with "Soulless". Three are out so far, with two more projected.

Kristin Cashore writes young adult fantasy, strong writing and a strong heroine. Start with "Graceling."

D. M. Cornish is another young adult writer. He's writing the Monster Blood Tattoo series. The third is coming out this fall (and it may be the last, not sure about that). Start with "Foundling." These are very weird, beautifully illustrated (by the author), and hard to put down.

And, out of genre, I have to recommend Toni McGee Causey. She wrote three Bobbie Faye Sumrall novels, funny mystery/romance/adventure stories. The first is "Charmed and Dangerous" (originally published as "Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day"). Not everybody has the same sense of humor, of course, but I howled at these.
70. dmg
Are you out there, Jo? Do you haunt these old posts...?

I would swear you posted that you recommend ALL books by Jennifer Crusie, but I can find only this one post. (Either this site's software is deficient or, more likely, my memory ages rapidly.)

What say you re her Maybe This Time published a mere 6 months ago...? Inquiring minds want to know! :-)

I hope all is well,
Jo Walton
71. bluejo
DMG: Yes, I always see my comment notifications.

I just read Maybe This Time this week, and a post on it will be forthcoming -- as it's a ghost story, it's relevant. It's pretty good. I don't unreservedly recommend all of them to everyone, because some of them really can make you gag on the fact that it's a romance. Some people don't mind that. Other people do.
72. dmg
Thank you, Jo!

I look forward to your review, just as I do all of your posts.

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