Jul 25 2010 11:28am

OK, where do I start with this? P.

This week our look along my bookshelves with recommendations for where to start with different authors gets to the prolific letter and fascinating letter P.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the writers who begin with P, or even all the genre writers. It’s a set of personal recommendations about where to start reading writers you may have heard about but never picked up. I welcome additions with recommendations, but please don’t just list names without suggestions—that’s pointless. I also welcome disagreement if you disagree about my suggestions, but please explain why you think your starting point would be better.

My P shelves begin with Susan Palwick, one of my favourite writers. If you prefer fantasy, start with The Necessary Beggar, if you prefer SF, start with Shelter (post).

Next comes Edgar Pangborn. If you haven’t read his classic A Mirror For Observers you’ve missed a treat, and I notice that the lovely small press Old Earth Books have an edition in print.

Alexei Panshin—definitely start with Rite of Passage (post).

For Dorothy Parker, try to get a collection that wasn’t edited by someone who hated her, the old Penguin one I own has an introduction that needs to be disregarded with extreme prejudice. Parker didn’t, as far as I know, write anything in genre at all, but she wrote astonishing sarcastic reviews and some lovely poetry. You can start anywhere. She’s well worth seeking out, even though I can tell you from experience that she was wrong about the glasses bit.

I started Tamora Pierce with Alanna: The First Adventure and wished I was eleven. My son loved these, and took all of them with him when he moved out. They are YA fantasy with good girls parts.

Marge Piercy is an American feminist writer and poet who has also written SF. Genre readers probably want to start with Woman On the Edge of Time (post). I’d start her poetry with Stone, Paper, Knife which is still my favourite collection.

I know books on bookshelves don’t really have conversations with each other, but if they could, I wonder what Piercy’s books would make of their long time companions on my bookshelves, the works of H. Beam Piper? It’s interesting to imagine their conversations. An imaginary alphabetical order dinner table starts here. With Piper, start with Little Fuzzy (post) or Lord Kalvan (post).

On the other side of Piper and considerably more laid back sits Robert Pirsig—start with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is surprisingly readable and surprisingly thought provoking. But you know how I sometimes say I loved something when I was twelve? I loved this when I was seventeen, and have no idea how it would read for the first time now.

Alphabetical order really works for me on this section of the shelf, because all ready to argue with Pirsig we have Plato. Start with The Symposium, which is fun and interesting and readable, and work your way up to the science-fictional Republic (post).

Plutarch’s Lives have been really stupidly published by Penguin Classics, putting them in historical order instead of matched pairs. Plutarch intended them to be read as one Greek and one Roman biography commenting on each other, and they work much better that way. MIT has them all online in alphabetical order and in Dryden’s translation. Start with someone who interests you, but do read them in their pairs.

Frederik Pohl, one of this year’s Hugo nominated fanwriters, has written and edited a lot of wonderful SF. Start with Gateway or The Space Merchants (with Kornbluth) (post).

I started Rachel Pollack with Unquenchable Fire, an astonishingly weird fantasy that’s like magical realism only with worldbuilding.

Definitely begin Jerry Pournelle with Janissaries (post).

There aren’t really many bad places to start with Tim Powers, but it’s hard to beat The Anubis Gates (post).

I’m going to let fans of the Discworld books slug it out in the comments, while I suggest that you start Terry Pratchett with the Johnny Maxwell books (post) or with Good Omens (post).

With Anthony Price’s Audley books you can start in publication order with The Labyrinth Makers, or in chronological order with the Hour of the Donkey, or with Other Paths to Glory or Soldier No More (post on the whole series). Those seem to me like the four sensible entry points.

Christopher Priest is a difficult one. He writes difficult literary British SF, and I haven’t read all of it. My favourite is Inverted World, which is very odd indeed.

Start Phillip Pullman with The Golden Compass.

Barbara Pym was an English writer of the later 20th century who wrote about villages, curates, middle aged ladies and other typical subjects of this kind of story with a kind of biting sarcasm that, at its best, became tragic and at its worst became catty. I’d start with Quartet in Autumn, but strongly do not recommend reading her complete works all in one week.

There will be no Q post, as my shelves have no Q authors. (If I ever had a nom de plume it would be in Q, for this very reason.) If you have any Q recommendations, this is the place for them.

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.

René Walling
1. cybernetic_nomad
Mervyn Peake: I would start with Gormenghast then Titus Groan and stop there.

Fletcher Pratt: I started with The Complete Compleat Enchanter which was a lot of fun.

No 'Q's in my library either
Ray Radlein
2. RayRadlein
Now you've made me want to run upstairs and check out the "Q" sections of my bookshelves.
Linden Wolfe
3. Lilith
I re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the 30th Anniversary edition, after not reading it since it first came out in 1974. It was a very different experience, but a book I’m glad I re-visited.

I’m happy to see another Anthony Price fan out there. Each book has really interesting historical backstory. I haven’t read him since the end of the Cold War, so I’m not sure how well he’d hold up for younger readers who didn’t live through that period, but I agree with Jo’s starting points.

Re: Pratchett: my view is that the further along the Diskworld series gets, the better the books are and the more they work as satire rather than just humour.

Tim Powers – If you don’t want to go back to the early stand-alones, such as The Drawing of the Dark or The Anubis Gates, then start with the Last Call series, beginning with the book of the same name. I know a lot of people love The Stress of Her Regard, but it was the one Powers’ book I really couldn’t get into. YMMV.

Phillip Pullman – I’m sure everyone will recommend His Dark Materials beginning with Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass. I will, too, but I also like the Sally Lockhart series, beginning with The Ruby in the Smoke for the feisty heroine.

Robert B. Parker – The first book in the Spenser series, The Godwulf Manuscript.

Ellis Peters aka Edith Pargeter – the Cadfael series, starting with A Morbid Taste for Bones.

Edgar Allan Poe The Murders in the Rue Morgue: And Other Stories.

Annie ProulxThe Shipping News is the only one by her that I have read. Not my ususal style of book, but I liked it.
4. Kvon
Lots of Ps still.

Paul Park--I really liked Sugar Rain. Odd hierarchical society and revolution. The tattoos on the palms still resonate with me.

Milorad Pavic--Dictionary of the Khazars, which should be a hyperlinked text instead of a novel. Very cool for 1988. Not much plot, more interlocked stories.

Julie Phillips--James Tiptree Jr, the Double Life of Alice B Sheldon. A wonderful biography of an outrageous woman. Best book that I read in '08.

Daniel Pinkwater, I haven't read to much of his children's stories, but they all seem wonderful. I started with the Neddiad, which includes ghosts and La Brea tar pits.

Chaim Potok--My Name is Asher Lev, growing up as an artist in NYC, family and religious conflicts.

For Tamora Pierce, I might recommend starting with First Test, since it was post-Harry Potter and she could write longer books. That might be a negative to some people though.

I agree that Powers you can start anywhere. Except my starting place, Dinner at Deviant's Palace, which was atypical.

For Pratchett, I think I would go with Guards Guards, or Wee Free Men, depending on age and gender.
5. Archergal
I started Pratchett with Hogfather. It had the right mix of story-about-a-story to interest me, and enough about the characters to make me want to know more.

There are probably better places to start, though.

I do adore the Johnny Maxwell books, though. Not sure that I'd start with them, though.
Jess Nevins
6. jessnevins
Run, don't walk, to your local library and get something by A.T. Quiller-Couch, who wrote under the pseudonym of "Q." Alternatively, read "Roll Call of the Reef", "Laird's Luck", "A Pair of Hands" (my favorite of his), and "The Seventh Man".
7. radagastslady
My first Pangborn is still my favorite: Davy. Post apocalypse read during the Cold War.
David Levinson
8. DemetriosX
Jake Page: He primarily writes mysteries, but he has also done a couple of alternate histories. Try Operation Shatterhand.

David R. Palmer: He put out a novel called Emergence which was cobbled together from stories and novellas that were published in Analog. It has an interesting narrative style that takes some getting used to, but I find that I also need to get used to normal narration afterwards. He wrote one more book and then dropped out of writing for financial reasons.

Pausanias: His travel guide to Greece is probably best read in bits that interest you. Lengthy lists of statues get pretty dull, but in between are some interesting myths and stories.

Mervyn Peake: I second everything cybernetic_nomad said @1. But has anyone read any of his other stuff?

Steve Perry: He has written some media tie-ins, but his short fiction is pretty good. I don't know if any of it has been collected.

Elizabeth Peters: Her Amelia Peabody mysteries are a lot of fun. Late 19th/early 20th century Egyptology (and she holds a degree in Egyptology herself, so she knows her stuff.) Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Tamora Pierce: She can be pretty hit or miss and some of her heroines tend toward Mary Sue-ism, but the Alanna series is quite good, as is the Beka Cooper series she is currently working on. That one starts with Terrier.

Pliny the Elder: Another one more for dipping into than just reading, but his Natural History ought to give any aspiring writer lots of ideas.

Jerry Pournelle: An alternative to Janissaries is King David's Spaceship, which is set in the same universe as The Mote in God's Eye.

Tim Powers: Anubis Gates is hard to beat, but I'm one of those who loved Stress of Her Regard. OTOH, I can't get into the California trilogy at all. If you like pirates or want a vague preview of the next Jack Sparrow movie, then try On Stranger Tides. If you like LeCarre or Charlie Stross's Laundry stories, then go for Declare.

Terry Pratchett: I'm a Vimes fan, so I'd say Guards, Guards!. Or the Tiffany Aching series, which starts with Wee Free Men. Basically stay away from the earliest Discworld books until you have a feel for them.

Fletcher Pratt: I think of the Harold Shea stories more as DeCamp than Pratt. I'd start with Well of the Unicorn or some of his non-fiction.

Steve Purcell: The creator of Sam and Max. They are collected in Surfin' the Highway.

Thomas Pynchon: Start with The Crying of Lot 49. Whatever you do, don't try to read Gravity's Rainbow. I read it, but it put me off so much that I haven't read anything of his since.

For Q, the only thing that occurs to me at all, is Ellery Queen, but they aren't that great and I have no idea where one would start.
Fade Manley
9. fadeaccompli
I think that Mort is a good place to start for Discworld: the characters are more or less on-model, and it sets up all the future Death-centered books, while giving a general view of the setting. Then one can read straight on, with a subsequent Rincewind book, Witches book, side-story book, and Guards book, and then have a pretty good grounding in all the various groups running around.
10. Alter S. Reiss
With Edgar Allen Poe, just about any collection of his works will have various great stuff--"The Raven", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and so on.
Samantha Brandt
11. Talia
Tim Pratt: I tend to think his strength lies in his short fiction (he's won a Hugo for at least one story) - I'd start with one of his story collections, 'Little Gods' or 'Hart & Boot & Other Stories.' If you like audio fiction, quite a few of his story have been run on Escape Pod/Podcastle/Drabblecast.

He also has a very good urban fantasy series about sorceress named Marla Mason. They start with 'Blood Engines' and are a fun read.
Linden Wolfe
12. Lilith
I had completely forgotten Chaim Potok until Kvon mentioned him (cheers, Kvon!). That's what happens when half my books are in boxes in the spare room. Time to drag him out for a re-read. My favourite is The Chosen.

I also second the vote for Elizabeth Peters. Although I haven't read her in years, I enjoyed the mystery, romance, and interesting settings.
13. odaiwai
David R. Palmer's Emergence is an exceptional juvenile. Very much in the Heinlein tradition. Quirky, but great fun.

His other book (Threshold) suffers from Lensman syndrome: the hero is so chuffing perfect that there's not a great deal of dramatic tension. It's still a fun read, but if you're sensitive to puns or devastatingly competent heroes (he's a Formula One champion, ultra-successful business man and Olympic Athlete!), you might sprain your eye-rolling muscles.

Pratchett: Sadly, Sir pTerry has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and it's likely that he won't produce another book which is significantly better than the large number already in print. Don't start with the first published books: they're quite different in tone and setting to the later ones. The Discworld universe is pretty consistent from about Guards! Guards! onwards and the Watch series is well worth reading.

There are reading guides at

Personally, I think Night Watch is his best book, and Sam Vimes is his best character.
Christian Decomain
14. Khryss
T.A. Pratt (aka Tim Pratt): "Bone Shop". It's available online for free and a good introduction to his Marlaverse novels.

Cherie Priest: "Boneshaker". Hugo-nominated this year and definitely worth a read. Why hasn't it been mentioned before?
Nick Rogers
15. BookGoblin
Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

Personally, I like Frederik Pohl's Starchild trilogy better, but that might be because it was where *I* started and some of his early stuff is as much weird tales in space as it is Science Fiction.
Phoenix Falls
16. PhoenixFalls
Hah! I actually have an author on my shelf not mentioned yet! :)

Richard Preston, best known as the author of scary non-fiction about diseases (The Hot Zone & The Demon in the Freezer are both good starting places, depending on if you want more narrative tension or more political analysis) has a genre novel! The Cobra Event is definitely in the mold of The Andromeda Strain except modern (therefore no room-sized computers to throw the unwary reader)(what can I say, I didn't check the publication date!) and with an ending that doesn't peter out so much.
Nick Rogers
17. BookGoblin
DemitriosX reminded me, Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day" is a good read and a good place to jump in. "Gravity's Rainbow" isn't a good place to start. It might not even be a good place to finish.

I have to admit that I deeply love "Gravity's Rainbow" but I read it as a wonderful collection of English language treasures...and not for any cohesion of plot. I'm sure there is some kind of cohesion of plot, I just never could find it.
18. dmg
You create such idiosyncratic lists, Jo, they invite conversation and discussion. My additions are below; comments from you and All welcomed.

Susan Palwick - Flying in Place:
What do I miss that you skip over this novel altogether?

Iain Pears - An Instance of the Fingerpost

How is it that Walker Percy, a touchstone in American literature (at minimum), has been overlooked? Which of his many phenomenal novels should I call-out...? Perhaps Love in the Ruins, if only for the creation of the "lapsometer" a truly wonderful MacGuffin... But then the novel is so much more than simply that one device.

Richard Powers - Gold Bug Variations

Tim Powers - The Drawing of the Dark:
Thank you, Lilith. Tim's many novels pale in the shadow of his brilliant debut, the very clever, The Drawing of the Dark.

John Cowper Powys - A Glastonbury Romance:
"Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset that by legend was home to King Arthur, and some of its ruins are infused with the spirit of long-gone ideals like the Holy Grail. Building on that base, Powys has constructed a towering edifice of faith, greed and cynicism, as a wealthy industrialist tries to exploit the town's mines, a skeptic cynically plans to bring in money by exploiting the legends and many people of varying degrees of faith and idealism are caught in between. Powys's gifts are enormous: he has an eye for nature, and its mystical power, akin to Wordsworth's; his sense of rustic scene and character is the equal of Hardy; his sharp-eyed view of business and politics reminds one of Shaw; and his sense of the endless subtleties of the relationships between men and women is, if anything, more encompassing than D. H. Lawrence's. His leisurely tale is told in prose that ranges from poetic miniatures to extended passages of the most dazzling rhetoric. It's a long book that requires the closest attention; but those who fall under its spell will be rewarded by one of this century's masterpieces of the novel." --Publisher's Weekly

Marcel Proust - In Search of Lost Time (all volumes):
I do not speak French, so can vouchsafe only for the C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin translation. (My introduction to Proust came via a woman who knew these things, Proust included.)

And so it goes. I look forward to other readers' additions. Thank you.
19. beket
At the moment, I have only one to add to the Ps-- Ann Pratchett... but I haven't read her. Anyone have anything to say about her novel Bel Canto?

But I have three Qs on my bookselves, but again, I haven't read any of them:

Quintus Curtius Rufus The History of Alexander-- okay, I admit I have no idea how Latin names are done, and Quintus could be his first name for all I know.

Carol Quinto Sister of the Bride - a Regency Romance novel, never read it, but it's a Q.

Julia Quinn-- my friends and relatives who've read her love her. She writes romances set in the Regency period and comes up with punny titles, like The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Love Me, and An Offer from a Gentleman. I've always heard positive things about her novels, but you have to be into Romance first, I'd imagine.
Kate Shaw
20. KateShaw
I'm another one who usually recommends Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! as a good starting place. The Vimes books are particularly accessible, I think.

I recently read and loved Pierre Pevel's swashbuckling adventure The Cardinal's Blades, translated from the French. I haven't read anything else by Pevel so I don't know if this is the best one to start with, but I thought it was great.

Daniel Pinkwater has many excellent books out, but I recommend the classic Lizard Music for those who haven't encountered him before. His more recent book The Education of Robert Nifkin is really good too, and probably a little more of interest to older kids or adults.

No Q writers on my shelves either.
David Levinson
21. DemetriosX
PhoenixFalls@16: {i]The Cobra Event disturbed me so much I had to give the book away. Yikes. I hate even thinking about it.

dmg@18: I like Drawing of the Dark, but a) his skills weren't quite honed enough yet and b) it was actually his third novel. The Skies Discrowned (AKA Forsake the Sky was his first.

beket@19: Curtius Rufus would be an R, following the model of shelving Julius Caesar. You could make a case for C since Curtius was his family name and Rufus either a personal nickname or a clan designation, but then Caesar would be filed under J.
Jo Walton
22. bluejo
DMG: It's brilliant, but such a downer I don't think it's a good place to start!
23. dmg
I stand corrected, DemetriosX. Thank you. Nice to have a 3 decade assumption shattered so easily! :-)

Ahh, you are correct, Jo; I forgot about THAT objective. Yikes, the juggling you must do of necessity and objective to create these lists...
p l
24. p-l

Sugar Rain by Paul Park is actually the second of a trilogy. The first one, Soldiers of Paradise, is the best, I think. All of three of them are very weird and very good.
Joe Romano
25. Drunes
One to add and two others to comment on

First, E. Hoffman Price, a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Price made his reputation in the pulps so the best place to start is with either of his two short story collections, "Strange Gateways" or "Far Lands, Other Days." I've also read his two "Oriental" novels, "The Jade Enchantress" and "The Devil Wives of Li Fong" back-to-back. While I enjoyed both of them a few years ago, they've run together in my mind now and I'm hard pressed to judge one better than the other.

I frequently see Hoffman's "Operations" series in used bookstores, but have never read any of them. Still, they're easier to find than most of his other work.

Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" holds up very well. I first read it in the late 1970s and recently re-visited it (something I hardly ever do with books). It's as brilliant (and as accessible) now as it was then.

Finally, I started Tim Powers with "Three Days to Never" and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to "The Anubis Gates," a copy's sitting in my geometrically growing "to-read" pile with too many other books right now.
26. Teka Lynn
Sharon (Kay) Penman: Start with Here Be Dragons, unless you're a diehard Ricardian, in which case you'll want to start with The Sunne in Splendour.
Joe Romano
27. Drunes
Q has been nagging me since I commented above because I knew someone was missing -- Seabury Quinn, an early and frequent contributor to "Weird Tales." Although Quinn penned a few novels, his strength was in short stories (he wrote over 150 of them), some of which were adapted for TV on Rod Serling's "Night Gallery." I'd start with "The Skeleton Closet of Jules De Grandin."
28. hapax
A couple of additions:

A different Christopher Priest (and boy was I confused until I figured that out) writes very quirky, witty superhero comic books. I'd start with either his seminal run on BLACK PANTHER or (if you are familiar enough with superhero comics to get the tropes he's riffing on) his weird, wonderful, and sadly unfinished QUANTUM AND WOODY.

Meredith Ann Pierce. It's not her best book, but I'd start with DARKANGEL, because it is a terrific antidote to everything TWILIGHT represents. It's a vampire romance with absolutely gorgeous lush prose, female bonding and empowerment, delicate characterization and worldbuilding, and sacrificial true love. Best of all, if you like it, you'll read the rest of the trilogy -- A GATHERING OF GARGOYLES and THE PEARL OF THE SOUL OF THE WORLD -- in which


the heroine realizes that her vampire lover is a selfish asshat and dumps him, thereby Saving The World.
Michal Jakuszewski
29. Lfex
K. J. Parker - I think it is best to start with her (or his? nobody seems to be sure) newest novel, The Folding Knife, which is standalone and also not so relentlessly grim like most Parker's work. If you like it, you may try Scavenger and Engineer trilogies.

Meredith Ann Pierce - I would definitely recommend starting with The Darkangel Trilogy which is really beautiful, IMHO.

Christopher Priest - I think I prefer The Prestige to his more genre novels, so I would recommend it as a place to start.
David Dyer-Bennet
30. dd-b
I'd like to strongly dissent on starting Price with Hour of the Donkey. A strong majority of the Price fans I know aren't so fond of that one. In my opinion, the good parts of that book all come from recognizing the nascent characters in an early stage of development. It wouldn't be anywhere near as good to first meet them that way.

I'd say something related about Soldier No More. That one is brilliant, but I don't think it works right if you don't already know the characters.
Joris Meijer
31. jtmeijer
Petronius with the Satyricon, one of the older works that might be called a novel.

Otfried Preussler The satanic mill seems to have been translated into english, a (as I remember from my youth) dark tale in the folk/fairytale tradition.

Pratchett Small gods is often recommended as a starting point
32. mike shupp
Anne Perry -- a writer of murder mysteries set in the Victorian period. She has two major running series, one beginning in the 1880s with THE CATER STREET HANGMAN, featuring a police inspector named Thomas Pitt and his wife, and another starting in the 1850's with THE FACE IN THE MIRROR, involving a one-time policeman with amnesia named William Monk who becomes a private detective. There's a nice mixture of romance, social observation, and contemporary history in both series, but I personally find the Monk books a little harder edged and thus preferable.

Another P: Maurice Proctor, a one time British copper, who wrote a noteworthy bunch of police procedurals, mostly situated far away from London and "the Yard", back in the 1950's and 1960's. HELL IS A CITY was the first in his Inspector Martineau series -- but to be honest, the heroes and villians for the books are much the same from start to finish, so the series can be read without regard to order. At the time, these seemed extremely realistic works, with an excellent understanding of crimal psychology; today they're of interest for showing what people thought of "major crime" long long ago. Very nicely written as I recall -- think of Ed McBain for a comparison, rather than John Creasy or P.D. James.

Yet another P: Charles Palliser. He's written half a dozen historical novels; the one to start with (and for most people finish with) is THE QUINCUNX, a pleasingly fat and complcated Victorian yarn which manages to view a number of scenes from Charles Dickens with modern eyes.

For the Q's, Ellery Queen, the well-known American author and 'tec from the Golden Age of Homicide. Start with books from the 1930's is my suggestion -- THE ROMAN HAT MYSTERY, THE FRENCH POWDER MYSTERY, THE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY, etc. The series continued into the 1970's, but to be honest the juice seems to have drained out during the 1940's. (For stfnl reference, Avram Davidson and Theodore Sturgeon wrote or "co-authored" some of the latter books in the series.)
Rob Munnelly
33. RobMRobM
I'm shocked at how few of the genre titles I have read. Basically, His Dark Materials and some classic Pohl. Regarding nongenre:

Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow is my Moby Dick - started it three times but never made it through. Strongly second the Crying of Lot 49 recommendation as a good entry point.

Poe - if you want something different, try The Gold Bug. The method applied to breaking the code to find the treasure is fascinating. Not anything approaching fantasy but very cool. My personal favorite remains Cask of Amontillado.

Here's one to add to the list - Jayne Anne Phillips' Machine Dreams. Brilliant contemporary fiction.
34. Lynnet1
I'm so glad to see Tamora Pierce on this list. I'll second the recommendation to start with Alanna: The First Adventure. I also love her Circle of Magic books, especially for younger readers. The first book is Sandry's Book.

Chaim Potok: I think both My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen make equally good introductions to his work.

I feel like there are a couple P's I love that no one has mentioned yet, but all of my books are packed up for a move so I can't check.
R. P.
35. aryllian
re: Robert B. Parker, I started with the Godwulf Manuscript and was extremely underwhelmed -- as I recall, I thought Spenser was a boring thug in that book. However, a friend suggested skipping ahead to Looking for Rachel Wallace, and I was glad I did. It gets more personal and Spenser becomes more of an interesting character because he cares -- which made me care. There are a bunch of good books in line after that, but eventually, the books sort of lose their forward progress ... but this is about starting points, not ending points.
Jo Walton
36. bluejo
DDB -- I started with Soldier No More in 1984 and I've been reading Price ever since.
37. David DeLaney
P gets us back into the "there are way too many authors in this alphabet bit" section. (It's also where I'm currently stopped at, due to moving-computers, shelves, and boxes-around issues, in my sorting into boxes of the last several years' worth of paperback accumulation.)

Lewis Padgett hasn't been mentioned yet? Well, okay, he was actually Henry Kuttner + C.L. Moore, but I'll at least point to K & M from here in passing.

I'm mentioning Eileen Palestine here (a vast chorus of "Who??") only because she helped edit the _Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual_ back in the late '70s. If you have to make one contribution to SF, make it a somewhat memorable one...

Joshua Palmatier has written a recent fantasy series about Amenkor, its Throne, its Guardsmen, its current troubles, and the young street urchin who might be key in solving them; it starts with _The Skewed Throne_.

Alexei Panshin - I don't have the book Jo recommends, but he's a good readable writer; of the books of his I've read, I've got all three Anthony Villiers books, and that series starts with _Star Well_.

Richard Parker I'm mentioning because of a wonderful old children's book he wrote involving a magical stove, _M for Mischief_. (Not to be confused with _Dial M for Mischief_ please.) I do NOT know if the several other books that turn up as written by "Richard Parker" are also his or not; none of the Wikipedia pages appears to be him at all.

(Rachel Cosgrove Payes wrote a couple of Oz books, and theoretically I'd be filing them under B, but have sort of given up on that in recent years. See Baum, and the ongoing reread series here on, for info.)

And Gilbert Pearlman is here because he's the author of the _Young Frankenstein_ novelization. He also wrote _The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother_, it seems.

S.M. Peters has recently written some good urban-ish fantasy, but it does not appear to be arranged in Series; you can start with his first novel, _Whitechapel Gods_, which is dark, steampunky, and absorbing.

Vicki Pettersson has been writing a series about superheroes/supervillains in Las Vegas, the Signs of the Zodiac; it starts with _The Scent of Shadows_.

Adrian Phoenix has started a new series with _Black Dust Mambo_; paranormal romance/mystery, and this one's field is voudoun, hoodoo, juju, and mojo. I haven't read any of his previous works, though.

J. Calvin Pierce is yet a third Pierce; his starting point is _The Door to Ambermere_, and he's another author so forgotten that Wikipedia doesn't know him. A trilogy about people transported to Ambermere, for quests with real-world consequences.

Doris Piserchia wrote several novels a few decades back. The ones I own tend to have a teenage female protagonist, with dimension-hopping or space-traveling powers. I'd say you could start her with _A Billion Days of Earth_, _Spaceling_, or _Star Rider_. If you can find them, of course.

Frederik Pohl is another lots-of-starting-points author. (One could conceivably start with his blog, ...) This is partly because, if we're lucky, he'll be 91 this year. _Farthest Star_, _Man Plus_, and _The Reefs of Space_ are also all starting points for various book sequences he has, which I have liked. Or you could start with pretty much ANY of his short story collections (which cover 3.5 feet vertically in Wikipedia in two columns with individual story titles). _Gateway_, agreed, starts off his longest actual series, about the Heechee.

Nick Pollotta wrote not enough comedic fantasy, because he seems to have been busy writing Action/Adventure as James Axler and Don Pendleton, so much so that Wikipedia doesn't even know about his earlier _Bureau 13_ series (which starts with the book of that name, and oh dear there's TWO MORE in the series that I DON'T HAVE YET...). Bureau 13 is the USA's secret government department that battles aliens, evil mages, werewolves, mad scientists, unkillable menaces, and various other unbelievable things, in the Stalking the Night Fantastic role-playing game. You can also start with his novel with Phil Foglio, _Illegal Aliens_.

Tim Powers ... anywhere, yes. But I shall second having a special place in my twisted little heart for _Last Call_, first in the semi-trilogy that also includes _Expiration Date_ and _Earthquake Weather_. It's a story about battling mages, of a sort, in a Las Vegas that's somewhat twisted from the one you already know, and is also a family history and a Secret History, and is all about cards, Poker, gambling, identity and archetypes, and what a Mage: the Ascension LARP gone totally out of control for decades might end up like. And is TOTALLY more awesome than I'm making it sound here.

Terry Pratchett - It's generally agreed, yes, that starting Discworld at the beginning, with _The Colour of Magic_/_The Light Fantastic_, isn't the best of ideas for many people. The fact that the series quickly branches into several different threads (Witches, Unseen University, City Watch, Death, New Inventions) sort of helps, because if you don't like one there's probably another that you will. Start, if you've never touched him before at all, with any of _Small Gods_ (which isn't in any of the 'series' but is excellent), _Guards! Guards!_, _Mort_, or possibly _Witches Abroad_. You can also start later with the first Tiffany Aching book, _The Wee Free Men_. Night Watch and Maskerade and others are wonderful but you can't really start with them.


My Q authors are almost ENTIRELY Ellery Queen, who wrote mysteries as the combined pen name of Manfred B. Lee (Manford Lepofksy) and Frederic Dannay (Daniel Nathan) for over four decades.

But there's also one {William Thomas / W.T.} Quick; start his SF works with _Dreams of Flesh and Sand_. (He is also Margaret Allan, it seems.)

Greig Christie
38. treefell
Someone asked about Ann Patchett above.
I've completed The Magician's Assistant, which was a very enjoyable novel (shelved in SF in my local library) but in fact about a woman who was a stage magician's assistant and her life after his death. I've started Bel Canto but I put it aside for other books - it seemed to be oddly lacking in tension for a book about a hostage situation. She writes very well.
The only other P authors I have on my bookshelves that I've not seen mentioned above are Michael Palin, Harvey Pekar, and Chuck Palahniuk.
Of Palin, I only own a couple of his travel books based on his BBC epic journeys, but I'm told his diaries are worth the try too.
Pretty much any of Pekar's slice-of-life American Splendor series is worth trying. Our Cancer Year is particularly strong.
Chuck Palahniuk, of course wrote Fight Club and another of his books - Choke - was also made into a film. I quite enjoyed his horror tale Lullaby.
Rich Horton
39. ecbatan
Well, my favorite writer is in the P's. This is Anthony Powell. His great work is the 12 volume novel A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME. Start at the beginning, of course, with A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING. (I have sometimes wondered if Michael Moorcock's DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME was title specifically as a nod to Powell's novel.)

Powell is sometimes (inaccurately) called an English Proust -- as he did write a long roman fleuve, and as he was a great admirer of Proust. Anyway, though I haven't read Proust, I mean to some day, and of course his great work is REMEMBRANCE OF TIMES PAST, perhaps now better known as IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. I believe the starting point is SWANN'S WAY. {I now see DMG already mentioned this! Ah well -- I second his recommendation for Susan Palwick's wrenching FLYING IN PLACE.)

One might note that Anne Perry has written some fantasy novels, beginning with TATHEA. They don't seem to be well-regarded, though I haven't read them myself. I believe they are Mormon-based -- Perry herself is a Mormon. Perry has another tenuous Fantasy connection, in that her tragic early life (she and a friend murdered the friend's mother) was portrayed in Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES. (Perry (original name Juliet Hulme) as portrayed by Kate Winslet.) I agree that the Monk books are her best work, though I've enjoyed the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt books as well -- I'd say that both series start well and lose momentum after several books, a common enough problem for long series.
Andrew Barton
40. MadLogician
My bookshelves have a dozen books by Doris Piserchia. She has a unique imagination. Sadly she hasn't written since the 80's but much of her stuff seems to be reasonably available on the used market.

All her books are stand-alones so start with whatever you can get hold of.
Jeff Weston
41. JWezy
Just in case someone actually tries to read these, Titus Groan comes before Gormenghast. The first book timeline is the first year of Titus' life (and therefore focuses mostly on other characters), while in the second book is more about Titus as a teenager.

Also, there are a number of characters who make "exits" in the second book after featuring prominently in the first book, so reading the books out of order would be very confusing, and spoily.

And, while I have read Titus Alone, it was much weirder than the other two and failed to connect with them in any material way I could fathom.
42. a-j
Mervyn Peake - I would strongly urge against reading 'Gormenghast' before 'Titus Groan'. And it took me three goes to get through 'Titus Groan' but it was very much worth the effort. His novel 'Mr Pye' is definately worth trying, very odd and set on the Channel island of Sark where Peake himself lived.
Robert B Parker - I would not recommend starting the Spenser series with the first one, 'The Godwulf Manuscript' as it is very atypical and the narrator is a cliched private eye rather than the different Spenser who develops in the later books. I started with 'Taming A Sea-horse' as it happens, but I would suggest 'God Save the Child', the second one, as a decent starting point.
Terry Pratchett - agree that 'The Colour of Magic' is not a good starting point. I would suggest 'Mort' or 'The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents'.
Charles Portis - 'True Grit' is a truly brilliant novel and I never liked the film.
Anthony Price - when Ms Walton wrote about him previously I suggested starting with 'War Game'. As I am now doing a re-read (thanks to that that article), I now suggest reading them in chronological order starting with 'The Labyrinth Makers' as you can then chart the characters' development.
Frederick Pohl - 'The Day After the Day the Martians Came' or 'Mining the Oort' and of course his classic short story 'The Tunnel Under the World'.
john mullen
43. johntheirishmongol
Paolini - Eragon is a good place to start.

Pournelle - I love Janissaries but he hasnt finished the series yet. Try any Falkenberg story.

H. Beam Piper - Space Viking or Fuzzy Sapiens. Fuzzy Sapiens is pretty much a must read, if you are a scifi buff.

I would also second Ellery Queen as a great mystery writer.
44. reattmore
There are a series of obscure historical romances of which I am quite fond, by Paarfi of Roundwood. Decent translation, too. Start with The Phoenix Guards :)
C Smith
45. C12VT
Tamora Pierce - I loved the Alanna books as a kid and still love them today, but I think an adult reader who has never read Pierce before might do best starting with the Beka Cooper series, which begins with Terrier.

Pratchett - I agree the best starting place is "Guards, guards!", though arguments could certainly be made for other books. They're all good.

reattmore@44 - ROFL!
Erick Chase
46. TheMarchChase
I see that I am in the minority in thinking that _The Colour of Magic_ is the perfect place to start Discworld. I suppose that one has to be very familiar with the fantasy genere, but as someone who came to the series late (3 years ago), I found TCOM was the perfect hook.

In my role as a teacher, I always reccomend _Wee Free Men_ to my students who want to branch out from Harry Potter, Redwall, and the like.

A quick note on a "P" author to avoid-- Frank E. Peretti. A parent of a student heard that I liked fantasy/sci-fi and thought I'd enjoy one of his books (can't remember the title). Only read him if you're an Evangelical or Pentacostal Christian. Or if you are looking for hours of aggrivation and exasperation at the amazing close-mindedness of an author.
James Burbidge
47. jsburbidge
I second ecbatan regarding Anthony Powell.

Proust reads very differently from Powell, but I find so much of the experience of reading Proust is tied up with the style that I hestiate to recommend anything other than reading him in French.

For Q, I recomment Raymond Queneau. His Exercises de Style has been translated resonably successfully into English and is a good place to begin.
Rich Horton
48. ecbatan
I wanted to add a brief note regarding David Palmer -- he published a sequel to EMERGENCE just two years ago as a three part serial in Analog, TRACKING.

And as to Robert B. Parker -- I actually did start with THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT, which I read shortly after it first appeared. I must have been 13 or so. I didn't make much impression on me, and I didn't return to Parker until I was in my 20s, and he was on #5 or so in the Spenser series. I started there, and then went back to the second book -- after reading it I did remember having read the first. It's another series that was pretty good early -- from about books 2 through maybe 8 or so? -- then seriously lost momentum.

Rich Horton
49. Anastasia44
Severna Park - start with The Annunciate, very weird far future science fiction.
Bob Blough
50. Bob

Was Tracking any good? I loved Emergence and was waiting for Tracking to come out in novel form but it hasn't. Anyone read it?
Rich Horton
51. ecbatan
TRACKING did some things well. The telling was engaging, and Candy's compressed writing style preserved. The story moved very quickly, and was pretty exciting. I was bothered by some of it, though. I wrote on my lj:

So what to say about TRACKING? First, as pure narrative, it works. That is, it's full of action, the lead character is still charming, the bad guys are so maximally evull that you can't help root for Candy, and her stratagems, if implausible, are still clever and fun to follow. So -- you'll enjoy reading it, I think.

BUT -- it just doesn't make sense. There is way too much deck-stacking going on. Some of it is the way things keep turning right for Candy -- her suddenly telepathic dog, for one example. Some of it is the way the bad guys are just so over the top sneeringly bad -- and they are (or one of them is) child rapists, too! -- in case killing almost everyone on Earth isn't evull enough for you. But they are kind of stupid, to boot. I ended up just feeling grossly manipulated.

Then too there is the underlying implied message. Remember, Candy is "homo superior". So too are all her friends. All the bad guys are homo sapiens. What are we to think? We are all bad guys, right? Well, unless we are secretly slans, er, homo superior. That's probably a bit unfair -- I'm sure its not really intended -- but it does come to mind.
Rob Munnelly
52. RobMRobM
@43. How could I have forgotten Paolini. Read all three really really (really) long books to my kids. Clever magic system, some compelling characters but the descriptions are overwritten to a faretheewell. Still, on balance, worth reading.

Robert Parker - strongly second the comments that Godwolf is not characteristic of the Spenser novels. More or less a straightforward PI story. The later books delve into Spenser as a virtual Renaissance man who lives by his own personal code and kick into high gear with well plotted adventures and sharply written, witty dialog. Very well done, enjoyable stories before they eventually got played out.
Heloise Larou
53. Heloise
After reading all the other comments here, I'm now almost embarrassed to admit that I love Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow very much, and indeed think it is one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. As a place to start, I'd suggest Vineland, though, as it's probably his most accessible work.

For K.J. Parker, start with Purple and Black a brilliantly conceived and executed novella in letters that avoids getting as lost in details as Parker's novels often do.

For Holly Phillips, a Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction author, start with In The Place Of Repose, her short story collection that showcases both her amazing prose style as well as the wide and varied range of her ideas.

And to add a Q as well - for Thomas de Quincey start with Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (the early, much shorter and much better version) as well as its sort-of-sequels Suspiria de Profundis and The English Mail Coach. Part autobiography, part dream protocols, part essay, and all in all a unique reading experience from English Romanticism's greatest prose author.
Michael Walsh
54. MichaelWalsh
Christopher Priest is indeed a slippery writer. I'm rather prejudiced in liking his last novel The Separation, an alternative history that requires careful attention on the part of the reader.
55. ofostlic
Pournelle: For Pournelle solo I would agree with 'Janissaries', but I'd actually recommend approaching via Niven & Pournelle, with "The Mote in God's Eye", then "King David's Spaceship" and then the Falkenberg stories.

'Mote' is an interesting and important book and starting off with Niven & Pournelle military SF is a gentler introduction than plunging right in to neat Pournelle.
56. igor_junior
Qiu Xiaolong whose books are published with his name in Chinese order, so Qiu is the family name. Lot of bookstores file him under X however. Inspector Chen is a police detective in Shanghai during the beginnings of China's shift to capitalism. Police work and Party politics, the later perhaps more dangerous. Start with Death of a Red Heroine.
57. DianaH
My favorite YA fantasy authors are Ps: Pierce, Pullman, Pratchett. I was lucky and did fall in love with Tamora Pierce's books when I was 11 or so. Her world-building in the Emelan books (somewhat less popular than the Tortall books, such as Alanna) is particularly interesting. I think for kids, starting with any of her quartets is good; for adults, I'd recommend the Kel books (Protector of the Small) or the Beka books (Provost's Dog).

Philip Pullman, I adore. All of his works are great. His Dark Materials is the go-to but the Sally Lockhart books are such fun.

Terry Pratchett: I love the early Discworld books and think The Color of Magic is a fine place to start, but the first one I read was The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, which is aimed at younger readers. For adult readers I think Guards, Guards! or TCoM are great.
58. Jim Henry III
Re: Mervyn Peake, I agree that Gormenghast is better than Titus Groan, but it's not so much better that one should read the books out of order. And I admit that Titus Alone is nowhere near as good as the first two, but it's not, IMO, so bad that you should skip it without trying it. There's a posthumously edited book of his short poems which was quite good, though not as good as the first two Gormenghast novels.

I'll second Jo's recommendations for Palwick, Pangborn, and Powers.
JS Bangs
59. jaspax
I can't believe I missed this when it was first written, since there are several P's I want to recommend.

K.J. Parker - I've only read the Engineer's Trilogy (starting with Devices and Desires), but it was brilliant and a fine place to start.

Roberto Pinto - It's not hard to find a place to start with him, since he's only written one thing: The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy. However, it's excellent, and highly recommended.
60. filkferengi
Mary Monica Pulver's _Murder At The War_ is a mystery set during the Pennsic War & the first Peter Brichter mystery.

Elizabeth Marie Pope wrote two YA novels, _The Perilous Gard_ and _The Sherwood Ring_, both of which are excellent.

Under the name Robin Paige, Susan Wittig Albert & her husband Bill Albert wrote a series of excellent Edwardian mysteries. The first is _Death At Bishop's Keep_.
Michael Ikeda
61. mikeda
Thought I'd mention Diana Peterfreund's Rampant.
Pamela Adams
62. PamAdams
Richard Purtill- his trilogy about Crete is wonderful. Start with The Golden Gryphon Feather.

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