Aug 22 2010 11:00am

OK, where do I start with that? U and V.

This week our alphabetical look along my bookshelves deciding where to start reading different authors reaches U... and V, because U isn’t very long.

These are my personal recommendations. I don’t read everything, so there are going to be some things missing. Indeed, a friend was teasing me that these posts should be called “What major writer has Jo forgotten this week?” Please add writers you read that I don’t, with good starting places. Feel free to disagree with me or with each other.

U begins with Leon Uris. I hear that Exodus isn’t very historically accurate, but it’s where to start anyway.

Alison Uttley wrote the Little Grey Rabbit books, and I find myself with very strong opinions as to where you should start them, which is Tales of Little Grey Rabbit. These are very old children’s books (though not as old as a lot of what I read as a child—one volume is Hare Joins the Home Guard which makes it solidly WWII) about a rabbit, a hare and a squirrel living in peaceful polyamory among their friends the hedgehog, the mole, the owl and so on. They have lovely illustrations. She also wrote some books for older children, of which the best is A Traveller in Time.

V is a rather better populated letter. A.E. Van Vogt was a Canadian writer of pulp SF noted for its huge ideas and backgrounds. You should start with Voyage of the Space Beagle.

Next comes John Varley, brilliant writer, who you should start with the collected Eight Worlds stories (post).

Gore Vidal wrote a lot of historical novels, and you should start with Julian, which is about Julian the Apostate and is terrific.

Barbara Vine is a pen name of Ruth Rendell, separated for marketing reasons I don’t entirely understand, as it’s never been a secret. They’re crime novels in a different mode. My favourite Vine is Grasshopper.

Joan D. Vinge—start with Psion.

Vernor Vinge is one of the best science fiction writers of all time, and you should definitely start with A Fire Upon the Deep (post).

Elisabeth Vonarburg—start with In The Mother’s Land (post) or the excellent collection Blood Out of a Stone.

And lastly Kurt Vonnegut, who you should start with Cat’s Cradle, one of the few funny books about the end of the world that isn’t silly.

Next week, W, and the ethical dilemma of whether I should include myself.

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.

1. Dietes
Jack Vance: Tales on the Dying Earth
Wen Wen Yang
2. muteddragon
Vivian Vande Velde is a YA writer, I'd start with Being Dead, a short story collection, horror and without happily ever after fairy tales. And Dragon's Bait, about a girl being sacrificed to a dragon.
Ursula L
3. Ursula
Jo - Include yourself. If blogging isn't a suitable venue for self-promotion, I don't know what is. And it isn't like you'd be saying "read me instead of them."
Joe Romano
4. Drunes
I second Jack Vance, but suggest starting with the "Jack Vance Treasury" if you've never read anything by him. It gives a good taste of both his fantasy and science fiction, including "Tales of the Dying Earth". In the collection, start with his short story, "The Miracle Workers." If you're not addicted to Vance immediately, you never will be.

I'd also suggest starting A.E. Van Vogt with "Slan". It's dated, for sure, but it's also very short and puts the early years of SF in perspective.

Also, Kurt Vonnegut. When I was in college everybody read him, but I know he turned into a grumpy old man and seldom see anyone with one of his books now. Still, you're missing something if you've never read "Slaughterhouse Five." As good as that book is, though, I'd start with "The Sirens of Titan" or, as Jo suggests, "Cat's Cradle."
David Holden
5. davidholden
Isn't "In the Mothers' Land/The Maerlande Chronicles" a sequel to her "The Silent City"?
Theodore Minick
6. myrkul999
Jo, Do include yourself.

You're an author, Your name starts with W. That's the only credentials I think you need. ;)
7. legionseagle
You could include yourself with the suitable disclaimer that "Given the desert island is assumed already to be fully furnished with the complete works, these are the other recommendations for the letter W".

What about John Verney, British children's (teenage) author of the 1960s, author of Friday's Tunnel, February's Road Seven Sunflower Seedsand ismo? They can be a bit too clever for their own good, but I recall from my youth acquiring a deep desire for a pair of white knee high vinyl boots under their influence, which has to count for something.

They are vaguely sf in a vaguely Avengers/The Prisoners style over substance way, I'd say.
Michal Jakuszewski
8. Lfex
Catherynne Valente - definitely start with wonderful The Orphan' Tales duology.

Jeff Vandermeer is more complicated proposition. Ciyt of Saints and Madmen is first volume of his loose trilogy, but is also less accessible than next volumes. The last volume, Finch, is the best, IMHO, but you will probably miss something, if you haven't read two previous books. Perhaps it would be best to start with short stories.

Vercors was pseudonym of French author Jean Bruller who did wrote some SpecFic novels. The most popular was Les Animaux dénaturés which apparently was translated into English under three different titles - You Shall Know Them, Borderline, and The Murder of the Missing Link
Richard Chapling
9. Chappers
Jules Verne. Strange that he should be missing on Tor, but Around the World in Eighty Days is a good one, especially if you don't know the ending. If you like submarines, there's obviously 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
David Levinson
10. DemetriosX
Arthur W. Upfield: He wrote several mystery novels about a half-aborigine detective named Napoleon Bonaparte, better known as Bony. They're wonderful, even though the racism fairy has paid them a slight visit. They also offer a look at most of Australia in the 30s-50s. Start either with The Barrakee Mystery, which is the first, or with the second The Sands of Windee, which is an absolute classic and actual inspired a real murder which Upfield had to testify about in court.

Jules Verne: Mustn't forget one of the grandfathers of the genre. Start with A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea or From the Earth to the Moon.

Virgil: Not a big fan, but you should probably read the Aeneid at some point.

Vonnegut: General concurrence, though Player Piano is also a good start. I wouldn't actually start with Slaughterhouse 5. It can be a bit off-putting.

Otherwise, pretty much what everyone else said. And Jo should include her works, who better than she knows what the best starting place would be. W is pretty large, and then I suppose we'll do XYZ in one go?
Steve Oerkfitz
11. SteveOerkfitz
John Varley-I would start with The John Varley Reader. Then his earlier novels. His last few books are not nearly as good.
Gore Vidal-I would second Julian, probably his best book.
Vonnegut-Slaughterhouse 5, Cat's Cradle or Gof Bless You Mr Rosewater.
Jack Vance-So many good places to start-all the above recommendations are fine. Would also include The Demon Prices books and Lyonesse.
12. Kvon
For Joan Vinge, I'd start with The Snow Queen.

Vivian Vande Velde I started with The Changeling Prince.

No Us on my shelf at all.

I don't think Jo should list herself, let the first ten commenters do it instead. I doubt you can be nonjudgmental about your own books.
René Walling
13. cybernetic_nomad
Voltaire Wrote an early proto-SF story, Micromégas about aliens visiting the earth
Nick Rogers
14. BookGoblin
I've been waiting all week for this post...and then Lfex beat me to it.

Catherynne Valente is my favorite author who's not dead or a British transplant living in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

She's not written a thing that's not utterly worth reading; from her poetry to her prose, it's all delightful and entrancing and enchanting in equal measures even when it's horrifying and unnerving and disquieting to one's soul.

If you enjoy reading masterful expressions of ideas where both the ideas and the expression are each masterful in their own exquisite ways, please read her words.

Start anywhere. Simply anywhere.

For me, the most moving thing she has written is the short story that was the seed for her novel Palimpsest. It can be read online here, and is from the wonderful anthology Paper Cities which I recommend whole-heartedly.
15. PhoenixFalls
Agree with everyone (including the OP) that Cat's Cradle is an excellent place to start Vonnegut -- it's where I started and I went on to slam all the rest of his novels in the next six months. :)

Agree with Lfex @8 that The Orphan's Tales is fantastic and the place to start with Valente.

And one author new to the list: Elizabeth Vaughn wrote a really light (but pleasant) fantasy romance trilogy under Tor's paranormal imprint (but which isn't what I consider paranormal, as there is nothing modern or urban about it) consisting of Warprize, Warsworn, and Warlord. They're excellent guilty-pleasure reading.
Lenny Bailes
16. lennyb
I recommend Emphyrio as a starting place for Jack Vance. I think it's the best of all his novels.
Ursula L
17. Ursula
I don't think Jo should list herself, let the first ten commenters do it instead. I doubt you can be nonjudgmental about your own books.

No reason not to have both - Jo's opinion, and the agreements or disagreements of commenters, same as we have agreements and disagreements on commenters about the reading order for all the authors listed.
18. mairreading
*runs off to check shelf*

Got one! How about Sigrid Undset? Copies of The Axe and The Snake Pit, which are the first two volumes in a tetralogy called The Master of Hestviken, found their way onto my bookshelves 20 years ago. Ten years later I picked up The Axe on a whim, and couldn't put it down. I requested the final two volumes from interlibrary loan (In the Wilderness, and The Son Avenger) before I started The Snake Pit, and a good thing, too.

I never could get into the highly praised Kristin Lavransdatter (maybe I'll try again some day), so given my experience, I have to recommend starting Sigrid Undset with The Axe.
Heloise Larou
19. Heloise
Paula Volsky is a criminally underrated author who transplants historical events (like the French revolution) or 19th century novels (like the Count of Monte Christo) into a fantasy context where they undergo a sea-change into something rich and strange. Start with The Wolf of Winter which takes place in her version of tsarist Russia.
Rich Horton
20. ecbatan
I've really enjoyed Carrie Vaughn's work so far -- some fine (and not well known) short fiction, and a passel of novels, the great majority in an enjoyable urban fantasy series about Kitty Norville, werewolf and talk radio hostess. Start, of course, at the beginning, with Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

As for Vance, I'd say start with Emphyrio -- it's a standalone, it's very good, it's rather short.

I definitely also second the recommendations for Catherynne M. Valente, and for The Orphan's Tales.
jon meltzer
21. jmeltzer
For Verne, watch out for bad translations. The "von Hardwigg" version of "Center to the Earth" is particularly wretched.

Gore Vidal wrote a couple of genre works ("Kalki", "Voyage to A Small Planet") but his historical fiction is better. "Julian" or "Burr".

And Jack Vance. Another vote for "Treasury", which has all the hits.
john mullen
22. johntheirishmongol
The one outstanding writer I see missing is A.E. van Vogt. I would start with Slan or The Weapon Shops of Isher, but those are personal faves. You cannot really go wrong. I doubt any are in print but search around
j p
23. sps49
Van Vogt's Slan is good, especially if you are early- mid teens (the protagonist is 10 or so at the beginning).

For (male) teens/ young adults, Robert E. Vardeman co-wrote the War of Powers series of (only) six quick books, with a fair amount of sexing and adventure in them.

I have only read Varley's "Wizard" books and a pair of post- Earth invasion Moon books (Steel Beach and another). I haven't yet gone looking for the Eight Worlds stories Jo posted about earlier.
Ron Griggs
24. RonGriggs
Let's not forget Sydney J. Van Scyoc, who wrote short stories and at least half a dozen scifi novels in the 1970s and 80s. I remember the DarkChild trilogy and this may be a good place to start.
David Levinson
26. DemetriosX
I was never able to get into Slan or the whole Null-A thing. I've enjoyed van Vogt's short fiction, though, and some of his fix-up novels from shorter works, like Space Beagle.
Jo Walton
27. bluejo
DavidHolden: Yes, it's a loose sequel to The Silent City but not in the kind of way that's likely to do any harm -- I first read them out of order.

I wish more Vonarburg would be translated, because she's so good and I hear my Francophone friends talking about her newer books and feel so envious.
Pasi Kallinen
28. paxed
Mark L. Van Name - One Jump Ahead
Paul Andinach
29. anobium
For Verne, watch out for bad translations. The "von Hardwigg" version of "Center to the Earth" is particularly wretched.

Likewise, beware the the "Mercier Lewis" translation of "Twenty Thousand Leagues". (And approach with caution any edition of any Verne novel that doesn't identify the translation, because that usually means it's the oldest and/or cheapest translation the publisher could find.)

On the other hand, I've heard good things from several sources about the Naval Institute Press edition of "Twenty Thousand Leagues" (translator: Walter James Miller), though I haven't had a chance to read it myself.
30. a-j
Voltaire's 'Candide' is good fun, if occasionally weird as a rabbit.
Another Verne warning, watch out for abridged editions. I still remember the fury I had as an 11/12 year old when I discovered that my copy of 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' was abridged. That's the one I'd start with, by the way.
31. Brian2
I suspect that you could stop reading van Vogt after Space Beagle, but then, I recently reread it, and it was so much better than I remembered it that I may be wrong about the rest. I'd read it half a dozen times while a kid, and had the impression years later that, monsters apart, it was van Vogt going off on yet another self help book-like system that put the protagonist above and apart from the common herd. That turned out not to be so. The protagonist, Grosvenor, is something called a Nexialist, and it starts off looking as if he's the only one on the ship with any insight, and that disaster will strike because no one is listening to him. But then people do start to follow Grosvenor's advice, and he makes mistakes that get people killed.

As for the "monsters," while I doubt that van Vogt actually expected you to want them to win, there's certainly that tendency. You see things from their viewpoint much of the time. They're more intelligent and more highly advanced than the humans beings, and their motivations make sense -- they're the last of their species, and don't want it to die off. They're much more spontaneous than the human beings, who are grey and plodding, and they're ancient and mysterious.
jon meltzer
32. jmeltzer
van Vogt's critical reputation seems to have recovered from the demolish job Damon Knight did on him, but he appears to be seen as a proto-Philip K. Dick now. Nevertheless, he was as big as Heinlein back then and IMHO a good best-of, including the original versions of the Weapon Shop and Space Beagle stories, is badly needed.
33. DianaH
Please do include yourself! In light of this series being the "where to begin" series, I'm always interested in where authors think readers should begin with their own books.

As a teenager I LOVED A.E. van Vogt. My hometown library had a whole shelf of van Vogt and I read them over and over.
Linden Wolfe
34. Lilith
Not SF, but I recommend Andrew Vachss – the Burke Series – not for those of delicate sensibilities as it deals graphically with issues such as child abuse. The series starts with Flood, but I don’t really feel the series hits it’s stride until Hard Candy. If you don’t want to delve into a series, his stand alone, Haiku, is very good.
35. Saladin Ahmed
Uris' Exodus is not only shabby re: historical veracity, but also fairly racist.

Interesting how there are so many Vonnegut recs and everyone seems to pick a different book. I'd go the Breakfast of Champions route, myself.

Second the Voltaire and Anaeid recs.
36. bonniewarford
S.L. Viehl has a ten-book space opera series, the first of which is StarDoc. Start there.

Writing as Lynn Viehl, she also has a vampire/dark fantasy/romance series, beginning with If Angels Burn.

Denise Vitola has a unique dystopia/werewolf (sort of) series which begins with Quantum Moon, but I think the books are all out of print.
Liza .
37. aedifica
For U I would add Peter Ustinov's The Old Man and Mr. Smith. (Yes, Peter Ustinov the actor.)

For V, I second the recommendation of Voltaire's Candide.

And there you have the entirety of the U and V authors on my paperback shelves (hardcovers aren't in alphabetical order yet so I'm not sure about those).
38. David DeLaney
For U the only author I have at all is Laura (J.) Underwood; she's local to Knoxville, and I've got two novels by her; _Ard Magister_ is a standalone fantasy about a mageborn kid, and _Dragon's Tongue_ is apparently the first in a series. (She's also written various short fantasy stories.)

V is much more populated. (But I don't HAVE any Cat Valente yet...)

Greg van Eekhout had only written one SF novel so far, that I knew of, so my recommendation was going to be easy: start with _Norse Code_, a fantasy about the Norse Gods, mercenaries, and the possible end of the world. But it seems he's written a children's book this year also. I'm still going with _Norse Code_.

Eric Van Lustbader writes fantasy (and thrillers). Start his Sunset Warrior series with _The Sunset Warrior_; start the Pearl series with _The Ring of Five Dragons_. I have no idea whether his Bourne novels are any good, but I can't really imagine he'd be able to make them _bad_.

Mark Van Name (already mentioned a few posts up) is a recent author who has been writing a series about Jon, a nano-enhanced mercenary, and Lobo, his sentient jumpship. It starts with _One Jump Ahead_.

A.E. van Vogt - You can also start him with _The World of Null-A_.

Robert Vardeman - His Cenotaph Road series (also 6 books) starts with _Cenotaph Road_; his War of Powers series starts with _The Sundered Realm_.

John Varley - He can also be started with: _Titan_, start of the Gaea trilogy, or the much more recent _Red Thunder_, about an invention called the "squeezer" and a spaceship to Mars built out of railroad cars.

Carrie Vaughn has been writing about a lady werewolf named Kitty who has a radio show called _The Midnight Hour_ where she talks about, and with, the supernatural denizens of her world. It starts with _Kitty and the Midnight Hour_ (and is currently 8 books and counting).

Vernor Vinge - yes, you should start with _A Fire Upon the Deep_. But you should ALSO start with _Marooned in Realtime_, which I can only describe as a "time opera" that's also a mystery novel, and at the same time you should start with the story collection titled _True Names_. Each of them is something you should have read, like, yesterday. I cannot help you with the timing problems this induces, alas.

Paul Andinach
39. anobium
Dave: "Marooned in Realtime"? Not "The Peace War"?
40. starstruck
What's your criteria for including a writer, Jo? They have to appear on your bookshelf, wasn't it? So if you shelve your own novels with all your other books by all means include yourself. If you keep them in a place of honour elsewhere, don't mention yourself. You can be sure you'll be added in the comments anyway!
41. David DeLaney
anobium@39: It may be an artifact of my preferences, but while I like The Peace War a lot, I found it more low-key and ... social? ... than Marooned in Realtime, even though it's also giving us a fairly good glimpse at "N decades after the quiet apocalypse" for a different apocalypse. I'm thinking it's less likely to grab a new reader and not let them go until the book's done than MiR is? And you don't actually have to know the bobble backstory from tPW to read MiW (if I remember right)... so I'm recommending MiR over tPW as a starting point.

42. filkferengi
Anne Ursu--start with _The Shadow Thieves_.

I started Vivian Vande Velde with _Curses, Inc. And Other Stories_; it's a good introductory sampler.
44. dmg
Oh, god, Jo, but I think you will love this video!

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