Sun
Sep 5 2010 10:30am

OK, where do I start with that? X,Y,Z.

So this week we reach the end of the alphabet and the end of our alphabetical survey of my bookshelves. I’d like to thank everyone for such excellent additions and comments—I can only make suggestions for where to start with authors I read, and the additions have made this a much better series. Please continue to do this, and don’t hesitate to argue with me or with each other as to where is best to start. I hope this going to be actually useful for people. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, and I hope you have, too.

Some of the alphabet quotes I’ve used, and especially this one, are from Alison Uttley’s alphabet book, which I used to own as a poster when my son was a baby.

X contains one solitary author, and that on the classics shelves. You should start Xenophon with the Anabasis, or Inland Journey. It’s the true story of how some Greek mercenaries had adventures getting out of Persia. He also wrote a pile of other books all available on Gutenberg, which are all worth reading.

Y begins with W.B. Yeats, and while I have some of his fairy tales, if you haven’t read him you should certainly start with the poetry.

Next on my shelves is a book that doesn’t seem to be in print in this edition any more, what a pity, though the text is online. It’s The Word, by YHWH, the Bible in mass market paperback with a cover that makes it look like a post-apocalyptic novel. It’s the ideal edition for SF readers who want to sometimes look things up in the Bible but are slightly embarrassed to have one of those copies with a cross on the front that look so... religious.

Jane Yolen is an excellent poet and writer of YA and adult SF and fantasy. You could start with the brilliant but distressing Briar Rose, or with the Pit Dragon books. The only caveat with Yolen is to check the age range before buying, as she does write picture books for very young children. Of course, if you have very young children, that would be perfect.

Robert F. Young wrote some of the loveliest and most poetic short stories ever written—I used to rank him with Bradbury and Sturgeon, but he seems to be mostly forgotten these days. Start with the collection The Worlds of Robert F. Young, which somebody should reprint.

Roger Zelazny almost single-handedly fills a whole shelf, and he is one of the great writers of the genre. I would suggest starting either with the NESFA six volume edition of Zelazny’s collected short stories or with Nine Princes in Amber.

Stephan Zielinski has only written one book as far as I know, Bad Magic. It’s that unusual thing, a book well described by its tag line. “There are things man was not meant to know. Some people know them anyway. Sucks to be them.”

David Zindell wrote widescreen baroque SF novel Neverness and three sequels with the overall title A Requiem for Homo Sapiens, and a fantasy series I haven’t read. Start with Neverness, which closes my fiction bookshelves.


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.

44 comments
David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
Xenophon: I would only add that some of his work may really be only of specialist interest, but it is well-written and always easy to read. The Anabasis is sometimes called The March Up Country.

Yevgeny Zamyatin: (Your spelling milage may vary.) He was a Russian ex-pat who fled after the 1905 revolution and was never terribly popular with the Soviets either. His dystopia We may have influenced Brave New World and Anthem, and definitely influenced (by both authors' admission) 1984 and Player Piano.

Roger Zelazny: I definitely agree on starting with his short work. I'm less sanguine about recommending Nine Princes. I'm of an age that I eagerly awaited Courts of Chaos and ran out and bought the hardback as soon as it was released. I felt a bit let down by it. It is also something of an artifact of its time. If you're over 40 or 16 or 17, you'll probably like more than if you aren't. I would recommend either Roadmarks or my personal favorite Jack of Shadows. If you prefer fantasy, then try Dilvish, the Damned.
Nick Rogers
2. BookGoblin
I can recommend to anyone who likes "rocket romp" psudo-pulp fun John Zakour's "The Plutonium Blond" and it's five or six sequels.

Zakour calls them "bubble-gum for your brain" and while they're not cerebral character studies set against an intellectual monument of world building, they are good fun. If you ever looked at pulp sci-fi magazine covers from the fifties and wondered what THAT story was (because nothing between the covers ever came close), these are your stories.
jon meltzer
3. jmeltzer
> The Word

Is this anything like that famous Ace double War God of Israel/The Thing with Three Souls?  
Declan Ryan
4. decco999
George Zebrowski. I've only read five of his books, but I started with Macro Life (1979) - an excellent novel that covers the lifespan of the universe in its extent. The other books, The Omega Point Trilogy and Cave of Stars were a little hit-and-miss to my taste, anyhow.
James Davis Nicoll
5. James Davis Nicoll
Here's an obscure one: W.R. Yates. Start with Diasporah, which IIRC involves a space-Israel harried by evil space-Frenchmen In Space, and which I believe was Yates' only published novel. His only bit of published short fiction, also called Diasporah, was published in There Will Be War two years earlier.

It's been 25 years since I read it so I couldn't say if it was any good.
James Davis Nicoll
6. radagastslady
Y for Chelsea Quinn Yarbo. I have never been disappointed. She was doing historical vamps well before the current craze. I highly recommend Crusader's Torch.
James Davis Nicoll
7. radagastslady
forgot my favorite Zelazny: Lord of Light.
Laura Southcott
8. tallgrass
I second the motion for Zamyatin's We.

A few books that aren't really SFF but very nearly are, and are damn good regardless:

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar is a piece of historical fiction from the point of view of the Roman emperor. Full of luminous prose and lots of pathos; like I, Claudius but less timid.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is a convoluted (in a good way) mystery, as well as a book about loving books and a love letter to the city of Barcelona. Zafon also has a new book out called The Angel's Game; it's not quite as strong as Shadow of the Wind.
Caroline Kierstead
9. ctkierst
Zelazny's short stories are wonderful, and I don't normally care for short stories since they go by too quickly. My favourite book of his, though is "Lord of Light". "Creatures of Light an Darkness" is also good. "Roadmarks" is a favourite, though I haven't gone through the Amber books in quite a while. "Doorways in the Sand" is quite fun as well.

I loved Jack Williamson's "Brother to Demons, Brother to Gods" as a teenager--I really need to get that one down off the shelves.
James Davis Nicoll
10. Susan Loyal
Second the vote for Chelsea Quinn Yarbro--not only the St. Germain novels, which I began reading in the mid-70s, but also the earlier science fiction. Time of the Fourth Horseman epitomizes 70s distopic near-future SF for me. I'd suggest starting the St. Germain series with the second release, The Palace, which is historically stronger and a better stand-alone than the first release, Hotel Transylvania (which you'll want to pick up if you read much more of the series).

Re whether the Amber novels would be of interest to younger readers: A few years ago, when my stepson was sixteen, I handed him the omnibus version. He'd been having trouble finding a book that "hooked" him. For some reason I got up about 3 am and found him deep into Amber, sleep utterly forgotten. He looked up long enough to say "Not even a psychiatrist could help these people. Excuse me." And back he went.

Sarah Zettel. I've always loved her science fiction, which is all stand-alone, so really you can start anywhere. I'd especially recommend Fool's War and The Quiet Invasion. Her Isavalta fantasy series is truly interesting, but I never found it captivating. Start with the first, A Sorceror's Treason, especially if you're interested in Russian folklore or lighthouse keeping.
James Davis Nicoll
11. ofostlic
Timothy Zahn: many of his books are basically the same (and I think the Star Wars ones may be the best of these), but "A Coming of Age" is different and worth wider reading. It describes a world where children have telekinetic powers, which disappear at puberty. It's a growing-up story, but one where there is a much cleaner division between child and adult, and where kids actually have the physical power.
Ken Walton
12. carandol
"...which closes my fiction bookshelves."

But I'm sure you've acquired more books since you started writing about A. I suspect this is one of those Forth Bridge jobs.
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
I got nothing here in scifi/fantasy. I am not a Zalazny fan, Zahn is competent but nothing special. I know I have read something by Yarbro but I don't remember anything about it.

Something in Y, I will recomment Yeats.

I had to post something
Rob Munnelly
15. RobMRobM
Pretty thin way to end this epic project. Jo - congrats for an enjoyable few months.

Re Zelazny, I'm a fan (sorry John) and I especially enjoy Amber. The opening 50 pages where Corwin has no memory and his trying to figure out what the heck is going on gives me chills every time.

If you want to go short I'd recommend A Rose for Ecclesiastes - epic tale of an obsessed linguist seeking to communicate with the remaining handful of an alien race.

Going long, my favorite non-Amber work is This Immortal (also called And Call Me Conrad) - epic tale of a centuries-old freedom fighter resisting the takeover of Earth by aliens and uncovering a few surprising twists about the aliens and themselves. Very tightly written and less smart assedly clever than Lord of Light or his other later works. Well deserved Hugo winner in 1966.

Rob
Kate Shaw
16. KateShaw
Lawrence Yep writes a lot of historical YA and it's all good, but I love his YA fantasy Dragon of the Lost Sea. It's set in ancient China and has as main characters an earnest orphan, a cranky dragon princess, and, of course, Monkey. There are sequels but this one's the best.

I'm sorry to see the end of the alphabet. This has been a fun series, and I've found a lot of new authors this way. (In fact, I'm reading a book right now that was mentioned way back in the O's, a fantasy by Nick O'Donohoe, and enjoying it very much.)
James Davis Nicoll
17. David DeLaney
I own no books whose author starts with X. At all. (Titles, yes; authors, no.) And can't really think of any that aren't from "before SF and Fantasy existed as genres" - oh well. Y: a few; Z, about twice a few.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has written, among other things, a fairly long series about the vampire named the Count Saint-Germain and his ghoul/servant Rogero. It's supposed to be partly horror, but the ones I've read have very little of the traditional trappings of horror in them. (He's a very SUBDUED vampire...) It starts with _Hotel Transylvania_, and bounces back and forth across the centuries in the course of its (currently) 24 volumes plus five related ones.

Nicholas Yermakov is the real name of Simon Hawke, and I _always_ want to spell it "Yermankov" for some reason. He's written some books under that name as well, but I'd +really+ have to recommend you read his Hawke books instead. (As noted under H, the Time Wars series, starting with _The Ivanhoe Gambit_, gets my where-to-start for him.)

Timothy Zahn does have some series out; one current one is about a private eye working on interstellar railroad lines, and starts with _Night Train to Rigel_. Another is young-adult - young protagonist and alien dragon refugee who can turn into a two-dimensional layer on the protagonist's skin - and starts with _Dragon and Thief_. His Cobra series starts with _Cobra_.

John Zakour started off writing with Larry Ganem, and the first three books in the _The Plutonium Blonde_ series are coauthored with him. The next three are just Zakour. In case anyone gets messed up by trying to look for just him...

Zelazny - There are a LOT of places to start him. Not to mention "him plus someone else", which is where I first encountered Jane Linskold, for example. Let's see: _Nine Princes in Amber_ for Amber, yes; _Changeling_ and _The Changing Land_ for two different more-traditional-fantasy very short series; _Isle of the Dead_ for a short SF series with a fantasy feel that has psionics and gods; ... and several one-shots that nevertheless you HAVE to read - _Jack of Shadows_, _Lord of Light_, _Creatures of Light and Darkness_ , _A Dark Traveling_, _Roadmarks_, and ALL of his short story collections. ... It's not quite "start reading him anywhere, go until you've read all of him you can find, then stop, but keep a lookout for ones you haven't read", because I didn't like one of his novels and one of his short stories. (Eye of Cat, and one of the ones in, I think, Four for Tomorrow.) And his series with Sheckley starts with _Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming_.

Marc Scott Zicree is writing a fantasy series where each book is co-authored with a different other author; I don't THINK it's deliberate. It starts with _Magic Time_ (with Hambly); the other two are with Bohnhoff, and Wilson.

I poke Stephan Zielinski every once in a while about whether he's gonna start another book. For a while he's been interested in his photography instead, which his website, stephan-zielinski.com , displays. (Yeah, it's easy to get that sort of thing when your name's that unique.) Meanwhile, try Kate Griffin's _A Madness of Angels_ series...

Paul Edwin Zimmer was MZB's brother, and wrote a fantasy series of his own, heavy on epicness and psionics and battling against the Dark Lords for thousands of years and King-in-Yellow influences. It starts with _The Lost Prince_ (and its fifth book never got published, apparently).

--Dave

PS: Tor.com, your new comment box is still producing extensive fail when trying to paste plain text from Notepad. Please fix it so it doesn't insert dozens of /p - p pairs, and random br bits mid sentence, or br br pairs. Luckily this is the last long comment I'll need to cut and paste for a while, but even so, this has to be causing gross inconvenience for many of your other commenters as well... Combine that with "the front page of tor.com - but not any subsidiary pages, just the main www.tor.com one - invariably causes my Firefox (3.6.8) to freeze dead in its tracks and need to be restarted without that tab" and "trying to post a comment in IE6 causes it to be unable to display the next page and abort", and it's rather difficult to get feedback TO you-all in the first place...
Joe Romano
18. Drunes
No new authors to add, but I'm currently reading Roger Zelazny's book, And Call Me Conrad (also known as This Immortal). A relatively short book, at less than 200 pages, it won a Hugo in 1966. I think it's as good a place to start as any.

Like others here, I also wanted to thank Jo for undertaking this series of posts. Of course, thanks go to all who posted comments, too. It's been fun and given me a lot of new books to read.
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
DavidDelaney: I'd like to especially thank you -- I think you've commented on every single one of these posts with an excellent list of your own.

And in this round of "what did Jo forget this week" -- Zettel, yes, absolutely, and Zafon. For Yourcenar, I recommend starting with A Coin in Nine Hands, which absolutely blew me away and which has been really well translated, which is not the case with all of her work.
James Davis Nicoll
20. occasional reader
Jo, is there any way you could post a scan of that Bible cover? I recall hearing about such an edition around a dozen years ago (along with the requisite outrage from the expected sorts), but don't remember ever seeing a picture, and as you can imagine google searches on anything like "bible" "the word" "cover", and variations thereon don't come up with anything useful.

Also, before I forget, thanks for this series!
James Davis Nicoll
22. andyl
Zoran Živkovi? writes literary fantasy which is very good and has won the World Fantasy Award.

I've read his stories in Interzone and a few of the books that PS Publishing have published.
James Davis Nicoll
23. andyl
Damn just posted a longer suggestion about Zoran Zivkovic which failed for some reason.

Anyway he is well worth reading if you like literary fantasy and is a World Fantasy Award winner for his mosaic novel The Library.
Rich Horton
24. ecbatan
I second the recommendation for Zoran Zivkovic.

Roger Zelazny's son, Trent Zelazny, has published quite a few short stories (no novels yet, to my knowledge). I've only read a couple, and my memory of them is that he's a competent writer, even a fine one, with interests that don't necessarily match mine.

(His son, by the way, Roger's grandson, is named Corwin Random Zelazny, which is cute. And that reminds me that their was a world-class ice skater a few years ago named Amber Corwin (she finished as high as 4th in the US nationals) -- I always wondered if her parents gave her that name as a Zelazny nod.)

No further recommendations, except to reiterate how great a poet W. B. Yeats was, and to mention that I enjoyed Nicholas Yermakov's work under his own name but for some reason have never much cottoned to the Simon Hawke stuff (probably unfairly, never gave it much of a chance).
James Davis Nicoll
25. vcmw
I also really liked Timothy Zahn's Dragon and Thief. I am saving the sequels to read sometime when I am bored and cranky. It struck me as the kind of straight-ahead sf action for kids that isn't written so much lately (I get awfully bored with yet-another-dystopias), but with more charm and better characters than average.

I second the Laurence Yep praise. He has a new in-genre series starting, with the first book called City of Fire, that I am very excited about. For those who *only* read sff, it's probably a good idea to point out that Yep writes lots of historical and contemporary stuff as well, and the titles alone don't necessarily serve as a good guide to the genre of the story.

For non-sf, Yevgeny Yevtushenko - I quite liked some of his poetry. The novels are not genre at all, so I'm not sure if genre readers would like them. The poetry collection I started with was called Stolen Apples.
James Davis Nicoll
26. a-j
Jack Yeovil (pseudonym for Kim Newman) has been already mentioned some time back I seem to remember. The Yeovil books are different enough from the Newman books, imho, for them to be considered seperately. He wrote a series of stories set in the Warhammer universe of which the first is Drachenfels and is the best starting point. About the only high fantasy that I can still read fwiw. If you prefer SF, he also wrote a quartet for the Dark Futures shared universe books, again the first one, Demon Download, is the best starting point.

And may I add my thanks for a fun and illuminating series.
Linden Wolfe
27. Lilith
I'm really sorry we have run out of letters because I've really been enjoying this series. I suspect I'll be using it as a basis for trying out authors for a long time to come. It's been fascinating to see what an eclectic bunch of readers we are, too.

Everyone has beaten me to the punch on the suggestions I would have made, so I'll just second (third?) the recommendations for Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain books, Zelazny's Lord of Light (one of two books that got me reading SF, way back when - the other was Stranger in a Strange Land); Stephan Zielinski's Bad Magic (has he done anything since?); and the poetry of WB Yeats.
James Davis Nicoll
28. Kvon
I'll second Sarah Zettel's Fool's War. One of the first books that my whole book club liked. I also liked her Reclamation.

One more ya author: Mary Frances Zambreno wrote A Plague of Sorcerors to start off a duology about a magician in training.
Andrew Barton
29. MadLogician
My favourite Zelazny hasn't been mentioned - it's 'A Night in the Lonesome October', his last book. This might be a good place to start for those who don't find the Amber series appeals.
James Davis Nicoll
30. HelenS
I can't help but mention Charlotte Yonge (as I am always doing -- I call her my Queen Charlotte's Head). Where to start? Probably _The Daisy Chain_, though if you can lay your hands on the 1960s reprint of _Countess Kate_ with illustrations by the amazing Gwen Raverat, that would be good, too.

Yonge did write some things that could be called fantasy, including some retellings of myths in modern dress (or relatively modern -- e.g., she retold the story of Cupid and Psyche in an eighteenth-century setting in _Love and Life_). Fantasy was not her strong point, but she came up with some interesting results.
Lannis .
31. Lannis
Thanks for doing this series, Jo! It's been (and will continue to be) incredibly handy! :)
Estara Swanberg
32. Estara
Re: Zettel's Fool's War is available as an ebook at the Book View Café collective of which she is a founding member.

And thank you for this series, this and your re-read series are my favourite posts on Tor.com
Estara Swanberg
33. Estara
Okay, for whatever reason I got a posting error, repeated the send and suddenly there are two posts. Sorry!
I agree that this helpful pre-selected bbcode-tag thing isn't really working so well. Especially when you add links.
Soon Lee
34. SoonLee
Another plug for Roger Zelazny's "A night in the lonesome October". I'm especially fond of it as a stand-alone Zelazny that shows his wonderful sense of humour & wit, not to mention the numerous nods to the old classics.

David Zindell: Start with "Neverness" but I also really like the "A Requiem for Homo Sapiens" trilogy which starts with "The broken god".
James Davis Nicoll
35. OtterB
Zahn, I recommend his novella Cascade Point.

Thanks for the series, Jo. It's been fun - although it has added to my TBR pile.
Nancy Lebovitz
36. NancyLebovitz
Thank you for the series.

I'm seconding the recommendation for Paul Edwin Zimmer. Aside from just being good fantasy, his Lost Prince series has a satisfying piece of good sense. The humans are fighting Lovecraftian, land-poisoning horrors. There are angelic powers on the other side, but they're just too busy fighting on their own level to do more than help the humans occasionally.

I'm also fond of his and his sister's Hunters of the Red Moon, an solid "humans kidnapped by aliens to risk their lives for alien entertainment" story.
James Davis Nicoll
37. DJMoore
If I could only have one Zelazny, it would be Lord of Light, not only because I dearly love the story, but because of its last line. I have long wondered what it felt like to have that line come out of his fingers. The only objection to it as a starting place is that it sets such a very high standard.

Intelligence researcher Eliezer S. Yudkowsky's only work of fiction so far is not only incomplete, but a fanfic, and not only a fanfic, but a fanfic of, so help me, Harry Potter. Ladles and gentlegerms, I present to you Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Better than the original, it's funnier, more intelligent, and far more inquisitive. It may actually turn out to be, dare I say it, important, if only as an introduction to his non-fiction. See Eric S. Raymond's review.

Along with everyone else, thank you for this excellent series. My reading stack just got bigger.
James Davis Nicoll
38. DJMoore
Ah, of course I am wrong about Yudkowsky having written no other fiction.
James Davis Nicoll
39. filkferengi
I enjoy Robert F. Young's novels, especially _Eridahn_, but had not known about his short stories. Thanks, Jo!

Thanks for doing this whole series; it's been lots of fun!
James Davis Nicoll
40. DianaH
I confess I really love Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novels, but then I read the Expanded Universe books like they're going out of print, so.


Echoing the Jane Yolen love. Her strange short novel The Wild Hunt is something special, and I loved the Pit Dragon books as a kid. She dips her fingers into so many genres and formats, and it's just about always great.
Tim FItches
41. El Fitcho
I've read a bit of Zindell. Neverness is well worth a read, but I couldn't get into the follow-up trilogy.
His fantasy series The Ea Cycle I thoroughly enjoyed - a cheap, cheerful but very satisfying fantasy quest with strong hints of LotR and Wheel of Time.
Helen Cousins
42. naath.sedai
Now of course I am strugling to think of authors beginning with X. The only one I can think of is Xinran; I have only read her non-fiction work although she has also written novels.
S. L. Casteel
43. castiron
Mary Frances Zambreno: A Plague of Sorcerors is an interesting read, especially for the skunk familiar.
James Davis Nicoll
44. Caroline Mullan
I cannot believe no-one has mentioned the incredible Pamela Zoline, whose classsic short story The Heat Death of the Universe has been widely anthologised - my copy is in the Women's Press anthology Busy About the Tree of Life.
James Davis Nicoll
46. katrinka
For anyone who has trouble finding Carlos Ruiz Zafon, he's usually in the R's. He wrote some young adult fantasy, too, the first of which, The Prince of Mist, has just come out in English. All of his stuff, so far, is a little dark, but compelling. The first of the adult novels, The Shadow of the Wind, is part of a projected four-book set, connected by certain elements in the story, so really you should be able to start anywhere.

Thanks from me, too, for doing this series. I found it late, so this is the first comment I've made. I want to go back and add a few to some of the other letters.

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