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OK, where do I start with that? S


OK, where do I start with that? S

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OK, where do I start with that? S


Published on August 8, 2010

Where Do I Start With That--S

I’ve had evidence this week that some people are actually finding this useful for its intended purpose of finding out where to start reading authors they’ve never read before—someone told me they’d been holding off on starting an author until we got to that letter. So, onward along the bookshelves!

S is a huge letter for my shelves, but I’m sure there will also be lots of good writers starting with S I haven’t read. Please add them—my list is a personal list of recommendations for writers I know about, any additions you read and I don’t are very welcome. Also, feel free to disagree with me, or with each other, about good places to start. The discussion on these threads has been great.

Georgia Sallaska—Okay, you’ve never heard of her, but she wrote an absolutely brilliant version of the Iliad from Cassandra’s point of view called Priam’s Daughter. If you like historical novels it’s well worth seeking out.

Pamela Sargent has written a lot of good solid well written SF—start with Venus of Dreams, about terraforming Venus.

Dorothy Sayers—Peter Wimsey reading order is here, but what Pamela Dean suggested I do worked very well, which was to start with the standalone and excellent Nine Tailors (post) to see if I liked them, and then go back and read them in order. If you want to start with her translation of Dante or her religious plays, you probably know that already.

John Scalzi—start with Old Man’s War.

Karl Schroeder’s first novel, Ventus (post), is online for free, but the best place to start him is with the astonishingly brilliant Lady of Mazes (post).

George Scithers was an editor whose tastes tended towards the light and funny. Cat Tales, which is in print, contains Leiber’s “Spacetime for Springers” and gives a good enough feeling for the kind of editor Scithers was.

Melissa Scott mostly writes the kind of SF I like, with space stations, but she has also written some fantasy and alternate history, mostly with Liza Barnett. If you prefer fantasy start with Point of Hopes (post) and if you prefer SF start with The Kindly Ones.

Paul Scott—He’s a mainstream writer whose main subject is the British Raj. I think his very best book is Staying On.

I wonder if Vikram Seth goes next to Paul Scott on a lot of people’s shelves? You can start anywhere, everything I’ve read of his is excellent, but A Suitable Boy (post) is probably the best place, unless you’re intimidated by the length.

Bob Shaw was a British SF writer who wrote a lot of solid, short, extrapolatory SF and some very funny essays and short stories. You probably want to start with Other Days, Other Eyes, as it’s a classic.

George Bernard Shaw—start with Saint Joan.

Robert Sheckley wrote some of the best and funniest and most memorable short SF stories ever. You could start with a collection, or with his quirky novel Mindswap.

Sharon Shinn—The Safe Keeper’s Secret. It’s YA fantasy, but it seems to be serious in the way that a lot of her adult books aren’t.

With Nevil Shute I usually start people with Trustee From the Toolroom, but you might want to see my post about No Highway.

I think the best thing to do if you’re starting on Silverberg would be to read his collected short stories, because that would give you a sense of his significance to the field over time. If you want a novel, then try his masterpiece Dying Inside (post).

For the inimitable Clifford Simak, I suggest starting with Way Station (post).

Dan Simmons has written a lot of things that edge into horror, which are therefore not to my taste. Hyperion (post) is science fiction, and it’s wonderful.

Joan Slonzewski—start with Door Into Ocean (post).

Cordwainer Smith was one of the people who marked out the space of what SF can be. Start with We the Underpeople, which contains Norstrilia and some of the short stories in the same universe. (It’s a pity Baen put such a clunky title on that, as Smith’s own titles are poetic and memorable.)

Dodie Smith—I highly recommend I Capture the Castle (post). Not SF, and not about capturing castles either.

Sherwood Smith—start with Crown Duel, an excellent fantasy that stands alone, or Inda, which begins a four book series.

S.P. Somtow is a Thai SF and fantasy writer and musician. Start with Jasmine Nights (post).

Muriel Spark was a British literary writer. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a very good book about the exercise of power. It makes an interesting paired reading with Nineteen Eighty Four.

Francis Spufford—start with Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin. (post)

Brian Stableford has written lots of SF and some hard to classify fantastical, and I think he’s best approached through his collection The Great Chain of Being.

With Neal Stephenson, I think it would be best to begin with Crypotonomicon, (post), because I think it would give you a good sense of whether you liked what he was doing or not.

Bruce Sterling emerged with cyberpunk, but he’s done a lot more of that. I’m going to suggest a collection to see the breadth of his work, but if you want a novel then I think his future-election thriller Distraction is a good place to start.

Jennifer Stevenson’s Trash Sex Magic is an amazing urban fantasy somewhat in the tradition of Sean Stewart.

Robert Louis Stevenson—start with Kidnapped. I started with his poetry, which, when I was a child I really believed that he had written when he was himself a child.

With Caroline Stevermer, you could start with her standalone fantasy When the King Comes Home (post) or if you like fanrast of manners, with her collaboration with Patricia Wrede, Sorcery and Cecelia.

I suppose most people start Mary Stewart with her Merlin books. If you like gothics, do try Nine Coaches Waiting.

Sean Stewart is one of the best writers of contemporary North American fantasy. Start with Mockingbird.

Catherine Storr wrote the terrifying children’s book Marianne Dreams, and a number of other fantastical children’s books. That’s the one to start with, though if you can find Thursday it’s a Tam Lin version.

Jack Trevor Story was a very odd writer, whose books are mainstream but not like anything else. Start with Live Now, Pay Later.

Noel Streatfeild wrote excellent unsentimental children’s books. Start with Ballet Shoes. Oh, and in case you read some of these as a kid in the U.S., I want to tell you they all have real titles that don’t mention shoes, except Ballet Shoes, and the real titles are much better.

Charlie Stross is one of the rising stars of SF. Start with Halting State, quickly, before it gets out of date.

There seem to be a whole pile of writers this week where I’m telling you to start with the short stories. Theodore Sturgeon is all about the short work. He wrote some of the best things ever written, all of them short. If you really insist on a novel, try Venus Plus X, very clever utopia. But what you really want is Selected Stories and then you can move on to the other stories.

Rosemary Surcliff wrote historical fiction that would probably be called YA today. Start with The Eagle of the Ninth.

Gosh, that really was a lot! But I bet you have more, you always do.

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.

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
Learn More About Jo
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