Entry-Level Fiction — A Guest Post By Christopher Nuttal

[Christopher Nuttall sent me this, and I thought it it might spawn an interesting discussion.  Yes, I do promise an original — and my — post tomorrow.  Sorry.  I’m trying to at least catch up on SOME of the things that slid while I was sick.  At any rate Chris reminded me of my unhappy attempts to introduce friends to science fiction.  While I think what he says is true to some extent, it’s also exacerbated, in the present era, by the tendency to series.  While series seem to be a decent deal for writers/publishers, I wonder if they’re not, in some small measure responsible for the diminished printruns of our day.  I know I’ve found myself frustrated trying to enter a series in book 10 (this was much worse when the other nine were likely to be out of print by the time I found ten.  This is now, fortunately, a thing of the past.)]

Entry-Level Fiction — A Guest Post By Christopher Nuttal

The recent kerfuffle over the direction of SF fandom started me thinking about how I got into the scene myself.

I have a terrible confession to make.

When I first looked at Starship Troopers, I didn’t like it.

In my defense (before I get booted out of the Heinlein Fan Club), when I first looked at it I was somewhere around eight or nine and already reading well outside my age group.  Science-fiction had captured my interest from a very young age; I started with basic children’s books, then just kept working my way upwards through the library’s vast selection.  But some books were just too complex for me at the time, including both Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land.  It wasn’t until much later that I actually got into the former.  The latter, while very clever in places, never struck me as a readable book.

A few years later, I was asked to recommend a book for a friend who was trying to get into space opera.  And I, vast devourer of science-fiction books, recommended Excession, by Iain M. Banks.  But my friend didn’t like it!  He read through the first few chapters, pointed out that he didn’t have the slightest idea of what was actually going on and then gave up.

My first reaction was shock.  Blasphemy!  How could someone not like Iain M. Banks?

And then it dawned on me that I’d tossed my friend into the metaphorical deep end.

Excession is a genuinely clever book that rewards its readers, but it really needs some prior knowledge of the Culture Universe before it becomes accessible.  This is actually true of most of the later Culture books, even though they’re not sequels in the normal sense; they reward the long-term readers more than they reward newcomers.  These days, I would advise readers to start with The Player of Games and then work their way through the universe from there.

This is true of many other terrifyingly-thick books.  The Mars books, by Kim Stanley Robinson, are definite doorstoppers.  Unlike the Culture novels, there isn’t a single small novel to help someone into the universe from the shallow end.  When I first read Red Mars, I enjoyed parts of it, but other parts just bored me.  KSR put a lot of work into the series and I won’t deny that it is an impressive achievement, yet it isn’t particularly accessible to the new fan.

Science-fiction is a genre that rewards long-term interest and investment, but it rarely rewards people who try to start out with an inaccessible book.

Consider, for example, David Weber’s On Basilisk Station and Mission of Honor.  The former is very accessible (indeed, it was my first Weber book) while anyone who picks up the latter without any knowledge of the previous eleven mainstream books is going to be very confused.  Who is [insert name here]?  What are they doing with [insert planet name here]?

If one looks at Heinlein in general, it is easy to see that some of his books are more accessible than others, particularly for the young or new SF fan.  Indeed, to some extent, the earliest books he wrote are often more accessible to the young.  Most of Heinlein’s detractors, I suspect, actually tried to start with his older works.  Job; A Comedy of Justice is often funny and quite clever, but it doesn’t pass the accessibility test.  Heinlein wrote to reward his fans, rather than invite newcomers into his works.

JK Rowling is another author who passes the accessibility test, at least with her first three Harry Potter books.  Compare Harry Potter to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.   The latter is an immensely clever piece of work, but it isn’t anything like as accessible to a new fan; indeed, I came alarmingly close to discarding the book before deciding to press on and discovering that I rather liked it.  Susanna Clarke, too, wrote to reward fans of the thoughtful fantasy novel, rather than lure new readers into the fandom.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because there isn’t.  Authors who write in the same universe should allow it to become more and more complex as time goes on.  But their readers, particularly their dedicated fans, should be aware that newcomers are simply unaware of the universe’s prior history or of the writer’s reputation.  There are quite a few books I number among my favourites that I wouldn’t recommend to any newcomers, simply because they would be inaccessible.  The prospective fan would need to build up a familiarity with the genre before cracking open a long, immensely complicated book.

If you’re selecting books for children, there are quite a few decent pieces of SF work out there that kids could read without uncomfortable adult situations.  Heinlein and Asimov both wrote stories for children.  Selecting books for adults is a little harder; it’s probably better to focus on a given writer’s early works, the simpler the better.  Maybe something more in line with the other books they read.  (Do they like military stories?  Introduce them to Weber or Ringo.)  And then move on to the ultra-complex books.

Thoughts?

[Christopher Nuttall is the author of The Empire’s Corps, Ark Royal, Schooled in Magic and many othersHis website can be found here.]

 

281 responses to “Entry-Level Fiction — A Guest Post By Christopher Nuttal

  1. It has been pointed out that many boys don’t read, because there is little printed that would interest them. The same would apply to SF&F readers. Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion is a case in point. It is excellent High Fantasy, but if a new reader tries to access it, they’ll be left cold. They don’t have the acquired background to understand it.
    For a new reader, I think I’d recommend James Schmitz first: light SF and fantasy, easy to wrap your imagination around.

    • Okay, your example surprised me, Moon’s Deeds of Paksenarrion was some of the first fantasy I read and liked. Practically all fantasy I had read before that (I can’t remember if I read Wber’s Bazhell stories before or after Paksenarrion, but I know I read them at about the same time) was either a real struggle to finish, or I didn’t finish at all. In fact Moon’s Paksenarrion stories would be one of my first choices to introduce someone to fantasy (with the caveat that unlike myself, I would have them start with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter).

    • I couldn’t get into Paksenarrion either, and I can’t blame being new to the genre.

      • Very accessible to gamers, hard to tell for other people. (As expected, for a book that derives from AD&D campaigns. There’s a whole subgenre of books that derived from such, and yet aren’t official tie-ins.)

        • I was a gamer, I couldn’t get into it. It gave me the impression of being unable to decide whether it was an epic fantasy or a fantasy Bildungsroman.

          • The Deed is a hagiological bildungsroman taking place in an epic setting, with the protagonist part of the epic stuff.

            Oh, great. Now I realize that what we really need is a fantasy novel version of St. Therese, with MOAR POWAHS. Or just dying early and then spending an awful lot of time in rose-related scheming in the afterlife.

            • Great! Make a comment before I have my coffee, and I get responses in languages I’ve never imagined!
              Bildungsroman? MOAR POWARS?
              What are you (we) talking about?

            • Birthday girl

              Write it!

            • Ok… thinking about “St. with super powers!” Just reminded me of Katherine Kurtz’s stuff— which I loved back in the day.

              The problem with all these old loves (Anyone remember the Keltiad? Not gateway, but… Celts in space!) is that…. I don’t know if they actually hold up. I mean, as a teen, I had time to read a couple of books a day (I was an indifferent student.) And more in the summer, since sleep meant nothing to me! So…. I read anything and everything, including a lot of dreck.

              Would some of these things stand up to my adult tastes (best described as “I’ve got too little time, and sleep is very valuable at this point….)? I don’t know…

              • To me Kurtz holds up, because you start seeing more of the historical background behind the magic. But I’m a history nerd: other readers might find it tedious.

                • I’ve recently become aware not everyone is fascinated by history. I find this baffling and well-nigh unbelievable.

                  • Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not everyone is fascinated by physics. Some of them don’t even know what electron tunneling is!

                    • Oh. I wish I had a chance NOT to be fascinated (or at least informed about) by physics. Younger son is engineer-in-training and husband is Mathematician. Turns out everything including table setting is fraught with physics modelling. No, seriously. Then older son comes in and starts in on genetics. (WHY do you guys think Darkships is full of bio and genetics?)

                    • Will any of your books feature Math?

                    • Probably. After the kids leave and I’m left alone with the Mathematician.

                  • I’m only discovering any interest in history in the past 10 years or so. In school, any budding interest I might have had was murdered by teachers, particularly the one who expected us to take dictation in class (he required us to write down everything he said, then bitched when we asked him to slow down so we could catch up), and the one who was so boring he could have played Professor Binns in Harry Potter.

        • apparently now there are movies. My husband discovered them recently. It’s some sort of LARP-FILMED-BY-FANS thing.

        • “Very accessible to gamers, hard to tell for other people. (As expected, for a book that derives from AD&D campaigns”

          Learn something new every day, I guess. I never knew they were derivative of games, I always heard them called, Tolkienesque, which I considered an insult since I found Tolkien entirely unreadable.

          Now she is writing more books in the Paks universe, and while I consider them even better than the original trilogy, they would not be as good an introduction, because without the original trilogy there will be holes in the comprehension on the later books.

  2. I always recommend early Heinlein, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, J.D. Robb, Asimov, which are all I can think of off hand. Too often YA is really older Teenage, not the original “Juveniles” (age 9-19).

    • I’d also recommend early Dickson. Also Zenna Henderson.

    • Someone just told me the Robb’s are SF set in near future, I hadn”t known that.

      • If you can handle an extremely hypocritical leftist heroine who is married to a character I like (except the fact that I find it incomprehensible he could live with such a b@%$, much less love her), otherwise the writing is good. The first few are pretty heavy on the romance trope but they are all kind of a scifi police procedural.

        • The Glitter is Strong in this one.

          • Strong enough I read them as satire, and sometimes wonder if Roberts didn’t write them as satire. I’m pretty sure she didn’t, but at times you look at stuff and think so.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Well, I’ve read them and find it interesting to see Eve described as “Glitterly”. She’s has some “leftish views” but is very hard-nosed about Laws, doesn’t buy excuses for criminals, etc. Both her and her husband had terrible childhoods (her more so that her husband) but neither consider themselves “victims”.

            • I’m fairly sure she didn’t. I’ve read her romances… Okay, listened to them. When I was getting the last house ready for sale there was no audible and I couldn’t afford to buy audio books. So I got them from the library and mostly they had Romances. I found books I can’t READ I can listen to, sort of in the background while painting and scraping.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        While I’ve enjoyed the J. D. Robb Eve Dallas/In Death series, I consider the series border-line SF.

        Many of the books could be set in the present day as the SF elements are minor to the mysteries.

        A few of them do have the SF elements being as part of the mystery.

        Like a locked room mystery where somebody gets his head chopped off at the same time he’s playing a “Holo-Deck” game and his character’s head gets chopped off. [Wink]

        Minor warning, the early books are heavy on the sex between the two main characters.

        That is, when the sex occurs we get heavily into the heads of the main characters.

        Fortunately, she has toned down the sex in the later books.

    • I suppose Piper is too violent for today’s kids? (I read the Fuzzy books to my daughter for bedtime stories when she was younger)

      • And to actually say something, it makes me insane to watch people turn over their conscience and activities to the control of professional prod-noses and the league of easily offended power grasping know-nothings. Piper is wonderful. Norton is wonderful. Harrison was (mostly) wonderful. Allan E Nourse was wonderful. Shoot, I even like The Godwhale by Bass.

  3. I agree about the difficulty of entry, though I don’t know what to do about it. But I think it goes a bit further than just not understanding a developed world or entering into a series late. There’s a sort of “rule” in SFF that you don’t explain everything, that you let the reader figure things out over the course of the story. I belong to a mixed critique group (mystery, romance, young adult, fantasy) and as a SF writer I often get complaints from the non-SFF readers that they don’t understand something. I always have to weigh these complaints carefully, because if I explained everything that a non-SFF reader didn’t understand, I’d be breaking the conventions of the genre and irritating the target audience. So there’s tension between satisfying the target audience and making it accessible to the non-target audience.

    • Oh, yes, that’s a problem. Especially when you are using a standard-template monster and need not explain to the SFF readers at all. Like that unicorns have an affinity for virgins. (I have actually gotten a complaint from a critiquer that a young women thinks that only virgins would be safe in the woods when there is a unicorn there.)

      • I guess some urban fantasy, maybe Charles de Lint’s early works or such, might work as the entry for fantasy. Some of them start with a main character who does have to get acquainted with fairy or some other lore and goes from knows nothing to familiar with it once something weird starts happening around her. But those are usually older books, the newer ones seem to be aimed mostly to people who already are familiar with the conventions of that genre.

  4. Foolish Pride

    Despite my dislike of the man, Scalzi’s OMW is an easy read. It might not be the best choice for young readers as far as some of the content goes, but it’s a relatively easy book to read.

    • Or for a more comedic turn, The Android’s Dream. Or Agent to the Stars, which is the first one he wrote (though not the first one published.)

      Note that I think that his best book on sheer merits is far from my favorite; the above two are fun and amusing, but I wouldn’t call them his best writing.

  5. May i suggest short stories as a gateway drug. I devoured everything in my junior high library, so i read all the “years best” anthologies i could get my hands on. They were what really hooked me on the genre. Sure some stories/authors were better than others, but my time invested was small.

    Perhaps a SF101 anthology is indicated…

    • I’m not totally sold here. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea but you do get people out there like myself who don’t really like shorts. Seriously. I love a lot of Dave Drake’s work. I love military SF. I’m not really a fan of Hammer’s Slammers. Why? Because they HS novels are really anthologies. Action packed, well written shorts, but still shorts. Just when I’m really getting into the story, they’re over.

      That being said, I’m fully aware that others disagree. I’m good with that. If the person you’re talking to is a fan of shorts, this is the way to go. It might be a good idea to find out their preferred format before going to shorts as a default.

      • Seconded, novellas or short novels may be a better choice. There are very few shorts that I like (and I find the same thing about several of Drake’s Slammer books) On the other hand a novella or a 60,000 word novel will not take a long investment of time to read. But it will have enough room for a satisfying story to develop, while the compact nature of it insures that the story will move, without a lot of Tom Clancy style filler to add to the word count.

        This differs by author to an extent of course, I recommend Moon, but I do NOT recommend her shorts, because they quite generally suck. On the other hand, because I don’t like shorts I veered away from Alma Boykin’s cat and dragon stories for quite a while, and while it took me a bit to get into them when I did try them, she does an excellent job of writing short stories (most of those in the books being what I would term longer shorts or novellettes) and had me hooked before I finished the first book.

        • Just to define– short stories including flashes can be from 400 to 10,000 words. (some shorts have been 20 to 30,000 words)Depending on the definition (it isn’t firm among writers) a novelette is between 8,000 to 15,000 words and a novella is between 15,000 to 30,000. Some literary critics classify novellas up to 100,000 words. Then there are short novels (30,000 to 50,000)– I would say pulp length btw. The novel form now is 60,000 plus. The reason we see 100,000 plus as a novel is because after the pulp era the publishers wanted to give more bang for the buck. (when prices went up) Before then the normal length was between 50,000 to 60,000 if I have my information right off the top of my head– I could be wrong, of course.

          • I have heard all sorts of different ranges for the terms in the last few years. My estimate of the averages of the different definitions would be novelettes at 10,000-25,000, novellas at 20,000-50,000, and the new term ‘short novel’ is really a resurgence of the pulp/golden age era novel of 50,000-80,000. Obviously there is some wiggle room, since everybody tends to use their own definition, but novellas/short novels tend to read like a novel, just taking less time to read. They also seem to be tight and concise, with everything in them contributing to the story. The other difference between them and a novel is that a novella usually takes one storyline and follows it, while especially in last 20 years novels have a habit of taking several related storylines and following them until they tie together at the end (which I like if done well). Well, at least the good ones are, there are people that can write 50,000 words of dreck with no story to contribute to quite as well as they can write 350,000 words of dreck. With the novellas only advantage being it takes less time to get to the end of the dreck. Novelettes to me at least tend to read like a cross between a short story and a novel, with more depth than a short story and less depth than a novel or novella.

            • The multiline novel (over two lines imho) are usually the 80,000 to 100,000 words. A good short story and a good novel should read the same. The difference is actually the try/fail cycles btw. A good short has a try fail cycle of 1-3, while a novel is tons depending on the length. I agree about the dreck– which is why many authors don’t want their first novels and stories to get out– I haven’t seen a single first novel or story that wasn’t dreck. BUT if an writer keeps writing, and keeps learning (it is an apprenticeship after all) they do get better.

              I don’t know what you mean by depth (i.e. not enough try fail cycles or five senses) but a short story can have depth– I have read some novels that should have been short stories because I get bored in the middle. Cut out the middle– go from beginning to end and the story would have been great. Now when I find an author that can do it all– then I am hooked. (i.e. make the middle as interesting as the beginning).

            • BTW I go by these definitions because it is easier for me (I have researched this many times…) and for my writing. I at least know where I am heading when I am writing. When I wrote my first story, (before the internet), novellas and novelettes were literary terms– so in the genre I wanted to write it was either short stories or novels. I had grown up on pulps– 😉

          • NOT in SF, Cyn. As far as publishing anything 10k words or more is a novella or a novellete (the terms are confused.

            • Yes– I consider 10K or 9999 as the cutoff for short stories and the beginning of a novelette (or novella if a person doesn’t want to use the first term).

        • You said: “On the other hand a novella or a 60,000 word novel will not take a long investment of time to read.”

          Depends on the reader. I mean, sure I can read a novella in less than 45 minutes. But there are a lot of people who’d be reading a novella for a week. So again, it’s “know your recommend-ee.”

          • Well yes, but to them a week would not be a long investment of time to read a book. Comparitively if they were going to read one of the popular 400K epistles that currently sell as novels it would take them two months.

  6. I started with Asimov I, Robot and then found the 1950’s anthologies. (I was 12 or 13 at the time) I picked the authors I liked from those stories and went looking for them. Today? I just got back into sci-fi so I don’t have the full worlds, but telling a person to start at the first book (yea–for the digital revolution) would be good. I just introduced the hubby to one of John Ringo’s military sci-fi book. He likes it. (but he reads mostly military fiction).

  7. For youngsters, how about Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat series? And the Chronicles of Prydain, for the fantasy/mythology inclined? I started reading mythology of all sorts and flavors before wandering into sci-fi, so it was not much of a jump to Doris and Boris Vallejo’s _Boy who Saved the Stars_ and thence to chapter sci-fi and fantasy.

    For people who are dubious about magic and woo, Mary Stewart’s _Merlin_ trilogy, especially _The Crystal Cave_ might work. And I suppose if your friend is into 1970s feminism, the Free Renunciates books from M.Z. Bradly’s _Darkover_ series might be an idea. (Some Darkover books and stories I love, some not so much. Kinda like the Witchworld books.) And it might be fun to hand someone with a little sci-fi experience _Witchworld_ and _Glory Road_ and see what happens.

    I second the McCaffrey _Dragon Riders_ recommendation and Weber’s first three or four Honor Harrington books. Hammer’s Slammers and Pournell’s Falkenberg books were my first taste of mil-sci-fi, which fits the short-story suggestions above.

    • For youngsters, the Dragon Singer (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums) stories might be a softer landing.

      • True. I fell into the series with _Dragonflight_, then backed up to the Dragon Singer trilogy, but I tend to do things backwards anyway.

        • That is the way I hit it to, but that works out better than many of the series I’ve hit in the middle, because I think Dragonflight was on of the first books that McCaffery actually wrote in the series. It isn’t as YAish as the Singer trilogy or the books her son wrote, but the content is probably acceptable for most younger readers. I’ll second Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, I’ve never tried the TimeCat novels.

          • I kind of remember Dragonflight including a fair amount of sex and implied abuse. So… more of a teen book than Children’s.

            For recent writers, Jessica Day George has some great fantasy, as does Shannon Hale, but they’re girly.

            The “How to Train Your Dragon”: series is actually a good one for young boys. And much cooler than the movie, which really took out a lot of the interesting stuff.

            I’ll always love Lloyd Alexander, and, of course, Wrinkle in Time was a gateway drug for many,

            And I think the more recent Pratchett is actually a great gateway into Fantasy… and Japer Fforde has gotten some of my friends into the genre.

            Lots of kids also get hooked on Enders Game.

            Also, Scalzi is a fun read, even if his attitude drives me nuts these days. Which is why, I think, so many authors go round the bend, loudly and obnoxiously. They know that the libertarian/conservative readers will read them no matter what they say, because we don’t punish people for their beliefs. But if they step off the reservation, the liberal readers will boycott….

            I never found Heinlein to be a great gateway author, but Asimov definitely is… and Bradbury…..

            Also, the Myth Books…..

            And Robin McKinley

            And Patricia Wrede

            And Diana Wynne Jones (Still mad at her for having the nerve to die. grrrrrr. )

            • I don’t recall Dragonflight having that much sex in it, but most of the sequels that it would naturally lead to do, and it has been a while since I read it, so I could be just not remembering the sex. But yeah probably more of a teen read.

              • Oh, there’s sex. We start off with the heavy implication that the only reason the protagonist isn’t a target for rape is because she’s deliberately disguised as old and dirty, go through to the first flight of the new queen with all its sensuality, and a mild sense of regret from the secondary protagonist that he hadn’t realized that the protagonist was a virgin so that he could have held back. And there’s a lot of nudge-nudge-wink-wink amongst the dragonriders in the first book that basically implies that they see women as pretty much secondary to their lives, which is totally understandable for a book published near the end of the 60s (meaning large cultural carryover from the 50s.) It’s only notable because she walked those attitudes back quite a bit over the series, but there’s quite a nasty lot of things implied in that first book, along the lines of “women are made but to feed and breed.”

                Of course, Anne McCaffrey freely admitted that she did a lot of soft core porn-style additions to her work in order to capture a certain market. You can especially see it in some of the short stories she wrote that were later expanded into novels (with reduced or removed sex scenes.) Not the Dragonriders series, so much, but a lot of her work at the time.

                • NOT the attitudes of the fifties, really — unless this is a parallel dimension – but the fact it is a quasi-medieval society. Things go with that.

                  • I meant more in the writing style of the day—*most* of the writers of the time period treated women as slightly alien (James Schmitz being an interesting exception*) and more as accessories to the story rather than motivating forces on their own. Even in the late 60s, a writer sticking a female in the protagonist role would have been doing something somewhat unusual.

                    *There was a great analysis of his work that basically boiled down to “he understood the tropes of his day very well and had the intelligence to subvert them whenever he could to make a more interesting story.”

                • There is a lot of homosexuality implied in that first book, more explicit in later ones.

                  • Man, I musta been totally innocent when I read Pern. I missed all of that stuff.

                    • I missed 90% of it. But I was reading for dragons, not for nookie.

                    • SHRUG. I ALWAYS had a dirty mind.

                    • I missed a lot of it the first time through, rereading it when I was older I caught a lot more, but for some reason I thought Dragonflight was cleaner than some of the others. Guess it has been to long and I’ll have to go back and reread them again. 😉

                      And yeah, I was reading for the story and the action, the rest of it was kind of, okay those two are a couple, so he is going to be really distraught when is partner gets killed by thread.

                  • It didn’t occur to me until much later that if you have a necessary thing happening with a strong element of sensuality and you have a mostly-male society, certain results are inevitable.

    • For younger readers, Patricia C. Wrede’s Talking To Dragons series is good and as a bonus it’s funny too. Robin McKinley’s fairytale retellings are good. I like her Damar books but they can be kind of dreamlike and are best saved until the reader is truly hooked.

      • I recommend starting them with the fourth dragon book and then the first three. That was how they were written and I think the first/fourth works best if you are as ignorant as Daystar.

    • The Chronicles of Prydain is one of the best series of stories I have read of a rash and immature youth growing into a strong, sensible man. I would definitely recommend them for entry Fantasy.

      • Seconded (or thirded?). They’re an excellent introductory series. They’re just different enough that the author has to explain what all of the weird stuff is, but at the same time the basic culture is familiar enough for anyone to jump in (even if the reader can’t pronounce half the names properly… :P).

        It’s a shame Disney made such a mess out of the movie.

      • Dark is Rising series is good too.

  8. Most of those who like mil-sci-fi will have already read Weber, Kratman, Williamson and Ringo. I would recommend they try Moon if they liked Weber, I actually came the other direction, from Moon to Weber, but they tend to be very similar writers. Also Chris’s The Empire’s Corp’s series is good, although I must complain to Chris and warn everyone else that I finished the latest in the series last night, and it ends on a cliffhanger. To make things worse I checked is website and the next one in the series is several books down the queue. This current trend of wanting to end your books on a cliffhanger is something I purely hate, it might be good marketing as far as bring readers back for the next book, but it is likely to generate bad reviews or recommendations from readers to other potential readers to not bother to read the books until after the rest of them are out (which very possibly will mean never)

  9. I started with Piers Anthony’s Xanth books, and while A Spell for Chameleon had a lot that went over my head, I enjoyed it enough to keep going – I had to get to Castle Roogna, because there was a giant freaking spider in it.
    I’ll admit that I have a lot of suggestions of stuff written, oh, thirty or so years ago… maybe forty now (dang), but what’s the new stuff that kids might enjoy? And wouldn’t go all gray goo on them? (Obligatory plug for Scott Sigler’s The Rookie – Football. In Spaaaaaaaace!)
    And why do I think that’s an issue? Sure, Lensman was written well over forty years ago, but while it’s not new, and not new to me, it’s brand spanking new to someone who’s never read it. And that’s true of ANY good fiction.
    For the interested, the Rookie is less than $4.00

  10. Jack McDevitt’s Engines of God, Peter F Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon or Niven / Pournelle / Barnes Legacy of Heorot would be a fairly good start for intro to scifi as a concept – a tale that romps along with decent characters and an interesting plot, far enough into the future to whet the appetite, but not far enough to be too unfamiliar. That said, I introduced my eldest child to Starship Troopers when she was 12, and she loved it.

    I must admit, I missed out on scifi during my formative years, devouring horror novels out of the library. It was only when I started work and buying books myself that I got into scifi in a big way. Heinlein’s Number of The Beast was my introduction to the great man, a really strange holiday read and got me interested in the rest. From there I literally devoured the classics (Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, Burroughs) and anything else I could get my hands on.

    In some ways I think its easier to get someone into scifi these days – the concepts are not as unfamiliar as they once were thanks to blockbuster movies like The Matrix, and TV shows like Fringe. anything to help that nudge over to the written stuff is great in my book!

  11. I certainly agree that there is such a thing as an issue of accessibility. I’m a lifelong comics fan—though I’ve cut my comics reading way back the past couple of years, partly because of money and partly because the mainstream superhero universes strike me as imaginatively exhausted. But I’ve certainly met people who just can’t read material in the comics format—and not just “can’t read superhero comics”; it seems to be the graphic narrative format itself that doesn’t work for them.

    But I can’t agree that it’s only that kind of accessibility issue at work with the writers you name. I’ve started Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series, and not been able to make it through the first book; I’ve started Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and given up a third of the way in; I’ve read two of the Culture novels, and have no wish ever to look at another—in both cases I was left at the end thinking, “Why did I bother?” (The first time was curiosity; the second time, the novel was a Prometheus Award nominee, and I’m on the judging committee.) It was hardly an issue of not being able to read sf; I’ve been reading sf for more than half a century, and I was never at a loss for what was going on in the story or how the world worked. It was not being convinced that there was any reason to care.

    Conversely, the first Bujold novel I read was Mirror Dance, which assumes a lot of familiarity with Bujold’s world and what’s going on in it—its viewpoint alternates between that of Miles Vorkosigan and his hostile and suspicious clone Mark, you get introduced to the bioengineered Sergeant Taura without a word of explanation, and there’s a lot of stuff about the politics of the wormhole nexus. So I was pretty confused when I was reading the first third or so, and there were things I didn’t get till I read the rest of the series. But I fell into the story so hard that I rode several blocks past my bus stop and had to walk back.

    For me, the issue is, does the author give me a reason to care about the characters? That is, I’m a non-Nabokovian reader. Nabokov thought that anyone who read a book because they identified with the characters or cared about them was subliterary; serious readers read for the sake of the author’s literary technique and regarded the characters with ironic detachment. But that identification is what sells fiction to the overwhelming majority of readers, and has since Homer was telling stories about Odysseus trying to get back home. I’m happy to admire an author’s literary brilliance in the course of reading a story that achieves that; but I want emotional involvement with the story.

    • I know it’s OT but I’m not convinced that comics are creatively exhausted. I’m more convinced that it’s a bad case of “Don’t have the freaking balls to publish anything with a storyline that hasn’t previously sold a billion copies.” I also think that comic company management is willfully ignoring the evidence that their fans are losing interest in the same old crap.

      • Some comics are losing readership because they are going grey goo.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Actually, I think the problem with superhero comics is the same problem with “mainstream” SF. The publishers of both are into “message fiction” and “grey goo fiction”. For example, I used to enjoy the X-Men comics until they got into this “mutants = gays” and other politically correct nonsense.

        • Really? I don’t have a problem with that; I thought the line in the second X-men film that alluded to it was quite clever. And after all, when the series began, the analogy was mutant=black with a side helping of mutant=Jew. The allegory has changed but not the method.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            “Gay = Helpless Victim”. Try telling Magneto that he’s a helpless victim. [Evil Grin]

            The problem is that many of the Marvel Mutants are extremely powerful so a certain degree of fear is IMO reasonable.

            Of course, when Magneto introduced, he was shown as a straight “would-be Evil Overlord” not as a protector of his fellow mutants.

            He was shown as a believer in “Mutants are homo-superior, thus Mutants should rule the world. Plus, as the most powerful Mutant he was the rightful ruler of Mutant kind”.

            • Depending the writer, Magneto’s mental problems often stem at least in part from his having been a helpless victim while young.

              Though I agree that the powers throw everything off. It’s like using vampires as a metaphor for a prejudice. Disliking people who prey on sentient beings is not a prejudice; it’s a judgment.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                “It’s like using vampires as a metaphor for a prejudice. Disliking people who prey on sentient beings is not a prejudice; it’s a judgment.”

                If vampires always kill their victims, it’s sane to fear/dislike/hate vampires. [Wink]

            • yes. No one can accuse my gay characters of being helpless victims. Eeevil soossing SOBs sometimes, but not helpless.

            • Marvel has botched the “certain degree of fear” thing every chance they get. “Mutant Registration” has been a bad thing from the start (although the primary proponent got more sympathetic as time wore on). But Marvel really botched things with their Civil War event several years ago. They had a solid argument that super powers were extremely dangerous (the middle of a small city – including a school full of kids – was completely razed in an instant), and instead the pro-Registration side was merely portrayed as being just this side of unreasonable jackbooted thugs.

              • Carl Henderson

                I just wish Marvel’s “Civil War” had included a scene where the NRA comes out against superhero registration and the (mostly) left leaning Marvel super-heroes collectively go “Uhhh…”

                • That was about as likely to happen as another idea that recently occurred to me. In the Marvel universe, mutations all have an “X” gene (that’s the official name assigned to it). If you have it, you’re a mutant. If you don’t, then you’re not (and any powers you have came from another source). So logically, there should be a way to test fetuses for the X gene…

                  /innocent whistle

                  • Actually, Peter David wrote about fetal testing and aborting mutants prenatally. He had Rahne the Scottish werewolf objecting and some blonde (Polaris?) opining that it would be okay, but helping Rahne destroy the prenatal test as a favor to Rahne, and then saying that Rahne should consider not opposing abortion as a favor to Polaris. (I could be wrong that it was David. Really sickened me, I remember.)

                • Marvel lost a lot of my respect when Ultimate Avengers had Captain America attack a Black Nick Fury because there weren’t any Black officers that high ranked at the end of WWII (when he got frozen). My immediate thought was “That doesn’t scan”, so I looked up Black Officers in The Oxford Book of American Military History. I don’t have it where I can lay paws on it at the moment, but I recall it saying that the first Black General was promoted in 1928.

                  I don’t expect comic book writers to get the minute details of science or history right, but that bothered me. You can Wiki it fairly easily – wiki says the first was promoted in 1940 – and it makes a difference. The writer was just SO SURE that American was a uncomplicatedly racist nation in 1944 that he didn’t check.

                  • In fairness, I know that at least one black unit (an infantry division that served in Italy) had white officers. And the unit did quite poorly (which might or might not have been a result of the officers’ expectations). I’m not sure about other black units that fought in the war. But the Ultimate Captain America tends to come across as a jerk in any event, and the Ultimate setting in general is largely dissatisfying. About the only series that was actually fun to read in the Ultimate setting was Spider-man… and they killed Peter Parker off in that setting a couple of years ago (and replaced him with a younger mixed black/Puerto Rican kid).

          • No, but it is a problem to restrict comics to “relevant and victims.” That gives us gray goo.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Nod. The last I really read the X-Men comics, they were getting close to “they’re victims so anything they do is OK”. Right now the comics have Scott Summers (Cyclops) as the Malcom X of the Mutant World. He’s leading a team (including Magneto) that will punish governments and groups that are threatening Mutants. I’m afraid that they’ll take Scott completely into “we must conquer the human world to protect Mutants” territory.

              • Yes, well, that’s a problem. Back in the sixties, Magneto clearly represented the Black Panther strategy—but Marvel made it pretty clear that this approach made him a supervillain, not a hero. I’m not sure why the change has taken place. Perhaps it reflects the evolution from superheroes who mostly associate with normal human beings to superheroes who live in a world with so many other superbeings that they rarely see a normal; that could invite the readers to enjoy the fantasy of “We’re part of a special group and we should identify only with that group’s interests.” Or perhaps decades of the educational establishment telling people that they’re supposed to identify only with Their Own Kind has taken its toll?

                But that sort of in-group thinking is hardly inherent in either the concept of a superbeing or the concept of a mutant minority as analogous to oppressed group X. As the 1960s mutant mythos shows.

                I’d also note that this trope goes back a long way before the X-men. Consider Zenna Henderson’s persecuted People, who were warned that “different is dead,” or A. E. Van Vogt’s slans (who inspired the boast “fans are slans!”), or Olaf Stapledon’s little colony of superhumans in the South Pacific (on an island that they cleared by mind controlling the native inhabitants into burning themselves alive!). All examples of the idea of the being who is at once “superior” and “threatened.” It seems to be a powerful motif. It’s sort of still with us in the Harry Potter books, where wizards and witches hide from “muggles” for no obvious reason—and those books, too, have the Professor X strategy and the Magneto strategy.

              • Which interestingly is sort of the starting point of Darkship Revenge (grin.) And then it gets Sarah’ed. Fast.

      • They’re suffering from traditional publishing syndrome, yes.

      • I have to disagree. Some of the minor comic lines are actually telling some pretty decent stories. The biggest problem are the meta-arcs that affect everything in the universe and can completely derail story-telling. For example, Teen Titans recently had a year of story compressed into a couple months due to the closing of the Ravagers line, the Batman Death of the Family meta-arc and the pending Forever Evil meta-arc. It’s been about a year since they’ve had a chance to deal with their actual focus.
        Out of the recent DC New 52 I’d recommend Team 7. It was good, had a short run, and actually had a good ending (something you don’t seem much of in comic books).
        Despite all the internet hate, Red Hood and the Outlaws is actually very strong. (As is Suicide Squad.)

        • Yeah, but maybe that’s the problem. Why is it only the minor comics that are doing anything new?

          • Because every time a major line starts to do something interesting (for instance, Peter Parker gets married, eventually quits working as a photographer, and becomes a high school science teacher), someone somewhere decides to retcon it?

            (in this particular case, it was quite literally a Deal with the Devil)

            And Peter had been married for decades when it happened.

            • Yes. They want the characters as fixed and archetypal as, say, Robin Hood, but they aren’t willing to pay the price of not having the stories change them; they want to write stories that have changes and consequences and character development, but they aren’t willing to pay the price of not having fixed archetypes.

              So we ret-con away everything.

      • Susan Shepherd

        Well, webcomics seem to be doing all right. And some of them are absolutely beautiful, with fantastic characters and interesting storylines.

        A few examples I’ve read or had recommended to me, chosen mostly (in this case) for the art style:

        Dresden Codak: http://tinyurl.com/p4lw4t9
        Lackadaisy Cats: http://www.lackadaisycats.com/comic.php
        The Tithe (a brief mini-arc of Penny Arcade): http://tinyurl.com/pofawqo
        Derelict: http://derelictcomic.com/
        Unsounded: http://tinyurl.com/246awja
        A Redtail’s Dream: http://www.minnasundberg.fi/comic/page01.php
        Stand Still, Stay Silent: http://www.sssscomic.com/comic.php?page=1
        Next Town Over: http://www.nexttownover.net/?p=4

      • Oh, I’m not saying that comics are creatively exhausted, or even that superheroes are creatively exhausted. I’m a big fan of some superhero films—The Incredibles, X-men: First Class, The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Dark Knight Rises are all near the front of the list. And I read and enjoy Astro City and Invincible. What I’m saying is that the DC and Marvel superhero universes strike me as exhausted.

        • This subject of comic books is one of my piss-off buttons, big time.

          DC and Marvel Comics are exhausted because they are run by IDIOTS. There’s plenty of awesome material out there for super hero stories, its just that it doesn’t fit the New York hipster narrative that comics have sunk into these last twenty years. I was a huge comic reader and collector all through the 1980’s, since about 1994 I haven’t bothered at all.

          Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns in the late 1980’s. It sold well. The Big Two jumped on Miller’s coat tails for everything they published, and they haven’t done anything else since. Twenty years of copying one dude’s not-very-inspiring story. Genius.

          What’s good in comics these days? Don’t know, I never buy them. Every year or so I’ll sit down with a stack of them at the book store and wade through, and every time I do it they get worse. X-Men seems particularly awful since the late 2000’s, nothing but blood spatter, skimpy costumes and innuendo.

          The Marvel -movies- have managed to avoid all that, which is particularly ironic given Hollywood. I believe this is due almost entirely to the steadying hand of Stan Lee.

          ‘Nuff said.

  12. These have all been excellent suggestions. Unlike some I do like short stories and think they are an excellent introduction. They can promote a discussion early and a good anthology might also suggest a first novel.

    I am going out on a limb here but for a first novel how about “Ring World” by Larry Niven. Halo owes a lot to this book and Halo being so popular there might be an intrest in seeing some original source material.

    This book has such a cast of interesting characters that it is one of my favorites. Just remember don’t spoil it, “The luck of Teela Brown” is one of the greatest reveals in fiction I have ever read. It also made me laugh out loud.

    • Niven’s Gil the Arm series would be an easy intro to SF. He’s a cop with some unusual attributes and everything else is explained.

      • What come to my mind are Lucifer’s Hammer and Footfall. Except they are very 80’s books, which might make them too historical feeling to younger readers – well, alternate history but if you are not familiar with the genre that might still be a bit off-putting or weird.

        Has anybody been writing any similar near future stories lately, that kind where the main character would be somebody – is mundane an acceptable word nowadays? Well, somebody who would feel familiar to a reader who is not yet familiar with the genre, and then both the character and the reader would be familiarized with the genre conventions as the story proceeds and the something – alien invasion, threatening asteroid, building of the first moon colony or whatever starts to happen and the main character gets involved, and perhaps starts meeting other characters who have been SF readers.

        And by the way, that might be something for which there is a market, if those types of books are not common. Sarah?

        • Harry Turtledove’s Supervolcano series is definitely in that territory. It reads totally like a mainstream bestseller, except that it has an sfnal premise. I recommended it to my girlfriend’s brother-in-law, who had read and enjoyed Lucifer’s Hammer, and he seems to have liked it.

          David Brin’s Earth strikes me as the same kind of effort: sf written to be accessible to people who read bestsellers.

        • SM Stirling’s Dies the Fire and Oceans of Eternity series both kind of fit that bill, crossing SF, Fantasy and alternate history – but drawing the reader in very slowly. I.e. DIes the Fire is very much post apocalyptic, civilisation down the toilet in a big way, which then leads through into historical fantasy, supernatural fantasy, scifi and back again.

          • The Emberverse is really interesting in that the first book is pretty clearly hard sf about technological adaptation to a civilizational crash, but by the seventh book what we’re reading is definitely high fantasy.

    • Hal Clement’s “Needle” might be a good starter juvenile adventure. At least I thought so when I read it as a kid.

      • Yeah. It was pretty good, and the sequel was even better, in my opinion.

        Of course, in the forward to that, he apologized for having used the wrong term, “Symbiote” when the correct term is “Symbiont”, and then seeing that several other books copied the wrong term from him.

  13. I know this it’s blasphemy to suggest a non-Baen product on a Baen author’s webpage but…

    Probably the best way for a new person to get into the SF scene (or SF/F scene for that matter) is tie-in fiction. There are Star Wars novels, Star Trek novels, Halo novels, etc. A lot of people are already familiar with these universes and a trip through a couple of the original novels (IE not the novelization of existing movies/TV shows) would be a good way to familiarize them with some of the existing tropes of the genre without dropping them in at the deep end. Authors like Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole write really well too. And most people with any interest at all in SF/F are already familiar with these types of things and won’t feel alienated.

    Once you get someone hooked, you can always loan them your copy of OBS or Citizens of the Galaxy or DST or something. The important part is to find an “in”. If someone already like something, that makes it MUCH easier to get them to read

    • People who like military fiction might like Warhammer 40K. Start with the Ciaphas Cain novels, which are humorous, or the Gaunt’s Ghosts, which are — not humorous.

      • I’m not that familiar with 40k, but I love the WH fantasy stuff. That would probably make a good intro to fantasy fic as well.

        • The Ciaphas Cain books are particularly amusing. The character in question is seen throughout the known universe, and by those around him, as an heroic upstanding hero of the Imperium. His private journals, delivered after his death to a close friend, reveal that he saw himself as a coward who was only really in it for himself. But every time he took a reasonable action to remove himself from danger, he’d inadvertantly place himself into even greater danger. They’re good fun. And while familiarity with the setting is a plus, it’s not required.

          • The Cain books spawn long, long, long fannish discussions about exactly how much Cain is lying when he says he’s a dirty coward and hedonist who acts only out of enlightened self-interest but has a lot of luck, good and bad. Some of it, we know because the character editing his memoirs points out that he missed an obvious chance to increase his safety by self-centered acts here and there, but you can argue all the way up to a hero of the finest variety with a perverse streak of modesty and the belief that any sense at all negates his heroism. (If you get the omnibus, note that the first story, Mitchell had yet to get a grip on the character.)

            The author refuses to take a public position on his character.

    • I devoured the Rogue Squadron novels (Wraith Squadron stories were OK), and the others up through the _Vision of the Future_. Then IMHO, it sailed off the deep end with the Yuuzhan Vong. I like my version of the subsequent Star Wars story than Lucas’s version. 🙂 The tech guides for Star Wars are also great “bait” if you have someone who likes gizmos and gadgets.

    • Of course that assumes someone who likes SF movies/shows/games, myself I do not, so I would never think to suggest a tie-in to something I can’t stand.

    • My husband still has all of his old D&D books. And I remember really liking the Weiss/Hickman stuff way back when…

  14. Oh, and just because I can, here’s a funny story:

    I logged into ATH this morning while taking my first sip of coffee and saw the new banner. I looked at it and it said “Sarah A. Hoyt, Novelis, Communist, Blogger.”

    And I was like NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO… Sarah, come back to us. Then I noticed that it wasn’t Communist, it was Columnist. Working on my second cup now.

    • yes– more coffeeeeeee I am doing my coffee zombie routine

    • LOL. If I ever call myself communist, you have my permission (nay, my request) to shoot me. SOMETHING has taken over.

    • *grin* I’m having eye trouble today (trying to do line revisions on screen stinks) and I saw the new header and squawked “Arrrgh! I can’t focus my eyes anymore.” Then I had some black tea and tried again. Still a little fuzzy but not in a need-to-see-eye-doc-right-now-this-instant way.

      • Oh gee— (gawd) I am doing some severe edits on Hilda’s Inn. So yea– it is taking me longer than usual. I wrote this under some heavy chemo *sigh

  15. To me the main difficulty with the “Old Masters” as starters is the cultural disconnect, particularly with young adults. We lost Robert over a quarter century ago, and his works most suitable for younger folk were produced more like a half century past. He lived in and wrote from a strange and foreign land where things the kids have known all their lives simply did not exist such as cell phones, the internet, TV remotes. For those of us who grew up back then it’s fairly simple to factor that all back in, but if you never lived through it, not so much. So, if you go the old masters route be prepared to at least point out that the stories came from a different century, a whole nother time. Sure they always gave us flying cars, but nobody ever twigged to why they would be so difficult to achieve. It was never about propulsion, it’s always been about traffic control. Until we get AI systems reliable enough to trust people’s lives to it just ain’t gonna happen.
    This subject got me thinking that I had not taken a peek at the Baen free library in some time, so I went and took a look. Toni and company have put a wealth of first and sometimes second works in several popular series free of charge and in multiple ebook formats. That’s definitely where I’d start with for a new potential SF reader. After all that’s the Baen way, hook em early and draw them in. Advantage being that if they really like the stories there is a long line of sequels available to them. Hey kid, here’s a free taste. If you like it come back and see me.

    • I send people to Baen Free Library all the time. It’s a great repository of starter books, and an easy way to get more, quickly, once they are ready to go deeper.

    • Yes, the past is a different country. Even the greatest hook into fantasy from the “Recent Masters” – well, the first Harry Potter was published in 97, (which my pre-caffeine brain keeps trying to tell me was only seven years ago.)

      The recent actual hooks into the field have been (off the top of my head) – Rowling, GRRM, Meyer, Susanne Collins, and Hugh Howey. (I don’t happen to like GRRM, or his works, but personal taste has nothing to do with the reality that a lot of non-fandom people tune in to medieval-styled fantasy backbiting and infighting, with dragons and direwolves.)

      Rowling has led to a lot of kids reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and I’m not sure where they go from there. (The current boy I know who just worked his way through Percy Jackson series is also devouring Captain Underpants, The Dangerous Book For Boys, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Where he’ll go next, I have to wait to find out with him.)

      Meyer clear led to the 50 shades of stupid, but she also led to vast hordes of girls and women who don’t read fantasy being all terribly okay with glittery vampires and emo werewolves. This provided a lot of life support to the paranormal romance field (and I want my urban fantasy back! You kids and your oversexed bitchy ‘kickass heroines’ get off my lawn!)

      Hunger Games led to a heavily crowded YA dystopian field, including a (book? series?) called Divergent which I’m going to have to make time to read to find out why the teen girl thinks it’s “so totally cool.” It also laid the groundwork for a lot of folks being interested in Wool, when it’s post-apocalyptic wool. And Wool itself is appealing to a whole new field. Where will they go from here?

      • You’ve read Aaronovich’s London urban fantasies, yes? And then there’s the brand new books by his buddy who’s copying him (not a bad person to copy, though).

      • Send kids to Brandon Sanderson. He has some YA books out. I think his Alcatraz series (which I haven’t read) is YA. He’s got the first books out for two other YA series – Steelheart, and The Rithmatist. The first is set on a dystopian Earth in which a bunch of people got superpowers… but all of the people who received powers turned out to be supervillains. The titular Steelheart is one of the most powerful of these supervillains, and is in no way an expy of what Superman might be like if he went bad *cough*. The Rithmatist is set on an alternate Earth in which (among other things) the inhabitants of the American Islands use chalk-based magic to defend themselves against wild chalkings – 2D feral chalk figures. I gave my niece a copy of The Rithmatist. Then my sister read it, and got angry because she hadn’t realized the second book wasn’t out yet.

        😛

        • Oh, and I should probably mention, since the topic is kids, Steelheart is quite dark.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          Yes for Sanderson. He has complex, unique worlds, but he’s very clear so they’re never too confusing.

      • Seanan McGuire is doing some fun urban fantasy. Her October Daye series takes Faerie (European AND other countries) and sticks it in modern times, along with all the complications and problems thereto. And while October does kick ass, she gets seriously kicked back quite a bit.

        I was surprised to find out she’s only been published since 2008. She’s got at least a dozen books out under her own name, and I think five under Mira Grant (which is her more science-fiction work, and for which she has been Hugo-nominated several times.) Yes, there are zombie novels in there. But 1) she actually makes them logically consistent, and 2) they’re not the focus of the novel, they’re the setting.

  16. For introduction to the Fantasy genre, Terry Brooks and David Eddings are pretty hard to beat.
    For SF, I like the old shorts “The Sentinel” and “Nightfall” (if I have to name the authors, I’ll have to beat you with a fish). But if I had to choose a novel, I’d most likely go with Michael Flynn.

    • Alan Dean Foster– is good for the teen and young adult crowd btw. I don’t care for it as much as an adult reader though– because of the problems — not that interesting for an adult.

      • I still have a soft spot for the Icerigger trilogy, and funnily enough revisited The Tar-Aiym Krang not long ago. Yes, ADF is a little simplistic by modern standards, but I still find him enjoyable to read.

        • Simplistic, when going for introductory anything, is not necessarily a bad thing. Every time I train new subordinates, I have to remember to dial back the detail to the barest bones of the structure, as everyone gets overwhelmed or offput until they have the basics down.

          I’d partial to giving someone new an Alan Dean Foster (especially A Call To Arms, as yes, those who’ve read widely in the field find the twists old hat, but they’re shocking and surprising to folks who’ve never encountered them before.) Or, a Weis & Hickman Dragonlance book, a Anne McCaffery book, or the series starts in the Baen Free Library.

          • Weis and Hickman are the reason I write fantasy and not action/adventure or mysteries or something. Their Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends series are, IMSHO, some of teh best fantasy ever written. They were also the second and thrid fantasy series I had read behind only The Hobbit/LOTR. It was a friend of mine who saw me reading those who let me borrow the Dragonlance Chronicles books. For some reason, I hadn’t thought of that but yeah, you’re right on target with those.

            • Hmm. I didn’t happen on them until after I had read some philosophy, so personally I found them weak.

              • Exactly! If you think over what you once liked but now find trite, cliche, old hat, or weak… chances are, you’ve just compiled a great entry-level list.

                Besides, if you’ve never read about dwarves before, and your only brief experience was from Lord of the Rings movies (if the newcomer saw them at all), you might not get the sublime humor of Prachett’s Captain Carrot.

                • The problem is that they were parroting D&D’s alignment system, which is taking the problems that the greatest minds have broken their hearts over for millennia, misunderstanding most of it, and boiling it down to gaming mechanics.

                  I don’t think it’s good to hand anyone that, especially since we are explicitly told that a totalitarian is Good.

        • I still have a soft spot for ADF 😉 and he was a good jumping off point for adventure sci-fi.

  17. Introducing genre conventions is rather complicated. I think my first Sci Fi was Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (because as much as I love them, Burroughs’s Mars books aren’t really sci fi.) But I don’t ever remember a point in my life where I wasn’t familiar with the genre conventions of fantasy. (This maybe has something to do with my habit of poring over my dad’s Monster Manuals on Saturday mornings.)

    Sci Fi has hard genre conventions, in my opinion, because it’s always another sort of story AND a science fiction story at the same time. Maybe this is helpful, if you know what other genres a person finds interesting.

    Fantasy has less demanding genre conventions, and reading widely across history is sufficient to understand them. D’Aulaire’s Greek myths are especially nice (and their Norse as well, but I didn’t discover those till adulthood.) I also have fond memories of a cheap Scholastic paperback of Robin Hood stories. Fairy tale anthologies. And some hardback illustrated Children’s Shakespeare, and Arabian Nights. Xanth was fun (for the first dozen or so anyway) but the foundation was already there. Multiple book fantasy worlds (Xanth, Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, et.) can be engaging, but I’m not sure they’re enough to build the genre convention foundations alone, without that background of story.

    • My issue is that I read HSWT at like… 8 and didn’t realize it was sci fi. I thought in America that’s how life was.

      • I wasn’t much older, and I refuse to answer the question of how accurately I thought it represented the world during my dad’s youth, on the grounds that it may incriminate me.

      • If my math is correct that would have been around 1970, so we’d been to the moon and it was still fresh in everyone’s minds, so not such a leap for an 8 year old. For the first half of the book anyway, but as for after the kidnapping, the bad guys getting eaten by their alien bosses, and that whole mother thing and father thing… Yes, I’d say you truly were an odd little duckling. You remind me of me young Portagee,

  18. All the stuff that was entry-level for me was *kids* stuff, because that’s when I was drawn into it.

    The Danny Dunn series was great SF adventure for kids; I can’t count the number of Dr. Who tie-in novels I read in the library; and a novel called *The Hero from Otherwhere* remains one of my all-time favourite inspirations. Anyone who can find a copy of this out-of-print classic, do so; you will not regret it.

    • Danny Dunn was SF? It has been so long since I read those I just remember the name, and had some vague impression that they were kinda like an Encyclopedia Brown/McGyver cross.

      • Yes, they lived with the Professor, who invented such things as a time-machine, a spy drone disguised as a grasshopper (and then the Professor was *shocked* that the government wanted to take that over), a homework machine, and all kinds of other cool devices. Probably a 15 minutes into the future type sci-fi. And we are now at least 20 minutes into the future for at least some of the devices. Though not the time machine (I hope). 😀

        • I remember their shock when they realized that to do the more advanced work that their teacher gave them, they would have to program the computer to do it.

          That was one of the weaker ones, since they had not had to program it for the easier stuff.

  19. And I like the new banner. 🙂

  20. I started at the wrong end, with “The Number of the Beast”, “The Earth Book of Stormgate”, “Dune”, and “Gateway”, when I was around 11 or 12. Then I worked my way through most of the rest of the science fiction shelves at the library. I didn’t find Heinlein’s juveniles till I was an adult; they were shelved in Young Adult and I didn’t ever bother with that section. Then I went to a used bookstore to find a copy of Starship Troopers (because someone told me it had powered armor) and there were a dozen novels I’d never read…

  21. Madeleine L’Engle, God rest her soul, brought me to sf. A Wrinkle in Time is still a great book, and very Human Wave.

    Well, her, Star Wars, and STAR BLAZERS! (Cue orchestra and the Space Battleship Yamato theme song.)

  22. Alexander Key and Alan E. Nourse. I don’t think Sarah likes Nourse, and I haven’t read him in decades, but I liked the Scholastic Book Services collection.

  23. slightly off topic – This is what I love about this blog – I’ve gone from “where’s all the decent SciFi gone” over the past few years and having to be very selective – to having a list of authors to check out that’s getting longer by the day. Modern publishing (outside of Baen it seems) has totally lost the plot.

    And am I the only one that really wishes bookstores would separate the SF from the Fantasy? Though it increasingly seems that the old categorisations are no longer fit for purpose given the amount of crossover stuff in circulation, so probably best to ignore that 🙂

    • There’s an argument to seperate the two, but you also have to admit that a lot of sci-fi is really “future fantasy” and not so much sci-fi. And then you have the cross-over stuff. For instance, Brandon Sanderson wrote “Mistborn”, which is definitely a fantasy series. And then when he wrote the follow up “Alloy of Law”, he committed heresy and advanced the technology level (by three centuries) to create something that’s roughly analogous with mid to late 19th Century. And the official sequel trilogy to Mistborn (Alloy of Law, which will probably become a trilogy, was an unplanned spur of the moment book, and not one of the “officially planned” ones) will advance the technology to be roughly matched up with our own. And the planned sequel trilogy to *that* will apparently be a space opera.

      So on the sci-fi/fantasy scale, how do you classify a space opera that’s the second sequel trilogy of a fantasy trilogy?

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I don’t know. Star Wars is basically fantasy in space. If there’s supernatural magic, it’s still fantasy, no matter how many spaceships are flying around.

        • I’m witholding judgement. Brandon is … particular (yeah, that’s a polite way of saying it) enough to do a solid job. Also, apparently, all of his adult stuff is in the same universe, at least in his mind. I realize that may be damning words, but I’m curious to see how he works things out, if he ever does. Mistborn in the same universe as the Way of Kings in the same universe as Elantris? Esplain, please.

  24. A section entitled “this will probably make your head explode” situated somewhere between the two would probably do it!
    To some extent, the Dune series blurs the genre lines as well.
    There are times when I just want a good, straight down the line sci-fi though, and I detest having to trawl through everything else to try and find it. Either that or I’m getting downright grumpy as I get older!

  25. The last time I was in a book store, half the FSF authors I recognized were in YA! And our library seems to buy a lot of my favorites for the YA section too…

  26. Oh, and for fantasy– The Sword Dancer books were also fun. I also liked Egan’s “Ivory” series a lot…. but she never wrote anything else?

  27. Ugh. And keep forgetting to click ‘notify, so this is for that!’

  28. Ooh! I forgot! I’ve gotten a few people into Urban Fantasy through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Novels. (Again, not great literature, but rip-roaring fun reads. Which, since I don’t really watch much TV or movies, is an important part of my book diet. Sometimes, you just want popcorn books. )

  29. Things to give -new- SciFi readers.
    James H. Schmitz, The Witches of Karres.
    Any Bolo story by poor old Keith Laumer. Key concept, “megatons per second”.
    Andre Norton’s Witch World, or The Moon of Three Rings.
    Clifford D. Simak, Way station or Goblin Reservation. (Read those as a kid.)
    Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International (but not if they’re all Lefty and stuff.)

    Out of my overstuffed basement, those are the ones that spring forcibly to mind.

    • “Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International (but not if they’re all Lefty and stuff.)”

      No, no; ESPECIALLY if they’re all Lefty and stuff.

      • BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD Man.

        • I glanced at what you wrote, and after seeing BA- followed by a long string of characters, I assumed it was BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

          Does that make me a bad person?

          😛

        • He just wants to be near enough to hear their heads explode.

          • Near enough to hear it, not near enough to get any on ya. 🙂

            The point was to -introduce- readers to SF, not to make their heads blow up. Your average liberal/hipster dweeb isn’t going to make it past the fist chapter of MHI. Concealed carry? AIEEEEEEEE!!!! [pop] [splatter]

            Of course that first chapter is what got me hook line and sinker. I’ve always been of the opinion that the thing to do when you meet Cthulu is shoot him in the face with your Colt 1911 while you scramble to find a bigger gun. Like an orbiting gigawatt laser that’s the targeting system for a particle beam measured in megatons per second. Suck hot protons, Elder Dorks.

            But I digress…

            You have to entice the dweebs in with the ancestral archetypes first. Then, after they internalize the concepts, they go yell at their congresscritters because they can’t carry concealed in Noo Yawk, and how are you supposed to shoot Cthulu in the face if you don’t gots no .45?

            None of this explains the butt-hurt contingent. Maybe they all started off with Twilight. [shudder]

  30. Unless I completely missed it, no one has recommended Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback young adult space opera series. I was in my mid-forties when the first book, Dragon & Thief, was released. I loved it and bought every one of the six books in hardback. I read the entire series aloud to my son, who also loved the books. If an adult reader can get around the idea that they’re reading a young adult series, the books make an excellent introduction to science fiction. Obviously, the series is perfect for kids.

    For some reason, the series never caught on. Back in 2010 when NASFIC was in my backyard (Raleigh, NC), I brought the series up in a panel on science fiction for young adults. Not one of the panelists was familiar with the series. (I also met Sarah and got her to autograph my copy of Darkship Thieves. Many thanks!)

    Also, don’t discount some of the early science fiction novels. People are still reading A Princess of Mars for a reason, after all! Most pulp stories were written for a much wider audience than today’s science fiction and should require little to no familiarity with science fiction tropes.

    And, finally, let me echo the suggestions of A Wrinkle in Time. That was the first science fiction book I remember reading and I still love it, today. Another young adult book to recommend to anyone who enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time is Sylvia Engdalh’s Enchantress From the Stars. It’s a wonderful combination of science fiction and traditional folk tales. Very highly recommended!

    At the risk of tooting my own horn, Bruce Bethke’s Rampant Loon Media will be releasing my first science fiction novel later this month and I think it would make a fine first science fiction novel for any who love fast-paced adventure stories with heroic (but not cardboard) heroes. It’s my attempt to resurrect the sword & planet sub genre of science fiction. If that idea intrigues you, look for Scout’s Honor on Amazon and other major ebook sellers in the next couple of weeks. (There’s going to be some kind of print-on-demand version, too, but I’m not sure whether it will be Amazon’s Create Space or something else.) Sorry if the horn-tooting is inappropriate but I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.

    • I read Thief and Dragon and liked it also, never read any of the others in that series, although I did read several of Zahn’s Cobra books and they were pretty good reads. I’m not sure how much truth there is to it, but I have heard that Zahn’s religious beliefs caused him problems in the publishing world. Of course we all know publishers don’t carry about your personal religious or political beliefs. /sarc

      • OK– now I’m curious. What ARE his religious beliefs? A quick google turned up nothing of note, and I’m nosy!

        • One of his Quadrail series was dedicated “To Pastor (name), who keeps me on the rails.” That was the first clue I had that he was a believer; until I saw that dedication, I hadn’t known.

        • He is some type of Christian, I want to say an offshoot branch like Christian Scientist, but it has been several years since I have heard much about him, and my memory could be faulty as to what he actually is.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I’ve never heard that either. I’d suggest he come to Baen, but he already has.

    • I agree with the Dragonback recommendation. I gave a dead tree copy of Dragon and Thief to my 11yo grandson back in December. Since my daughter said he seemed to like it, I went to Amazon and tracked down the other 5 books in the series. I had only read books 1 and 2 myself, so I got Kindle copies for me while I was at it. Book 2 seems to be especially scarce. I paid 2.99 for a copy that had a small tear on the cover (and 5.99 to have it sent from CA). I handed that book to my grandson at his birthday party Saturday, and told him that as soon as books 3 and 4 show up, I’ll be coming back with the rest of the set. He seemed appreciative, so I’m guardedly optimistic.

      I also gave a copy of Have Spacesuit Will Travel to my son, reminding him that it was published the same year that I was born. He enjoyed it and remembered me reading it aloud to him when he was very young.

  31. I’m sure there is a lot of good high fantasy but… I am so over it. I long for the return of optimistic hard SF. I loved Azimov, Heinlein, Norton and Van Vogt when i was young. My daughter reads the Star wars spin offs but hasn’t branched out. Ringo’s Council Wars might be a good place to start. Larry’s Monster Hunter International is good. Trailer trash elves. What a concept.

    • I recommend Ringo’s Troy Rising universe. Council Wars is fantasy.

    • I’ve been immensely enjoying L. Sprague de Camp’s Krishna books, and I’d recommend them to anyone who likes swash buckling SF. They’d be a good intro to the genre for teens IMO. There are some adult themes and quite a few innuendos, but those might well go right over the heads of younger readers who’d enjoy the sword fights and such.

      I’ve only found three or four of the books so far, but that means I get to look forward to reading the rest as and when I track them down. I don’t even know if they’re still in print.

    • You might enjoy Michael Flynn’s Spiral Armseries.

  32. Normally I’d say – Miles Vorkosigan.

    It depends a lot on the person and what *else* they like to read. No? My son has read dozens of Xanth novels when he was younger, and the Myth-Inc. books, and Pratchett. There’s a couple of other authors I can’t remember the names of. All humorous books. He never transitioned into “serious” books and I gave him a bunch of Bujold, but I don’t know if he read them.

    I like space opera. Space westerns. Space romances. Space action/adventure/military…

    My husband likes Ian M. Banks… and similar door stops. He asked about the Honor Harrington series so I dug my books out. They’ve been on the shelf for years and years and he’s never read one. But I don’t read his books either.

    I wonder how Wen Spencer’s _Alien Taste_ would work for an intro-to-SF book since it’s set firmly in the here and now… well, *almost* firmly… the setting should be easy for an introduction where a space station or ship would have all those new assumptions to deal with.

    Maybe the best thing to do is hand over a stack of novels that are all completely different… this is a space opera, this is military SF, 1632, one of those fat door stops, Dresden Files, SF “literature”, Citizen of the Galaxy… and then say, read the first 10 pages of each and see if any catch you.

  33. Did anyone mention Timonthy Zahn’s DRAGONBACK series of six books? The resident teen found the first one on the shelf some years ago and gobbled it, and then the rest.

    And Pratchett, we give WEE FREE MEN to nine-year olds, and it takes.

    Rachel Neumeier’s FLOATING ISLANDS has a boy narrator and a girl, and the boy learns to fly with artificial wings and magic, the girl is a mage (in a culture where girls can’t be mages, but one of her teachers is from elsewhere) and her magic tends to manifest in a cookery way: taste, smell of spices, that sort of thing. And I like the doors….
    Neumeier’s latest is a YA sort of urban fantasy which *I* liked a lot.

    Perhaps the self-pubbed TOUCHSTONE trilogy by Andrea K;. Host, which send an Australian teen walking out of her world into another and gets rescued by psychic space ninjas from a high tech planet. Cas’ voice is really well done, and I liked the books a lot. I think a lot of young people would, too.

    • My kid read all of the Tiffany Aching series over a weekend. Well, the first 3. He was 12

    • The Jackal Chronicles by Sandra Leone is another self published YA SF, that would be good starter choice for younger readers. Possibly a little trite for some of us more experienced, and like much YA they suffered from having a kid as the MC cast in a role that would be more realistically filled by an older teen/adult. But they were good fast paced popcorn reads that I enjoyed, and they had a couple of subtle innuendos put in that would roll right over the head of a younger reader, and had me rolling on the ground laughing.

  34. For some reason, I’m remembering when I was a child, probably about ten or thereabouts, and my mother got a filk compilation tape. And I loved that tape, and played it as often as I could, and learned all the songs by heart… and this is how I ended up reading the Chanur books by C.J. Cherryh before I was a teenager.

    I’m surprised I didn’t bounce. At least I didn’t read Grendel until I was in high school.

    For the record, C.J. Cherryh—and David Brin, and Melanie Rawn—are not good entry points, though I do love their work, and did read them years before I would recommend most people do so. I would, however, like to see what happens when you give a Twilight fan a copy of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy. Please, somebody try that. I have a theory that it would be the perfect gateway drug.

    Hmm. Nobody’s mentioned John Brunner. Some of his shorter novels could work quite well, though I wouldn’t give The Sheep Look Up to a neophyte.

    • Honestly… some people always bounce off of Cherryh… but if they’re not going to bounce off of Cherryh, I don’t think they’d bounce off her from the start.

      I think she was one of the first SF authors I read in college (prior exposure had been fantasies… David Eddings, etc. in high school) and Cyteen was probably one of the first of those… and I can’t imagine anyone saying to start with Cyteen. Part of what I really liked are the things that other people just can’t ever get past. (Favorites… Finity’s End, Hellburner, Tripoint, and related novels, Cukoo’s Egg… found Chanur much later, love Chanur.) I’m developing a theory that the fact that her early books were so very much *not* written in a universal language is why they were so entirely awesome if they were in *your* language. They were so full of interesting folds and crevasses instead of smoothed out and bland.

      I read Dune very early on, too.

      Then maybe some Heinlein.

      But I still try to define “entry level” and still assume that there is such a thing.

      • Weirdly I like Cherryh’s fantasy but I can’t GET INTO her SF. Mind you , it’s been a few years, and I could try again, but when I last tried I couldn’t. I guess… I’m unusual?

        • Nope, you’re not unusual. Or at least not unusual with respect to Cherryh’s SF. She is a favorite among many of my SF reading friends but I have never been able to get into her SF. I did enjoy one of her fantasy novels, though it’s been 30 years since I read it and I can’t remember the title any more.

          • I really liked her books based on Russian folklore. It’s kind of annoying… in a move/cull years ago, I virtuously got rid of a lot of my paperback SF/F, figuring ‘there will always be libraries and used bookstores!” And now that my kids are getting older, I can’t find the old favorites because the libraries don’t have them, and our area can’t support a bookstore. (Yes, I could probably find them on Amazon, but… I need to browse to remember which ones I loved! )

          • I liked Angel With the Sword a lot, but I read it while giving birth (quite literally. I was in hard labor for three days, I couldn’t NOT read.) So sometimes things swam a bit.
            Then there was Russalka. I loved Russalka, and I guess she did the best she could, but the end seemed…deflected somehow. Like she missed the path of greater emotional impact.

        • Well, of course you’re unusual, but what does that have to do with the subject? (RUNS)

        • Not unusual at all… I’d say “typical” if I didn’t think you’d hurt me. LOTS of people can’t get into Cherryh’s science fiction. I love it but I don’t think that’s some sort of point of superiority. I’m just so very glad that she got published, that we’ve got novels to read that are different and not all so very much the same.

          And like I said (or tried to)… I don’t think it’s a matter of “working up to” reading Cherryh. I think that people either bounce… or they don’t.

          • Well, I specifically mentioned not bouncing off her when I read her as very young because I *did* bounce off Brin. In fact, my mother was annoyed that I got into Brin later because she’d thought I would like it as a teenager and I couldn’t get into it.

            I will admit, though, that Startide Rising didn’t have a song for me to hook into to get me through the first slog. I had part of the story for Chanur, I wanted the rest. (Filk, the gateway drug…)

            • My goodness, I think I still remember all the lyrics. I haven’t heard that song in a decade or more.

    • Heh. I also found Cherryh through filk. “Captain Signy Mallory” to be precise. Loved _Downbelow Station_, not so happy with the fantasy stuff. I think there were too many intertwined plots and characters.

    • Cherryh is extremely talented, but not for everyone. I liked her books about the telepathic carnivorous horses. (can’t remember what they were called right now) and her other scifi that I read was good, but some of it I liked, some of it I didn’t. I’ve never tried Chanur, most of her stuff I have tried is dark and pretty dystopian, so I have to be in the right mood to enjoy it, and that should be kept in mind when recommending it to people.

      • Cloud’s Rider and Rider at the Gate. And they weren’t precisely horses, but an alien species that had a similar body shape.

        • Yep, that’s them. Yeah I knew they were aliens, not horses, but it was the best descriptor I could think of at the time. I’ve got them on the shelves at home.

  35. For modern readers, Sarah, “Darkship Thieves” would work very well as a “gateway” type of book.

    Most of the authors I recommend for that — Poul Anderson for his Dominic Flandry series, Andre Norton (anything, really), Anne McCaffrey (the YA series about Menolly and Sebell) — haven’t changed.

    For people who like GRRM, if they don’t know about Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” series, they need to go there forthwith. It doesn’t have dragons, but it does have feudalism, lots of sex, quasi-medievalism in many of the books, and the idea of the King not being all-powerful is super-important. Deborah J. Ross has done an excellent job continuing the series on, and in some ways her books are even easier to get into; they’re not as visceral, maybe, as MZB’s, but they’re definitely more approachable and they’re a lot of fun.

    If you’re talking fantasy, Katharine Kimbriel’s two books (with a third on the way) about Alfreda Sorensson are outstanding; Alfreda is only thirteen in the second book (and, apparently, will still be thirteen in the third), and she faces many things by the dint of her own hard work and effort (along with some high-powered magic that she doesn’t completely know how to use). These are frontier fantasy in the same way as Patricia C. Wrede’s “Thirteenth Child” series, though Ms. Kimbriel did it first (for whatever that’s worth).

    And I second the vote for Ms. Wrede’s four books about the dragons. They’re funny, they read well and easily, and they pack a serious punch, too. (Plus, I love the dragons.)

  36. It’s also very easy to get into Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series (start with the “Arrow’s” trilogy about Talia, or read “By the Sword” about Kerowyn; those are my recommendations), I have a real fondness for Rosemary Edghill’s “The Warslayer” (especially if you adored “Xena: Warrior Princess”), and two original “Star Trek” tie-in novels — “The Final Reflection” by John M. Ford and “Uhura’s Song” by Janet Kagan — are also quite worthwhile in every sense.

    • For the Valdemar books, I actually thought Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price were better starter novels, but I’ve liked all of them that I have read so far.

      • Yes, they are better. Once you get over the war as a day job concept.

        • Totally emo. That be a benefit for teenage readers.

          • That’s probably why they didn’t do much for me. I read them, but the second book made me want to reach out and pour a bucket of cold water over Vanyel to see if it would shock a little sense into him. (Emo is too close to whining to not push several of my buttons. That’s probably why Alberich is my favorite character of the Valdemar canon.)

          • I read it while I was pregnant. This was much like being a teen.

            • Lackey is good for pregnant reading. My husband has a tendency to wonder why I keep returning to the tried & true simple plots during pregnancy. (Lackey and mysteries and YA, oh my.)

      • My tastes must run closer to Barb’s, I would consider By The Sword the best of the Valdemar books, and the Arrow trilogy better than Magic’s Pawn, Promise and Price. But I quit reading them not to many books after those three. And Warslayer was free from Baen last I knew, a pretty good lighthearted popcorn read, if you don’t want to do any thinking.

      • I liked those, too, Wayne. Vanyel’s one of my favorites. But I was trying to keep it down to only two things — and “By the Sword” is probably my favorite _single_ Valdemar novel, so how could I not mention that? (Besides, for Sarah’s blog, it’s ideal — Kerowyn pulls herself up because of the dint of her own efforts. She’s mistrustful of mind-magic, she’s mistrustful of most people, yet eventually finds a good cause to fight for without sacrificing her own principles and finds love, too. Kerowyn reminds me of Athena, Sarah’s heroine — or maybe Athena reminds me of Kerowyn. ;-))

        • I only read the first two of Valdemar, so I have never read her.

          • Three, not two. I read the Vanyel the Wet trilogy…

          • You’d probably like Exile’s Honor and Exile’s Valor, which focus on Alberich, the “modern-day” Armsmaster. He’s the kind of trainer you want to have (well, after the fact)—the one who basically tries to be harder than anything you’ll face in the field.

          • I think you’d like “By the Sword,” Sarah. Kerowyn has an independent sensibility about her — she’s a mercenary, she’s proud of it, and the people of Valdemar alternately confuse and frustrate her, once she gets there (during the third part of the three-part book). Kerowyn’s like the consummate outsider, and she sees and says things others probably would see and say, but are too afraid to actually voice . . . needless to say, she’s probably my favorite heroine of all of them Misty’s written (and I’ve read most of them by this point).

            Athena, your heroine, has many of the same sensibilities. (Not for the same reasons, granted. But be upset with her for something she can’t help? That annoys her and wastes her time, so don’t do it.) And she, too, will say and see things that others don’t, or are too afraid to voice if they actually *do*.

            One of these years I’ll have to write a blog about the books I actually recommend to people, and why. And any similarities I see in these books, for that matter . . . hm. (I have a fondness for independent women who speak their minds, though. Not that this is much of a surprise, as you write them and I enjoy what you’re doing.)

  37. One can’t help but notice that B. Durbin is attempting to push a) John Scalzi and b) Seanan McGuire, two of the more notorious polluters of traditional SF/F. That is most definitely not where one would want to recommend any young newcomers to the genre. SF is not about fart jokes.

    Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Madeleine L’Engle, the Heinlein juveniles, and McCaffrey’s Harper Hall are still the ideal places to start for boys and girls alike.

    • He may be a ‘polluter’, whatever that means, but I still enjoy him. Of course, I’d never have picked him up w/o the Insty recommendation.

      Also, in terms of getting teens into F/SF– there’s a lot of good stuff in the YA section— stuff that, when we were young, would have just been considered straight up F/SF.

      Though, with the young, I’m not sure how important ‘gateway novels’ are. Some kids are just naturally drawn to the genre. Just like some kids are naturally drawn to those depressing ‘everyone gets cancer and dies’ books.

      I guess the zombie apocalypse books sort of bridge the gap between the to genres!

    • Oh bull. I like who I like, and I’m not trying to push people into liking “pollution.” Have you read Seanan McGuire’s work? I consider them highly accessible and entertaining. And her work as Mira Grant actually displays a love for the genre, a love which is not evident in such trend-surfing novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (warning sign: when the “author” says he made the original text “interesting.” And the total ignorance of epidemiology, manners, and various cultures didn’t help there either.)

      Besides, we’re trying to expand the list of suggestions, and all of those names had already been suggested.

      You’re welcome to come look at my shelves. I’m small-c catholic in my taste and everyone is welcome.

  38. The wife and I love to read and have hundreds of books, if not well into the thousands range. It was still wasn’t easy to get the kids to read. If I remember right it was the Harry Potter books that really set the hook. With my kids it was easier to get them to read something that had ties into a movie. They’ve now realized that in most if not all cases the books are much better. My son loved the Dune series but I don’t know if I’d put that in a starter book list. I’m trying to guide them to actually try what we have in our “library”.

    When I started it was the same as many have already listed –
    Susan Cooper, Madeleine L’Engle, Heinlein, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Burroughs, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Azimov, Ursula K. Le Guin

  39. Another vote here for anything by Andre Norton to start someone out. Sarah’s Darkship Thieves or Draw One In The Dark would be great as well, though I for some reason had a heck of a time tracking that first Shifters book down and ended up reading the second first. For action fans the Conquistador Accountant’s MHI works, as would Oh John Ringo No’s Into the Looking Glass, and the rest of the Looking Glass series works for any Trekish folks. Weber’s On Basilisk Station has also been mentioned above and would be good for any crossover modern day mil fic fans, as would Chris Nuttal’s Empire’s Corps.

    Whatever you do, don’t try to start someone out on something too far away from what they already like. As noted above, if they get lost they will just give up. As an example, I almost gave up on the first Aubrey-Maturin book, Master and Commander, just because the sailing vocabulary was so thick. I have a thing about giving up on a book, though, and so I stuck it out and ended up loving the series.

    Make it familiar and pick the first book in any series, even Andre Norton’s stuff, and there’s a good chance you’ll infect another fan with the SF bug.

    • That reminds me–I’ve used Temeraire to get some Regency fans into fantasy……

      • Have you read Patricia Wrede’s Marilon the Magician and Magician’s Ward? (pretty sure I spelled Marilon wrong but…)

        • Oh! I did read that, way back when! I should look for it again– I think my daughter might enjoy them. (Our library is sadly lacking in Wrede… and puts everything with a reading level beyond 5th grade in “YA”— which makes it hard for my daughter to browse since she’s only 10, and a good percentage of YA books are inappropriate for her age/ emotional state.)

  40. My personal entry was – mostly – Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard (including Lin Carter and L. Sprague deCamp pastiches), plus the occasional comic laying around a barber shop. Once I identified what I was loving there I managed (against some obstacles, such as living in a very small rural town) to find Norton, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Nourse, and a few others.

    I second the nomination if any of you can find “Hero From Otherwhen”. I still regret losing track of my copy.

  41. Interesting that nobody has suggested Zelazny’s books. Lord of Light or the Amber books seem pretty good for certain kinds of readers (although the massive flashback constituting the second(?) chapter of LoL might throw some askew.

    Sturgeon’s works, especially his short fiction, is wonderfully told. Microcosmic God ought hold any newby’s imagination.

    Some works by Forties & Fifties authors do, as has been noted, creak a bit at the edges — Door Into Summer‘s depictions of the 70s and the new century are unavoidably amusing — but any fan of Mad Men should try Pohl & Kornbluth’s Space Merchants and I dare say much of Frederick Brown’s or Henry Kuttner’s tales are still delightful. Try What Mad Universe or Proud Robot on for size.

    Literary readers should enjoy Bradbury. Jack Chalker’s novels were often fun. Without digging into the archives I would be hesitant to suggest any others, although I am confident there are many there. I recall Moorcock’s books as interesting although they were a little oddly mannered for my youthful tastes and I haven’t sampled since. Silverbob was an author I read heavily in my early years in the genre but a review would be required to suggest anything specific.

    As always, the important key is matching book to reader. Back when I worked in a movie theatre I learned that when a customer asked “what’s good?” the best approach was not to assume their tastes were similar to mine; instead I learned to ask two questions: What was the last movie you really liked? and What was the last movie you disliked?

    A mite harder to do with books, but the bracketing principle remains a good approach.