As some of my readers know, these days I binge-read fiction on business trips or other travels, and, for the most part, I make an effort to search out books and authors I haven’t read, as well as books that deal with what I’d call interesting subjects or more familiar subjects addressed in a unique fashion.
The problem is, at least for me, that, beneath the veneer of “new and different” claimed by publishers and authors, I’m finding that there really isn’t all that much truly new and different. Oh, there are definitely books that deal with “new and different,” but not nearly so many as the publishing hype might suggest. Perhaps that’s always been the case, and perhaps when an author gets older, and has read as many books in the field as I have, it’s just harder to find something that’s truly different.
But I’m not so certain about that. Tolkien re-invented heroic fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, and I can’t even count the number of follow-ons and knock-offs. As far as I can determine Fred Saberhagen re-invented the vampire genre with The Dracula Tape in 1975 [Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire wasn’t published until May of 1976], although one could also claim that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend  was the first of the true twentieth century vampire “re-births,’ but Matheson’s blood-suckers were more “generic.’ Saberhagen also pioneered the whole idea of malevolent, non-gendered cyber beings with his berserker stories, something that tends to get overlooked in all the hoopla about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and its sequel.
Certainly James Tiptree, Jr., [Alice Bradley Sheldon], Joanna Russ, Sheri Tepper, and Ursula K. LeGuin were questioning gender roles and societal norms some thirty years ago, and even in 1987 Melissa Scott wrote The Kindly Ones, a masterful work in which it is impossible to determine with any certainty the gender of the protagonist.
The Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones are essentially huge-scale epic fantasies, with a few twists, that, in my mind, at least, fall into the post-Tolkien follow-on school.
Now, as I’ve noted in some of my comments on what I’ve read, there are still books with unique twists on old themes and some few with new themes, and I’m still looking, but it just could be that, as I’m getting older, it’s just harder to surprise me.
What do you think… and what books have struck you as unique… and why?