Fiction That Redefines Genre Perception

Too Like the Lightning and sequels, Ada Palmer.

A Succession of Bad Days and other books in that series, Graydon Saunders. (I named the second book but you can start there.)

The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone.

My usual list of John M. Ford novels, which I have blogged about at length.

Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones.

The Sorceress and the Cygnet, McKillip.


I haven’t felt that anything really redefined a genre for me in a long time, but I remember reading Watership Down as a teenager and it changed everything for me, and then someone told me it was a fantasy novel, and I was floored because I read fantasy novels all the time and this book was completely, totally different from anything I had ever experienced. And I still feel that way about that book.


The Empire Series by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts freaked me out because the level of complexity and prose was comparable to Frank Herbert. I’ve loved Janny’s writing ever since.


Final Fantasy VI (originally released as Final Fantasy III in North America) completely upended my expectations of what character-driven story in a JRPG could be. It’s still one of my all-time favorite games.


As far as games go, I think A Dark Room really opened my eyes to how IF could be done differently. I had really never considered before that IF could be made for touchscreen, or could be so minimal yet so effective, or that it could be in any way commercially viable. I still think that game is a model for how more IF could be made for money. There are so many IF games that are so good that could be adapted to touchscreen while still being text-based, with minimal concessions to an audience used to graphics.


I mentioned this in a recent review, but Catch-22 completely floored me when I read it in high school, and made me realize literary fiction isn’t just boring people slowly freezing to death in the world’s boringest metaphor for emotional isolation (I like most everything else I’ve read of Edith Wharton but Jesus, Ethan Frome can get bent).


It’s a classic. The Girl in a Swing by the same author is truly weird, but worth a read too.

I get through about a zillion books a week (give or take a couple). I’ll read anything, and most of them just don’t stick. I remember reading Philip K Dick’s VALIS a few years ago, having never read any PKD before, and it really blowing me away. Still not entirely sure why. Something to do with the human frailty and doubt that pervades throughout? Never reread it but subsequently read everything else he wrote. No other sci-fi author compares, for me (I’ve read quite a few). Also has the huge virtue of wrapping up all his novels within about 200 pages. I approve. Read a few Iain M Banks novels afterwards and found them all 300 pages too long.

Also genre defining for me, but in a negative sense, is officially the worst book that I’ve ever read! It was a pulp romance novel from the 70s - told you I’ll read anything - entitled, I remember Love Call (or maybe Love Calls). Something about a company secretary finding themselves in love with the boss and then the boss’s arch rival at the same time? Groovy 70s dust jacket with sultry heroine chatting on the phone, overlooked by shadowy business people. Very Hallmark. The details, sadly, are a little hazy as to my eternal regret, having somehow struggled through it, I chucked it back in the same Cats Protection League charity donation book bin that I got it from, and never saw it again. I really wish I still had it, as I’ve never read anything more ineptly written, ludicrously plotted and gasp-inducing that the thing actually made it into print. I’ll probably find it on AbeBooks one day and buy it back for £50, just to have as a trophy (cost me 15p the first time).


Is this it? From the cover alone it seems amazing!

EDIT: is she in an airport? Why is she in an airport?


My god, that is it! Available from US Amazon only. I’ll book a flight and come and collect it; it will be worth the trip.

I’m not sure about the airport. Maybe she works in the airport? Or perhaps she just happened to be passing there with her huge and heavy Olivetti in her purse, and decided to stop and type a letter? Anything is possible in Cox’s work.


Researching this further, I am informed that “Lewis Cox” is a pen name for Euphrasia Emmeline Cox, b. 1889. God bless your country.

And yes, you can pick it up from our Amazon when you’re swinging by to teach Henry the train sounds!


Actually looks like the trip is off - I’ve saved you some money here so I’d appreciate that being added to the regular kickback:

Did you catch that the contents are “clean and bright”?


From what I recall, there are some more accurate epithets that I’d use to describe the contents.

Everyone must now buy a copy. The estate of pseudonymous Cox will be surprised at the sudden uptick in royalties!

(Flight already booked, expect me next week Mike)


Lovely! Yes, we’ll all buy copies and then you can organize LoveCallComp for April where we compete to make the best IF adaptation.

(Why April? I’m given to understand it’s the cruelest month…)


My choices are fairly obvious, I suppose:

Raymond Chandler wrote in a way I’d never seen before. His unique prose style and tight first-person narratives blew my head open. I reread The Long Goodbye every few years.

Neuromancer rearranged how I viewed science fiction (and I grew up reading 1970s sci-fi, weird sex and all). For me, there’s science fiction before Neuromancer, and science fiction after Neuromancer.

I read Cat’s Cradle in a single sitting after discovering it on my friend’s bookshelf. It’s a singular novel that looks easy to write, and it’s not.


The last thing that blew my mind was the SCP wiki. Never would I have imagined that you can tell amazing fantasy stories in such a clinical tone.


For me it was The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Thinking about it still weirds me out.


Yes! Also A Scanner Darkly, probably the most skilful thing he wrote. Mors ontologica. Very good. He’d give most philosopher theologians I know (curiously, quite a few) a run for their money!

Love Call is considerably less weighty and thematically a bit less complex (handy tip for those deciding between the two in an airport bookstall).


Babel-17 by Samuel R Delaney. The use of language was like nothing I’d ever seen in a work of fiction before. I don’t think I’ve seen a book since that managed to convey so much through implication without dropping essential information between the cracks.

Dune by Frank Herbert did for time what Babel-17 did for language.


The NES Godzilla Creepypasta really changed my perception of how horror could work. Same with Amigara Fault.


Dahlgren by Delaney had a similar effect for me. I borrowed it from a friend to read on a long train ride, expecting to while away the hours with a standard post-apocalyptic SF story.

I was dumbfounded before I got twenty pages in. The prose, the worldbuilding, the characters,… It took a long time before it all clicked (not sure even now if it ever really did. I’ve been planning to reread it.), but it’s one of the most absorbing books I ever read.