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.
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).
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.
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.
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.