Top Ten Tuesday: unique reads

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week, we’re looking at books that stand out from the crowd.

Unique is a big ask in practically any context, so I’m hoping for Really Unusual this week and really looking forward to what everyone talks! As usual, I’m staying close to my genre heart. Arguably SFF has a bigger chance of breaking and exploring new ground given that it deliberately shies away from real world constraints(!), but it’s no secret that a lot of genre fiction is still very derivative (which doesn’t mean it isn’t still an awful lot of fun). So here’s to ten interesting takes…

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Book cover: Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie (two fighters flying low over a planet)An vengeful AI is stranded in a single body (or ancillary). Full of galactic intrigue as the AI pursues her vendetta against authority, it’s fairly traditional space opera – until you consider the pronouns. At which point it becomes brave and unusual.

Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Book cover: Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk (a man's face in profile, in shades of blue and orange)An isolated young man becomes an icon for a generation of nihilistic malcontents. But who is Tyler Durden? I’ll be talking more about this one tomorrow for The Book Was Better, but I think this earns its way onto the list for its carefully-handled POV.

The Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier

Book cover: The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier (a woman in a red beanie, long brown hair loose and blowing in a snowstorm)A global pandemic is sweeping the globe, and the death toll is total. The city of the dead has never seen so many come – or go. As newcomers try to find their feet, a young woman stranded in Antarctica tries to make her way to a safe haven. A flupocalypse related mostly – uniquely? – from the deads’ POV.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

Book cover: The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes (a faceless girl against a black background)It could be just another serial killer story except for its interesting use of time travel as a plot device. A killer stalks his prey through history, untouchable – until a determined young woman survives. How do you track a killer who can step out of time?

Vurt / Pollen – Jeff Noon
Book cover: Vurt - Jeff Noon (a blue feather against a glaring yellow background; none of the colours look real)In a near-future dystopian Manchester, heaven – or hell – is but a feather away, and Scribble needs to rescue his sister Desdemona from the King in Yellow. Part drug-fuelled haze, part fairy tale, Noon’s hallucinatory speculative fiction is mind-bending.

Under the Skin – Michel Faber

Book cover: Under the Skin - Michel Faber (car lights in a rear view mirror, the open road ahead)A lonely protagonist collects hitchhikers on the Scottish roads for nefarious purposes. A first contact thriller with a truly unusual (perhaps even unique 😉 heroine, this debut novel plays with expectations so hard it can turn you into a pretzel.

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer

Book cover: Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer (patterned hardcover, white flowers or spores on a grey background)Hard to pigeon hole, Annihilation stands out for its differences rather than its tropes. Is it describing an alien invasion? An apocalypse? A government experiment gone wrong? It’s opaque setting, its nameless characters and its careful manipulation of perception and memory may not be unique, but they certainly stand out.

Lifelode – Jo Walton

Book cover: Lifelode - Jo WaltonWhile the setting isn’t entirely unique (it’s inspired by an SFnal work), this is the only fantasy I know to embrace so many challenging aspects in its world-building – and then to eschew a standard fantasy plot in favour of small-scale family drama. Charming and surprising.

The City and the City – China Miéville

Book cover: The City and the City - China Mieville (a silhouette of a head behind glass fractured by a gunshot)Another unusual setting: a city is split into dual states, each inhabiting the same space, but meticulously ignored by the other; each with distinct language, culture and international connections. When a corpse is found in the wrong city, a world-weary but determined police officer must cross over to solve the crime.

Chameleon Moon – RoAnna Sylver

Book Cover: Chameleon MoonParole could be just another dystopian police state, but its cast of characters is so unusual I think it earns a place on this list: welcome to a world of superpowers and disabilities, where love and hope are the best weapons against despair and destruction.

Honourable mention goes to the adult works of Alan Garner. Where his children’s books are exciting, traumatic and accessible, his books for adults are lyrical, heart-breaking and sometimes utterly opaque. It’s an odd, sometimes unsettling mix.

What books have stood out for you as being completely different, and why?