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  1. #1
    Catacomb Kid Power to the J's Avatar
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    Most Unique Fantasy You've Ever Read?

    Lately I've been growing sick of many of the conventions of fantasy and its various sub-genres. I'm hoping to harvest left-field a bit.

    For me I have two votes.

    One is PERDIDO STREET STATION. From the plot to the world to the races, this one is definitely in a category of its own. The story is about a scientist trying to find a way to stop a group of monsters who have been feeding on the dreams of the populace. His girlfriend is an ant/human hybrid; other species include cactus-men and talking, upright-walking birds.

    Second is THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER, about world-shifting progenies who can alter the reality of the world they're in.

    What are some of your favorites?

  2. #2
    Registered User Cerberus's Avatar
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    Definitely agree on Chronicles of Amber. To this day that's one of the most original and inventive Fantasy series I've read, where Zelazny manages to take the story completely off the deep end without drowning. Also the Sphinx riddle part is one of my favorite scenes of all time to this day.

    A book in a similar vein is The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones. It also features a protagonist going through multiple worlds/realities in an inventive setting.

    Another series, one I can't personally recommend because it's the only series I've ever read where I got to the end of it and concluded that it was ultimately pointless and wished I hadn't started at all, but which many seem to enjoy, is the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. His world is breathtakingly complex and rich in history and geography, with many unique characters and epic battles. As long as you don't mind the fact that the good guys always suffer horribly and come to terrible ends, everyone on all sides eventually dies no matter the outcome of each individual battle or war, it's hard to find any actual good guys and they usually just die or suffer horribly then fade pointlessly out of the story, and just about every female character gets raped. Like I said, pointless and soul-draining, but the silver lining is the solid writing and breathtaking detail.
    Last edited by Cerberus; September 13th, 2014 at 11:08 PM.

  3. #3
    Cthulhu's Red Bucket Lucas Thorn's Avatar
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    have to agree with the amber and malazan. they're definitely in a world of their own. zelazny had some wonderfully inventive books. my favourite of his was roadworks which is a masterpiece criminally out of print.

    i still find moorcock to be rather unique in that his characters are always so driven by their weaknesses. there's a focus not on their strengths, but their weakness. that the only reason they're powerful is due to the magical crutch they've been given. that's really something you don't see much of. it's almost like every character was essentially a drug addict, or steroid-powered athlete.

    thomas covenant, too, is something unique in fantasy. from the very beginning, you feel only contempt for him. and the idea that he doesn't believe he's in a new world but has only gone mad is a powerful one. (i haven't read the new series, though)

    love him or hate him, i also feel piers anthony's xanth series is pretty unique, too. and alan dean foster's spellsinger series.

    funny how fantasy gets more "unique" when it adds modern or scifi themes.

    on that note, i've always thought of herbert's dune to be a fantasy and pretty unique for that (edit: call it stars and sandals). it's not really scifi. and it's also where i think of kameron hurley. her gods war series was mostly fantasy (i'm shattered that it doesn't look like that series will get any conclusions - thanks trad publishing number crunchers!) and her latest, the mirror empire, is pretty intriguingly different. i also consider nick harkaway's gone away world as fantasy and would say that blew my mind.

    for more fantasy difference, there's a series by aliette de bodard, which is set in an historical aztec setting. i read servant of the underworld and was pretty impressed. you don't see much fantasy moving away from the "english medieval" setting. actually, to think about it, angry robot are probably one of the more exciting publishers as they're not afraid to walk outside the box.

    the gonji series by tc rypel is pretty unique for having a samurai wandering medieval europe battling a series of supernatural monsters and magical enemies. that was fairly new to me though it clung to the sword and sorcery genre like a desperate child.

    finally, i think jesse bullington's the sad tale of the brothers grossbart was amazingly different and deserved more press.

    i can't finish this post because i keep thinking of something else, and this time it was walter moers. and if the borribles trilogy by michael de larrabeiti isn't fantasy, i'll eat my hat. and i like my hat, but i'm sure it's not tasty. i loved the borribles. i want to steal his idea of the borribles not having a name until they've earned one by having an adventure and that their name is a story. love that idea.

    anything else?

    no. for me, that's what i can squeeze out of my brain on a sunday afternoon.

  4. #4
    Vanaeph Westsiyeed's Avatar
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    I'd also agree with Perdido Street Station (as well as The Scar) by Mieville.

    I would also say Imagica by Clive Barker - it's scope, dark fantastical elements, sexually ambiguous characters and beauty & horror make it a true unique work of art in my opinion.

    Also Jeff Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen - set in of one the most unique and interesting cities in fantasy, the book is made up of multiple stories in different formats.

    I also thought Daryl Gregory's Raising Stony Mayhall is the most interesting and intelligent zombie story I've read.

  5. #5
    Registered User StephenPorter's Avatar
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    While I have to agree with Zelazny, I felt like Amber was one of his most normal works. His stuff can be just plain nuts. Creatures of Light and Darkness is perhaps the weirdest. He wrote it as a pure writing experiment just for practice. An editor asked to see it even after Zelazny told him the book sucked, but the editor loved it and published it anyway. The book is jam-packed with sheer lunacy which I greatly appreciated.

    But all in all, check out just about anything by Zelazny. Almost everything he wrote was an experiment just to see if he could do it, some of which are quite bizarre.

    Neil Gaiman is, of course, a great one for good unique stories, too. You might also want to track down an anthology I stumbled across a few years back called The Secret History of Fantasy, which was a collection of non-standard fantasy stories by a variety of different writers (including Gaiman, actually). Most of it is pretty good and might point you in the direction of some good authors.

    But the mantle of strangest thing I've ever read probably has to go to Frank's World by George Mangles. That may or may not be a compliment. Take it whichever way you prefer. I'm not sure it technically counts as fantasy, but it has lizardmen that live in the sewers and take over the Earth through corrupt corporate empires, so I'm counting it as fantasy anyway. The entire book is one extraordinarily long sentence (or at least it would be if there wasn't that typo somewhere in there). God gets fed up with the universe about half way through and quits. It's dismal, disturbing, depraved, and deranged. It will either drive you insane, disgust you, turn you into a cynical pessimist, or perhaps all three. Approach with caution.


    Lucas, are you sure you don't mean Roadmarks? (which I perpetually want to call Last Exit to Babylon because that's what a road sign says in the cover art) I was lucky enough to find an old battered copy at my local library and loved it. I really do wish more of Zelazny's stuff was still in print. It almost always presents me with something so strange it makes my jaw drop, and that's exactly what I hope for when I read fantasy.

  6. #6
    Cthulhu's Red Bucket Lucas Thorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenPorter View Post
    Lucas, are you sure you don't mean Roadmarks? (which I perpetually want to call Last Exit to Babylon because that's what a road sign says in the cover art) I was lucky enough to find an old battered copy at my local library and loved it. I really do wish more of Zelazny's stuff was still in print. It almost always presents me with something so strange it makes my jaw drop, and that's exactly what I hope for when I read fantasy.
    thanks! i DID mean roadmarks. i have a copy of it, too. had it since i was a kid. on the subject of his creative works, i've heard he organised the chapters by throwing them in the air and leaving them in the order they landed in for this book... i agree his standalones were weirder. but amber has its moments, like whenever corwin is travelling or using the pattern.

    edit: in regard to lizardmen and whatnot and weird, i think the illuminatus series by shea and wilson will always take the cake for ultra-weird lunatic conspiracy weird.

  7. #7
    I think Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy that begins with The Lion of Senet is worth a mention. I love that the main character uses his brains instead of magic to solve his problems. The series has politics, religion and some great plot twists.

    Any of Joe Abercrombie's Work is pretty unique. Best Served Cold is my favorite and I love how he can make you root for the bad guy.

    Brent Weeks Lightbringer series has a very unique magic system and I really enjoy his writing.

    I know his other works get a lot more attention but Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker is a stand alone that creates a world that will stay with you for a long time. I believe this is an under rated gem in the world of fantasy.

  8. #8
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Hal Duncan's duology Vellum and Ink.

  9. #9
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Stover : mixing action adventure with magic and with science-fiction/dystopian future.

    Shadows of the Apt by Adrian Tchaikovsky : the best mix between fantasy and technology for me, coupled with one of the most original genetic profiles for the insect-kinden.

    The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham : interesting magic system.

    Both of these series contain within elements of classic epic/heroic fantasy, but I believe they go further than many others in expanding the genre limits.

    I haven't read yet Perdido Street Station, but it will probably join the three above when I get to it.

  10. #10
    It's more SF than fantasy, but I'll stick Neal Stephenson's Anathem in here. That book really stretched my brain.

  11. #11
    "Unique" might be a bit too strong for these since some of them have developed a following including writers who have tried to emulate them, but in my reading experience these are rare creatures:

    Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Maybe the best weird tales collection I've come across, compiled and ordered by Lin Carter. Smith combines S&S with a Gothic imagination that over the course of the stories delineates a very strange far future dying world. I wish someone would reissue this.

    The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles Finney. You didn't say it had to be epic/heroic/Tolkeinesque so here's one first published in the 1930s, a fantasy/satire of a circus come to a mid-west town of people too wrapped up in their own lives to really see the wonders in front of them.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Others have emulated, but on one I've come across has entirely succeeded in merging horror fantasy with a coming-of-age story with a coming-to-terms-with-aging story.

    The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. Starts as mainstream character study, shifts to a sort-of mystery thriller, about mid-way you realize its fantasy, then ends as chilling as any horror story. Carroll's Voice of Our Shadow leans a little more toward a quiet horror and is very effective.

    Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti. Story collection with inserted narrative meant to bridge the stories. The bridging materials are not entirely successful, but the individual stories add up to a sort of fantasy, existential nightmare world that is powerfully evoked.

    The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson may have had more imagination than he could reign in, and I'm not quite sure he was writer enough to fully explore it in an intelligible manner. This is powerful, his flights of imagination staggering, but the story thin. And yet, I dare you to entirely forget some of the imagery from this book.

    Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. One of the most beautifully written fantasies I've ever come across, it rewards patient readers and frustrates those looking for action/adventure and high deeds of heroism. Does contain some low deeds of heroism.

    The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison. The best fantasy I've read from the 1990s. College students experience something not natural, not normal, maybe supernatural or paranormal, and they spend the rest of their lives trying to understand it. Or run from it. Or ignore it.

    The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan. Masterful weird fantasy where what is real and what is the delusion of the main character is up for discussion.


    I have a few books on Mount TBR that look unusual: Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor; Skin Folk Nalo Hopkinson; and The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken. These are all story collections. I have read a few from the Aiken and one from the Okorafor and found them enjoyable and a little disorienting.


    Randy M.

  12. #12
    Hell! Ochos's Avatar
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    Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman. Characters with the familiar London names, I thought that was so cool when I first read it.

  13. #13
    Call me Scott
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    My favorite off-the-beaten-path fantasies:

    Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees - A fabulous pre-Tolkein fantasy chronicling the struggles of a town on the border of fairyland.

    The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy by Avram Davidson - A collection of stories about a Holmes-like doctor / investigator / inventor in an imaginary European nation (circa late 19th century) and the fantastical people and situations he encounters. It has quite a bit of humor, some early steam-punk elements, and is extremely well written. I now want to learn more European history so as to better suss out all of the allusions and humor.

    The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers - A modern poetry researcher is thrust back in time into a conspiracy involving British poets, a wolf-man, Lord Byron as a vampire (or zombie, it's been awhile), Egyptian magic, and other weird stuff. Also excellent are his novels: On Stranger Tides (pirates and voodoo magic) and Declare (cold-war spies and Djinn).

    The Paper Grail by James P. Blaylock - All sorts of strange people and happenings converge in modern California as the Holy Grail is about to change hands in search of a new caretaker. Also worth reading are The Lost Coin and All the Bells on Earth.

    The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe - A teenager is transported into a warrior's body in a fantasy world based loosly on Norse mythology, and he decides to be a hero. Told in first person by an unreliable narrator who often witholds essential information and glosses over important events. Although it isn't considered a masterpiece like many of Wolfe's older works, I found it excellent. I loved the world-building especially.

    Roger Zelazny - My favorites are Amber, A Night in the Lonesome October, Lord of Light, and many of his short works.

    Some other authors that don't get talked about much but seem promising so far:

    Charles Williams - I liked All Hallow's Eve, which is a well-written dark fantasy dealing with ghosts/spirits and magic.
    China Mieville - I read Railsea and found his writing style and world-building both above average. The ending was weak, however.

    What about Jack Vance? I've heard good things but haven't read much more than a few short stories so far.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by slindeman View Post
    [...]The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy by Avram Davidson - A collection of stories about a Holmes-like doctor / investigator / inventor in an imaginary European nation (circa late 19th century) and the fantastical people and situations he encounters. It has quite a bit of humor, some early steam-punk elements, and is extremely well written. I now want to learn more European history so as to better suss out all of the allusions and humor.

    The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers - A modern poetry researcher is thrust back in time into a conspiracy involving British poets, a wolf-man, Lord Byron as a vampire (or zombie, it's been awhile), Egyptian magic, and other weird stuff. Also excellent are his novels: On Stranger Tides (pirates and voodoo magic) and Declare (cold-war spies and Djinn).
    Geez, I can't believe I didn't think of these. I also enjoyed Powers' The Stress of Her Regard perhaps a bit more than On Stranger Tides; it's a darker book, though.

    What about Jack Vance? I've heard good things but haven't read much more than a few short stories so far.
    I remember really enjoying the first Vance I read when I was first reading s.f./fantasy. The Last Castle and The Dragon Master were short and terrific. For some reason I didn't read him again for years and for all its reputation The Dying Earth was just okay for me. I enjoyed it but I wasn't overjoyed with it. That said, his story "The Moon Moth" has a fantasy feel to it and is one of the great s.f. novellas.


    Randy M.

  15. #15
    Way Too Human
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    The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever - Stephen R. Donaldson

    As a teenager, I read Lord Foul's Bane in paperback. It was completely different from any fantasy novel at the time. I impatiently waited for the remaining two novels, now known as the first chronicles, to be released in paperback.

    Anything by Tanith Lee

    Several years after reading the Thomas Covenant books, I came upon another novel that I picked up by chance, The Birthgrave. It was unlike anything I had been reading during that period of time. It took a few months, but I found the remaining two books of the Birthgrave trilogy. Those books influenced me to read others by her, and they all have been unique pleasures to read.

    Myth Adventures by Robert Asprin
    Thieves' World edited by Robert Asprin

    I came upon Myth Adventures through the Science Fiction Book Club. I bought it based upon his work editing the Thieves' World series. Myth Adventures had me laughing quite often. The Thieves' World series hooked me from the start. Create a world and characters and then let other authors do what they will with them. I really had a good time reading them.
    Last edited by Lazerus; September 16th, 2014 at 12:56 PM. Reason: typo

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