I hear it often from writers and editors. A genre has to evolve. I have to ask why?
First, evolution is a poor analogy for literature. The folks I’ve seen using it seem to imply that: 1) change is the natural state of both living things and literature, and that 2) living things and literature both get better as they change. Neither of these statements is true where biological evolution is concerned. Many species of crocodiles have remained virtually unchanged for 65 million years, or more. Some turtles haven't changed since the Triassic, 200+ million years ago. Living things don't change unless there is a need, as when there is a dramatic shift in their environments. Also, evolution does not imply progress. Living things don't get "better" in any global sense as they evolve. A species adapts to an environment and may be better suited for that environment than its ancestors, but if the environment changes all those great adaptations are no longer helpful. They may actually become a hindrance.
Even if evolution were a reasonable analogy for literature, I still wouldn't understand why it is taken as a given that things must change. Why must they? I knew and respected the writer and very fine editor Karl Edward Wagner, but he once wrote, in speaking of heroic fantasy and how it must “evolve,” that: “It doesn't matter how well such stories are written; it doesn't even matter that the author may be a far better writer than Howard or Tolkien..." This seems, to me, to be nonsense. It certainly does matter to the readers.
Now, I imagine most writers would tire of churning out story after story about Chayne the Barbarian, and that most editors would get to the point of hating to see another Chayne story cross their desk. That's fine. But a young reader just doesn't have the same history. When they pick up that first fantasy novel it matters very much what they get. They don't care if the ideas are new evolutions in the field. Everything is new to them. They do care if the story makes sense to them, if it touches their hearts and imaginations. And they do care whether or not the writer is good, even if their tastes aren't sophisticated (sometimes you can read "Jaded"). In my case, this same attitude extends easily into adulthood. Personally, if there is anyone out there who can write about wandering barbarian warriors better than Howard, then I want desperately to read them. If someone can do interplanetary adventure better than Burroughs then I will trade in my collection of "new idea" books in a blink to get hold of some.
Finally, I’d also like to know what we do if a writer's best strengths lie exactly in those areas that have been mined before. Should he or she have to write something different merely because the basic concept has been done before? The rest of the world doesn't work this way. Nobody spends their time developing five-legged chairs just because three- and four-legged ones have already "been done."
I’m not advocating that literature should remain constantly static. There is nothing wrong with change either. But change doesn’t have to eliminate that which was good that went before. Here, the way evolution really works might be a good analogy. Evolution often occurs when one group splits off from another and evolves in isolation into a new species. This does not cause all members of the original population to suddenly drop dead. In fact, the new species and the old are likely to coexist for thousands if not millions of years. Why can’t we, then, have both traditional westerns and new wave westerns? Why can’t we have traditional romances and paranormal ones? Why can’t we have new writers writing traditional heroic fantasy stories while others experiment with new approaches? Why must we have change for change’s sake? What do you think?