Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Most Vivid Fictional Worlds/Settings

As always, thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for creating this happy fun-time meme.


1. Xanth (Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels)

The pun-filled, magical world of Xanth may have been the first whistle-stop on my journey to becoming a lifetime fantasy fan. My sister read Dragon on a Pedestal to my brother and I during a three-week drive from California to Alaska and back when I was eight, and I spent the next decade-plus tracking down further installments in the series. Xanth is a fantastical landscape vaguely the shape of Florida filled with ogres, nymphs, centaurs, humans with Talent, and many more winsome creatures. I always thought I’d like to be Magician Humphrey, whose talent is Information. The ultimate know-it-all.

2. Pern (Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series)

With Pern, McCaffrey created a nuanced world of craft and tradition which periodically faced a terrible scourge. Throughout the long-running series more and more details about the relationship between hold, hall, and weir were revealed. The history of Pern was a rich source of drama even as new political intrigues and societal challenges unfolded. The novels that dealt with life in the guild halls and weirs were always my favorite, particularly The Masterharper of Pern which managed both. Being a dork and naturally inclined toward teaching, I thought it would be much cooler to be a harper than a dragonrider.

3. The Wizarding World (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels)

There can be no argument.”Muggle” has entered the general lexicon.

4. Middle-earth (J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion)

This may actually be the definitive fictional fantasy world. It is so complex and widely known that it is often hard for fantasy authors to think in terms other than those of Middle-earth. Dungeons and Dragons spawned four decades worth of adventures set in Middle-earth inspired landscapes, courses are taught at real world universities in Elven and Dwarven language as Tolkein presented them.

5. The future United States (M.T. Anderson’s Feed)

The future U.S.A. of Feed is scarily plausible: dead oceans, meat farms, mind-numbingly simple/dumb popular culture, people with what amounts to a mind-controlled iPhone embedded in their skulls. Corporate-owned schools who exist only to teach students how to become more efficient at purchasing. The thing that keeps the novel from being utterly depressing is that main character Titus has no clue how depressing it all is. He’s just a normal teen, product of his time, enjoying his wasteful and worthless lifestyle.

6. The future London (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World)

Huxley’s prediction of a culture that had taken industrialism and capitalism to their most extreme conclusion is every bit as chilling as Anderson’s vision of the U.S. The novels have quite a bit in common: genetic engineering, consumption promoted over all other virtues, a popular culture gone low-to-subterranean. Huxley built a religion around Ford and the assembly-line, envisioning a future of batch-processed humans chemically retarded (or advanced) to suit their future occupations. Further batch processing to condition those humans to disdain castes below them, admire those above, but above all be satisfied with their place. The devaluation of intimacy by requiring children to engage in sexplay, and discouraging monogamy. Spiritual death.

7. Wonderland (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass)

I am not a fan of Alice or Wonderland, because quite frankly they scare the crap out of me. For a fictional world to scare the crap out of a real person, it must be rather vivid. The idea of being trapped in Wonderland forever (as Alice fears she might be) always gave me panic-attacks, exacerbated by the fact that my mother would put the Disney version on whenever she had left my brother and I home alone while we were sleeping. Good job, Mr. Carroll…but no thank you.

8. The alternate history of WWI (Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy)

I sincerely doubted that I could enjoy an alternate history of World War I (I’m more of a Revolutionary War kind of gal), but with a combination of first-rate world-building and gorgeous illustrations Leviathan won me over. The novel imagines a mechanized “Clanker” German army pitted against “Darwinist” England and their menagerie of specially-designed creatures. America, ever the magpie, has created a mishmash of both sensibilities but most of the other major world powers have picked one side or another. Russia boasts giant fighting bears and the Ottoman Empire has an impressive collection of mechanized airships and exotic mechanical-animal transports. The world was vivid enough to support a Manual of Aeronautics, soon to be released with plenty of tasty new diagrams and illustrations.

9. The city of Divergent (Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy)

Can’t say too much about this one because the trilogy is unfinished and I don’t want to spoil anything, but the five factions (and the reasoning behind them) are so thoroughly thought-out by the author that the scenario seems almost perfectly logical.

10. Thisby (Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races)

Thisby is only slightly fictional, in that it doesn’t actually exist and there is no known place in present-day where carnivorous horses leap from the water and are captured yearly for a race down the beach. While I was reading the novel, it was real to me. I could see the view from the cliffs of Thisby in my mind, I could smell its peat fires and ocean air. The inhabitants and the way their small island and its bloody tradition had shaped them. I could hear the music they would play and feel the tension as the races approached. That’s magic.

4 responses to “Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Most Vivid Fictional Worlds/Settings

  1. I, too, have always found Wonderland rather frightening and unpleasant. Never understood why people found it cute or funny, although my own children love it. Who knows? But you’re right; for better or worse, it’s vivid.

  2. Great picks! I liked the world of Divergent as well. I’ve had The Scorpio Races on my shelf since last November & I still have yet to read it. I’m glad to see that it’s on your list though. 🙂 Same with Feed. I’ve had it for a while but I still haven’t read it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Feed is without a doubt in my top ten favorite books of all time, so I subtly and non-crazily urge you to read it soon! I honestly would not have read The Scorpio Races if I had not wound up at a Maggie Stiefvater book signing through several accidents of fate. I would very much have missed out, it is easily the best book she’s written. Thanks for stopping by!

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