Top Ten Most Vivid Settings

“The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.”

Becky Chambers

  1. The Long Earth – The Long Earth, Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. A long series of parallel Earths which humanity suddenly learns to step between, the Long Earth is realised in such involved political and geological detail that it’s terrifyingly easy to forget that it’s a complete and impossible fiction. It’s astonishing.
  2. The Galactic Commons – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers. The GC contains thousands of planets and hundreds of alien species, and is the only setting I can think of in which they all exist in relative harmony. Though we only meet a few of these species, the histories and cultures Chambers provides for them are varied and satisfying, and the relationships and tensions onboard the Wayfarer (a microcosm of the GC, perhaps?) are very real and yet very nice.
  3. England Temeraire, Naomi Novik. This is partly a function of dialogue; Novik pins down Regency diction perfectly without making it too obscure, and her talent at writing relationships, at delineating the customs and manners that her characters have to navigate, just brings the world to life.
  4. New Crobuzon – Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. A cosmopolitan, dystopian, multicultural, squalid, vital and terrible city, New Crobuzon is utterly involving, springing to life around you as you read, hypnotic and weighty.
  5. Umayma – God’s War, Kameron Hurley. Umayma is a far-future planet, half-terraformed into vast leagues of dusty, hot and barely livable desert. Its chief nations, Nasheen and Chenja, are locked in endless holy war. It’s a dark world, of dust and heat and violence, realised in full bloody cultural detail.
  6. The desert – The Gunslinger, Stephen King. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The desert is vast and alkaline and empty of all but the gunslinger and his quarry, iconic and apocalyptic.
  7. The Old Kingdom – Sabriel, Garth Nix. The Old Kingdom is remarkably distinct from so much YA fantasy, its magic system well-built and well-defined, laden with the weight of myth. The world is also remarkably grounded in its heroine’s concerns; not that she’s frivolous, but this is one of the very few YA fantasies which acknowledges that girls have periods, and even that heroines might think about sex.
  8. Discworld – the Discworld series, Terry Pratchett. At this point Discworld has not only about fifty-three novels but also a recipe book, a guidebook, several maps and a picture book. It’s all in fun, of course, but Ankh-Morpork still feels real as real can be, and that’s exciting.
  9. Fairyland – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente. Valente’s Fairyland is bright and wonderful and also wild with its own strange magics. This is not a land of flower fairies and sugar; it is a thoroughly unique and thoroughly faerielike Fairyland.
  10. Gormenghast – Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake. Gormenghast: the immemorial and infinite castle, always already mouldering and crumbling, its inhabitants lost in its shadows, unmappable, unknowable and endlessly fascinating.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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