F&SF worlds, the really awesomely creative ones

Not the ones that you want to live in, or where your favorite stories are set, but the really creative ones, where you say: “Whoa, that’s awesome” about the world/universe rather than about the story.

The Ringworld
The “World of Tiers” universe
The Riverworld

What others?

I don’t know about awesomely creative, but I’ve always thought the idea of the Underdark from D&D to be pretty interesting, especially the various fucked-up elven cities worshiping Lolth.

Lord of Light by Zelazny was awesomely imagined, and the conceit of Amber likewise.

I’m sure there are others - one recent one was a microcosm world by Greg Bear - Hull Zero Three - never ever want to visit, but really freaky and imaginative shipboard environment.

The world from the Malazan books, the way that magic, multiple realms and godhood/ascension works is incredibly original and creative.

Valgarth, the world where Mercedes Lackey sets all her Valdemar novels.
John Varley’s Titan series, with living space habitats.

The Ringworld wasn’t even Niven’s most awesomely creative world. That honor would go to the Smoke Ring, from The Integral Trees and its sequel The Smoke Ring.

And Niven wrote about a number of awesome ideas in his essay, “Bigger than Worlds”.

There’s an arboreal society in one of Robin Hobb’s books, but I don’t recall which book. She made it sound quite pleasant.

Cordwainer Smith-The Instrumentality of Mankind

That sounds like the Rain Wilds from her Liveship Traders and Dragonkeepers series. They lived in the trees because the ground was flooded or semi-flooded all year round. They also were changed by the environment…they grew wattles and scales and such, which is explained in later books.

The Briarpatch metaverse in Tim Pratt’s Briarpatch.
What I said elsewhere a couple of years ago:

Or the world of ‘the Sundering’ in the Western Lights books by Jeffrey Barlough; wonderfully strange Dickensian characters & settings, with prehistoric animals roaming about!

Are we talking about physical or social worlds?

For instance, Jasper fforde’s Shades of Grey* has a fascinating SF world where society is rigidly structured based upon what colors you can see. It also a weird post-apocalyptic one that has strange rules like a ban on the manufacture of spoons and where Lincoln green (the color itself) is a narcotic.

fforde’s Thursday Next novels also have some very strange world building.

*Not to be confused with anything else.


There’s always the Dyson Sphere, written about by many authors (such as bob Shaw, in Orbitsville and Orbitsville Departure) – bigger than Ringworld, but requires artificial gravity. The problem is that it’s so damned big, no one can really do it justice. Even after introducing it, most authors then blissfully ignore it.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, of course
and the O’Neill L-5 Space Colonies (and other such colonies)

I am blanking on the title or author but I read a Fantasy book years ago that had worlds based on the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water and one thing I found interesting was rather than making the Fire world a cliched Volcano and Lava filled place, it was an unbearably hot steamy Jungle World. I thought that was a creative take on it.

The setting of Brave New World was also one of my favorites. A Dystopia that is insidious because plenty of people wouldn’t even agree it was a Dystopia.

Piers Anthony is apparently an awful person and the book quality sank very quickly but I always enjoyed the setting of the first three Apprentice Adept books. The Game on Proton was very cool and the way Magic was presented in Phaze was interesting (Each Adept having a Color and Style of Magic).

The Star Trek Novels’ take on the Breen is inspired. It is essentially a mini Federation that has taken Equality and Meritocracy to extremes. The member races are all forced to wear those helmeted uniforms even though only one of the races actually requires them so that everyone is the same and on equal footing.

Those are a few that came to mind.

Larry Niven’s world of Integral Trees.

The world of Arrakis (and the whole stellar empire) in Dune by Frank Herbert and subsequent works.

To a lesser extant, Marian Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series.

and then there’s Hogwarts…

I liked the deity set-up in the Weiss & Hickman Rose of the Prophet trilogy. Each taking their facet on the jewel and deciding how to assign their immortals and how those decisions affected their mortal followers, etc.

I dunno, Hogwarts is fun but I think if I had to live there I’d get pretty stabby in a hurry.

To a similar end, though, the World of Two Moons from Wendy Pini’s Elfquest has a lot of good backstory that holds it together.

And Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker features a good twist on ‘sort of our world but not quite’.

There was a 1998 made-for-TV movie version of the book which I thought was pretty good, I even liked the changes they made to make it more cinematic.

As for awesomely creative I’m not sure if The Culture by Iain M Banks would merit that description in an overall sense (its actually fairly standard aliens and spaceships at its core) but as he openly admitted himself he was all about the ‘gee-whiz, that’s neat!’ details and at that he excelled.

In the latest (and last) Culture novel he depicted a heavily fortified moon that had been gradually lowered until it was orbiting in a massive channel below the surface level of the planet. :eek:

I thought that was pretty neat. :slight_smile:

Both Charles Sheffield, in The Web Between the Worlds, and Hal Clement, in Raindrop describe an artificial earth satellite that’s basically a sphere of water with a tough retaining skin on the outside.

Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan novels and James Stoddard’s The High House both have a world contained entirely within a building. I like the later better for its imagination: dinosaurs in the attic, tigers and carnivorous furniture in the basement, oceans inside rooms, and so forth.