Fictional worlds that make the least sense

The Harry Potter universe and the Hunger Games universe are commonly cited as examples of worlds where, if you start to think about them too closely, your brain kind of goes on the fritz.

For example, in the HP universe, the ignorance that wizards have about the muggle universe is pretty astonishing, especially considering many wizards grew up as muggles. Also, the rules of quidditch make no sense and nobody would play quidditch the way it were played given the rules.

What are other examples of fictional universes where it’s best not to think too closely about how the world is constructed lest it all come tumbling down?

The economy of Pern.
Wooden coins whose value is based on barter, set each year by the Lord Holders, Dragonriders( Weyrmen) and Craft Masters. And each craft’s “marks” (unit of currency) is worth a different amount.
Example: A bushel of corn may cost 4 marks Smithcraft or 10 marks Beastcraft.

… but you’re okay with the acidic, space-traveling sperm?

Sure am. I was looking at something that struck me as unrealistic. :smiley:

I find the food supply of Middle Earth pretty hard to figure out. It’s unclear where Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs get their food from. They don’t seem to farm, herd, or hunt much themselves. Only Men and Hobbits seem to go in for agriculture much, and they don’t appear to do all that much trade with the other peoples. Where do the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, or the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, get their food from?

If the MMO set there is any indication, it apparently rains bears in Middle Earth pretty often. No doubt everyone supplements their food supply with bear meat. :stuck_out_tongue:

Ahem. More seriously, I believe there was more trade going on than you seem to be suggesting. The dwarves of the Blue Mountains, for example, traded enough with the elves of Beleriand that they built a trade-road for the purpose. The men of the Long Lake had an active trade with the wood elves in Mirkwood and, before Smaug came, with the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain; in both cases, it’s likely they traded crafted goods for foodstuffs. The wood elves are also specifically mentioned as getting wine and other goods from their kin in the south, suggesting that at least some of the elves have agricultural resources. (Just because we don’t see elves farming doesn’t mean they don’t grow food in some organized fashion–I imagine their “farms” would blend in better with their surroundings than those of other races, though.)

As to the orcs and goblins of the mountains, I can only guess that they mostly hunt and scavenge by night, and perhaps fish in the underground streams. They’re stated to have slaves, so they presumably engage in some form of raiding, too. The orcs of Mordor are supplied with food by men under Sauron’s sway.

Dune, for sure. With or without all of the psychic and magical animal woo, the (political/sociological) structure always bugged me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read them, so I can’t get too specific, but one of the main things was the Imperial or whatever cartel on space travel. It just seemed unrealistic.

Also, everyone seemed pissed off all of the time, which I can’t imagine would actually result in the intricate, highly functional diplomacy described ad nauseam… I guess being able to Voice somebody into submission made up for a lot of the gaucherie.

Specifically, by slaves working the fields in the fertile region of Nurn.

A million and one dystopia novels where the USA has become a <INSERT>, going against the entire cultural history of the nation up to the modern day. The writers rarely waste time explaining how it got there, it just is a militant Buddhist fascist wasteland OK.

The setting of The Walking Dead, society entirely collapsed and 99% of people were zombified in 2 weeks? And all the supplies are also gone…

The world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel. Magic exists, the northern half of England had been ruled by a wizard with an army of elves for centuries… and yet, none of this has any impact on European history, which is identical to that of the real world. In fact, two magicians who are powerful enough to literally teleport entire cities halfway around the world take an active part in the Napoleonic Wars and yet have no effect on them whatsoever, with the Battle of Waterloo occurring on the exact same date as it did in our reality.

I have a similar problem with Naomi Novik. Lazy, lazy worldbuilding.

As a meta-example, any post-apocalyptic universe in which people suddenly forget the existence of bicycles is pretty frustrating. Revolution, for example, has people taking a full year to walk across the continent when a bike would make that a month long trip.

The one that comes to mind is The Practice Effect by David Brin. It is set on a world where, in contrast to the rest of the universe, entropy decreases over time. I seem to recall there was some hand-waving explanation of why this local (planet-wide) effect doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics but it was not at all convincing.

The Hunger Games… yeah, that doesn’t make much sense. But… Jennifer Lawrence!

Possibly the worst attempt at world-building (from a guy who was excellent at it in Hyperion) is the fictional future US developed by Dan Simmons for his novel Flashback. Pure and utter unbelievable tripe, Simmons postulates a future America wherein

[spoiler]In 25 years, because of the Obama administration passing huge entitlement programs that the government couldn’t afford (the possibility of cancelling these things never crossed anybody’s mind in this world, btw) the economy has completely collapsed, with the US in what the characters mockingly refer to as its 23rd year of jobless recovery. There’s about a 50% unemployment rate which has gone on for decades, people are living in cubicles built within abandoned shopping malls, etc. The entire US economy exists to pay the interest on the debt caused by the entitlement programs we were too stupid to cancel.

But the US doesn’t exist anymore, I don’t think… it’s a bit confusing. Hawaii broke off. Alaska seceded. Mexico suffered a civil war, causing 22 million Mexicans to head north into the US, overwhelming the federal government (this migration called the reconquista). Texas broke off from the US and somehow, without the assistance of the US army, resisted the migrations (and safely removed it from Simmons’ story, freeing him the pesky need to write about Texas). The Japanese have bought all the US debt and are now in sovereign control of the US, dividing the remainder of the country into 7 economic zones. However, the characters keep referring to the “United States” as it is some viable entity, so like I said, I’m a bit confused on this matter. Hopefully clarity is forthcoming).

The only thing the US is good for anymore is providing soldiers and military gear to the Japanese and Caliphate armies. Nevermind the fact that military might is a function of economic might, America just rents out its army and navy to the Japanese. Because making war is all we’re good at or something.

The top global power is the Islamic Caliphate (China burst apart in a spectacular economic bubble collapse and are no longer a superpower), who vies with India and Japan for global dominance. The United States is now a predominately Moslem country, with 9-11 being remembered as a national holiday as the first strike against the American Hegemony (this holiday being enacted no later than 2030 (19 years from now)). The worlds largest mosque now resides at Ground Zero.

But you see everybody is cool with this because 87% of the population is addicted to Flashback, where they spend most of their days reliving our favorite memories in a full tactile hallucinagenic (sp, but I’m too lazy to look it up) trip - so if I wanted to relive my first sexual experience (or my first good sexual experience), I would take flashback and relive the act.

So I’m reading this and I’m thinking WTF? 30 years? In 16 years, I’m to believe that the now-predominately Christian US will be Islamicized (is that a word) enough so that we will accept a 9-11 holiday celebrating the terrorists POV? I’m to think that 87% of the country gets addicted to Flashback? (It is stated that the drug itself isn’t addicting, it’s the reliving the best moments of our lives that is so addicting. I have a good life but I can not believe that it’s been so good that I want to spend the rest of my life reliving it). Japan is going to invade China using an “endless stream” of US troops? Really? In 30 years?

Just because we owe them money?

And that’s the problem with this world (if I understand it right, which I may not: this entire spoiler-pity-party may be completely off base) – it’s predicated on the assumption that the US government and people would never default on its debt, that whoever owns it (the Japanese, in this book) would be able to literally claim swaths of the country as economic and human collateral, where the people of the United States exist largely to service the debt, even to the point where we institute mandatory military service so we can serve as the shock troops in Japanese and Indian wars.

Also, he posits that in 16 years, all of the current population will be Islamicized enough to accept a 9-11 holiday in support of the terrorists viewpoint.

And that we’re fine with this and were fine with it up to the point where the novel begins (no mention of a US civil war, except for the secession of TX, AK, HI, and the reconquista) because everybody is addicted to Flashback. He makes it a point to mention that all Americans are flashing back to happier days (pre 9/11 or pre-collapse), but none of the characters (so far) have bothered to do so, all reliving days since the collapse.

All this in the next 16 years. And I won’t even go into the books’ Six Flags Under the Jews - you’ll just think I’m making shit up.

Yeah… it’s that bad.

Actually, the thing that bothered me most about Dune is that it appears to be unbelievably DRY. Water is sold on the street, and people wear stillsuits to keep their water instead of sweating it away (does no one get heatstroke on Arrakis? Our bodies sweat for a reason). But you need water to grow plants. You need ample water for people. No desert area on earth seems to be as dry as Arrakis. There don’t seem to be any oases or areas of open water. The Fremen keep their secret stores of water, I know, but what the hell is everyone eating and drinking? Much has been made of Frank Herbert’s ecological thinking, but what the heck is the water cycle on Dune like?

And the sandworms make the least sense of all. Hard to believe they get that big eating whatever’s wandering around the desert, when there don’t seem to be any open plants for them to eat. And powering your way through sand has GOT to be one of the least energy-efficient methods of travel there is. They’d have to be gulping down herds of desert beasts. On top of which, I can’t believe the damned worms don’t drink, the stuff about how you make Water-Of-Life notwithstanding. The idea of them getting the water they need to maintain their metabolism from the bodies of their victims, like kangaroo rats extracting water from the seeds they eat, strikes me as ludicrous.

Actually, as others have noted in the past, the idea of tagging an alien planet as a “desert world”, or an “ice World” (Like Hoth in Star Wars) seems unlikely and shortsighted. An entire world has room and reasons for multiple environments, as Earth has. A lot of biological processes on earth take place in the ocean, but Dune has no oceans.

Yeah, what happens in the real world when countries owe trillions of dollars is they tell their creditors to go screw. This is what you get to do when you have an army, and if your creditors don’t like it they are welcome to invade. Saddam Hussein owed Kuwait a lot of money, and rather than rent them his army he invaded them. Even weak countries like Argentina are able to write off huge amounts of their debts based on nothing more than the fact that they can’t pay.

Or, you fire up the printing presses and pay off your trillions of dollars in debt in full, only it now takes $50,000 to buy a loaf of bread.

It’s like the old joke, if you owe the bank $1000 and you can’t pay, you’ve got a big problem. When you owe the bank $1,000,000 and you can’t pay, the BANK has a big problem.

I dunno - Mars, for instance, is a desert world. Just not a very hot one.

And yet everybody’s lawn is still perfectly groomed.

…and we’ve all seen how big the population there is.

Seriously, although I was talking about habitable worlds, even Mars has greatly varying regions – the poles are different from the region around the equator, in terms of temperature, seasons, winds, presence of snow. To call it all “desert” misses the variations. There’s quite a lot of variation of the geography (aerography?) of Mars as you go from place to place, and it’s not all due to how far from the equator you are – there’s the variation in terrain, the mountains and valleys. Mars ain’t all the same, although it’s all equally inhospitable to human life.

Oz. As Philip Jose Farmer pointed out in his A Barnstormer in Oz, a world where nobody dies (no matter how much damage they take) and no one ages (including babies) would quickly become hellish. In The Tin Woodman of Oz he quests with friends to find his old body, which must still be alive since nothing dies: eventually they find the head of Nick Chopper alone and forgotten in a wooden cabinet, and unwilling to be rescued. The girl he once loved married a man who was now made up of pieces of Nick Chopper and another, rival suitor. And that one’s “canonical” Oz.

Wow! Sounds like a Tea Party extremist (not just a Tea-Partier, but an extremist amongst their population) writing what he thinks is a prophetic sci-fi novel. I can’t imagine wanting to read (much less buy) such a tome after even a hint of such a hate-filled premise for a milieu.

This kind of hardly-realistic schlock was predicted as publishing companies declined in the face of on-line publishing and Vanity Presses. Stuff like hyper-feminist dystopias in which men are mere slaves/sperm-donors kept in cages like chattel (Yes, I’m familiar with the etymology), stuff like bleak smog-covered Earths with people drinking recycled urine because the storm-drains are too toxic (but cleaner than the rivers and natural supplies). One of the things a decent editor does is cast a critical eye on the milieu (but that’s part of a different thread on publishing that’s floating around here somewhere).

Quite frankly, I never thought much of the Atlas Shrugged dystopia in which researchers and corporate moguls ditch it all and just disappear to some sanctuary/hideaway camp in the middle of nowhere. But that’s mainly because satellite imagery has made it impossible to find a ‘middle of nowhere’ that can’t be found.

Okay, so maybe that’s not the least sense I’ve seen described, but it didn’t carry a shred of believability for me.