As a fantasy writer (and someone who hasn’t really been able to afford to travel much) I love making up my own fictional worlds with their little quirks and details. (It’s exhausting and never ending mind you.) When I’m not using up my energy on creating my own, I love burying myself in others. Especially when they have so much history and detail as they often become as real to me, as well, my own reality. So here is a list of my most favorite ones that I wish were real so that I could explore and what makes them stand out for me. (They’re not in any particular order to be quite honest.)
Firefly is probably my favourite Joss Whedon show, I love it to pieces and could watch it over and over, carrying the rest of the story on in my head. There are no characters that annoy me (though Simon and River have their moments, I guess) and whilst I do wish that it had a full season, I like the unfinished nature of it because it allows me to wonder what direction the plot was going in and formulate my own theories about what would have happened. (Yes, I know we got Serenity and that there are the comics. But I like having theories.) One of the things that struck me was the culture of the universe the show is set in.
Firefly takes place after all the resources on Earth have been used up and humankind has found another solar system to live in. There are the core planets, that live under the governance of the Alliance where their inhabitants are well off, have the latest technology and more than enough to eat. Then there are the outer planets, the ones that rebelled against the alliance in a civil war where life is a lot more difficult. Often the inhabitants are poor, the technology is out of date (by Alliance standards, I guess) and crime is rife. The contrasts of these two different settings are striking; for example the planet Ariel has the look of a highly modern, sophisticated civilization compared to the Wild West setting of the outer planets. Also the culture of the setting is unique in that it is a fusion of American and Chinese culture as China and America were the last two major superpowers which makes a refreshing change from the generic settings we see so much of in the genre.
His Dark Materials
Ahhh, I loved these books growing up. I liked the fact that the protagonist, Lyra was not the perfect child like a lot of the main characters in children’s books. She lies often to get herself out of trouble with her guardians although this trait often saves her life later on in the books. One of the things that made this series stand out for me was the blending of sci fi and fantasy. Lyra’s world is similar to a late 19th Century industrial society but with scientific advancements such as particle physics and of course daemons, animal manifestations of an individual’s inner self. Religion has a large influence on the society and whilst it is known as the Magisterium, it largely resembles the Catholic Church.
One of the best things I used to love about the books was the fact that the story takes place in multiple worlds. I liked that each one was detailed and unique especially the world with the Mulefa in it. It’s just a shame that the movie adaptation butchered the story. I mean, I get why the books are quite difficult to adapt (and not just because of the controversy that surrounds them.) as they are quite deep. Maybe the series would be better off being adapted into a TV series.
Speaking of books that are better off being adapted into a TV series, we come to Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. As much as I love the TV show, I will always prefer the books as they are more detailed and don’t have the limitation of a budget. Based on a medieval European society, the A Song of Ice and Fire series follows the fortunes of various noble houses vying for control of the Seven Kingdom.
Whilst the last two books in the series have been a bit weak, the thing that I like most about the series is that George R.R Martin manages to create complex well rounded characters and the fact that he uses multiple narrators means that your opinion on the some of the events and characters change. I like the wealth of detail that he adds to the world such as the heraldry and the history of all of the houses. I also like the difference of culture across the sea in Essos and how each of the Free Cities are all unique. It makes the world feel more realistic than in most worlds found in the fantasy genre.
Although I was already a big bookworm by the time my mum bought me Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (I used to love reading E.Nesbit and Roald Dahl) the book really caught my imagination and pretty much defined my childhood. I spent ages wishing that I could go to Hogwarts (my parents hid my acceptance letter dammit.) and I loved the idea of a secret world of wizards living next to our own mundane world. I loved the idea of there being moving pictures and photos and how the staircases moved so it would be easy to get lost.
I also used to like how the wizarding world had their own terms for certain things like splinching and that they had their own sport. (I really wanna play Quidditch.) I used to love how relaxed the school rules were considering how dangerous it would be to have hundreds of untrained teenage witches and wizards all cooped up in one building. (I don’t think health and safety exists in the wizarding world) Also it was nice to have a main character with red hair who didn’t have an uncontrollable temper and a female protagonist who was smart, brave and used her knowledge to save Harry and Ron’s life on more than one occasion.
The one thing that used to bother me though was how were the children born into wizarding families taught basic English and maths and things. I mean were they ALL taught at home by their parents or were they enrolled in muggle primary schools if both parents worked? (Imagine how annoying it would be to find out that your SATs didn’t matter once you got to Hogwarts.)
Okay, so I’ve talked about how Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favourite games. (Let’s not talk about how many hours I’ve clocked up on Origins. Not that I’m ashamed or anything.) Whilst it might not be the best gaming franchise out there, it was the first game for a very long time that managed to suck me in and immerse me in the plot and the characters.
But Thedas is one of my favourite settings. I think it’s because that whilst it does take a lot from generic fantasy settings, it does change up some of the tropes. For example the Elves, instead of being some great beautiful race with thousands of years of knowledge are either oppressed city elves living in poverty or members of the nomadic Dalish clans; elves who are desperate to hold on to what is left of their culture and try to recover as much of their lost history as possible. You also have the dwarves of Orzammer a place with so many people vying for political power that it is dangerous to walk around during elections.
But the thing I like the most about the setting of the games is that there is a lot that hasn’t been explored yet, we’ve been to muddy grey Ferelden and spent hours running around Kirkwall. (trampling through the same dungeon over and over again. But that’s a rant for another post.) The thing that I’m most excited about Inquistion is that we’ll get to visit Orlais, the decadent country where the nobles where elaborate clothes and plot and scheme against each other. We’ve heard a lot about the country from the games and the other tie ins to the franchise, I’m kind of excited to explore somewhere bright and colourful especially after running through the same three environments in the second game. Kirkwall really isn’t a pretty city, everything is brown. I mean, Ferelden wasn’t that bright either, but at least you had the elven ruins.
Last but not least, my favourite fictional universe has to be Middle Earth. (Yes, I know it was an obvious choice. But it’s my list so deal with it.) I know I’ve talked at some length about how much that the books have influenced me. (I mean Tolkien defined a whole genre, it’s kind of difficult to not be influenced by him.) But one of the things I like the most is the world. I have spent years travelling through Middle Earth, fleeing to Rivendell with the Fellowship, wandering through Mirkwood with Thorin’s company and drinking in the Green Dragon with the hobbits of the Shire. (Both in my head and in LOTRO.)
I like the feeling of the familiarity the setting has now that I have read the books so many times. I like how welcoming and home-y the Shire feels and how awe-inspiring Lothlorien and Rivendell are. (I would seriously like to live in Lothlorien, I like being surrounded by trees, though all the stairs would probably kill me.) I like the dark, forboding sense you get when when the Fellowship journey into Moria and how unsafe the cities are the closer you get to the Black Gate. I also like how barren and hot Mordor was and how uncomfortable it must have been for Frodo and Sam. (Yes, I know there’s farmland in the south. I guess there had to be otherwise how would the orcs feed themselves in the first place?) Though the one thing that niggles me is that I often wonder what happened to the female orcs? Did they fight too? Or did they take up the jobs of the male orcs to help with the war effort? I’m guessing the last one would be more likely.
I don’t know, I think my favourite place in Middle Earth has to be the Shire. I think I’d make a good Hobbit and it seems like a fairly simple way of life. Though I would like a summer home in Lothlorien.
Okay, so that concludes my list of favourite settings. I’m sure there are loads more that I could add to in the future. (Since there are loads of books I haven’t read yet.) I’m sorry that this post took a long time, I’ve been kind of busy and distracted these past couple of weeks. (But hopefully, I can get back on to the blog posting wagon.) Oh, and a question (mostly to get people commenting on here.) what are your favourite fictional worlds and why?