A Whole New World

Ten Books For Readers Who Like New Worlds & World Building

(or Please Don’t Create A Whole New World And Then Spend Most of the Book Writing Blow-by-Blow Accounts of Battles)

New worlds and world building is where it’s at, as far as I’m concerned. If you’re going to have a drama at least have it somewhere interesting, a change is as good as a holiday and all that. Prompt from The Broke and the Bookish as always.

1. The Ambergris trilogy, Veniss Underground (with the accompanying short story Balzac’s War) & the Southern Reach trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

I am painfully predictable. Although these series all use completely different worlds, I’ve stuck them together to try and get some other authors on this list. Nothing is ever normal in Vandermeer’s writing, and the worlds always live on the creepy and unsettling side. In the Ambergris series there is a pre-industrial city called (funnily enough) Ambergris, built on top of an existing fungal-based settlement of a different race referred to as ‘mushroom dwellers’ (and to that guy on Goodreads who says that fungus isn’t scary, you have no imagination, good day to you sir). The ways in which the previous occupants resist affect both the city and its inhabitants, and the effects become more apparent as the series progresses. Veniss Underground is a futuristic city built over endless levels of underground settlement, and inhabited by both humans and genetically engineered creatures who may not be as helpful as they appear. Balzac’s War is a sequel and indicates what becomes of the city of Veniss (spoiler alert: it’s not good). The Southern Reach trilogy is set on Earth where a certain area of land is terraformed by an unknown force, it still looks like it should but is suddenly very hard to access. There are weird things living in the swamp, there’s a building which can be either a tower or tunnel depending on who looks at it, and the expeditions that go to study it die, disappear, or worst of all, come back changed.

2. The Bas-Lag (or New Crobuzon) series, The City & the CityEmbassytown and Railsea – China Miéville

Just about everything that I’ve read of Miéville involves some world building, even the ones set in London (like King Rat and Kraken) have some bizarre undercurrents. On a side note, King Rat is in a similar vein to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, so if you liked one, you’ll probably like the other. New Crobuzon is similar to Vandermeer’s Ambergris, a city-state that’s just a bit weird. Interestingly, in the Ambergris series, Veniss Underground and the Bas-Lag series, scientific development is both the potential saviour and destroyer of the world. In The City & the City two cities have, through a bizarre accident of reality, crashed into each other, meaning that people from one city can only access parts of their own city as some areas have disappeared or are forbidden as they now lay in the other city. Embassytown is based in a colony on a new planet, with an alien race whose language can only be interpreted by twins who have been taught to speak together, and Railsea is set on a desert planet covered by railway lines, which are used to hunt sand moles, sort of otherworldly whaling but on trains instead of ships (there really are some things that sound ridiculous when summarised).

3. The Discworld series & the Long Earth series (with Stephen Baxter) – Terry Pratchett

Ankh-Morpork is like a steampunk Victorian London, where you pay an annual fee to ensure that you don’t receive a visit from the Guild of Assassins or Thieves’ Guild, the city is run by a Tyrant that no-one could do without, and the wife of the head of the City Watch runs a rescue home for swamp dragons. Death’s granddaughter’s name is Susan, dwarves live in the city and send money home to their families, and imps paint the pictures in your camera. In the Long Earth, a simple invention primarily involving a potato opens up millions of new Earths, all slightly different and most ready for new inhabitants. The endless variations of Earth have also evolved different lifeforms, some of whom also have the ability to pass between worlds. Oh, and The Long War is excellent as there are no tedious battle scenes!

4. The Fourlands series – Steph Swainston

A medieval-ish world where some people are human and some have vestigial wings. Once upon a time, giant ants built a bridge from another world and invaded. The emperor and his immortal council of experts (I love this concept, the council members are known by their profession, the Archer, the Architect, the Sailor etc. Any expert can be challenged on the basis of their profession and if they lose, the challenger becomes the new expert and is made immortal. It’s good to see a meritocracy (of sorts) in a fantasy book). However, about half the novels are battle scenes (it’s probably less than that but some of them feel endless) and I couldn’t care less who piffed an axe at whom or whether such and such dropped their sword and nearly got stepped on by an ant but dodged out of the way just in time!

5. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

A whole world within a decaying castle, the first two books take place entirely within the castle and grounds, which is bound by stultifying tradition and people who are entirely wrapped up in their own lives. The world itself isn’t that odd, but Peake’s language makes it seem entirely otherworldly.

6. The City – Stella Gemmell

Another world within a city (although a tedious war goes on outside its walls), with another emperor and another immortal circle of advisors. There is some amazing backstory mentioned here and there concerning the history of the city and the emperor, but to my unending annoyance the majority of the book is taken up by the aforementioned tedious war and the ending is also a total let down. It’s such a waste of good world building. In further annoying news, Goodreads informs me that there is a sequel coming out this year, which surprise, surprise, has ANOTHER WAR! Bleh, I think I’ll pass thanks.

7. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

There’s a magic circus with a colour theme which turns up unexpectedly and then disappears again. Nobody’s in it for the money, difference is appreciated and illusions are used by magicians as love letters.

8. The Etched City – K.J. Bishop

I don’t remember much about this one (never a good start I guess) but I do remember that that the city plays a part in the plot and everything is all a little bit weird. One for the re-read list.

9. Rowan of Rin – Emily Rodda

I loved this book so much as a kid, I think I may actually re-read this one soon. A medieval-ish world where a dragon on the mountain has blocked the river. There’s magic, but it’s no big deal (from what I remember) and the emphasis is on solving problems by thinking them through, not just hurling thunderbolts at them.

10. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Specifically, Sonmi-451’s futuristic Nea So Copros (in the Korea type area), with fabricant clones created solely for very specific jobs. It could be argued that the whole structure of Cloud Atlas is world building as the stories are inter-related (although I found it a bit hit and miss), but Nea So Copros is the only completely invented world.


8 thoughts on “A Whole New World

  1. Pingback: Nostalgic Reading | legolegislegimus

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Top Ten | legolegislegimus

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