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Worlds as Characters

I’m reading Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb right now, and I have to say I really like the world Hobb has created with the ships of magic and the Rain Wilds and the dragons.  I was talking to a friend about writers who have created unforgettable worlds.  

For me there’s Middle Earth and Darkover.  Hogwarts is a favorite.  George has, of course, created a massive world.  I notice that most of these apart from Darkover are fantasies, and you could read Darkover as fantasy — mediaval trappings, psionic powers that seem like magic, etc.  

Are there equivalent worlds in science fiction?  I admit I’m drawing a blank right now which is odd since I generally prefer S.F. over fantasy.  I can think of individual favorite S.F. novels, but not a whole world.  Maybe that sense of place as a character is unique to fantasy?

14 Responses to Worlds as Characters

  • Bob Devney says:


    First, great to see you at Boskone! You were a huge asset to the panels we shared. And I love how it was SRO for your kaffeeklatsch.

    On SF worlds, I’d submit:

    From Le Guin, Gethen and Annares

    From Niven, Ringworld

    From Farmer, Riverworld

    And more recently, two from Iain M. Banks:
    Golter from Against a Dark Background (love that book)
    and the Shellworld of Sursamen from MATTER.

    What do you think?

  • Melindas says:

    Yeah, Ringworld that works. I have to confess I’ve never read any of the Riverworld books, and the one Iain Banks book I tried sort of defeated me. Remind me of Gethen and Annares? It’s been awhile since I’ve read Le Guin.

    And yes, it was great seeing you, and we make a pretty good team, Bob. 😉

  • Steve Halter says:

    There’s the Culture galaxy as a whole from Iain Banks. There’s the galaxy of Verner Vinge from A Fire Upon the Deep as well as the Tines world. Dune from Frank Herbert.

  • Melindas says:

    I really need to try the Culture series. Dune was brought up over on my Facebook page, and that is an obvious world as character. I should have thought of it. I’m getting ready to pitch my space opera series, and I’d hope to have the Solar League rise to that level, but I’m not sure that can happen when you are dealing with multiple planets. I can create (I hope) a powerful read with culture, politics, society, the military, but when you have something that spans planets I think it’s hard for geography to become a character in the way it can in a fantasy.

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    This is an interesting question to ponder. For myself the universe of David Weber’s Honor Harrington works well. While it is military Sci Fi each of the worlds has a distinct personality and background, they are well envisioned and add a sense of epic history to the stories. Also it’s rather a bit of a old style pulp fiction kinda read but Armor by Steve Vance has a great couple of worlds.

  • Bob Devney says:


    Gethen is the world Le Guin creates for _The Left Hand of Darkness_, with the planetful of gender-changing humans? But you get nice glimpses of life in palace, city apartment, and out on the wilderness of ice too.

    Annares is the anarchist moon of the capitalist Urras in another great Le Guin, _The Dispossessed._ (Actually each is the other’s moon; it’s a two-planet system.) Annares reminded me a bit of Israel with nothing BUT kibbutzim.

    If you’re going to do space opera (and I just can’t WAIT to see what you accomplish), I think you’ve read Vinge and W J Williams, but now you’ve got to try a Banks’ Culture novel again. Takes all three writers to show how glorious modern space opera can be.

    One of my favorites is his first SF and first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas._ The dark, fast-moving adventures of an interstellar spy. Although it

  • Juhan says:

    …the “manrealm” or “The Thousand Worlds” or whatever George called his future history universe is an AMAZING example of a world as a character. I mean, before reading stories set there, I too thought that the whole “worlds as characters” deal was pretty much exclusive to fantasy. But… I mean, I still want to read more about Avalon, Baldur, Jamison’s World, ai-Emerel, the Tempter’s Veil, Newholme and Prometheus, especially because I’ve only seen SO FEW of those places. The double war with the Hrangans! Gah! *goes and re-reads DREAMSONGS and DYING OF THE LIGHT again*

  • Melindas says:

    What’s become clear to me is that I am way behind in my science fiction reading. I admit I take time out from reading science fiction to read mysteries (which I love), and some non-fiction. There have been so many wonderful books mentioned here. I need to get busy.

  • Tengland says:

    Williamson, Legion of Space, Dark Sun, probably others I don’t remember.
    Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

  • Ian says:

    How about Jack Vance’s Dying Earth? I’m not sure it counts, because I mostly remember the larger-than-life characters rather than the setting, but the setting somehow makes all the craziness work.

  • Drew Bittner says:

    Hey Melinda,
    Here’s a few that I like, for various reasons:
    1) Jack Chalker’s Well World (an artificial construct/laboratory packed with alien life);
    2) Larry Niven’s Ringworld (sure it’s unstable but so what? :);
    3) Jack Vance’s Dying Earth (more fantasy than SF but still…);
    4) H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine future Earth (indisputably a classic);
    5) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom/Mars (ditto);

    There are a bunch from TV and movies as well, but that wasn’t the question, was it? 🙂
    all best,

    • Sogood says:

      Hi Melinda! I was chuckling as I read this entry, becsuae really starting & continuing a blog are 2 different things! I started my blog last year and it never really took on. I will however try again with the help of my daughter Stayce. She has further inspired me with the blog she created stayceschlouch.wordpress.com during her journey to Australia from July 2010 until May 2011 when we visited her and brought her home with us for her brother’s wedding. Her photos are beautiful and her words inspiring as well. I always felt like I was there with her! I like the simplicity of your blog as well as seeing your art! Best of luck & thanks for helping to boost my blog again! Deb

  • Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx universe. So very complete. Such a vivid sense of teeming life and history.

  • One world that a huge number of sf fans seem to find memorable is Arrakis, in [i]Dune[/i]. It’s not one of my favorites; I love two other desert worlds, Geta in [i]Courtship Rite[/i], with its utterly fascinating cultural logic, and Anarres in [i]The Dispossessed[/i], which makes me feel something strangely like homesickness.

    Other memorable worlds? Bujold’s Barrayar. Vinge’s spider planet in [i]A Deepness in the Sky[/i]. Niven’s Ringworld, as an impressive imaginative construct, and as a setting for Burroughsian planetary romance that actually makes sense in a way that Barsoom did not. Smith’s Norstrilia. Going a long way back, the dying landscape of Wells’s far, far future earth, briefly glimpsed under a fading red sun.

    Will that do for a start?

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