topten published on December 1, 2012.
We read – and my case also write – SFF because we love other worlds. I’ve ranked the worlds below not in order of how much I love them – because that would be impossible, and it’d change all the time – but in increasing order of how much time I’ve spent in them.
This was the first alternate reality I visited that hadn’t also appeared on screen; I grew up in a house with no books, and so started my reading life with media novelisations, especially Dr Who. When I was nine, I picked up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea because I liked the cover, and haven’t looked back since.
What’s not to like about Ringworld? It’s huge and varied and is, of itself, a mind-boggling artefact. And then there’s the rest of Known Space. Larry Niven also made it OK to love future histories. Future histories are cool.
The next world I discovered, chronologically, after Earthsea. It’s one of the few places I’m not sure I want to try and go back to, because reading CS Lewis with adult eyes might spoil the memory of Narnia’s innocent wonder.
4. Singapore Three
Liz Williams’ alternative magical Far East – complete with Heaven and Hell – is a recent discovery, but somewhere I’ve spent a fair time in over the last couple of years, thanks to her Inspector Chen novels.
Neal Asher writes crazy violent messed-up worlds, where if the giant molluscs don’t get you the immortal pirates or the psychotic drones will. Sometimes crazy violent messed-up worlds are just what you need.
Another place I hung around whilst growing up. I’ve dragons behind, but Anne McCaffrey’s world was my introduction to science fantasy.
7. The Culture
Of all the possible futures I’ve ever read about, Iain Banks’ future ruled by hi-tech post-humans who know how to party is the one I’d most like to live in. I also think the early culture novels are some of the best SF of the 20th century.
This might just be my favourite alternate world. I’ve had such good times there. And I always love going back, whether as a return reader or through a new story.
9. Middle Earth
Tolkien stole my puberty; the word obsession would not have been inaccurate. These days, I’m more laid back about his creation, but thanks to discovering his world at an impressionable age, much of the detail (and he was great on detail) has stayed with me.
Bwa-ha-ha! I know it’s deeply immodest to put my own stuff at the top of a list of such awesome locations but remember, I’m ranking by quantity, not quality. And the only way to write about other worlds is to spend a lot of time living in them in your own head before you let anything out.
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