From James Davis Nicholl at tor.com: Five Fantasy Worlds That Aren’t Just Magical Versions of Earth
While science fiction worlds are (somewhat) constrained by the laws of physics the same is not necessarily true of fantasy worlds. Despite this, many fantasy worlds are slight variations on Earth as we know it. Sometimes the continents are different, but generally speaking, the working model is “standard Earth plus magic.” Only generally speaking, however—there are exceptions. Here are five.
Well, that certainly caught my eye. Obviously the world of Tuyo is an outstanding candidate for a list of this sort, not that Nicholl will have read it, probably. So what did he pick out?
Well, scanning through this post, I’m very pleased to see Tuyo does appear in the comments! That’s nice to see. Kind of makes my day.
But back to the actual post. I’m assuming Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is here … yes, there it is. What are the other four?
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
The fairy lands of Ng’s novel Under the Pendulum Sun are as unlike Earth as the Fair Folk are unlike humans. Above the flat plain occupied by this world’s inhabitants, a bright sun oscillates on the end of a long string—the pendulum sun of the book’s title.
Glorantha by Greg Stafford
On a small scale, Glorantha looks Earth-like, featuring two large continents separated by a vast sea. Pull back for greater perspective, and this familiar arrangement is revealed as the top of a cube floating in a sea of chaos, surrounded by a great sphere beyond which sensible mortals do not explore.
Tales From the Flat Earth by Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth is a world where the haughty gods consign mortals—whom gods see as an embarrassing mistake—to the care of demons and other deliciously malevolent beings. It is also, as many of you may have guessed by this point, as flat as a tabletop. It is interesting that this flatness is a temporary condition (as is signaled by the phrase “for in those days the Earth was flat”). This Earth must be immune to the tendency of gravity to pull worlds into spheres.
Missile Gap by Charles Stross
Technically, this tale of Cold War rivalry complicated by alien intervention is science fiction. However, since it is set on an Alderson disc—a massive platter of solid material millions of kilometres across—and since no known material could prevent such a construct from being immediately reshaped by gravity into a more conventional arrangement, it feels sufficiently fantasy-adjacent to mention here. In this particular case, unknown entities have populated a flat projection of the Earth’s surface with Cold War-era humans. The necessary differences between a flat map and a sphere dramatically alter the balance of power between Americans and Soviets. If only West vs East were the most pressing concern confronting humans…
Wow. Several of those do sound wildly interesting and different. I’m not crazy about Stross in general, but I might try this one. Has anybody read it? What did you think? The Pendulum Sun one sounds really neat too.
I wrote a post a lot like this at Beta Shepherd: The best fantasy novels that sweep you into a very strange world
I also picked Discworld (obviously). Other than that, there’s no overlap. I picked:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
I stand by my choices, but I’m really interested in trying some of Nicholl’s picks, that’s for sure.
6 thoughts on “Fantasy worlds That Aren’t Earth + Magic”
I am really surprised Steles of the Sky didnt make your list. I certainly prefer it to Pratchett.
I love most of the Vimes books and some of the others — and although I thought of The Eternal Sky trilogy in this context, despite the awesome sky, the setting feels to me a lot more like a normal world with magic.
I wonder if Ng read Drujienna’s Harp as a child, which featured a stationary thing hanging in the sky as the sun. They called it the hephara. It changed colors to mark the equivalent of various times of day and night. Midnight was the ‘very black of the high purple’ or wtte. That was a weird world. It seemed to be like a slice of onion, flat and layered, except every layer was different from the ones it was next to. Misty marshy layer next to wealthy urban layer next to desolate mountain… I remembered details and poetry from it for years until I tracked down a copy. Definitely one for the list of books with “worlds not like Earth with magic.”
The Teen thinks Alphabet of Thorns qualifies.
I suggest the world of Elder Scrolls, for which Greg Keyes has written two books. The world is held together by eight pillars of reality, the stars are literally holes in the whateveritis that is up there and through them magic comes into the mortal realm and the moons are literally parts of the body of a dead god – it’s complicated. And they had a space age in the past. Sort of, at least they got off the planet/world into the sky and put battlespires in the sky. The entire universe is sort of an eldritch horror wherein the laws of reality occasionally walk out for cigarette breaks. Then you get ‘dragonbreaks’ and children giving birth to their own parents, and rashamon scenarios except they all really happened and are all true. Two bad I bounced off the Keyes books. Used to like his work.. (shrug).
Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel trilogy is set on a terraformed version of our Moon, and the terraforming is failing. very mystical and magical for the first two books. Then she had to finish it and didn’t quite know how, I think.
Do those Anne Bishop books where the landscape changes based on the types of people who live there count? It didn’t all work, but it was interesting. Ephemera, I think?
Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle
Nice Ptolemic universe with a few tweaks.
The final book of the Darkangel trilogy was one of the very few books I nearly threw across the room when I finished it, though I do recall the first two books being wonderful.
I think that possibly Pegana, created by Lord Dunsany, is another non-Earth-like world? It’s been a while since I read about it . . .
Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series features an un-Earthly world – the Old Kingdom juxtaposed by Ancelstierre and some sort of steppe-land, which are sort of stitched together by the Wall. Then there’s Death, which is its own Thing, with seven precincts. It’s wild. Also, none of it seems to be at all spherical, as it’s quite explicitly stated that the Old Kingdom’s calendar does not sync up to Ancelstierre’s except tangentially; it requires a special almanac to parse what day will be when in which place. And the Old Kingdom’s climate is inimical to Ancelstierre’s factory-made goods, which cannot survive far beyond the Wall.
There’s also Victoria Goddard’s Zunidh.