At some point in their lives, all readers of science fiction and fantasy have wished, however fleetingly, that they could leave their mundane world behind and enter the world of their favourite book. That is, after all, why so many people read: to escape reality and go someplace else, be someone else, even for a little while.
While it is possible to do that sort of thing with any kind of book (or TV show, movie, or video game, for that matter), it is easiest to do with fantasy and science fiction books. As a fan of both genres, there have been many times when I’ve picked up a book, and wanted nothing more than to lose myself in it in a less metaphorical fashion than the phrase “getting lost in a good book” generally suggests. Below are ten of my favourite worlds: the ones I wish I could just get lost in – literally.
01. Dinotopia – Setting for James Gurney’s Dinotopia books
Dinotopia is, in a way, the first book that taught me the possibilities of imaginary worlds. The story itself had minimal impact on me when I first received the book as a present from my grandmother, but Gurney’s art entranced me. As I grew older and learned to appreciate the story itself, the notion of Dinotopia – a place where dinosaurs and humans can live together in peace – has become one of my favourite imaginary places ever. Even now, well into adulthood, I still daydream of living in Waterfall City and going through my day accompanied by the persistent rumble of thunder through stone.
02. Middle Earth – Setting for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth Legendarium
I think anyone who has ever read The Lord of the Rings and enjoyed it has, at least once, wanted to live in Middle Earth. Reading the Trilogy as a twelve-year-old, I wanted to do precisely that as well – mostly because I believed that Orcs would be much easier to deal with than bullies. While I now realise that is not quite true, the idea of living in Middle Earth is still very much appealing. My bias towards the Elves means I will prefer Rivendell or Lothlorien (but more Rivendell) to the Shire or Minas Tirith, but ever since reading The Silmarillion I have decided that I would most like to visit Valinor: that place where the Grey Ships go when they sail from the Havens. At least there, the odds of encountering Dark Lords (and their Orc armies) are practically nil.
03. Tortallan Universe – Setting for Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books
When I first picked up Wild Magic, the first book in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet, I was still very much engaged in young adult literature—indeed, I read practically nothing but, and this was during a time before Harry Potter launched the genre into its current level of popularity. Nowadays I understand that Tortall is not very different from many other fantasy worlds, but it still holds a special place in my heart because, in a way, it was one of the first, non-Tolkien worlds I came across in the course of my reading. More importantly, it was a place where a girl, no matter her background, could rise to become a hero, provided she had the courage to reach out for it.
04. The Wizarding World – Setting for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books
Ask any reader, from my generation on downwards, which fictional world they’d visit if given the chance, and I’m sure that most of them will answer: “Hogwarts” – a testament to the popularity of Rowling’s books, and the magic they weave in the imaginations of readers. While I am not the most outwardly enthusiastic fan of Rowling’s work (my fannishness has faded somewhat), I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to study a full seven years in Hogwarts – or if not, then in any number of the possible magic schools that fans have come up with over the years. (I reject the existence of the other wizarding schools Rowling has come up with in recent years, however. Rowling does quite well when she writes about British and European schools, but she has proven woefully incompetent at writing about anything beyond that scope.)
05. Young Wizards Universe – Setting for Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series
I came late to Duane’s Young Wizards books, since I was introduced to them when I was already in university, by a close friend of mine who read them growing up (and continues to read them today – it is still an ongoing series). Still, the Young Wizards books resonated with me even in my adulthood, and I devoured the series as soon as I had gotten my mitts on most of the books. It is this world, perhaps more than Rowling’s, that makes me really believe that I can be a wizard – because it is not about being born a wizard, but putting in the hard work to become one.
06. Mistborn Universe – Setting for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series
It is kind of misleading to call the setting for the Mistborn books a “universe”, because it is only one world in a larger setting called the Cosmere. The Cosmere itself is the setting for a whole host of other worlds (and other books), and all of them are connected in a way that Sanderson has yet to reveal. Nevertheless, I like the particular section of the Cosmere that the Mistborn books are set in, mostly because the magic system is one of the best-structured I’ve ever read about. I would love to burn brass (or be a Soother, to those who’ve read the books) for personal reasons, but also because the ability to calm people down is a very useful skill indeed.
07. The Long Earth – Setting for Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series
As I have said earlier, one of the reasons I enjoy reading so much is the sense of escapism I get while I am reading. For the duration of a book (or for as long as I choose to read a book), I am in that book, and not in the normal world. It is also the reason why I sometimes daydream about escaping into the books I read: I would like to be anywhere but here. That is why I find the setting of the Long Earth so appealing; if I so choose, I could go to another Earth entirely, one without the pressures and responsibilities of the one I currently inhabit. The idea is immensely appealing, particularly when I see or read the news.
08. The Culture – Setting for Iain M. Banks’ Culture series
There are many stories in all forms of media that postulate what might happen if AIs become ascendant, and most of them tend towards the destructive, apocalyptic side of things. Banks’ Culture series, however, postulates the opposite: a near-utopic existence for humanity, thanks to everything being controlled by super-powerful AIs called Minds. Not all is perfect, of course (after all, if it were there would be no story to tell), but the way the Culture is described, it does not seem like such a bad existence: no one in the Culture wants for anything by way of material resources, thanks in no small part to the way the Minds manage the entire system. Finding purpose, however, is a somewhat trickier proposition, but that is the kind of problem I wish I had, instead of the ones I actually have.
09. Kena – Setting for Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds series
In my review of An Accident of Stars, the first novel in Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds series, I make no small thing of my delight about the way this world is constructed. I am very fond of portal fantasies, mostly because of the theme of escapism that is conventional to the genre, but rarely do I ever come upon a portal fantasy with a world that I truly, desperately wish was real. Kena overturns many of the white, male, heterosexual conventions of fantasy, and is, therefore, a place where a brown-skinned woman like myself might conceivably be not only safe, but able to find a true place for herself based on her inherent self-worth.
10. Star Trek Universe – Setting for the Star Trek media franchise, by Gene Roddenberry, et. al.
I know that this is not, strictly speaking, a book series, but books have been written that are set in the Star Trek universe, so it still counts. At any rate, I know a lot of people might prefer to find themselves in Star Wars rather than Star Trek, and while I do find lightsabers a bit more appealing than phasers, I still prefer Star Trek. The reason for this is simple: Star Wars will likely never happen, but Star Trek is still a reality that is open to humanity. Not the exact same setting, of course, but the spirit of Star Trek – boundless innovation, acceptance, optimism, and faith in humanity’s ability to Do What Is Right – makes me want to not only live in it, but create a world where such things are possible.