weird worlds in fantasy and science fiction

I love weird worlds. Tempt me with a clockwork universe, a planet with two suns, or a moving city. Immerse me in the details of how life works in such a bizarre place. Entrance me with your imagination.

Give me a weird world, and I’m halfway there for your book.

Some of my favorite strange worlds are:

Upon Another Living Creature

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld rests on the back of four elephants which stand upon the shell of Great A’Tuin, the cosmic turtle. In Martha Wells’ The Serpent Sea, a large part of the action takes place in a city built upon the back of a sea creature magically compelled to swim at the water’s surface (and you can just tell what would happen if that compulsion failed, can’t you?). In Leviathan, Derryn Sharp is a midshipman on a living airship engineered from a blue whale, with its own ecosystem of flachette bats, strafing hawks, hydrogen-sniffing canines, and many other (fun!) creatures.

Non-Earth-like Planets

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars (second in the trilogy) has delightful sections on the terraforming of Mars and the creation of colonies on other planets and moons. A giant umbrella shades Venus. The human settlement on Mercury is on a moving train. Denizens of the moons around the gas giants genetically alter themselves to survive the environment.

Life on the Edge

Living in extreme yet Earth-like environments also works for me. Kat Falls’ Dark Life takes place on Earth–but in human settlements built undersea. Brandon Sanderson’s world of Roshar is battered by massive storms and much of the natural life, including botanical, is able to retreat into shells.

In the Air

Flying cities show up in games, movies, and books. From Skies of Arcadia to Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky to The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, habitats in the air are toe-curlingly wonderful to this reader.

Build Your World

Some habitats, notably in science fiction, are entirely man-made. Space stations and generation star ships are good examples. An interesting megastructure is Larry Niven’s Ringworld, an artificial ring orbiting around a star like our own sun.


Weird worlds also creep into my writing. The world of Quartz is a disc in a mechanical universe. The world of Riven is folded, like a paper fan. And in Rainbird, an entire community lives upon the skeleton of a continent-sized dragon.

What are your favorite weird worlds and environments, in fiction and out of it?


  1. Rainbird definitely made a favorite in the weird world section. Other than that, hmm… I admit: I do a lot of space stations and non-earth planets, but not much in the way of weirdness to worlds. Must rectify.

    • I love non-earth planets. :) I don’t read enough science fiction, that’s for sure. However, Dune’s next on my Serious SFF Reading List, after I finish C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy.

  2. BTW, loving the introverted fairytales!

  3. Alas, I can’t think of one, though I don’t mind extreme earth areas (ie: arctic or desert). Haven’t read any of the books mentioned, and Rainbird is the only one I own! :-D I can’t say I’m drawn to weird worlds at all. I definitely prefer terrestrial stuff.

    • Different strokes for different folks. :D (I wonder what they mean by strokes in that expression? Swimming strokes? Brush strokes? “Hey, we need a rhyme for folks”strokes?)

      Thank you for getting Rainbird, though! It’s much-ly appreciated!

  4. First one that come to mind is “The High House” by James Stoddard. I love that boook. :)

  5. An older weird world that’s pretty well done is a gas giant’s moon in _Virgin Planet_ by Poul Andersen. It is terrestrial enough for humans to live on with neither special suits nor special adaptations, but I think it’s still pretty neat. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  6. What about different cultures that are not necessarily weird? I loved REDEMPTION IN INDIGO. I also like prehistoric cultures, when portrayed accurately.

    Weirdest SF story setting? The tube in Rendezvous with Rama was awesome.

    Your Kim Stanley Robinson recommendations are tempting me to retry the series. I had a serious problem connecting with the characters in Green Mars.

    • Different cultures are a topic for another post. :D

      REDEMPTION IN INDIGO has been on my radar for a while, but I’ve never been in the right mood to read it. So many books, so little time!

      I didn’t connect to any of Robinson’s Mars characters either. I just loved the terraforming and the habitat-building. Not sure if I would really recommend those books just for that one section on umbrellas over Venus and genetic alterations on Titan. Unless you’re a weird world junkie like me. :)

  7. I love Pratchett’s Discworld Series, so I’ll second you in that one!

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