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Reader Challenge #5A – The Coolest Science Fiction Setting (Written)

It’s that time again boys and girls, time for another, patented, SF Signal Reader Challenge! This time, the challenge will be broken into two separate challenges, with associated polls (although John doesn’t know that yet, though, it will make the next few polls easy for him…). This time, I’m looking for your coolest/favorite science fiction setting in the written form. The rules:

  1. List up to 3 settings in the comments below.
  2. Please restrict your settings to those in written form. In this case, novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, poems and the like, in short, anything published in writing. Screenplays do not count.
  3. For those settings that have cross-pollinated between the visual and written media, only those settings whose original story was in written form should be considered and listed. For instance, the film 2001 won’t be accepted, but the short story “The Sentinel” will be. Star Wars and Star Trek are right out, this time.

I’ll collate the answers, then we may have a poll to see which setting is the coolest or the most favorite of the SF Signal readers. I’ll run this challenge through this coming Sunday (10/1) and then make John put up a poll starting next Monday, and then another challenge covering the visual media.

My coolest settings? Glad you asked:

  • The Culture from the mind of Iain (The M Stands for SF) M. Banks. Eccentric, overprotective AIs, ginormous ships, immortality (if careful), and Special Circumstances. What’s not to like?
  • Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space universe. Sure, FTL is more trouble than its worth, but the society mankind has made is really cool.
  • David Brin’s Uplift series. Just plain cool. If only he’d finish the story of the Streaker.

Now it’s your turn!

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

25 Comments on Reader Challenge #5A – The Coolest Science Fiction Setting (Written)

  1. Dan Simmons’ Hyperion universe – time travel, the Catholic Church, an omniscient AI that speaks in Zen koans, Frank Lloyd Wright, and true love. Where else are you gonna find that combination.

    Earth of the future as envisioned by David Marusek in Counting Heads – your PDA is sentient, you have to have spam-blockers in your brain, the government uses nanotech to keep tabs on people for “security” purposes, and replicants can have identity crises. Depressingly accurate.

    Hitchhiking through the universe of Douglas Adams. Froody.

  2. So much to chose from.

    I chose the Orbit Hospital from James White SECTOR GENERAL series, the Coalition of Polises from Greg Egan’s DIASPORA and the Queendom of Sol from Wil McCarthy’s quartet THE COLLAPSIUM, THE WELLSTONE, LOST IN TRANSMISSION and TO CRUSH THE MOON.

  3. James Alan Gardner’s League of Peoples universe.

    Peter F. Hamilton’s universe of the Night’s Dawn trilogy, especially before the dead people started coming back.

    David Foster Wallace’s US during Subsidized Time, in _Infinite Jest_. Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, giant mutant rabbits overrunning New Hamshire, Quebecois wheelchair assassins.

  4. p1. William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy.

    p2. Brain Daley’s Terran Inheritance trilogy.

    p3. Jack Chalker’s Well Of Souls series.

  5. 1. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Universe – because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to live on the back of a 4 elephants on top of a giant space tortoise!!

    2. Scott Westerfeld’s Risen Empire where you have the dead walking and planetary AIs…

    That is all I could think of right now…

  6. 1) The future in Counting Heads – David Marusek

    2) The Polity in the Cormac/Skinner novels – Neal Asher

    3) New Crobuzon/Bas Lag from Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council – China Mieville

  7. (1) Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series. Imagine the views…

    (2) John Varley’s Eight World series (Ophiuchi Hotline, etc.). In addition to some really nifty planetary settings (and settings around planets, such as the rings of Saturn), Varley is one of the few SF writers that makes good use of sexuality, gender, biology, etc.

    (3) Vernor Vinge’s “Zones of Thought”. Like Poul Anderson’s intelligence-dampening field (see “Brain Wave”) but on a much grander scale. Depending on where you are in the galaxy, you might be restricted to slower-than-light travel or might be able to flit from star to star. You might be able to do amazing things with computers, or be stuck with Windows XP. Guess what part of the galaxy we’re in!


  8. Peter F Hamilton’s “Night’s Dawn” Universe. What a canvas!

    Walter Jon William’s “Praxis” Universe. 19th Century British Age of Sail transformed into Space Opera.

    Mount Olympus on Mars, complete with a re-creation of the Iliad and its fractuous Gods, in Dan Simmons’ Ilium.

  9. This question is awfully close to asking your “favorite world-building” story which, I think, is a whole other ball of wax. So I’ll have to force myself to stick to the more local definition of “setting”.

    I’m surprised nobody has yet mentioned cyberspace settings like Snow Crash or Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes, or posthuman futures like in Singularity Sky duology and Wright’s Golden Age trilogy.

    But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Effinger’s When Gravity Fails. His Budayeen city was as much a character as any other and is the one book that stands out to me as having such. It’s not overly high-tech like some other worlds, but it’s a rich setting that provides colorful characters and lots of drama. What more can you ask for?

  10. joshua corning // September 26, 2006 at 9:14 pm //

    1. William Hope hadgson’s “The Night Land” universe.

    2. The Universe made of rock in Barrington J. Bayley short story “Me and My Antronoscope” I read the story in his collection of short stories “Knights of the Limits”

    3. I can’t decide on anything else for now

  11. Hard to argue against the Culture or Varley’s 8 planets or the Zones of Thought, but here are a few more:

    * the Lensman universe by EE Doc Smith (just to have a classic space opera in there)

    * the mass market cloning of the Kiln People, by Brin

    * the hardboiled martial arts and failing Confederation of Steve Perry’s Man Who Never Missed series

  12. 1: The Culture – IM Banks – who would not want to live there?

    2: Nulapeiron: when you are on top metaphorically, you are on top literally – J. Meaney

    3: The Gaean Reach – J. Vance – exotic setting for many wonderful stories


  13. Darn, I know some cool fantasy settings, but okay, science fiction it is. And sometimes the classics are best:

    1. Larry Niven’s “Known Space” (and various permutations thereof that he wrote)

    2. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (the whole universe he made, not just the planet)

    3. Philip José Farmer’s “World of Tiers” multiverse

    (And if I have to explain what was cool about those settings….)

    It was tempted to list John Norman’s “Gor” just to be ornery, but what the hey, I gave ya honest answers. 😉

  14. I’ll admit to having only read Consider Phlebas (Use of Weapons is on my list for a read in the near future), and I was tempted to list The Culture, but I’ve been feeling that the Culture is similar to Neal Asher’s Polity. I’m not accusing Asher of ripping of Banks or anything; I love his books. I’m just saying that it feels to me that the Cormac books are almost from the point of view of the Culture, whereas Consider Phlebas was “out-polity.” Just thought I’d mention that.

  15. It’s hard to argue with Dan Simmons or some of the others that have already been mentioned, but here goes. 1) Heinlein’s multiverse, as depicted esp. in The Number of the Beast… although to say why would give away the book…. 2) Gene Wolfe’s New/Long/Short Sun universe. 3) I’m torn between PKD’s general milieu, esp. The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, or Piers Anthony’s planet Tarot. Both have the habit of confusing reality with dreams, desires, or fears.

  16. I just remembered my third choice – the world of DC Comics. I could throw rocks at Superman and all sorts of other heroes from this universe. Plus, I grew up with DC Comics and not those Marvel mags – so I am going with this one…:D

  17. The high tech/low tech world of Silverberg’s Nightwings.

    The Hyperion universe, when the river/jumpgate system was working.

    Any big habitat, one of the ones from Night’s Dawn or Long Sun. Could be a torus or cylander. A big fake-outdoors habitat.

  18. joshua corning // September 28, 2006 at 12:42 am //

    1. William Hope hadgson’s “The Night Land” universe.

    2. The Universe made of rock in Barrington J. Bayley short story “Me and My Antronoscope” I read the story in his collection of short stories “Knights of the Limits”

    3. I can’t decide on anything else for now

    got it!

    3. the gas cloud thing orbiting around a pulsar or a nutron star or what ever it was in Larry nivin’s “The intergral trees”

  19. I tried putting this up yesterday and I kept getting error messages, here’s hoping…

    1. The Smoke Ring from The Integral Trees. I wouldn’t really want to live there but it’d be a helluva place to visit. Arguably Niven’s coolest setting and he’s the undisputed king of cool settings in my book.

    2. Plowman’s World from PKDs Galactic Pot Healer. Visiting that world would be a lot like taking Magic Mushrooms except its the world that is tripping, not you. This is another place I wouldn’t want to live in and I’m not certain I’d want to visit either but it would be severely interesting.

    3. The bottom of the ocean from Rifters largely only because the atmosphere of the place was so hauntingly conveyed. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there or visit.

  20. Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star universe – before the war, of course. What’s not to like?

    Jack McDevitt’s universe – I think it’s all of a piece, from Ancient Shore on to Seeker.

  21. 1. Banks’ Culture – although it’s a little too much like Utopia in many ways, it just seems darn cool.

    2. Brin’s Uplift universe – it seems real and dreamlike at the same time – gritty but fantastic.

    3. Card’s universe from Ender’s Game and other books. Fun.

  22. 1. Card’s Universe from Ender’s Game, at least the last 3, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind

    2. Bear’s orbiting asteroid rock thing from Eon.

    3. C.S. Lewis’ Out of The Silent Planet, and its sequals

    the first 2 are my good picks, the 3rd one was just the only one i could think of at this moment.

  23. How’d I miss this post?

    Oh right, I was out of town…


    Asimov’s Robot Novels Earth. Imagine running the moving sidewalks with Elijah Bailey.

    I’ll second McDevitt’s universe from Seeker, et al.

    And I’ll have to 2nd Larry Niven’s Known Space…

  24. My vote in the list of choices is for Iain Banks’ Culture, but had they been available, I would have rather chosen either John C. Wright’s Golden Age or Walter Jon Williams’ Aristoi.


  25. Robert Hienlin (sp) The green hills of earth, short stories that hit real close to home in this day and age, what with iran, and north korea thumping their chest.

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