21 votes

What author has the best worldbuilding?

It's a simple question, or is it? How would you measure best? Complexity? Realism? Creativity? Detail?

I think it's fairly obvious that Tolkien has set the gold standard of all worldbuilding, but more recent authors like GRRM, Brandon Sanderson and JKR or the late Terry Pratchett have also created beloved worlds.

Some, like GRRM, are apparently more interested in complex worldbuilding itself rather than finishing their novels while others like JKR use the worlds more as a window dressing without keeping it fairly consistent. Is it alright if the Wizarding World is inconsistent if it serves the plot? How complex can Westeros become before it gets in the way of the story?

I think that GRRM and JKR are both extremes on the spectrum. When reading The Song of Ice and Fire, I felt like GRRM needed a proper editor to reign him in while JKR managed to build a fantastical world in 7 books which, upon closer inspection, makes no sense. On the other hand you have Terry Pratchett, who with the Discworld was clearly more interested in creating a parody of the real world, but still managed to make it very interesting and unique.

Thoughts?

30 comments

  1. [7]
    vakieh Link
    Tolkien didn't do a much of his 'own' worldbuilding, his strength was in writing about worldbuilding that already existed in mythology - and with such minor changes that in the modern era (in part...

    I think it's fairly obvious that Tolkien has set the gold standard of all worldbuilding

    Tolkien didn't do a much of his 'own' worldbuilding, his strength was in writing about worldbuilding that already existed in mythology - and with such minor changes that in the modern era (in part to avoid looking like you ripped off Tolkien, which is silly as he ripped things off first) would not be considered worldbuilding at all. Dresden similarly follows a 'let's rip off existing mythos' pretty directly, but changes a lot more and draws from more sources. Similar 'not really worldbuilding'. GRRM flips this around (mostly) and rips the plot from the War of the Roses while doing his own worldbuilding.

    None of the above I would consider 'good' worldbuilding though. My standard for worldbuilding (that splits it off from plot) is 'how rich is the world that I imagine my own story in', which I do with most fantasy books.

    I think on that the best 'world' for me would have to be the one Feist and Wurts created in the Empire trilogy, which slowly elaborates on such a potent and vibrant world that you can imagine from minutia to imperial movements. Kim Stanley Robinson in the Mars trilogy (weird sex stuff aside) made for a rich world that makes a lot of sense (contrasted with The Expanse which has a plot and characters that are 100,000x better but sometimes world shit happens that makes you go whu?). Notable mention being Lev Grossman's The Magicians trilogy.

    When you get 'world building wankery' that turns into a blocker on the whole escapism thing is where it goes bad - Tolkien is self-admittedly guilty of it in the things he wrote outside of the Hobbit & LOTR, Herbert, Martin, & Jordan even more so. Rowling's is something people look at as planned when it's actually just what happens when low writing skill is outshone by fantastic imagination, and probably shouldn't be analysed as deeply as people try to. However it's a case study of how little worldbuilding you really need. Eddings' stuff looks really rich but when you dig there's exactly what was needed to tell the story and the rest is left question marks, Rivers of London hints at a rich world but you never seem to learn jack (yet it still works), 90% of the Animorphs series you just have handwavy 'evil aliens' background and run with it. Which isn't to say worldbuilding is to be avoided, most of Earthsea is worldbuilding in disguise and it works great, as does Deathgate.

    9 votes
    1. [4]
      Grzmot Link Parent
      I think it would still be dishonest to say that Tolkien, GRRM and the likes haven't done that much world building, after all, most stories have an inspiration somewhere, either in plot structure...

      Tolkien didn't do a much of his 'own' worldbuilding, his strength was in writing about worldbuilding that already existed in mythology - and with such minor changes that in the modern era (in part to avoid looking like you ripped off Tolkien, which is silly as he ripped things off first) would not be considered worldbuilding at all. Dresden similarly follows a 'let's rip off existing mythos' pretty directly, but changes a lot more and draws from more sources. Similar 'not really worldbuilding'. GRRM flips this around (mostly) and rips the plot from the War of the Roses while doing his own worldbuilding.

      I think it would still be dishonest to say that Tolkien, GRRM and the likes haven't done that much world building, after all, most stories have an inspiration somewhere, either in plot structure or in content. They've still put a lot of thought and work into their worlds. I think most books you open today could trace their inspiration to older stories and even back to ancient myths, which by themselves might be copies of even older tales we have no records of.

      Unfortunately, I haven't read the other works you mentioned, but they do seems interesting? Do you think that they are more original than the more classic ones from Tolkien and others?

      When it comes to JKR, I once would've disagreed with you, but after the release of the two Fantastic Beasts movies, Cursed Child and her constant Twitter escapades my opinion of her skill as a writer has fallen fairly low. I think she wrote her magnum opus with the seven Harry Potter books and that's it.

      As to blocking the story from progressing with world building, I'd say that at least Tolkien put the worldbuilding into other, dedicated books, albeit his overly descriptive style of writing can get to you without a doubt. GRRM seems to have more of an issue of creating too many characters and plot threads for him to handle.

      I do agree with you that good books don't need to describe their worlds overtly to work, as it can often get more in the way. Perhaps really splitting such info into dedicated lore books is better to keep the original story focused and distraction-free. Then again, authors often get carried away with the picture they're painting and a good editor has to reign them in.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        vakieh Link Parent
        I split off plot, characters, and world. You can have extensive and highly complex plot and characters and yet do nothing that creative with your world - Tolkien is one I consider to have done...

        I split off plot, characters, and world. You can have extensive and highly complex plot and characters and yet do nothing that creative with your world - Tolkien is one I consider to have done some of this. Not to say he did no worldbuilding at all, there is quite a bit there, it's just that the bulk of his creativity is in the plot of what is going on - even if that plot happened in the past, which is where I probably differ from other people's definition of worldbuilding. When you eliminate the parts of the book that are drawn directly from existing mythology, the vast majority of what is left in Tolkien's work is plot and character (note this is not a value judgement, I love pretty much everything about Middle Earth and the stories in it). Pre-existing inspiration is there in pretty much all fantasy, it's about how much the author actually changes.

        As for the others, everything I listed was something I enjoyed, to one degree or another, even if I was criticising it. tWoT kept me sane me through my first degree even if it could have been 50% shorter. Of the lot I think KSR's Mars trilogy is the lowest quality of the lot, but only if you view Eddings and Animorphs as the kid's books they are.

        JKR can be seen as a poor writer/fantastic storyteller if you just look at the HP series in isolation. The prose is clumsy, the whole thing is driven by cliche and until very near the end (she did improve over time) there are no shades of grey in any of the characters - and nothing of the 'omg reveals' were in any way set up in advance with forethought, they were just retcons that worked. Compare The Magicians, which is similarly a wizard school book, only it's not, except in the ways that it is... It's complex, the writing is nuanced, and specifically the use of intertwining a/b/c plots that make sense even when they're entirely unwritten except where they intersect the main story shows what skilled writing looks like. Again though not a value judgement, I very much enjoyed the HP series as well.

        I will say in terms of rich worlds if you haven't read Empire then you are SERIOUSLY missing out. It needs you to have read the core Riftwar trilogy first to get the most out of it, but that's ok because Riftwar is also freaking awesome. Interestingly the worldbuilding Feist did in Riftwar was actually organically grown out of a homebrew DnD campaign setting he and his DnD group had worked on for years, so there is some incredible richness in there from the start (Riftwar is very Tolkienesque as DnD tends to be, but Empire was something altogether new, by adding 2 old things together).

        4 votes
        1. Grzmot Link Parent
          I'll put the Empire trilogy on the list of things to read then, thanks for the recommendation.

          I'll put the Empire trilogy on the list of things to read then, thanks for the recommendation.

      2. NaraVara Link Parent
        Neil Gaiman is amazingly skilled at this. He zooms into details that are relevant and important to the plot, but he introduces tons of stuff that just sort of. . . is without needing much...

        I do agree with you that good books don't need to describe their worlds overtly to work, as it can often get more in the way. Perhaps really splitting such info into dedicated lore books is better to keep the original story focused and distraction-free.

        Neil Gaiman is amazingly skilled at this. He zooms into details that are relevant and important to the plot, but he introduces tons of stuff that just sort of. . . is without needing much background or detail. The result is worlds that seem big and layered and detailed but you’re more being swept away and taking it all in as an observer rather than reading an encyclopedia about it.

        3 votes
    2. [2]
      Ember Link Parent
      Yeah, it's quite strange how far fans will analyze HP. I've seen long diatribes and real, strong emotion about how neglectful and evil Dumbledore is, and how useless and horrible Ron is, and the...

      Rowling's is something people look at as planned when it's actually just what happens when low writing skill is outshone by fantastic imagination, and probably shouldn't be analysed as deeply as people try to. However it's a case study of how little worldbuilding you really need.

      Yeah, it's quite strange how far fans will analyze HP. I've seen long diatribes and real, strong emotion about how neglectful and evil Dumbledore is, and how useless and horrible Ron is, and the supposed simple solutions to the wizarding world's problems. They'll take Dumbledore leaving baby Harry on the Dursley's porch as supreme child abuse, when it was really just another element in the fairy-tale opening. And then you get weird fanfictions that try to rationalize it and end up filled with author tract or endless bashing. The real 'magic' of HP is in the imagination and wonder (and John Williams' score).

      90% of the Animorphs series you just have handwavy 'evil aliens' background and run with it.

      I loved that series as a kid, and now it seems super weird in retrospect. Such a dark underlying tone, but also kid-friendly adventures. There's a fanfic that tries to rationalize Animorphs, which is a decent (if dark) read.

      1 vote
      1. Grzmot Link Parent
        Fans will always attempt to understand the thing they love better, this includes Harry Potter. Especially with the books being such a phenomenon and generating quite the large fan following,...

        Yeah, it's quite strange how far fans will analyze HP.

        Fans will always attempt to understand the thing they love better, this includes Harry Potter. Especially with the books being such a phenomenon and generating quite the large fan following, you'll end up with a lot of people who want to delve as deep into the world as possible and understand it. Problem being, there isn't much to understand, and the more you try to, the less it makes sense.

        Maybe the desire is linked to how rich the Wizarding World seems on the surface. Though when you get down to it, it's a vast ocean as deep as a puddle. The fact that JKR is constantly trying to stay relevant with... questionable tweets and additions to the world through Pottermore only adds to this.

        1 vote
  2. [2]
    skullkid2424 Link
    I've enjoyed Brandon Sanderson's books. Without spoiling anything, many of them take place in the same universe. And the worlds and systems in that universe tend to have interesting and...

    I've enjoyed Brandon Sanderson's books. Without spoiling anything, many of them take place in the same universe. And the worlds and systems in that universe tend to have interesting and internally-consistent magic systems. His books tend to be solid on their own, though sometimes the character depth is lacking and the settings tend to have a lighter/happier/more naive feel compared to some of the more popular grimdark stuff.

    I'll also throw in the Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson). Its based on a roleplaying game that he and Ian Esslemont (who has a side series in the same universe) came up with. The setting is rather extensive/complex with lots of characters over multiple continents and thousands of years. It can be a bit hard to get into, but the series is what comes to my mind when thinking of epic fantasy.

    Theres also many scifi options (some mentioned already) that do really well with taking current events/trends and extrapolating how they might shape a futuristic setting tens or hundreds or thousands of years down the line. So many scifi books do well at exploring some of the "what ifs" that the author proposes. The culture series, anything asimov, neal stepehenson, etc. Dune is another favorite, though that changes depending on if considering the novel itself, the original series, or the expanded universe of many many books...

    9 votes
    1. SunSpotter Link Parent
      Sanderson was one of the authors that helped me get back into reading fiction. His ideas just seemed so fresh to me at the time that I couldn't get enough of him. Many fantasy settings could be...

      Sanderson was one of the authors that helped me get back into reading fiction. His ideas just seemed so fresh to me at the time that I couldn't get enough of him. Many fantasy settings could be described as Tolkien or D&D inspired, but Sanderson created magic systems, races and societies completely outside of that.

      Reading his books inspired me and got me thinking creatively, which I believe is a definitive sign of good worldbuilding.

      3 votes
  3. [4]
    a_wild_swarm_appears Link
    Have you read any of Iain M Banks Culture Series?? I think that's my all time favourite

    Have you read any of Iain M Banks Culture Series??
    I think that's my all time favourite

    7 votes
    1. MeMeBebop Link Parent
      I've only read the first two books (I have Use of Weapons sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read, though) but I have to second this. It's one of the most wildly creative space operas I've read.

      I've only read the first two books (I have Use of Weapons sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read, though) but I have to second this. It's one of the most wildly creative space operas I've read.

      3 votes
    2. [2]
      Grzmot Link Parent
      I haven't, but thanks for the suggestion, I'll put it on my reading list :)

      I haven't, but thanks for the suggestion, I'll put it on my reading list :)

      1 vote
  4. [5]
    Sahasrahla Link
    The world building China Miéville does, especially in the first two of his Bas Lag books (Perdido Street Station and The Scar) is fantastic. PSS especially is one of the few books I can think of...

    The world building China Miéville does, especially in the first two of his Bas Lag books (Perdido Street Station and The Scar) is fantastic. PSS especially is one of the few books I can think of where the world building is the main attraction and it actually works. If I'm remembering an interview with him correctly, PSS was written by taking nearly every idea he had been saving and putting them all together in one story. Even the smallest paragraph long digression can leave you wanting a whole novel on the topic. There's a lot going on in those books.

    6 votes
    1. [4]
      Deimos Link Parent
      I read Perdido Street Station fairly recently, and the world-building in it is definitely great. There's honestly too much of it, there were so many things introduced that ended up hardly being...

      I read Perdido Street Station fairly recently, and the world-building in it is definitely great. There's honestly too much of it, there were so many things introduced that ended up hardly being used at all (I haven't read the other two, so I don't know if they end up coming back to some of it).

      The book was disappointing to me overall, there was just so much built up and then a really underwhelming, rushed-feeling conclusion, but I certainly can't fault the world-building. I remember seeing someone refer to the city itself as the main character in Perdido Street Station, and I think I'd agree with that.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        Sahasrahla Link Parent
        I definitely get what you mean. I love that book but there's so much about it that I would hate in nearly any other book. In fact I'd say that's what the third Bas Lag book (Iron Council) was for...

        I definitely get what you mean. I love that book but there's so much about it that I would hate in nearly any other book. In fact I'd say that's what the third Bas Lag book (Iron Council) was for me: pretty much everything I disliked about PSS with none of what I did like. If you enjoyed the world building of PSS but disliked the story you might like its "sequel" The Scar. It's mostly standalone (new characters, new setting, new storyline) and has a similar style of world-building except the story itself is closer to having an actual plot. It still has a Miéville twist to it but it feels a bit more conventional for at least 90% of the way through.

        3 votes
        1. patience_limited Link Parent
          Mieville himself has referred to the Bas Lag books as Gothic urban fantasy - the Gothic and baroque flourishes don't always add to the quality of the storytelling. I love some of the...

          Mieville himself has referred to the Bas Lag books as Gothic urban fantasy - the Gothic and baroque flourishes don't always add to the quality of the storytelling. I love some of the scene-setting, but the length of narration to set those scenes detracts from pacing. His characters are so uniformly glum or victimized that the only way his stories can evolve is towards violent revolutions of one kind or another.

          There's a long list of other less well-known, mostly U.K. authors who've attempted similar more-or-less urban science fiction or fantasy constructions (Michael Swanwick, Ian McDonald, Iain Banks, Alaistair Reynolds, M. John Harrison, Michael Moorcock, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, et al.).

          A number of these stories are embellished versions of Charles Dickens - versions of London or other great Western cities as viewed by characters from the bottom up and top down, overgrown, in ruins, refashioned by technology or magic, or centered on hidden societies within standard urbanity.

          I'll argue for Mieville's The City and the City as a much more tightly constructed and original version of parallel worlds-style world-building.

          2 votes
      2. arghdos Link Parent
        I'll never stop recommending Embassytown from Mieville. In particular here, because in the world he creates, almost everything in the universe directly shapes the plot. I enjoyed it immensely more...

        I'll never stop recommending Embassytown from Mieville. In particular here, because in the world he creates, almost everything in the universe directly shapes the plot. I enjoyed it immensely more than PDS (which I've read, but never gone back to).

        2 votes
  5. knocklessmonster Link
    I felt Robert Jordan did a good job with his Wheel of Time series. He built entire cultures and showed them to the reader so they could understand all the crazy nuances of the various societies,...

    I felt Robert Jordan did a good job with his Wheel of Time series. He built entire cultures and showed them to the reader so they could understand all the crazy nuances of the various societies, past and present, and follow how they affected the political landscape of his world.

    4 votes
  6. [2]
    asteroid Link
    I judge world building as a place so believable that I "recall" book scenes as though I had experienced them personally. Sometimes that world building is so effective that I can love a book for...

    I judge world building as a place so believable that I "recall" book scenes as though I had experienced them personally. Sometimes that world building is so effective that I can love a book for that alone, even if the story or characters are weak.

    Best world building for me:

    • Pern (In my heart that place exists.)
    • The Harry Potter series
    • The Sime/Gen novels (prime example of "awesome world" and meh story) by Lorrah/Lichtenberg
    3 votes
    1. Grzmot Link Parent
      An interesting, if subjective way to measure worldbuilding, but then again, it's all opinions here so everything is subjective. I've only read the HP novels from your list and while I don't...

      An interesting, if subjective way to measure worldbuilding, but then again, it's all opinions here so everything is subjective. I've only read the HP novels from your list and while I don't consider the worldbuilding to be good, they were definitely very good at evoking emotion and making you want to live in it. The characters were all fantastic and made the world feel very alive, even if it didn't make a lot of sense.

  7. [2]
    tak Link
    Hamilton's world setup in Night Dawn trilogy is fairly impressive. Dan Simmons' Hyperion universe is diverse and very nicely done. Stephenson's Snow Crash world is also quite interesting if a bit...

    Hamilton's world setup in Night Dawn trilogy is fairly impressive.

    Dan Simmons' Hyperion universe is diverse and very nicely done.

    Stephenson's Snow Crash world is also quite interesting if a bit out there.

    3 votes
    1. MeMeBebop Link Parent
      I enjoyed Snow Crash. One of the things I liked was that the corporations in Stephenson's AnCap dystopia are completely ridiculous, like a chain of cowboy-themed private prisons, an evangelist...

      I enjoyed Snow Crash. One of the things I liked was that the corporations in Stephenson's AnCap dystopia are completely ridiculous, like a chain of cowboy-themed private prisons, an evangelist megachurch that considers Elvis a saint for "defeating the Communists", and a chain of pizza restaurants owned by the Mafia.

      However, I liked The Diamond Age a lot more. The segments from Nell's book, The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, are great. And I like the little details, like the concept of a "toner war" - when different factions of nanites fight each other, the world is covered in a layer of soot (actually the bodies of "dead" nanites").

      4 votes
  8. [2]
    Eva Link
    I think John McCrae takes that title—the stuff he's written, barring the one he's currently working on, are superb, both in writing and in world-building.

    I think John McCrae takes that title—the stuff he's written, barring the one he's currently working on, are superb, both in writing and in world-building.

    2 votes
    1. Ember Link Parent
      Worm and Pact are so good. I haven't been able to get to his other two yet. Worm gets all the attention, but there was a bunch of really unique world-building in Pact that doesn't get a lot of...

      Worm and Pact are so good. I haven't been able to get to his other two yet. Worm gets all the attention, but there was a bunch of really unique world-building in Pact that doesn't get a lot of attention. The narrative manipulations, the whole third act, even the background factions. I wish McCrae would take a second pass and edit it.

      2 votes
  9. quinns Link
    I’ve always been a huge fan of the His Darin Materials series. By book two you find yourself fully engrossed in a magical world that spans multiple dimensions. It’s orobably my favorite trilogy.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of the His Darin Materials series. By book two you find yourself fully engrossed in a magical world that spans multiple dimensions. It’s orobably my favorite trilogy.

    2 votes
  10. [2]
    NeoTheFox Link
    Isaac Asimov and Terry Pratchett would be my choices from two opposite sides of literature. Asimov's world is very consistent, the detective novels, the novels about the robots, foundation, all...

    Isaac Asimov and Terry Pratchett would be my choices from two opposite sides of literature.
    Asimov's world is very consistent, the detective novels, the novels about the robots, foundation, all that happens in the same universe, and it is pretty good. Pratchett's books are also linked, and divided into series about a certain characters, these interact and affect the world during the course of his books, amazing world building had been put into Discworld.

    2 votes
    1. SusanStoHelit Link Parent
      Came here and immediately searched for Terry Pratchett. The Discworld is such an amazing unique place that got fleshed out so beautifully across the series. And those tiny little crossover moments...

      Came here and immediately searched for Terry Pratchett. The Discworld is such an amazing unique place that got fleshed out so beautifully across the series. And those tiny little crossover moments or knock on effects are so great to read.

      1 vote
  11. Grendel Link
    I would say that Frank Herbert is one of the best world builders I've ever read. The Dune series creates a world that feels very real. I think the best part is that much of the world is...

    I would say that Frank Herbert is one of the best world builders I've ever read. The Dune series creates a world that feels very real. I think the best part is that much of the world is communicated implicitly through the characters actions and context rather explicitly through narration.

    2 votes
  12. patience_limited (edited ) Link
    More of a science fiction than fantasy reader (and I'm not going to visit endless arguments about the distinction, thank you). I'll grant some leeway for the "any sufficiently advanced technology...

    More of a science fiction than fantasy reader (and I'm not going to visit endless arguments about the distinction, thank you). I'll grant some leeway for the "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" loophole, but it's easier for me to suspend disbelief if there's a framework of plausible physics as a foundation for the world-building. You can hand-wave and say "nanotechnology!" or "quantum!", but everything needs to work together.

    I have some very stuffy conditions for what I'd consider "great" world-building - it should be deeply immersive; seamless; engaging; thought-provoking; gorgeous, surprising and horrifying (inasmuch as the genuine, familiar world is - the reader's view doesn't have to accord with the characters' perception); and plausible.

    I don't think there's a single author who does the "best" world-building - it's in the nature of good storytelling that you can have any number of fascinating worlds, and after that, mainly a matter of taste.

    1. Internal consistency - each element of the world is within the scope of a set of explicit or implicit rules. Not a great piece of literature, but Larry Niven's Ringworld is a good example. More recently, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series (literal world-building), Ian McDonald's Luna books, and The Expanse series.

    2. If you've got a "world", you've got cultures, plural. The cultures need to have conflicts, philosophies, religions, varying historical narratives, styles, politics, and at least backstory significance in the characters' lives. In other words, true diversity. If you have different species in the same place, assume you have different cultures among the conspecifics, too.

    This was one of the best features, in my mind, about Ann Leckie's Ancillary series, one of my recent favorite pieces of world-building. Frank Herbert's Dune series is also classic world-building in this vein. I've got a fondness for worlds that aren't 100% rooted in Western culture (think of it as four-dimensional tourism) - Cixin Liu's The Remembrance of Earth's Past series, Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, Aliette de Bodard's Xuya stories, Ian McDonald's global future cities (River of Gods, Brasyl, Chaga, etc.), Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and Shipbreakers, Lavie Tidhar's Central Station, and so on.

    There's lot of bad sci-fi/fantasy writing which simply erases or glosses over cultural diversity, particularly in the style of Tolkien - the sloppiness that makes race/species = culture. Pointy ears or furry feet aren't equivalent to character backstory or motivation, however much bad poetry and song are tacked in. Then there's the implicit racism of "barbarians" with no culture, e.g. Orcs and their ilk. At least Tolkien allowed some of his most significant characters to be driven by cultural outlier status - adventurous Hobbits, Elves tragically involved with Men, a shieldmaiden, and outlaw wizards. Though I don't do fantasy much, Steven Brust's Dragaera books have a fair depth and richness of cultural imagination.

    1. To feel genuine, the world setting and plot can't be simple fulfillments of the reader's power fantasies, mere projection into a hero or heroine's endless triumphs. The best stories are about flawed heroes, sympathetic villains, impossible choices, in worlds which by their nature include room for change, tragedy, and irreversible loss.

    Octavia Butler's Imago series is a great example here - a rags-to-riches story in a world that the main character isn't equipped to fully comprehend, with a good outcome the character can't freely choose and does not want.

    1. The characters' viewpoints are the most crucial aspects of world-building - not the scenery, or the technological/magical framework, or the plot. This is the sensory lens through which the reader perceives the built world.

    It's the reader's distance from the viewpoints of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which contributes to the moral commentary. China Mieville's Bas Lag characters have experiences and viewpoints sufficiently distinct from the reader to magnify the grotesque - a human magus who's in love with a beetle-headed woman, Remades, scabmettlers, and so on.

    The viewpoints may be unreliable or alienated from the reader's own as an aspect of the world, like Jeff Vandermeer's hallucinatory Southern Reach trilogy, Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers (where the main character is, serially, several different people), Ann Leckie's gender abstractions, or the alien peculiarities of Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought series.

    1. Grand ideas. Yes, this is the realm of Iain Banks' Culture books, Alastair Reynolds' vast scopes of history and technology, Jack Vance's Gaian Reach, Ursula Le Guin's Hainish universe (particularly The Left Hand of Darkness), Greg Egan's Permutation City, Vernor Vinge, Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past, and some other fictional meat-and-potatoes material that I dote on.
    1 vote