Tuesday, August 19, 2008

10 Best Science Fiction Planets

Shaun Saunders sends in an article from Discovery magazine that I found fascinating. How often do you stop to think about the different worlds that occupy the pages of the stories and novels you read. Well, there is a reason you don't. Most of the worlds are so generic that they don't even warrant more consideration. As the author of this article writes:
  • These planets are usually convenient celestial bodies upon which to pitch a narrative tent for a few scenes before the plot moves on. Generic planets also tend to be one-note, reflecting some particular environment on Earth. You have your ice-worlds, desert worlds, lava worlds, jungle worlds, water worlds, city worlds, forest worlds, earthquake worlds, and so on.
And if you think about it, well - that's pretty dead on. But every now and then someone fills in the blanks so to speak and gives us a world that would as the author puts it:
  • a world that feels like it could happily go on existing on its own terms, with or without a protagonist or antagonist strolling around on its surface.
  1. Solaris: Stanislaw Lem’s conception of a world so utterly alien that it defies any genuine human comprehension still resonates.
  2. Dune: Frank Herbert created a complete ecosytem, deep geological history, and a complex native society to go with his sand covered planet.
  3. Annares: Ursula LeGuin’s novel The Dispossessed featured two worlds, a more-or-less straightforward analog for cold-war era Earth, and the far more interesting Annares, where settlers established an anarcho-syndicate-based society in a bid to be free from authoritarian government.
  4. Mote Prime: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, this is the homeworld of the Moties, a species that, due to cosmic happenstance, has been bottled up in its solar system ever since it evolved.
  5. LV-426: The dread planet that featured briefly in Alien, and was the location for 1986’s Aliens.
  6. Dagobah: From the Star Wars planet making machine Dagobah sticks out for its organic messiness and claustrophobic atmosphere.
  7. Lusitania: The setting of Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead.
  8. Red, Green and Blue Mars: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Beginning in the near future, with the founding of the first permanent outpost on the red planet, and continuing for two centuries as Mars is terraformed.
  9. P2: a world orbiting the nearby Barnard’s star, and it is settled by fantastically advanced exiles from the solar system in Wil McCarthy’s Lost in Transmission.
  10. Nasqueron: A gas giant, home of the maddeningly unconcerned Dwellers, and location of much of Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist.

Now if you were like me, you read down through the list and said "Oh Yeah!" because you remember the yarn and then the world. A few were instantly recognizable, a few were jogged by the article and then well a few just would not have made my cut. For me, some were movie blindness....so I never thought of the Alien world...which is certainly a good choice for the list...but then the same thing happened with Dagobah, I don't think it would have ever made my initial list. For me Dagobah is exactly what this article started with. A world that is merely a place for the characters to interact. Dune is an excellent choice because it worked well in both venues. I would have put Hyperion on the list though and ummm PERN?! Any others? Maybe we could start our own list!

<- more at Discover ->


Shaun A Saunders said...

I agree, where is Pern, and what about Asimov's Terminus???

Time for a new (or at least expanded) list!

Also, are there any alternate/future Earths that could be considered???

Beam Me Up said...

Yes, I call for a new list of our own. The BMU list Pern, Hyperion,Terminus Others? come on people!

Shaun A. Saunders said...

I'll add in Pyrrus, from Harry Harrison's Deathworld 1.

wolfkahn said...

How about Athshe from Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest,

The non-named/non-solid world from Niven's The Integral Trees.

Mesklin from Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity

The future Earth from Boulle's Planet of the Apes (Book and first two movies only)

Mars from Bradbury's Martian Chronicles (maybe Burrough's Barsoom)

Mongo - various old Flash Gordon works.

Vulcan from the Star Trek universe.

Arghh! There are far too many good ones out there.

Shaun said...

'The future Earth from Boulle's Planet of the Apes (Book and first two movies only)

Mars from Bradbury's Martian Chronicles (maybe Burrough's Barsoom)'

Agreed :-) Excellent examples.

We could also include a sheaf of alternate earths from Heinlien's 'Number of The Beast'.

Paul said...

Dave, going to have to call you on Vulcan. It is the very standard bearer of a planet that is a one trick pony. Its an amalgam of AZ and Death Valley and was used just to give Vulcans a place to what was it pomfar?

wolfkahn said...

You're probably right about Vulcan, though I was including the evocative visuals from Star Trek The Motion Picture, and background from the animated series (Yesteryear) and a couple books. (man, I've outed myself as a Trekkie there)

Still it has to beat Dagobah.

Paul said...

Dagobah? ya think so? even if we take all the movies that included it? you dont think of it as a complete set? But you know...what do we know of the flora and fauna the ecology in general. Ok, I concede - Dagobah is in deed a one trick planet, for the characters to trod upon...lol