This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time. I figured with life stressing me out to the point where I’m worried about getting burned out, I might as well get some of these thoughts about the speculative fiction genre out of my mind.
One of the aspects about speculative fiction which lure fans in and/or pique of love of the genre is the world-building. The setting in fantasy and science fiction are in imaginary worlds or in places in outer space. One of the first things that capture our attention are the description of these worlds. The words used to describe these places are so impactful that we can picture them in our minds as we read them.
Yet, what about the denizens of those places? Just because we (the audience/Earthlings) are not familiar with these worlds doesn’t mean that they do not have their own history. Those living there know about the history leading up to the present day.
The main series of DUNE is 6 books which takes places over the course of thousands of years. The world-building is based on the history of the “modern” humans based on our “current modernity” (or, our present) of humanity. In other words, how did the past (our present day) actions affect and influence the present (our future) human society? Now, include the other species, the political aspects, and the environment of each of the planets across the galaxies, and you have the “basic” aspects of the world of DUNE.
I am still reading this series, so I can only state so much about it. Here’s a link to Quinn’s Ideas. He does brilliant deep dives into world-building of speculative fiction universes.
Tamora Pierce Universe
This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the author’s novel, Alanna, The First Adventure, which was the beginning of the world of Tortall, the kingdom where Alanna, her comrades, her descendants, and her predecessors protected over the centuries. Each new entry introduces new characters, new conflicts, new history, and new parts of the world. There is even a series about one of the neighboring kingdoms where the audience learns more about the magic.
Tamora Pierce not only help develop YA/Teen (fantasy) literature with her abundance of books, but also took the time to build up the world of Tortall and beyond entry by entry. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, then I strongly recommend you do so immediately.
Robin Hobb Universe
Robin Hobb’s series has seen the majority of it follow one protagonist as he recounts his life as he “writes the history” of the kingdom he served. The other series follows two protagonists (on separate occasions) as they have their adventures before, during, and/or after meeting the protagonist of the main series. And, all of the books are connected to one another to where there is a reading order to them.
Obviously, this is a “must read” series for all fantasy fans; and, we can’t help but continue to praise Robin Hobb for her dedication to starting and ending this amazing series where the characters, the world, and the history are separate yet essential elements of the series.
Readers of graphic novels were excited when it was announced that the author’s 3 and 1/2 year hiatus was ending and this series would be continuing again. Some of the fans and the readers of this series used the hiatus as an opportunity not only to reread this series from the beginning (again), but also to encourage potential new fans into reading it. As of the day of this post, Volume 62 is available to read.
This epic space opera graphic novel series is a look back on the life of the narrator of the series, who is the baby born at the very beginning of it. The story follows the narrator’s family and those they encounter throughout the years throughout the galaxy as they live their lives on the run from those who would have them arrested (for several reasons). Each entry delves more into the universe the narrator and their family are traveling through, and how the ongoings of each location and/or world/planet make them unique to all of other ones from before and after the visit.
The Legend of Zelda
Non-gamers will be a bit confused by what they’re seeing, but I can assure you that your eyes are not deceiving you. “The Zelda Timeline” has been a “confirmed theory” by Nintendo. Without getting into too many spoilers and/or long explanations, I will explain “The Zelda Timeline” in “minimum” words.
Hyrule has its own history where over the millennia evil forces tried to destroy the world; and, a prophesied princess and a hero would work together to save the world from that evil. The Legend of Zelda is the video game series where the timeline of Hyrule’s history splits into “possibilities” based on the “outcome” of a major event. From that specific outcome is where the next set of future events within Hyrule’s history plays out. In other words, each video game entry adds onto the already lengthy history of the world that has a never-ending cycle of potential destruction by forces of evil.
Why did I include such an intricate history–where the timeline “splits”–in this list about narrative worlds and history? It is because, in my opinion, the history of The Legend of Zelda is a legend. In which, there are several variants and interpretations about the course of events based on the available history. Think about the number of stories and tales about gods, heroes, and kingdoms from our world history over the millennia! There could be different “breaks” in history where it is possible that another chain of events occurred due to an outcome from the previous era. Think about all of the theories about the extinction of the dinosaurs! We don’t know exactly what happened to cause it, but we have more than a few theories of what could have lead to that calamity.
Here is the latest video explaining “The Zelda Timeline” right before the release of the upcoming game in The Legend of Zelda series, Tears of the Kingdom, which Nintendo confirmed is a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild.
In conclusion, those are some of the many examples speculative fiction with expansive worlds and history. And yes, I know I omitted a few more “obvious” examples from this list; but, it’s the first list. I hope to compile another one in the near future. Who knows, maybe I’ll include one of your favorite worlds in the next one.
Which speculative fiction narratives worlds and/or histories are your favorite?