Friday, August 10, 2012

Worlds That Never Were: Books of Fictional Places

I've always been fascinated by maps and books that detail places, especially fictional places. These are some of my favorites of those books. I've linked to them on Amazon, but find them wherever you can; I don't have any kind of deal with that bookseller.

Gorgeous concept art and straight-faced prose paint a convincing picture of that doomed island. Skull Island is densely populated with the descendants of Cretaceous-era dinosaurs, as well as a riot of birds, reptiles, insects, mammals, and even humans, who have evolved in convergent and divergent ways. Cyclopean ruins loom over parts of the island, and are being reclaimed by the fecund and dangerous wild. A wonderful setting for adventure, only a tiny bit was explored in the Peter Jackson film. A detailed map and a fold-out size comparison chart of Skull Island's denizens helps round out this very nifty book.

The conceit of this book is that somehow man has vanished from the world, and fifty million years hence a mysterious naturalist explores the ecosystem of a world that would have been at once familiar but also very alien to man. A study in how evolution works, this book is also an intriguing bit of speculative fiction.

Dougal Dixon, the author of After Man, posits another alternate Earth bereft of humans. The time is now, but a "now" 65 million years after the dinosaurs did not vanish, but instead continued to thrive and adapt. Many of the animals are hauntingly familiar as they fill niches filled by animals we know today, while others are bizarre yet logical adaptations to new environments. A great companion piece to After Man.

Mankind has spread to the stars and is colonizing planets in other star systems. Detailed overviews of eight planets are the bulk of the book, with benefits and drawbacks for potential colonists given, as well as meticulous maps. The application to be a colonist is a fun added touch.

Profusely, and at times, disturbingly, illustrated, this Transylvania seems to be rife with sorcerers, barbarian swordsmen and -women, and demons and undead aplenty. Zombie farmers, cursed monasteries, guard towers on Hell's borders...all are discussed in serious guidebook prose, sometimes with a dry wit.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

This volume of Moore and O'Neill's adult-themed comic provides a fascinating prose overview and travelogue of the entire world. There are some amusing, and occasionally subtle, references - this is a world on which King Kong, Conan the Barbarian, and the Dude from The Big Lebowski have trod (or will).

 Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino 

Kublai Khan demands to hear of the many cities Marco Polo has encountered in his travels, but this isn't the historical Khan and Polo. The result is an unfolding dreamscape of cities that do not and cannot exist, but are beautiful all the same.

A thick, massive book, in which one can get lost for hours in the entries, which range from the familiar places of modern literature to the (very) obscure realms of centuries-old texts.

Using the original source material and a fine-honed attention to detail, the late Fonstad created this atlas, which could become indispensable to the Tolkienophile.

 An Atlas of Fantasy by Jeremiah Benjamin Post 

A fun collection of fictional maps, often from some surprising sources. A good rainy-day book.

1 comment:

  1. What a great idea for a blog. I want to read all these, damn it! I've only read the LEG(s).

    I feel like there is one from my own collection that is missing and that I want to bring up here, and my brain itches as I try to pinpoint it... But I'm drawing a blank.