It’s been a while since we discussed any Top 5 Sci Fi Books on Signals from the Edge, so I figured it’s high-time we do.
I wanted to take a look at some of the weirdest landscapes throughout science fiction. These include neutron stars, landscape structures dictated by vocal ques, and sentient slime beings in deep towers.
Here are the top five sci fi books with weird landscapes!
Know of a weirder book? Leave a comment below to tell us about it!
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley
Aliya Whitelely has a track record of making weird, uncomfortable fiction. Her novella The Beauty was my first introduction to her work, but Skyward Inn was certainly more unsettling.
In this novel, we have two different weird landscapes that are connected to one another. We have the Earth as we know it (well, kind of), and we have the planet Qita, which has been conquered by Earth.
Both of these landscapes are connected, to the point where what happens on Qita, happens on Earth. At one point in the novel, Earth’s land starts to turn to mud, and then slime, and then a flood sweeps all of the inhabitants up into a central location—the Skyward Inn. But not only is the land itself turning to sludge, so are the people.
Like we said, everything is connected, the planets, the people, the land. Skyward Inn is certainly a slow-burner, but it’s one of the most disturbing sci fi books I’ve read.
The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss
As far as weird landscapes go, Brian Aldiss certainly hit the nail on the head with his Helliconia Trilogy. Published in between 1982 and 1985, Helliconia Spring, Summer, and Winter all take place on the planet of Helliconia, an Earth-like planet in the Batalix-Freyr system.
The series doesn’t really follow a certain main character because the timeline spans across thousands of years. Instead, the books focus on the evolution of civilization on Helliconia, a planet that’s similar to Earth enough to support life, but different enough to make it incredibly difficult.
For example, seasons on Helliconia last for hundreds of years, with winters being equivalent to Earth’s Ice Age, and summers being scorching hot. Accompanying the seasonal differences are some new diseases, such as bone fever and fat death, both of which are viral eating disorders.
All-in-all, the Helliconia Trilogy isn’t nearly as weird as Skyward Inn, but it certainly gives a lot more backstory and scientific information about life on this non-Earth planet to make it bizarre.
Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward
Dragon’s Egg is one of those old sci fi novels that stands out because of its weird premise. Published in 1980 by Ballantine Books, Dragon’s Egg focuses on the development of the Cheela society, a group of incredibly tiny people that live on the surface of a neutron star.
If that’s not a weird landscape, I don’t know what is! The whole environment of the novel is other-worldly. The Cheela inhabit the neutron star, as mentioned, and when humans eventually show up to explore their home, the rapidly out-develop the humans in terms of technology.
Time on the Dragon’s Egg, as the neutron star is called, moves much more quickly for the Cheela, where 30 human seconds is one Cheela year.
This book is a pretty fun read if you can get over the dense, scientific worldbuilding.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
There are a few things that make the landscape of Amatka weird. First, it’s just eerie. Lakes freeze and thaw without the interaction of weather, and most of the population live on underground mushroom farms.
But what really makes the landscape of this novel weird are the rules around it. Everything in the colony of Amatka must be named vocally, from farm machinery to buildings in town, else they become “gloop”.
And stuff really starts to kick off when more and more things start turning to sludge, and the conspiracies that government has been indoctrinating their people with poke through the surface.
Amatka was originally published in Sweden in 2012, and was translated to English in 2017. It stands as one of the most politically-charged and weird sci fi pieces out there to date.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Let’s be honest, no list of weird science fiction worlds would be complete without something by Jeff VanderMeer. He’s often regarded as one of the most prolific writers in the New Weird movement, where his fiction continuously crosses back and forth over the horror, science fiction, and fantasy borders.
I recently read Annihilation for the first time, the first book in the South Reach Trilogy, and inspiration for the 2018 film with Natalie Portman.
The landscape of Area X in the novel is one of the weirdest places that I’ve encountered in my reading of science fiction. The contrast between the Lighthouse and the Tower, diametrically opposed pinnacles, set an unsettling vibe over the whole book. Not to mention that dolphins with human eyes, moss-covered human statues, sentient slimes, and creatures molting human skin.
Annihilation is as weird as it is profound, and it’s one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read in a while.