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Top Ten Tuesday – Christian Schoon

Our latest member of the family to produce their Top Ten Tuesday list is Christian Schoon, author of the forthcoming Zenn Scarlett and creator of some of the most richly-imagined exotic alien life-forms – you just wait until you read about them!

He has chosen to pick his Top Ten Books for World-building.

Every story needs a place to be. Stories that happen in the real world have a head start: even if the book requires some historical back-filling or exotic location-fleshing-out, we all know how our own world works (more or less). In general, writers of these sorts of stories can be fairly sure that people will understand what’s what as far as the reality of their setting. But many stories in genres like science fiction and fantasy take place in brand, spankin’ new worlds that have to be explained. Sometimes at length. Creating believable, consistent worlds for SF/F characters to inhabit and plots to plot about in can go a long way towards making a story worth reading. My list of world-building books includes a few non-fiction resource-type books that supply useful tools to have in your kit as either a writer or a reader, and a few fictional favorites where the reality the author constructs is just… really real. Of course, this is merely the tip of the bookberg; there are tons more. In addition to supplying handy dandy tips for the would-be world-carpenter, these books are also richly fascinating reads.

1) The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley (Ballentine)

This story of a gradually abandoned, 13th century Norse colony is a gorgeously realized, bleak and haunting triumph of historical fiction about what happens when the folks back home just kinda give up on you. Smiley’s detailing of life, and death, in the 1200s is a marvel. This kind of exhaustively researched attention to the fine points of a society’s day-to-day existence is what can truly pull a reader in and keep them spellbound chapter after chapter.

2) His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (Everyman’s Library)

Pullman’s multiple, elegant worlds are all brought vividly, credibly and (most impressive to me as a writer) seamlessly to life, whether he gives us a fairly complete overview of an environment, or conjures up a functioning culture with just a few masterful brush strokes. Lucky Lyra!

3) A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (EOS)

A wonderfully textured, richly detailed post-apocalyptic tale that sees the Earth descend into a new Dark Age, where the social organization of the monastery system once again becomes the beleaguered last refuge of human knowledge. A good example of piecing together a new world anchored to familiar touchstones from the old one.

4) Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Jared Diamond believes when it comes to civilization’s winners and losers, geography is destiny. Fortunately, he makes complicated “big picture” geo-historical data enjoyable to read about and pretty easy to understand. This is a great title for some basic thoughts about why some cultures rose to dominance on our planet, while others withered away or stagnated.

5) The Once and Future King by T.H. White (Ace)

While the world presented here echoes the medieval period in our own Earth’s history, I include it for the way that White presents and integrates the magic of Camelot to spin a totally convincing mythic landscape where a boy can become a fish or a bird and have you convinced that, in this place, this kinda stuff is just a (super) natural event. One of the most beautifully crafted fantasies of all time.

6) Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time by Michio Kaku (Doubleday)

A must-read for anyone who wants to back up their science-fictiony thinking or writing with science non-fictiony supporting details.

7) Intelligent Life in the Universe by I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan (Emerson Adams Pr Inc.)

The original, classic discussion of the biological recipe(s) for cooking up thinking beings beyond the Earth. A bit dated now, but still overflowing with vitamin-packed food for thought if you’re interested in whether or not human beings might have company in the universe.

8) The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Del Rey)

Anyone who’s visited Tolkien’s Middle Earth comes away feeling like they’ve been immersed in a place that, somehow, they knew about all their lives but just didn’t realize it until they stepped into Bilbo’s Shire. Totally convincing, from the tiniest Hobbity factoids to the epic sweep of Mordor.

9) Dune by Frank Herbert (Ace)

Another classic of genius SF world building, all underpinned by intensively thought-out planetary (and even cosmic) ecologies and the creatures that evolved to inhabit them. And sandworms just so obviously rock.

10) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Del Rey)

And finally, the one and only Douglas Adams. His spoofing-of-but-also-loving-tribute-to all things science fictional is simply one of the wonders of the space-time continuum which he so gleefully deconstructed. And while he never intended for us to believe his worlds were real, they absolutely were, weren’t they? Rest in peace, Slartibartfast….

Are any of you budding writers who have created your own fantasy or SF worlds? Any of these books sound like they’ll be useful to you? Give Christian some love in the comments!


Bruce Gargoyle

Yes! A Canticle for Liebowitz! I thought I was the only one who had read that book….certainly an engaging story and the ending…oh! the ending!

Ingrid Jonach

I thought I was going to get through the list without a familiar title, but I have read a few! That being said, it looks like my to-read list just got longer…

T L Costa

Christian Schoon, I adore you! Now I know that other people have read Guns, Germs and Steel and Physics of the Impossible! Cocktail parties have been tough when I try and talk about how cool those books are and people just sort of stare….
There are three books that I haven’t read yet and they are going on my Kindle in three, two, one…

Christian Schoon

Thanks for commenting! I know world-building is a little off-the-beaten-track for Amanda’s Tuesday Ten, but it’s a big enuf umbrella that I could work in a bunch of my fave books so I figured why the heck not?

Jim Gullo

Nice list, Mistah S. We all have to make some rules for the worlds we inhabit in our fiction, and then either play by those rules or invent some damned credible explanations for why we broke them. I’m still thinking about the elegant simplicity of The Hunger Games (post-apocalypse, fences around the sectors, ultimate control exercised by The Big Mean City) as a nice frame for the story.


Great list. I’m an old cat though and fondly remember “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain. It is a little simplistic by today’s lights but- big umbrella and all that.


Man this is killing me! I want to read them all! but, so little time…


If I could only read one – which would you suggest? or are they in order?

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