Dreaming Up Magic Lands: Travelling Through Science Fiction

Dreaming Up Magic Lands: Travelling Through Science Fiction
The surreal Jordanian desert landscape, parallels of which can be found in speculative literature Photo Credit: Shutterstock

For those kept from witnessing the grand landscapes of the world this year, we have a thrilling fill-in

Prannay Pathak
September 21 , 2020
36 Min Read

A lot’s been happening lately and, for a change, we aren’t talking about which way the pandemic is headed. A couple of developments that, in some odd, extraterrestrial way, fit into the same cast, have recently taken place.

First, scientists found traces of phosphine in Venus’ clouds and no matter how much we are told to hold our horses on celebrating life on that planet already, one does feel compelled to imagine what it could possibly look like. Like the dystopic otherworlds of Love, Death and Robots? Like the zany multiverses of Rick & Morty swarming with multi-limbed creatures and foul-mouthed fiends?


A couple of days ago, NASA reported the beginning of a new solar cycle for the next 11 years (news about the implications on daily life are still awaited), we are tempted to reach for our bookshelf and dream away the fantastic lands and universes we read about. Here’s a fix for you, too, and it’s a motley mix that we personally vouch for!

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Painting by Chris White for a strategy board game of DUNE (1979), set in Frank Herbert's Dune universe, published by Avalon Hill in 1979. The game was designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka. #alexjaybrady#alexjaybradyart#dune2020#dunefrankherbert#digitalart#awesome#desert#art#artist#draw#digitaldrawing#sun#light#colorful#sky#water#clouds#shaihulud#amazing#beautiful#nature#design#artwork#style#drawing#sunset#scifi#scifiart#frankherbert#dune

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Dune – Frank Herbert
The movie adaptation of this masterful work of science fiction has worked up quite a buzz in the past one year or so. Herbert spent half of a decade creating the Arrakis, the complex, dystopian world of his anti-robot book—giant sandworms, wind tunnels, climate belts—and was inspired by the evocative desert landscape of Oregon. Based on the theory that the topography of a planet is decided by the substances most commonly occurring there, and like water on Earth, the spice mélange decides Arrakis’ trading power in interstellar relations.

Read: Iceland: The Unique Landscapes of Eylenda

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#Repost @michaelkerbow ・・・ "Their Refinement of the Decline", oil on canvas, a #throwbackthursday from 2011. Those of you familiar with art history may recognize my composition as being inspired by Pieter Bruegel's 16th C. painting "The Tower of Babel". My painting however depicts a massive refinery-like structure rising above a vast city. The purpose of this "machine" is to clean all the pollution we have put into the atmosphere. Unfortunately when this contraption is turned on, it leaks oil and belches smoke and creates more of a mess than it was trying to fix. It's a metaphor of how we often do something that creates a problem in the world. We then come up with a plan to fix this problem, however the solution often creates an even bigger problem. Rather than make a wise decision, we often go with the quick fix. . . . #climatechangeart #fossilfuel #dystopia #geoengineering #dystopianlandscape #causeandeffect #michaelkerbow #sfartist #towerofbabel #pieterbruegel

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
What could be better than a book that is travel guide to the vastness beyond Planet Earth? In his breakthrough and wildly popular book, Adams creates remarkably technological worlds that prefigure interpretations of life and technology beyond Earth in modern forms of popular media. So, you have telepathic fish that can translate every language, drink dispensers that first analyse people’s brain, taste buds and metabolism but issue only a sad cup of tea always, and a restaurant at the end of the universe!

Read: Around the World with Agatha Christie's Mysteries

Utilize the downtime during the pandemic to escape to fascinating landscapes such as these

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s much-attacked (for its iconoclastic subject matter) fantasy/sci-fi book series shifts from one world to another, and the multiverse comprises a number of iconic locations, including one modelled after Oxford, modern interpretations of real-life places such as the Mediterranean and the Finnish Lapland, and diverse topographies. So what if your travel plans got stalled this year? Try stepping into the dreams of Pullman.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
The iconic Bradbury’s visions of dystopian futures have no parallels, and in this lesser-known collection of short stories, he pursues difficult themes such as colonialism, racism and general isolation. Bradbury’s compelling rendering of the Martian landscape—the planet’s unique geographical features and peculiar phenomena (how’s fruits borne by crystal walls?)—makes it very hard to put the book down. Such a pity we can’t travel to Mars and loll by the side of the fossil sea, sipping sunflower wine.

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The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction – Various
With the pandemic forcing us to explore more familiar pastures for a while, why not jazz things up with a heady South Asian cocktail of science fiction and fantasy? This anthology that came out only last year deals with 28 short stories—all of them satirical and even bordering on the weird—in realistic settings. In one story, the sea goes missing from the shores of Karachi; another has a corrupt police officer travel to the Moon for a case. Several other stories take up the metropolises that we live and breathe in, and coat them in stirring layers of dystopia. 

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| Art by Jean Giraud Moebius 👨🏻‍ðŸÂÂÂŽ¨ðŸÂÂÂŽ¨ #moebiusmonday • âÂÂŒ➡ï¸Â Follow @retro_scifiarts 🛸 • • • [Apparel can be found at] •â–«ï¸Â â–«ï¸Â(Link in Bio) • • • #scifi #vintagescifi #scifiart #scifiworld #fantasyart #fantasyworld #scifiartwork #sciencefiction #sciencefictionart #classicart #scififantasy #fantasyfiction #moebius #retroscifi #classicscifi #jeangiraud #scifination #retro_scifiarts

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A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Go back to some good old children’s fiction for an ample dose of foreign lands. A Wrinkle in Time sees a teenager travelling to the planets of Uriel, Orien and Camazotz to find her missing scientist dad. The beauteous great outdoors of Uriel —lush meadows, colourful flowers, monolithic rocks reaching into clouds—are sure to make you feel the pain of no travel. Orien’s landscape—grey and bleak—is a departure from its predecessor, and Comazotz is more like a dystopian doppelganger for Earth.

Read: Exploring the World, One Page at a Time

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$6.00 A Washington Square Press edition with some wear but still in good shape. Spine is great, text is clean. Binding is tight. #bookstagram #booksforsale #bookstagrammer #usedbook #usedbooks #usedbookstore #cheapbooksph #cheapbooks #books #gulliverstravels #bookshop #englishliterature #independentbookstore #independentbookshop #bookcovers #britishliterature #pulpcover #booklover #washingtonsquarepress #bookshopsoftheworld #books #booksellersofinstagram #bookseller #bookstagramfeature #paperback #bookstagramfeatures #usedbook #usedbooks #usedbookstore #jonathanswift #paperbacks #book

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Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
This well-known speculative satire lampoons classical travel narratives, sending the eponymous surgeon on an epic adventure to quite a few wacky lands. While everyone is familiar with the little citizens of Lilliput and the huge ones of Brobdingnag, Gulliver actually travels to two more lands—Laputa, the flying island, and the country of the Houyhnhnms, enlightened horse-like creatures. Gulliver also encounters other incredible lands such as Glubbdubdrib, the home of magicians that converse with the dead, and Luggnagg, peopled by a decaying race of humans.

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