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Many of us here on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange are building worlds for our own fictional stories, but sometimes the best way to create something is to learn about what has already been created. With that in mind, I propose we create a Worldbuilding Recommended Reading List that can give insight on or examples of good worldbuilding.

Answers to this post should include:

  • The name of a book or series of books
  • Author(s) name(s)
  • A brief explanation of how the book(s) relate to Worldbuilding.
  • A link to the book in question when available

Answers should not include:

  • Recommendations based solely on plot or theme (books should be recommended based on their ability to create and/or utilize well-built world)
  • Recommendation for content you are unfamiliar with. If you haven't read it, don't recommend it.

Standard formatting for answers:

  1. For a stand alone book

Book Name Hyperlinked (author)

Description...

  1. For a book series

Series Name (Author)

Description....

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  • $\begingroup$ Has anyone gone through Mark Rosenfelder's how-to books? If good, they'd be obvious choices here. $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Mar 31 '16 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @CAgrippa Feel free to add your own answer $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 31 '16 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ Why don't include blog posts or web articles? Sometimes they can be even more useful than books. $\endgroup$ – Eithne Mar 31 '16 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Or video games? Whenever someone asks about a world with magic and technology, I ask them if they've ever played Arcanum. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Apr 6 '16 at 22:27
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World Building Resources and Guides


Writing Guides

  1. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (Orson Scott Card)

This is an easily digestible, well written guide on how to approach story telling and world building and how they intersect. Definitely leans more toward the sci-fi side of things.

  1. On Writing (Stephen King)

Love him or hate him you have to admire his success. Clearly the guy knows something. This book is part memoir part guide. If you are looking for step by step instructions this is probably not the way to go.

Reference Materials

  1. The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference (various)

This is an excellent resources that covers everything from medieval social structures to magic, fantasy creatures/races, arms and armor and much more. Very useful if you are working in a medieval setting.

  1. 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide (various)

If you are trying to randomize...or maybe parameterize would be a better term, the creation of nations, cities, organizations etc this is a great book. If you have never, and have no plans to ever play DnD this book is still a great resource for world builders. The book provides a sort of step by step process for building your setting be it large or small.

  1. 5e Monster Manual (Various)

Again, even if you have no plans to ever play DnD this is a massive list of monsters be they humanoid or dragon, or...whatever the Tarrasque is will be helpful. Each creature in the book has assigned numeric abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence etc) as well as combat skills and or spells already defined.

  1. The Dictionary of Made-Up Languages: From Elvish to Klingon, The Anwa, Reella, Ealray, Yeht (Real) Origins of Invented Lexicons. (Stephen D. Rogers)

Takes you through how languages are structured and even how to create your own.

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The Mars Trilogy (Kim Stanley Robinson)

This is a good series about terraforming a dead world to something human habitable, along with the political, ethical, social, and scientific considerations that might need to be considered.

It looks at the terraforming issue from multiple angles, both for and against.

It has suggestions about useful technologies, many of which are applicable outside of terraforming.

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All of the ones I'm about to list are notable not just for the excellent writing but for the original and compelling worlds they build. World and stories where I've seen little else similar.

Anything by Brandon Sanderson :)

Literally anything, he's built so many incredible worlds.

Mistborn, Stormlight Archive, Warbreaker, The Rithmatist, Steelheart.

All of them are fantastically conceived worlds but all also very different.

Anything by Peter F. Hamilton :)

Again everything is very good, in this case though I'd highlight the Night's Dawn Trilogy and the Commonwealth Saga. Both sci-fi but different and unique from each other.

Ian M. Banks

Specifically the Culture books, although he's done some other good stuff as well (The Algebraist springs to mind). The Player of Games in particular is a stand-out book.

Peter V Brett

The Painted Man and the sequels, again a very vivid and originally conceived world (post apocalyptic fantasy in this case).

There are a bunch of other authors I could suggest, they aren't quite in the same league as the ones above but all good and all with some compelling concepts and worlds. Where I've listed a particular book or series they have more worldbuilding.

  • Trudi Canavan (The Age of the Five and Millennium's Rule)
  • Usrula K Le Guin (Earthsea - a bit dated now but created so many fantasy concepts)
  • Robin Hobb (both Realm of the Elderlings (lots of books) and Soldier Son have some really well conceived and original concepts)
  • Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon, Black Man)

There's more but that's enough for now :)

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    $\begingroup$ I'd add more info on why these are good reads. Hamiltons books for example have very thought through integration of complex politics and religion into very high-tech societies and the general understanding of the universe as well as interesting ways to make colonization of planets believable. For Banks I don't even know how to describe it anymore... $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Apr 4 '16 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @DoomedMind Yeah, that's a good idea. I'm short on time at the moment though so feel free to edit them in or post the details in your own answer :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Apr 4 '16 at 15:05
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Dan Simmons- Hyperion

This sci-fi novel follows the pilgrimage of seven very different individuals, each from a different place and time, but all whom are somehow connected to the ultimate fate of the galaxy. By allowing each character to tell their own story, Simmons allows the reader to explore his galaxy from many different angles, from the highest echelons of government trying to secure a better future for humankind, to a humble parent who doesn't care about much more than caring for his daughter for another day.

For this reason, this book and its sequel(s) provide a great example for an incredibly detailed science fiction world. Things of note are how Simmons handles combat, communication, and transportation; all of these are difficult obstacles to overcome in science fiction, but in Hyperion these factors are addressed and used to make the story more interesting. Also note the diversity of the galaxy's people; this is a galaxy that feels lived-in because you can see examples of all the sorts of people you'd expect to be living there.

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The Conquerors' Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Conquerors' Pride

Conquerors' Heritage

Conquerors' Legacy

An interesting study on perspective, and how it can change the shape of worlds and events.

A human/alien war is started with an unprovoked attack, and atrocities occur.
Then the entire story is retold from the alien perspective, and everything changes.

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Brandon Mull

Beyinders - Fabelehavem - Five Kingdoms

(I linked to a bio page because it has all of them listed in there.)

I really like Brandon Mull's books, and I think he's a pretty good author. I'd place the reading level at about a middle school one, but I find him very enjoyable. In Beyonders, he constructs an entirely new world with new races, plants, and pretty much everything. In Fablehaven, it is discovers that there is a magical world beyond what most humans see. And in Five kingdoms, another new world is constructed, which can be changed, and which is Ted in the Beyonders in a remarkably clever way.

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Since Banks and Hamilton have already been mentioned, I'd like to add Neal Asher, whose books all fall into the sci-fi genre, all of which are worth every cent. Since this is about interesting topics related to world building, I'll shortly highlight why I think the relevant books are great lecture in this context. I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible.

The Owner Trilogy is great reading about the mind-changing effect directly incorporating direct computer-brain interfaces could have on human psychology as well as not-too-far future battles could look like,

including space combat using warp drives.

Polity Novels and Agent Cormac Series of Novels on incorporating different technology levels on different planets, human-AI-Alien interactions and implications of societies with the ability to infinitely increase life span and resurrection.

These also have a relatively scientific approach on far-future space battles.

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The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

This book is the first in a series by a Chinese author and translated into English.

It has some really interesting world building with alien civilizations and topics like virtual reality simulations, how to turn a single photon into a super computer, evolution and surviving on a planet with three suns, how to drive physicists insane, creative uses for super strong nano material, and weird doomsday cults.

Looking forward to the other books.

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