The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

The greatest dream cities in science fiction and fantasy

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In scifi heist Inception, mind hackers build dreams where they con their marks into giving up valuable information. The most important mind hacker is the Architect, who creates dream cities. Where have we seen great scifi dream cities before?

Remember, the cities we see in Inception are basically virtual spaces created by the mind hackers, who network their brains with the brain of their mark. So the cities are something like virtual reality, but created within the shared dream of the hackers. So it's more dream than virtual reality. In this triviagasm, we're going to focus on dream cities instead of purely virtual cities like the ones in The Matrix - or just plain surreal cities like the one in the amazing flick Dark City.


So here are some of the best dream cities in science fiction.

City of Lost Children
Though this movie takes place in a surreal city where a mad scientist steals children's dreams, it also features many dream sequences about cities as well. Anybody who wanted Inception to be a weirder, more surreal movie should check out this crazy tale of dreams - and a man who steals those dreams.

Monsters, Inc.
Like City of Lost Children, this is a movie about stealing dreams from children. But in the case of Monsters, Inc., we discover that there's an entire monster city whose fuel is created by siphoning off energy from children's nightmares. And there's a huge industry devoted to producing those nightmares so they can be harvested. (Correction: The monsters are actually harvesting fear from kids while they are awake - though grownups think they are dreaming, of course.)

Dreams of Terror And Death: Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
This collection of stories from Lovecraft includes many entries in his "dream cycle," where his hero Randolph Carter visits a beautiful, glowing dream version of Providence. He also meets a number of super-intelligent cats, which is a great feature in any dream city.


[Image by Jason Thompson]

One of the most beautiful and striking dreams of a city in science fiction cinema is in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The main character, Lowry, dreams that he's a winged superhero whose quest is interrupted when enormous office buildings start erupting out of the bucolic landscape beneath him, eventually trapping him in a vast and overwhelming citiscape.

Wizard of Oz
The Emerald City is possibly the best-known city in all of fantasy. It's where the con artist who calls himself Oz has set up shop, ruling the incredible, industrial city from "behind the curtain."


Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente
Valente once described this novel as being about "a sexually-transmitted city." Palimpsest is a city you visit in dreams, but you can only get there by having sex with other people who have already visited. Each visitor returns from her trip with a tattoo on her body - a map of the part of the city her sexual partners can visit through her. The novel follows several interconnected characters who are trying to find each other in Palimpsest - and have to do it via a series of one-night stands which are achingly beautiful and horrific by turns.


In Alan Moore's comic book about a mystical superhero, we go with our heroine on a long, surreal quest through realms of dreams and fiction, as well as all kinds of other insane mystical places that only Moore could conjure.


Top image by Sergey Masuin.