The Most Fantastical Cities On Earth, As Chosen By Ursula K. Le Guin And Michael Moorcock

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Their books take you to strange cities from other planets, alternate histories and mythical realms. But what real-life cities inspire Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Nalo Hopkinson and China Miéville? The SharedWorlds project found out, with fascinating results.

The SharedWorlds project sends teens on a two-week camp focusing on science fiction and fantasy, at Wofford College in South Carolina. Assistant director and instructor (and io9 contributor) Jeff VanderMeer curated the discussion, asking the authors, "What's your pick for the top real-life fantasy or science fiction city?"


Those four authors listed above, plus Elizabeth Hand, weighed in, and the evocative descriptions will make you want to dust off your passport and go traveling. The five chosen cities couldn't be more different from each other — some (like London) are shiny and high-tech, others (like Venice) are ancient and crabby.

In the process, you learn a lot about what each author considers fascinating about cities. Le Guin and Moorcock both seem to find the weight of history, settling onto a city or driving it into the ground, compelling and fecund with storytelling possibilities. Miéville seems to find London's lack of planning, its crazed ad-hoc development, exciting. Nalo Hopkinson finds Kingstown's mix of high and low technology, cobbled together, to be futuristic in a William Gibson-esque way. And then there's Hand's forceful argument that Reykyavik is like an outpost on an alien world.


Most fascinating of all? No cities in the United States — and none in Asia, either. I would have expected somebody to reach for Shanghai or Mumbai, which are being touted as the most "futuristic" cities by many observers. My personal pick? Hong Kong. I lived there for many years, and its crazily shifting landscape (buildings constantly being torn down, put up, torn down again, and tons of bizarre business schemes blossoming all over) felt like a future megacity at times.

The full list, with each author's comments, is well worth checking out. [Shared Worlds]