In the February 2021 newsletter I asked readers what unusual or interesting environments they found they really enjoyed within books they had read.

Here are the responses:

Ayesha: Due to my appreciation of Victoriana and generally old stuff/tech I can’t resist Steampunk (though some of it is tedious…) but for sure brilliance you can’t go past any of the worlds created by William Gibson (I can’t even pick a favourite series!)

Tom: Environment that engaged me — the original Earthsea trilogy, by Ursula K. Le Guin. This recent piece in the LRB expresses it better than I could have, and reminded me of how strong a grip those books had. Your question then brought this all back. From Colin Burrow in London Review of Books.

“Her best books are the first three Earthsea novels, which reached British audiences during the glory days of Puffin in the early 1970s. They had it all. An archipelago of islands in a world where there are dragons and wizards, sea voyages, dark worship of the powers of death. Writing for children pushed Le Guin slightly against her natural inclinations in three respects. It forced her to do plot. It also made her dampen the cultural relativism of her SF: Earthsea does have different peoples with different skin colours and different islands with their own cultures, but in a relatively low-key way. The main thing it did, though, was to enable her to draw on big Arthurian myths (dragons, kings-in-waiting, multiple Merlins), which sent her imagination into overdrive.”

Louise: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love this book and have read it several times. It took place in a small town, and that surprised me. It reminded me of home. I grew up in a small town. I can remember playing outside till dark, running barefoot in the grass, roaming around everywhere, and days were full.
We were never bored. We never locked the doors, and we were never afraid. But, while this book reminded me of home, it wasn’t MY home. What surprised me about it were all the things going on behind the scenes, things you never expected. First time I read it, I had to wonder if some of those things were going on in my town, and I didn’t know cause I was never told, or didn’t hear, or people didn’t talk about it. Course, I was fairly young the first time I read it and had never thought of such things. As I got older I came to realize that indeed such things happened and even worse ones. Just goes to show you never judge a book by its cover. 😉

Ginny: Books with unusual or interesting environments:

Well, first I’d have to say Dune, of course. But more recently I’d say, The Salt Line by Goddard, and a YA series named Dark Life by Kate Falls.

Katie: ) The Three Pines home of Inspector Gamache by Louise Penny
2) Haven’t seen you mention this one — Kelley Armstrong’s series about the town of Rockton beginning with City of the Lost (should be read in order) — the premise is unique as far as I know and ranks as one of my favorites. I think you would very much enjoy the series

City of the Lost
Darkness Absolute
This Fallen Prey
Watcher in the Woods
Along in the Wild

Mark: Practically any book by China Miéville would serve as an excellent answer to this month’s question; he’s one weird dude. But the most unusual is his novel “The City and the City,” in which one city is inhabited by two peoples; each of whom is trained from birth to see only certain aspects of the city, so that they interpenetrate without actually interacting (there’s even a shadowy police force that enforces this). The book is quite the tour de force.

Others that meet the requirement for an unusual environment would be Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” (travelogue on a ring-shaped area three million times as big as the Earth), Robert L. Forward’s “Dragon’s Egg” (set on a neutron star!), three in which the thoughts or dreams of a person affect the reality around them (“Ubik” and “Flow My Tear, The Policeman Said” by Philip K. Dick, and “The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin), and two in which god/heaven/hell are real, visible, and directly affect humans (“Eye in the Sky” again by Philip K. Dick, and “Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang; this last one is a novelette).

Sue: With no hesitation: Dune. One of the only books I have read more than once. I have never been able to get into the sequels even they they, too, are mostly written by Herbert.

And oldie but goody!!

Look forward to every newsletter from order of Books and use the website as a reference.

Kat: i like the books that take place in or near my town
the sue grafton series is close and there are a few, that i cant remember the titles right now, that take place right here. they werent great but i enjoyed reading about local places even if thats not what they really look like

Belinda: One of my favorite time periods (worlds) to read about is World War II. It both amazes and astonishes me what the human spirit is made of and how people can get through the absolute worst of times with the absolute worst people and find a way to survive!

Bev: To answer this months question, Robin Cook came to mind. If you like his medical thrillers, I love them, then picking up “Abduction” may come as a rude awakening. There are reader reviews for this book that really slam it, but I personally found it exciting enough to look past the fact that Cook departed from his usual formula. “Abduction” takes us to the bottom of an ocean where we discover a hidden civilization a’la Atlantis. Give it a try.

Phoenix: I have a couple of favorite settings for books: Anything set in medieval Britain, Narnia, and Botswana. I might add Victorian England to the list as well. Now, I have in the past really enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I noticed the last couple of books got a little “preachy.” Sadly, I couldn’t even finish his latest, How to Raise an Elephant. He had gotten so preachy in just the first chapter that I just took it back to the library, unread. That makes me sad because I’ve enjoyed the series up until now. I may have to donate these books to the library now. They’re just taking up space on my bookshelf. Books set in convents and monasteries always intrigue me. I think I’m more a “cozy” mystery person than harsh realism. I figure I get enough of the real world as it is, I don’t need to invite it into my bedroom.

The Clouters: I just finished reading Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson. The story takes place in a isolated fishing village in the fjords of northern Iceland, not far from the Arctic Circle, Siglufjordur, only accessible via a mountain tunnel, extreme darkness and snow in winter. Ragnar nailed the claustrophobia of the small village, you get sucked in, you feel it, you experience it, when a writer can take you along with the story, for me he has given me an experience I will remember for a long time.

Merelyn: In answer to locations liked in books, when I first read James Lee Burke novels, what amazed me was his ability to put the reader right there in the Louisiana bayous, with the heat, gators, and swampy scene!! His stories are right on Louisiana southern, and his characters come alive as the reader walks right with them. Great atmosphere.
Another well liked location, is a foreign country, but a small area, so reader gets to learn a bit about the locals.
Enjoying the newsletter, and finding new books and authors.

Beth: At age 65 I was introduced to the “lands beyond” in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. With each turn I was surprised, yet found that things were vaguely familiar! I know that it was written for a younger audience but I think the author was thinking of adults when he wrote it! Many of us have found that it is hard to return once you have jumped to the Island of Conclusions!

Marianne: Graeme: regarding your request for best books for readers, and also to fill in a spot in the Audiophile paragraph, I need to let older readers (60-75) know about the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache series. I cannot stop wishing I lived in Three Pines, the setting for most of her series. Though it’s very far from my first love, the ocean, it is a sweet little village centered around the green where the 3 Pines are standing. I have 1 or 2 of the entire series (16) left to read, and I scan your columns every time I receive the email. I want to be part of the village life. I want to learn to love the way Armand and Rene Marie love each other. I need to saunter to the boulangier each morning for baguettes and to the Cafe for a real cup of coffee. I love all the towns’ folk who love the Gamache’s. The mystery of each book is different, sometimes a little twisted and the thinking through takes many turns, but the 2 narrators who have read the series on audiobooks borrowed from my local library, are so…so…Gamache! Older readers like myself will love this series. Louise Penny is prolific and a little twisted too. I’m waiting for her next one.

Order of Books » Newsletter » Reader Mailbag: Unusual or Interesting Environments

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