Character vs. imaginary nature
May 11, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples in fantastic and speculative fiction of characters struggling to survive in a beautiful but alien and dangerous natural environment? All media acceptable.

To be clear, I mean alien to the reader - it's fine (but not at all required) if the characters are completely familiar with the environment.

The two examples that spring immediately to my mind are Miyazaki's NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind and The Drowned World-era Ballard, but there's no special requirement that the setting be post-apocalyptic - and I'm not especially interested right now in a The Road type of trudging-through-dust-and-ashes-and-fighting-off-cannibals type of post-apocalypse.
posted by strangely stunted trees to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I mean, Avatar.
posted by eugenen at 10:30 AM on May 11, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:31 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Kind of dense reading but I slogged through it (unemployed and bored).

RAH has a couple - Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky
posted by tilde at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2012

The Riverworld series fits: the various factions spend a lot of time trying to make themselves safe (and then conquer). Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God also fit (and are fantastic).
posted by yerfatma at 10:38 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin fits that description pretty well.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:50 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding Russell's The Sparrow.
posted by thebrokedown at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hyperion by Dan Simmons.
posted by MustardTent at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2012

Harry Harrison's Deathworld novels.
posted by maurice at 11:09 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fantastic Planet.
posted by emjaybee at 11:42 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came to say the Harry Harrison's Deathworld books, but I see that's already been done, so I'll give you David Gerrold's The War with the Chtorr series, which involves Earth being transformed into a completely alien environment from the simplest organisms (alien viruses, bacteria, algae and fungi replace ours first) all the way to the top of the food chain by an extraterrestrial ecosystem.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:50 AM on May 11, 2012

I've never even watched it but Lost.
Also the granddaddy Robinson Crusoe.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:05 PM on May 11, 2012

The last chapter of Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, is technically post-apocalyptic, but set in futuristic Hawaii.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:07 PM on May 11, 2012

Alan Dean Foster, Sentenced to Prism.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:07 PM on May 11, 2012

Dune and Midworld leap to mind.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:07 PM on May 11, 2012

Oryx and Crake and its sort-of sequel The Year of the Flood are fascinating novels by Margaret Atwood.
posted by workerant at 12:23 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I immediately thought of David Gerrold's War Against Chtorr books.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:34 PM on May 11, 2012

Michael Swanwick has some wonderful stories (well, period, but) set in strange and hostile environments. From his best of collection, you have "A midwinter's tale" about an extended first contact on a harsh planet and "The Very Pulse of the Machine" about surviving a car crash on Io.

Jack Vance's Tschai (planet of adventure) series is great, great pulp SF about surviving a long journey on a hostile world.
posted by selfnoise at 12:37 PM on May 11, 2012

The Isis Trilogy by Monica Hughes might fit the bill. YA science fiction about settling an Earth-like but much harsher planet and the ways the settlers adapt and fail to adapt over several generations.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 12:58 PM on May 11, 2012

Jonathan Lethem's Girl in a Landscape is a really well-realized version of this. And a really lovely book.
posted by supercoollady at 1:05 PM on May 11, 2012

Vance's Orwellian almost-parable, The Blue World, is a perfectly polished and faceted gem of this variety.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books are among the most atmospheric, ambitious, fully realized, and convincing SF novels of their generation.
posted by jamjam at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ian McDonald:
Evolution's Shore (titled as Chaga outside of the US)
Desolation Road
Ares Express

Especially the first two. The first is set in Kenya where aliens have landed, but it's a biological force, not little green men. Fairly good treatment of Kenya with the Other being more the white people coming in because the aliens have decided to land where there are black people, instead of some global power's backyard.

The second is set in a magical realistic Mars. Much more Borges than Robinson. A little bit of time travel, a little bit of magic, a great deal of the beauty of a giant, red, dessert.
posted by Hactar at 2:19 PM on May 11, 2012

I see there've been two votes for David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr. Just so you know, that series, while excellent, is unfinished; and although the author swears he's still writing it, it's been nearly twenty years since the last volume came out. You have been warned.

I was going to suggest Deathworld, but apparently that was an obvious choice. So... how about Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, in which neither the reader nor the protagonists fully grasp just how alien the planet is until quite late on.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:23 PM on May 11, 2012

The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein doesn't start out this way, but the later books get into it.
posted by therewithal at 2:48 PM on May 11, 2012

The Winterstrike series by Liz Williams is set in a beautifully described futuristic Mars.
posted by spunweb at 3:46 PM on May 11, 2012

The Legacy of Heorot by Niven Pournell and Barnes followed up by Beowulf's Children tells the tale of humanities first settlement of the 4th planet of Tau Ceti a seeming paradise with one small problem an intelligent carnivore the size of a tiger but more like an alligator that moves faster than a cheetah. Nicknamed "Grendel's" after the monster in Beowulf. Good hard scifi with good characters and a biological mystery.
posted by pdxpogo at 5:13 PM on May 11, 2012

Sheri Tepper: Grass, Shadow's End, Sideshow, After Long Silence, The Companions
less clearly, but possible: Raising the Stones, A Plague of Angels, Singer from the Sea, The Visitor

Sarah Zettel: Kingdom of Cages, possibly Reclamation

All the Amy Thomsen I've read: The Color of Distance, Through Alien Eyes and Storyteller.
posted by Lexica at 9:31 PM on May 11, 2012

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin fits that description pretty well.

As does The Dispossessed.
posted by daisystomper at 9:33 PM on May 11, 2012

Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg. Fantastic journey across three incredible continents.
Titan by John Varley. Life inside a fantastic, living organism. Read the entire trilogy. My favorite fantasy/sci-fi trilogy of all time.
Ringworld by Larry Niven. The ringworld before Halo.
The Integral Trees by Larry Niven. Life inside a smoke ring. People live in a micro-gravity environment on enormous "flying" trees. Sounds fantastic but it's hard sci-fi.
Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward. Life on the surface of a neutron star. Main characters are not human.
The Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov. Journey inside the human body, in miniature. Familiar but alien at the same time.
posted by zanni at 4:59 AM on May 12, 2012

The sadly short-lived TV Series Earth 2.
posted by JDC8 at 10:14 PM on May 13, 2012

Just remembered Hellspark by Janet Kagan.
posted by Lexica at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2012

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