Floating islands trope examples?
March 3, 2017 2:02 PM   Subscribe

You know those "islands floating in air/space" that are such a mainstay of prog-rock album covers and new-age/hippy artwork? I'd like to read/watch about stories set in this landscape.

James Cameron bent "science fiction" into fantasy in order to include them in Avatar, and Johnathan Swift of course may have started it all with Laputa, but that was just one island, not a landscape of floating islands. Are there any other examples of floating islands in other books, movies, etc.? Especially interested in works where the landscape is dealt with, explained, or explored, instead of just a background for the story. Thanks!
posted by Pastor of Muppets to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Not quite what you're looking for, but the only thing that came to mind for me was Larry Niven's Integral Trees, about communities who live on giant trees that float in the atmosphere of some gas giant or something. No idea if the plot is any good, but I remember being captivated by the scenery.
posted by col_pogo at 2:07 PM on March 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Then you must read Sun of Suns, book one of the Virga series and then read the rest of the series. 5 books!
posted by GuyZero at 2:08 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The first book in the Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Dragon Wing, takes place in a setting like that.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Castle in the Sky is an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. Just the one island but the movie does go into how it got up there.

One Piece is a long-running manga series. It had a story arc with a cloud land, and also one with a country on the back of a giant elephant.

In Marvel Comics, Asgard is a floating city. The Inhuman city of Atillan was also floating for a while.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:12 PM on March 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Martha Wells The Books of the Raksura series has several peoples who live or are said to have lived on floating islands. This comes up throughout the series but is mostly concentrated in the second book. In general, series has deep, unique, anthropologically-grounded worldbuilding and some breathtaking mythology -- highly recommended.

Elizabeth Haydon's linked fantasy series The Symphony of Ages (adult fantasy) and The Journals of Ven Polypheme (YA fantasy) have a floating island, if I recall correctly. It's been a while since I read them.

The city of Atlantis in Stargate Atlantis is a floating city.
posted by stellarc at 2:14 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Shattered World by Michael Reaves is a good example of this.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 2:16 PM on March 3, 2017

I feel like there's an explained floating island in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books....
posted by aniola at 2:22 PM on March 3, 2017

The Way Back, which is one of a collection of webcomics the artist runs on his site, has this sort of setting. It's unfinished, and the artist is prone to taking long breaks away from it, but it has beautiful artwork and I've enjoyed it a lot so far.
posted by Aleyn at 2:34 PM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's an Arthur C Clarke book called "Islands in the Sky" but that's just about space stations.
posted by w0mbat at 2:35 PM on March 3, 2017

Fairy Tail has a whole arc that takes place in a world full of floating islands (and flying cats). That part starts a good bit into the story though, but if you like silly/cute/funny action/adventure anime or manga, I'd say it's worth a watch or read.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:37 PM on March 3, 2017

Iain M. Banks' SF novel "Look to Windward," one of his books of The Culture, includes a side-plot character, a Culture xenobiologist, who is living on a behemothaur, which is enormous dirigible lifeform, essentially a living, floating island. A human-sized person cannot really have a conversation with a behemothaur, but the behemothaur has numerous servile creatures living onboard itself, variously symbiotic or slaved to its mind, which act as intermediaries.

The lot of them, in turn, live in an Airsphere, which is a star-sized bubble that orbits at the edge of the galaxy, and encloses a gas-filled biosphere, and seems to have its own weird life-cycle suggesting it, too, may be some kind of living thing. You'll see form the linked article that the Airsphere environment bears easy comparison to the aforementioned Integral Trees. I think you'll like what you find w/r/t the descriptions of the semi-known nature of the airspheres.

The story of the xenobiologist is a side-story, though, to a cloak-and-dagger plotline about a vengeful terrorist conspiring with the Culture's enemies because the Culture had started a war among his race based on a miscalculation of their attachment to the caste system the Culture sought to end.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

The great list of floating fictional islands...
My favorite: Firefly Episode 11, "Trash"
posted by fritillary at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Bioshock Infinite, the game, is set among floating islands that travel in close formation, and their history is explained substantially at the start of the game, but also as you progress. This sometimes results in some vertiginous action on screen.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2017

Cities in Flight by James Blish is about the discovery of practically-free antigravity, which, naturally, leads to putting domes over cities and flying them through the Galaxy.
posted by BrashTech at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Updraft by Fran Wilde takes place on living bone spurs high in the air, so it's not floating per se but seems to fit the spirit of the thing.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:31 PM on March 3, 2017

In Star Blazers there was a floating continent, a naturally occurring floating landmass within the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. The surface of the continent was covered in vegetation resembling jungle growth on Earth.

Enemies of Earth discovered the floating continent and built a base there. The Argo destroyed the floating continent using their wave motion gun.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:05 PM on March 3, 2017

Yes, yes, Martha Wells' books of the Raksura. Floating islands all over, and then flying boats powered by rocks taken out of the floating islands. Great stuff.
posted by suelac at 5:43 PM on March 3, 2017

I came here to specifically recommend Castle in the Sky by Miyazaki as well. Adventure fantasy. "Two orphans, one with a levitation stone, search for lost treasure and the key to their past in a legendary floating city."
posted by moiraine at 6:50 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cities in Flight by James Blish is about the discovery of practically-free antigravity, which, naturally, leads to putting domes over cities and flying them through the Galaxy.

This was a pretty bad series and did not age well. But the motivating factor for the urban centers leaving the united states and setting out for the stars, IIRC, was a McCarthy like demagogue persecuting the pro-science types. It has a certain appeal, these days, I admit.
posted by mark k at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2017

Speaking of Larry Niven, there's also floating cities on the Ringworld, mentioned moreso in the sequels. (Vampires live under them, in the eternal shadows.) Also, that grassy world Brennan made (that's it on the cover) of his Protector may qualify as a sky-island.
posted by Rash at 8:07 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

And how about Cloud City in "The Empire Strikes Back"?
posted by Rash at 8:34 PM on March 3, 2017

I never really got into the Animorphs series as a kid, but one of the standalone books really stuck with me: The Ellimist Chronicles. It's a surprisingly wide-ranging cosmic adventure story, but the first few chapters take place in a civilization of birdlike creatures that nest symbiotically in colossal crystals that float miles above the toxic surface of their homeworld.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:44 PM on March 3, 2017

The 1980s role-playing-game Skyrealms of Jorune obviously featured floating islands. Of interest to me now because the high-school kid who did the artwork was really talented and went on to be a professional Hollywood artist at places like Pixar and Disney.
posted by seasparrow at 8:23 AM on March 4, 2017

Patrick Weekes' Rogues of the Republic series has floating cities/islands/prisons with the first book (The Palace Job) focusing on an Oceans 11 style heist of one of them.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:30 AM on March 4, 2017

The floating city Tiphares figures prominently in the manga Battle Angel Alita.
posted by lhauser at 11:12 PM on March 4, 2017

Lots of great stuff!! Thank you all so much!
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 9:23 PM on March 5, 2017

Coming in late, but nobody has mentioned the classic children's novel The Land of Green Ginger, by Noel Langley, and it would be a terrible shame to miss out on it.

I strongly agree that Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura are superb.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:30 AM on March 18, 2017

I became interested in this game recently and thought I'd come back here and share. Worlds Adrift is an MMO in alpha testing all about floating islands and sky ships that sail between them. I believe the islands are all created by the players. It has captured my attention.
posted by seasparrow at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2017

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