There are quite a few books I love that couldn’t even function without the world, alien or otherwise, they are built in: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, anything by Neil Gaiman. Yet the one that comes to my mind as my favorite (believe it or not) is Frank Herbert’s classic, Dune.
I will admit that it took me many attempts to read Dune. The beginning did not pull me in, and I kept putting it down. But there were a few people in my early life who implored me to read it, recognizing that I love reading, and I love SciFi and Fantasy, and that I especially love a well-crafted tale. Finally, I gave in and trudged through the opening bore, and the story that unfolded in the pages afterwards became one of my all-time favorites.
It is a story about politics, ecology, gender, and more, but the very basis for the story is the location, the desert planet Arrakis. Without the sands and “spice” or Arrakis, the story would not be possible. There would be no Bene Gesserit, no Spacing Guild, no sand worms, no Fremen, and certainly no Maud’Dib or Kwisatz Haderach. The setting is practically a character in itself, controlling the flow of the plot.
The most interesting thing about otherworldly settings is how they can teach us so much about our own world. Dune in particular shows a culture aware of how enmeshed they are with their planet and what a fine, complex balance exists.