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Authors pick this world's most sci-fi cities

June 17, 2009 |  8:25 am

How is it possible that when Ursula K. LeGuin, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock and other writers were asked what real-life city -- on this world -- would be their choice for top science fiction or fantasy city, nobody said Los Angeles? Shouldn't our hodgepodge of cultures and languages, our massive size, funneling freeways, desert/mountain/seascape, sprawling ports and battle for clean air count for something? Did "Blade Runner" not make an impression?

Ah, not enough of one. Maybe they just haven't had time to visit.

Novelist Elizabeth Hand has a marvelous answer: She picks Reykjavík, Iceland.

It's more like an off-world colony than any place on Earth. Architecture that consists largely of corrugated metal and concrete (think Quonset huts), a dauntingly inhospitable landscape -- lava flows, cliffs, glaciers, hot springs, immense waterfalls. Very few trees -- the vegetation in places consists largely of lichen or moss, with grass in the central areas and some stunted birch or conifers. Only one indigenous mammal, the arctic fox, though a handful of others have been introduced; overall, quite a small biomass though tons of birds. Fewer insects than anywhere else, excepting maybe the Antarctic. Combine that with a vibrant (well, maybe not so vibrant since the country went bankrupt), highly educated populace (highest literacy rates on the planet) and a huge proportion of cutting edge artists/musicians/writers, and you have a place that resembles Samuel R. Delany's Triton (Trouble on Triton) in real life.

The question was asked by the folks behind Shared Worlds, a two-week summer program in science fiction and fantasy for teens held at Wofford College in South Carolina.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Reykjavík from the air. Credit: will_hybrid via Flickr