• M.C.

Top Ten Sci-Fi/Fantasy Concepts


By the very nature of the genre, science fiction and fantasy stories have elements that blow the reader’s mind. Whether it is giant sand worms ridden for transportation or possessed classic cars carrying out their own vendetta, SFF authors have a knack for including elements that enhance the overall storyline.


Some elements are included as MacGuffins, i.e. the element that propels the plot, while others are simply details of the created universe. In each case, the right technological or mystical item adds to the overall story and elevates the enjoyment of the book to a higher level.


Here is my list of the top ten unique elements found in science fiction and fantasy stories. (For suspense, I decided to do a countdown.)


10. The Oasis from Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Though there have been several virtual reality settings, that the Oasis was so influenced by movies and video games from the 80s was both unique and fun. A planet of nothing but the creator’s home town replete with pizza parlors and Pac-Man machines? Brilliant. And, as a child of that decade, it hit close to home. What can I say?


9. The Rider-Dragon Mind Link from the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. There are actually a few elements in this four-book series that I really enjoyed, like the Eldunari – the globes that dragons can vomit that contains their souls and power. Pretty cool. But the mind link between rider and dragon allows conversation, coordination, and the sharing of each other’s senses. It lets Paolini develop the dragons into characters as rich as the humans.


8. The Triffids from Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Ever thought that giant sunflower was staring you down? Did it just walk from one side of the yard to the other? Are they taking over the planet? The sense that large greenery could conquer Earth is both absurd and delightfully funny.


7. Dragonscale from The Fireman by Joe Hill. For most people, when the bacteria that causes dragonscale patterns itself on their skin as intricate tattoos, a fate of spontaneous combustion in their near future is inevitable. But the eponymous fireman can activate his dragonscale at will, controlling the fire and extending his life. All in his attempt to keep some order as society goes up in flames.


6. The Gottreider Engine from All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Not just a perpetual motion/energy machine, but it creates a special radiation that leaves a trail as the Earth rotates, orbits the sun, and travels around the galaxy as part of our solar system. This dynamic trail can then be followed to a specific point back in time. One of the more plausible and unique explanations of how time travel could work. And a richly witty book.


5. The Rings of Power from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It seems that literature has been filled with rings or swords or scrolls that had magical powers sought after by both the forces of good and evil. It has—and part of that canon stems from these books. But what makes the rings unique is how they were given as gifts to the races of middle earth. But, surprise, the big baddie kept the one ring to rule them all for himself and establish dominion over the world. Talk about the long con.


4. Spirit Daemons from His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. When I talk to myself, I rarely expect a reply. But what if I could? Having a spirit daemon with which to interact and converse but is still basically me would be a welcome addition. An interesting device to explore the idea of what is a soul.


3. The Fae from the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. I have loved this element from the first time I read Black Sun Rising in the 90s. Clouds of fae creeping along the ground like an evening fog manifesting the fears into life for most but also bringing power to the few who can wield it. And with various flavors of fae—earth, tidal, solar, and dark—different creatures attain different abilities.


2. Cyberspace from Neuromancer by William Gibson. This was a close call, as this could easily be number one sci-fi element simply based on the impact this idea and terminology has had on modern society. Every computer term that starts with “cyber” can trace its roots to this book, which also presents a compelling and terrifying vision of artificial intelligence.


1. The Necromancer Bells in the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. But in my heart, there can be only one. Or seven. Also called the Abhorsen Bells, the seven hand-held bells in their bandolier that control the dead. How they are used in combination or separately to awaken, call, control, or banish the dead through the nine gates of hell and allow the Abhorsen to walk through the levels of hell is sublime.


From smallest to largest, they are: Ranna, the Sleeper; Mosrael, the Waker; Kibeth, the Walker; Dyrim, the Speaker; Belgaer, the Thinker; Saraneth, the Binder; and Astarel, the Weeper.


Thanks to @JoshWongArt for permission to use his image of the necromancer’s bells. If you want to see some cool stuff, check out joshwongart.com to see his complete design guide for everything in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom.


So, what did I miss? Please let me know in the comments.