Worlds that stand out and stay with you!


Journeyed there and back again
I like the world of Earthsea a great deal for two reasons. One is how language and magic is intervowen and tied into the philosophy of the wizards, only using power when strictly necessary. Ogion the Silent is a great character for this reason, I think; a wizard who is silent is someone refusing to use his power, yet he is famous for "silencing" an earthquake, revealing the power hidden in his wisdom (kind of a Yoda character, I guess). The other reason is how the world building was always very subtle, and on a pretty small scale, but that only made it more effective than most others. "As long ago and as far away as Selidor" evokes so much, I feel, even without knowing anything else - this immediately feels genuine. Other such tokens sprinkled through the text, such as the tragedy of Erreth-Akbe, never explained in detail but simply mentioned where appropriate, also creates this effect for me.
Both of the things you mention there are huge deals for me. I really like worlds where magic and the supernatural feel holistic and wholly incorporated in the world and all those little details and tokens are key to making something feel alive. The details and tokens are one of my favourite things about Wheel of Time, I think he really nailed that, and SoIaF does it well too.

And yes, Earthsea has very impressive world building in retrospect.

The Potterverse

I'd say that for me, for HP, it's the way Rowling uses humor and ridiculous situations to discuss human nature. There are scenes and turns of phrase in HP that are highly amusing and even hilarious, but not just because they're silly, because they're backed up by characters that feel real and they really say something about people. For example, Fred and George's antics are made even more interesting and awesome by the way they affect people, the way others react to them, etc.

When I re-read these books I often find myself smiling or laughing at small little sentences here and there that I had previously overlooked or forgotten. So there's a depth to the world that's less like Tolkien's rigorous world-building and more to do with the humans that inhabit that world. If that makes any sense.
For me, possibly being pedantic, there's a line between Stories and Worlds here.

Do I return to the stories a lot because of the human element you describe? Hell yeah. But to the world? Like, am I interested in other people telling stories in the Potterverse? Nope.

I'm the same with a few other properties like that. Discworld - the greatest thing in fantasy (imo), but there's nothing so thrilling in the Discworld I want to read more about it. Characters, yeah, but nothing in the world really.

Where as I am interested in the Blackfyre Rebellion, and would read licensed accounts of the WoTverse post-Rand (well, maybe...).

But then, both the Potterverse and Discworld are incredibly popular worlds, and not just because they're linked to great stories. They've got lots of the little details that Tanniel talks about and lots of cool things for people to identify with. I might love really deep settings, but I think Detail and Identification is what sells things big.

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
As Iain Banks Culture was already mentioned, I'd like to also add the world (and history) of The Instrumentality of Mankind, as accounted for by Cordwainer Smith.

Very imaginative future history of mankind, as described in his main novel "Norstrilia" and the short stories, e.g. "The Rediscovery of Man".
Smith himself was also an incredible person.

The bard`s song

Will likely be killed by a Lannister soon
Westeros and Middle Earth are the prototypes of perfect world building. Incredible atmosphere perfectly done in the books and movies/series.

Talking about incredible atmosphere I have to mention the Setting of the Dark Souls Video games.
Especially the first one (but also 2+3 and Demons`Souls) has such amazing places interconnected with each other I could not stop thinking about for quite some time.
Who is interested should just Google "Anor Londo", "Blight Town", "Undead Burg" or "Painted World of Ariamis".