One of the most interesting and occasionally weird things about genre fiction is the ways in which authors handle travel within their chosen setting. It can be as easy and normal as traveling by foot, or as enormously grand as the many variants of spaceflight found in sci-fi.
The means of travel within a series can have a major impact on the story, or even be one of the focal points of the plot. Here are my picks for the most interesting travel methods in genre fiction.
Moving through Tel’aran’rhiod
Tel’aran’rhiod, the Unseen World, is the subject of a few major subplots in the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. A parallel dream-version of reality, it is far more flexible and malleable (and also dangerous) than the real world. It is normally accessed by people dreaming their way into it, with their physical bodies remaining asleep. Those who can enter Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh, however, can essentially teleport around it or move at high speed simply by imagining it. It’s definitely a high risk, high reward method of moving.
In the series Dune, by Frank Herbert, sandworms are the huge, snake-like creatures best known for being attracted to thumping noises, native to the planet Arrakis. They are hundreds of feet long, with giant toothy maws on one end, and resemble a particularly aggressive, scaly earthworm. In Dune, the Fremen people make use of wormriding to travel around their desert planet. This involves attracting a worm using a thumper device, hooking onto and lifting one of its scales to keep it on the surface, and then using even more hooks to guide it around.
Of all the ways someone could choose to navigate around a desert world, annoying the resident apex predator into giving you a ride has to be the most ridiculous.
I feel as if it would be remiss of me to write this article without mentioning the one and only wallcrawler himself, Spider-Man. Although he’s most well-known for running his mouth and hanging upside-down, he’s also often seen traversing cities by way of shooting webs at every available surface. It’s fast, convenient (for him at least), and well-suited for getting around an environment full of vertical planes.
The portals of Sigil
Now, I may be cheating a little bit here, but Planescape from Dungeons & Dragons has always been one of my favorite roleplaying settings, particularly the city of Sigil. Sigil is a vast metropolis set in the inside of a ring atop a mountain that is supposedly infinitely high, because this is D&D and neither the rules of physics nor basic common sense apply. Sigil can only be reached by way of hundreds of portals, all of which can be opened at random by just about anything – an item, a song, a gesture, or even a thought. The portals lead everywhere, to every plane of existence (and there are many), making Sigil a strange, magical melting pot of culture and fantastic sights – and a crossroads that can transport someone across all of creation.
The Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey, definitely has a lot going on simply because there are dragons in it, but it’s also got the draconic ability to go between – an instant teleport from one point in space to another, limited only by the dragon’s capacity to imagine where it wants to end up. If you’re thinking that’s somewhat overpowered, you’re not alone. But it gets better; in later books, it’s discovered that dragons can also teleport back in time, and this becomes a major plot element that McCaffrey somehow makes reasonable.
The Pern series: for when having giant, flying, fire-breathing lizards just isn’t extra enough.
Moving Through L-Space
No list of unusual travel methods would be complete without mentioning Discworld in some way. Although there are a few notable examples in the series I could mention (flaming backwards, for example), my personal favorite is, of course, L-Space.
Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass, as Terry Pratchett said. In Discworld, large collections of books warp reality and allow travel through time, space, and alternate dimensions. A brave librarian may venture into L-Space, if they know the secrets of how to travel through it safely, simply by walking down a particular bookshelf. It’s also possible for someone to become lost in a library and then fall into L-space, which doesn’t look any different from more shelves of books.
L-Space is also the reason why you should be cautious in small, pokey little book shops that seem bigger on the inside than on the outside.
So that’s my list. I’m sure there are more I’m missing. What are your notable standout travel methods from genre books?