The best books with science fiction and fantasy world-building

Who am I?

I’ve been pulled to rich, deep, complex fiction all my life. And I started building my own world when I was nine, adding to The Kota Series over two decades. Even while getting an English Literature degree, I was bored by simple worlds, characters, and stories and always found myself more interested in unique books and fresh reads. Really, the weirder the world, the better! That’s what I’ve continued to look for as a reader, and I’ve been lucky to encounter new authors that a lot of people might not have heard about yet. I’ve found some real world-building gems, like these I’ve discussed. I hope to find many more!

I wrote...

The Kota: Book 1

By Sunshine Somerville,

Book cover of The Kota: Book 1

What is my book about?

Mankind is stricken. Brought to its knees by a devastating virus, the world is further crushed by the Dominion tyranny. Humanity struggles to survive this apocalyptic nightmare, and there’s only one hope – the ancient promise of an annihilated people.  

The Kota is a science fantasy epic that begins the story of the prophesied Kota Warriors as they fight to save mankind. No hero is perfect, and no journey goes as expected. For the Kota Warriors, this means discovering who they are as well as how they can possibly defeat their enemy. Jump into this dystopian story and enjoy the twists and turns along the way!

The books I picked & why

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Tribes of Decay: A Zombie Novel

By Michael W. Garza,

Book cover of Tribes of Decay: A Zombie Novel

Why this book?

I love everything this author does because his world-building is simple but perfect. The post-apocalyptic world-building in this story involves not only a description of mass desolation but also how that desolation has changed humanity. Of course, people are going to be affected by their environment – especially under post-apocalyptic circumstances – and too often I feel like characters in post-apocalyptic fiction are just the same as people today. 

Zombie worlds all have the same familiar feel, but I really liked the idea of how “tribes” of survivors had formed in cities and how these people had reverted to more primitive ways – if the world hadn’t functioned in decades, yeah, teens wouldn’t know about electricity. The world-building in this book covers everything from setting to characters to a strange new social structure that was really intriguing.


By James Derry,

Book cover of Idyll

Why this book?

This is one of the very few books that made me yelp out loud in surprise when the twist happened, and I will forever recommend it because of how unique it was. The feel is reflective of The Road with the main part of the story showing a pained journey through a dangerous landscape. It also feels post-apocalyptic as these survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by nature. The author wrote in a unique language that makes Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too. All this blends together for really great world-building. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a definite twist where the whole story flips into something different. You go from feeling like this is a Western to suddenly — Oh, yep, there’s the sci-fi!  

The Running Game

By L.E. Fitzpatrick,

Book cover of The Running Game

Why this book?

Some dystopian books show futures that aren’t relatable or believable at all. The whole story is a great mix of genres – not just dystopian but also sci-fi, thriller, and it reads like a crime novel with mobsters.  The reachers themselves are telepathic/telekinetic and add a unique dimension to a story that otherwise could fit in with a non-fantasy setting. The world-building in this book is so effective exactly because it feels real. I was sucked in and sympathetic toward the reachers because you can easily put many different peoples in their place today, and the political and social aspects of the story feel frighteningly possible.

The Crown of Stones: Magic-Price

By C.L. Schneider, Alan Dingman (illustrator),

Book cover of The Crown of Stones: Magic-Price

Why this book?

Wow, I love this book. I simply can’t think of another modern book that has impressed me this much with its world-building. If anyone likes original fantasy worlds, you definitely want to check out this story. I kept reading to find out more about the world just as much as I kept reading to find out what happened to the characters. The writing is beautiful, the characters and dialogue are fantastic, and the world-building is beyond impressive. It’s not overly fantastical to the point you can’t identify with it, but it’s complex and unique with a rich history woven into the different peoples and kingdoms. Think more Game of Thrones than Harry Potter – it’s dark, and not at all fluffy. 

Hell Divers

By Nicholas Sansbury Smith,

Book cover of Hell Divers

Why this book?

I was lucky enough to meet this author before he took off, and I have an ARC copy of this book. Back then it was supposed to only be a trilogy, but now he’s up to 8 books in the series. And I can imagine that’s because this world was so fun to write that he couldn’t stop building. If you want post-apocalyptic science fiction, this is certainly that. Unlike a lot from that genre, this setting leaves humanity no choice but to leave the planet’s surface altogether. That alone leads to some really unique world-building. And once you go back to the surface, things get really interesting. The planet itself is as creepy as the monsters now living there, and the story gets darker and more intense from there.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in worldbuilding, airships, and dystopia?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about worldbuilding, airships, and dystopia.

Worldbuilding Explore 58 books about worldbuilding
Airships Explore 11 books about airships
Dystopia Explore 221 books about dystopia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Burning: Prequel, After the Thaw, The Moon Hunters: A Thrilling Dystopian Adventure, and Wool if you like this list.