Friday, May 18, 2012

The Best and Worst Summer Vacation Spots in Sci Fi/Fantasy

by Sara N.

School's winding up, and work is slowing down, which means it's the time of year to pack your bag and blow town for a summer vacation. Where would you head if you could choose any place, real or fictional?

Genre fans know that there are scads of intriguing choices out there. After all, the settings in science fiction and fantasy are a powerful draw for readers. They can be whimsical or dangerous, restful or wild, recognizable or utterly alien. And many of them are vacation-worthy.

A word of warning: Every charming location has a dark side, with evil wizards, power-mad kings, and blood-thirsty vampires waiting to, well, murder you. Book a stay at any of these locations at your own risk.

Best Vacation Spots

Diagon Alley 

The Harry Potter-verse offers a number of magically enticing locations, and I was tempted to suggesting spending a summer term at Hogwarts, where there are charming magical touches at every turn. But let's face it: Summer school just isn't a vacation.

I'd like to buy an owl, Pat.

Hence, I recommend a shopping trip to the wizarding world's center of commerce. Check out the antiques at Borgin & Burkes, browse the bookshelves at Flourish & Blotts, stock up on a few Extendable Ears at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes (and pay your respects to Fred — sniff!), or scout out what's new in robes this season at Madam Malkin's. The village of Hogsmeade would also be a charming day trip. You simply must try the butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks.

The Water Gardens of Dorne 

The Oberoi Udai Vilas in India are as close as I could come to how I've pictured the Water Gardens.
OK, OK. The Game of Thrones' Westeros isn't the safest place to visit, what with the brutal and bloody civil war and the overall shoddy treatment of peasants and nobles alike. However, Dorne's Water Gardens are a peaceful oasis in the middle of the turmoil. The arid, desert-like Dorne is located in the southernmost tip of Westeros, which keeps it out of the way of the fighting. And the Water Gardens are a series of fountains and pools adjacent to the castle, featuring terraces, marble paving stones, lush vegetation and ocean breezes. You can splash around in the water or doze in the shade. I've always thought it sounded ideal for kicking back with your iPod and a book. However, if you see a dragon swooping overhead, get to safety immediately.

The Holodeck

Computer, please try not to strand me in here, OK?

Sure, if you vacation on the Holodeck, you're not actually leaving The Enterprise. But this virtual reality room can take you to whatever galaxy, planet, city and time period you desire, offering bored crew members the opportunity to take lavish and immersive vacations. An R-rated alternative would be to rent one of Quark's holosuites, you dirty little monkey. The only drawback is the possibility of getting trapped by a Holodeck malfunction, but how often does that happen? (Surprisingly often, actually.)

Vampire hot spots 

I'm partial to O-negative. You?
Adults looking for a walk on the wild side can hit a few of the hot vampire night spots around the country. You could start with Fangtasia, the Eric Northman-owned Shreveport, La., vampire bar. You'll enjoy your time there more if you're a willing blood donor.

Or you could hit the Laughing Corpse, the St. Louis-based vampire comedy club that appeared in the second Anita Blake novel (you know, in that innocent time before it all went horribly, horribly wrong). If you stop by the Bronze in Sunnydale, chances are good you'll bump into a couple of vampires ... but also packs of high school students. I'll leave it up to you to decide which group is scarier.

The truly brave could drip in at the Titty Twister, the Mexican dive featured in From Dusk Til Dawn. But that last option is probably best left to those with a death wish or a murderous streak; your chance of survival is pretty low.

Esme's Island

Here are more images of where they filmed the Isle Esme scenes. Warning: You'll have real estate envy.

Look, I know not many of us are overly fond of Twilight. But you can't deny that the Cullens' private island sounds pretty amazing: clear blue ocean, pristine white beaches, waterfalls, and utter privacy. (You'll just have to cope with the stereotypically superstitious indigenous help.) Do practice safe sex, though; you don't want to come home impregnated with a monster baby that will try to kill you from the inside.


The Ankh-Morpork coat of arms

This is another location for the adventure-seeking traveler. Even though it's dirty, dangerous and corrupt, it's a place where visitors can experience the grittiness of the biggest Discworld city firsthand. This metropolis has a certain old-world-meets-new-world charm, featuring pubs, inns, the Dysk theater and, of course, plenty of slums. Fair warning: On your visit, there's a fair-to-middling chance that you'll be murdered or turned into a toad.

The Night Circus 

I'll be the one in the red scarf.
Sure, the book by Erin Morgenstern had its weaknesses, but oh, did she create magic with this circus! The different performers and exhibits weave a spell that's hard to break, from Celia's illusions to the charm of the Wishing Tree to the contortionist's feats. I'd love to see the frozen beauty of the Ice Garden and the intricate dance of the giant clock at the entrance. Frankly, the description of the caramel popcorn alone is enough to make me want to pack up and follow the circus as it travels from continent to continent. It hurts my heart a little that this isn't a thing you can actually visit.


Miss you, Nine.

I have it on good authority that on this planet, dogs have no noses, which is fantastic.

The Shire

I want to go to there.

Vacationers looking for a slower place couldn't do any better than Middle-earth's Shire. Full of lush, green vegetation and friendly Hobbits, you'll find yourself surrounded by food, ale and merriment in a relaxing setting. Who doesn't love second breakfast, after all? The only downside is that the Hobbits are a short race, so you'll need to remember to duck when you enter a room.

Incidentally, you can visit the New Zealand filming locations of the Lord of the Rings movies, so this is one vacation you can actually take. Hobbits not included.


Are they using "good" sarcastically?

Picture the excesses of Las Vegas if it were allowed to flourish as its own sovereign nation/island off the coast of China, and you've got an idea of what Madripoor is like. This Marvel creation is similar to Singapore inasmuch as it's home to the very poor while also catering to the very rich. It's corrupt and lawless, making it the perfect vacation spot for hedonists and law-breakers (which is perhaps why Wolverine spends so much time there). This is a locale for adult vacationers only.


You've got to love a man who vacations with his beagle. 

This pleasure planet features beaches and tropical hideaways, along with steam rooms, night clubs, cliffs for climbing and, perhaps must notably, sexually accommodating natives. It's no surprise that it's so popular with many of the voyagers of the starship Enterprise. (Just don't pull a Trip and Reed and get swindled by comely alien thieves.)

Wherever Dean Winchester is

So. Pretty.

I ... I just want to spend a long weekend looking at him, OK?

Worst Vacation Spots


OK, visiting the Capitol would be pretty cool, with the outre clothes, hair and makeup of the citizenry and the lavish feasts they put on. But can you enjoy all of that opulence with a clear conscience when you know that the residents of the outer districts are starving and that your tourist dollars will go toward funding next year's Hunger Games arena? This just isn't the ideal getaway for the ethical traveler.


Come visit beautiful Dune! You can enjoy the beach without that pesky ocean getting in the way. There's nothing here but sun, sand, and murderous worm monsters. Be sure to pack a cooler; to say water is scarce in the deserts of Dune is an understatement. Hope you like spicy food!


Worst. Bellboy. Ever.
The opposite of Arrakis, it's all snow and ice and myriad opportunities to freeze to death. The native creatures aren't terribly friendly, and the bedding leaves a little to be desired.

The setting of any zombie book, movie or TV show
This is neither fun nor relaxing.
Maybe people looking for an active vacation with lots of exercise opportunities would relish the constant running, shooting and hiding — it sounds like the world's most intense triathlon. But heck, I won't even camp, so forget about facing down imminent death and scrounging for food and shelter on my vacation. Even societies that have controlled the zombie outbreak, such as in Mira Grant's Newsflesh series, occasionally spiral out of control. Frankly, you shouldn't have to buy Accidental Undead Death & Dismemberment insurance for your vacation.


Do people really need to be told not to go here?

The name alone should be enough of a deterrent, but in case it's not, be advised: Avoid planning a family trip here. Marvel supervillain Arcade sets up what look like amusement parks but are actually elaborately disguised deathtraps. In fact, for a fee, Arcade will construct a Murderworld specifically to exploit the weaknesses of a certain person. To be fair, he does build a small opportunity for survival into his deathtraps, which I guess makes him a more humane assassin, but that's not quite enough to move this onto the "do visit" list.

Near-future America in the Handmaid's Tale

That's terrible beachwear.

I ... I can't even joke about the stripping of rights from men and especially women that happens in this nightmarish totalitarian theocracy. Also, red isn't my color. (Huh. I guess I can joke about it.)

So where in the SF/F universe would you like to vacation this summer ... or where would you avoid like the zombie plague?

P.S. Apologies to my husband and brother, who served as the Marvel comics consultants on this. I would like to have included Savage Land, but its history was too extensive for my wee post to contain. Also, there are intelligent dinosaurs living there, and I wasn't even sure if that would make it a "do visit" or "don't visit" vacation spot. 
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