1. The Vorrh in Brian Catling’s The Vorrh trilogy
The Vorrh is a giant forest in Africa that no human can survive more than three trips through. The locals believe its the original site of the Garden of Eden, and that Adam and the angels sent to guide him away from evil were forsaken and left to live in its twisted expanse. If you dare to enter, you’ll never come back out the same person – home to no-headed cyclops, all-powerful undead babies, and a whole lot of messed up stuff, the Vorrh is a forest with bite.
2. Area X in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy
A close cousin to the Vorrh, Area X is an environmental wasteland that chews up its visitors and spits them back out as shadows of their former selves, often without memories and without much time left to live. Lots of concepts that crop up in science fiction weird me out, but there’s no setting or certain passage of any fiction that’s unnerved me as much as the bit in Annihilation where an expedition comes across a tunnel in Area X that’s covered in writing made out of an indeterminate organism, a tunnel that the narrator can’t stop identifying as a tower.
3. Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Even though Margaret Atwood’s totalitarian misogynist regime is closely modelled off our own patriarchy, this landmark work of speculative fiction is a total horror story. Her dystopia sees all women’s rights stripped away with a quick banking database manoeuvre, and separated into castes depending on what “womanly” functions they can be used to perform, with symbolic uniforms to match. Shoutout also to The Handmaid’s Tale’s very excellent successor, Bitch Planet.
4. Velen in The Witcher
Velen isn’t so much scary as it is a steaming pile of trash. There are corpses hanging from the trees, villages have been obliterated by war, everybody seems a bit dodgy, also the witches who want to eat you… I loathe when duty calls and Geralt has to travel through that cesspit. That all said, if I was visiting Velen as a regular old human without Witcher powers, I’m pretty sure I’d be quaking in my boots. Shoutout here goes to Skrim’s Riften, a garbage place I have zero time for.
5. The future in Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451
A world where books are banned? Sorry, this one is too painful to talk about…
6. Mordor in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
The OG lava-filled hellhole that we’ve all known some form of since birth it seems, Mordor is the extremely evil home of the Eye of Sauron. If you don’t fall into Mount Doom or get slaughtered by the Uruk-hai, chances are you won’t survive the barren desert of Ephel Dúath. Depending on the age you visit in, fellow humans might even try to capture you. Best keep tight in Hobbiton.
7. The Rings of Halo in the Halo series
Looking back to my Halo-fuelled adolescence, I have no idea how I braved the Flood. These parasitic aliens that attack you in huge swarms and zombify your dead team members live on massive ringworlds that do an inconsistently successful job of containing the nasties. As well as playing host to the nightmarish Flood, the rings of Halo also act as a superweapon that, when activated, wipe out all sentient lifeforms in the entire galaxy as a last resort method of starving the Flood. Gross.