Survey: Western Authors working in Non-Western Settings?

It occurs to me a list of Western writers setting novels in non-Western settings might be useful, for several reasons. Not sure anything like that is available online, so I wondered if some of our readers might make suggestions. Please use the comments below! It would also be interesting to note if the main protagonists are outsiders or from within the depicted culture, or any other data points you can think of. It would also be interesting to note dates of publication and see how it fits in a historical context – most of these titles are fairly recent? Not read most of the books on this list, apart from the McHugh, the Ryman and the Williams, all of which I enjoyed.

I’ll kick it off with the few I can think of off-hand:

  • River of Gods, Ian McDonald (India)
  • Brasyl, Ian McDonald (Brazil)
  • Chaga and Kirinya, Ian McDonald (Kenya)
  • China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh (China)
  • The Wind-Up Girl,Paolo Bacigalupi (Thailand)
  • Bengal Station, Eric Brown (India/Thailand)
  • Air, Geoff Ryman (Kazakhstan)
  • Nine Layers of Sky, Liz Williams (Kazakhstan)
  • Kirinyaga, Mike Resnick (Kenya)


  • Kalimantan, Lucius Shepard (Borneo – Indonesia)

What writers/locations are missing? Comments below would be appreciated, and I’ll post an updated list once we get enough material.


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28 thoughts on “Survey: Western Authors working in Non-Western Settings?

  1. “Bridge of Birds” by Barry Hughart, published in 1984 and winner of the World Fantasy Award 1985. Also first in the series of the adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox and written from the point of view of the young, strong, and utterly charming Number Ten Ox, and set in Ancient China.

    There was supposed to be more than 3 books in the series but I know Hughart felt very hard done by by Transworld, his publisher who, it seems, didn’t even inform him that he’d won the 1985 award.

    The first, especially, is a brilliant book and deserves a much wider showing, imo, than it currently does.

  2. Three Australian fantasy authors released in the past decade:

    Kylie Chan – Dark Heavens and Journey to Wudang trilogies (China)
    Lian Hearn – Tales of the Otori (medieval Japan)
    Alison Goodman (pseudo Asian world)

    1. The characters are definitely meant to reflect Polynesian and I believe Native American peoples and cultures, but the books themselves are a fictional setting.

  3. How about ‘Ascent’ by Jed Mercurio? It’s a speculative history of the Russian moon mission. Then there’s Daniel Fox who has a series of novels set in China. And Roger Zelazny’s ‘Lord of Light’ which derives from Hindu myth but is set on an alien world in a completely different time. Robert Silverberg has written a bunch of novels set in alternative timelines: e.g. the Ottomans reign supreme, or Ancient Rome continues to the present day, etc. And there’s the excellent Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Years of Rice and Salt’ that ranges over south India, China, Central Asia, the Americas…

  4. When you say “Western”, do you mean, “of European descent”?

    Because Cindy Pon, authour of Silver Phoenix, a fantasy set in China, is an Asian-American, so she doesn’t exactly count as “Eastern” (yay diaspora!), but I highly doubt that’s what we think about when we write the word “Western”.

    The only two I can think of right now are not spec fic, unfortunately.

  5. Michael Crichton – Congo
    Adventure novel with slight science-fiction elements, set in Africa.

    Wolfgang Jeschke – Midas
    German science-fiction novel, has some non-western chapters.

  6. Orson Scott Card – Tales of Alvin Maker
    Historical fantasy, with Native Americans, I think we can’t consider them “western”.

  7. George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen Books (unnamed North-African? Arab country)

    David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo Cycle (China)

    Brian Aldiss’s SOMEWHERE EAST OF LIFE (Turkmenistan)

    William Gibson’s IDORU (Japan)

    Jack Womack’s LET’S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIND US (Russia)

    Greg Egan’s TERANESIA (Indonesia)

  8. Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk series (North Africa)
    Conan Doyle’s Lost World (Central America, I think)
    Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise (Sri Lanka)
    Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle series (ranged all over the planet)
    Brian Aldiss’s The Malacia Tapestry (Dalmatia)
    John Wyndham’s The Secret People (Sahara desert)
    H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series (Africa)
    Poul Anderson’s Maurai series (Polynesia and elsewhere)

  9. There are innumerable examples in the Alternative History sub-genre, i.e. see the Arabesk trilogy by Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

    Another example from the “more classical” SF is The Chronoliths, by Robert Charles Wilson, set in Thailand

    Somewhat related:
    Hunter’s Run, by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham, mexican-dominated colony on another planet
    Thousand Cultures series (A Million Open Doors, Earth Made of Glass, The Merchants of Souls, The Armies of Memory) by John Barnes where the individual cultures are based/build after various cultures, i.e. Thamil, French, etc. and some of the story takes place there.

  10. A number of my books have African settings or are African analogs:

    PARADISE – Kenya
    PURGATORY – Zimbabwe
    INFERNO – Uganda
    KILIMANJARO – Kenya & Tanzania
    SHAKA II – South Africa
    IVORY – Kenya & Tanzania

    — Mike Resnick

  11. Alma Alexander’s ‘The Secrets of Jin-Shei’/’Embers of Heaven’ are set in an alternate China. (She was born in former Yugoslavia and lived in several African countries for 20 years because her parents were working for humanitarian agencies, then moved to South Africa and New Zealand…. again, what do we define as ‘western’? But her background isn’t Chinese, if that’s what you were aiming at.)

  12. Air by Geoff Ryman-a near future novel with a China/Mongolian-like setting
    Shadow Bridge/Lord Tophet by Gregory Frost-fantasy with strong elemnts of Burmese culture
    Incident at Badamya( historical with some fantastical elements) By Dorothy Gilman-Burma(Myanmar)

  13. Also Nation by Terry Pratchett-an alternate historical set in Micronesia.and Alan Dean Foster’s Maori.

  14. JG Ballard’s The Day of Creation is set in an unnamed or fictional Central African state, though as far as I know Ballard never went to Africa. (His Empire of the Sun is from personal experience of prewar and wartime Shanghai, but that was semi-autobiographical and non-sf).

    Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates and Declare spend some time in the Middle East, eg Egypt for Gates and Lebanon for Declare.

    I haven’t read it, but isn’t Lucius Shepard’s Life During Wartime set in Guatemala?

  15. Both Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and all of Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga stories have native main protagonists. Robert Charles Wilson’s Memory Wire is also set in Brazil, though its protagonist is American (or Canadian, I can’t find the reference now, sorry).

    Now, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but Brazil *is* a Western country – as horrible as it may sound, we have almost no native (Indian, that is) culture that we can relate to. São Paulo or Rio are no more (or less) exotic than New York or Malibu Beach.

    Of course that your list still stands: Ian McDonald is from Europe, and having never lived in Brazil, he had no previous knowledge of all the subtleties of life in another country. Even so, like Mike Resnick (who, as he told me years ago in a Worldcon in Glasgow, had been no less than seven times to Africa, and that until 1995), McDonald has done his research brilliantly.

  16. After a quick scan of my shelves, I see I’ve forgotten The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin. Also, if you’re willing to count media tie-ins, the novelization of one of the best Doctor Who stories ever: The Aztecs, by John Lucarotti (both the script and the book).

  17. Forgot Aliette de Bodard’s new book “Servant of the Underworld” which has an Aztec setting.

  18. Does Patricia Wrightson’s Trilogy The Song of Wirrun count? Australian author writes about an Aborigine protagonist and uses indigenous folk spirits as her characters. I remember reading this series at primary school in the late 1970s in New Zealand and recently picked up a single volume copy in a second-hand book sale from the late 1980s. The individual titles are The Ice Is Coming, The Dark Bright Water, and Behind The Wind. Also by the same author are the titles The Nargun And The Stars, and An Older Kind Of Magic.

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