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A few years ago I was looking through lists of new SFF novel releases and came across one I've been trying to find again since. It PROBABLY appeared either on Locus or SFSite's "books out this week/month" lists at sometime since 2010, since I read those frequently back then, and would have been published in English.

The description spoke of a fantasy world with what to me seemed like an interesting gimmick... the world seemed extremely constrained in dimensions, and notably longer than it was wide. I can't recall the exact dimensions, but in shape I pictured something like an aircraft carrier... that is, mostly but not precisely rectangular. To my recollection, it wasn't isolated by natural barriers like a sea or mountains, but rather either a mystical force field or just nothingness outside (maybe even a wraparound, but I don't think so).

It's also notably small, at least on a planetary scale... it's not a case where it's the landmass of a whole planet that happens to have a weird shape, it's a case where it's one small 'strip' of land (probably at the most the size of a small country or two, one of the reasons it stuck in my mind was that it caused me to think about what the smallest land area that could develop a sustainable functional medieval-level civilization with no outside input might be) and being, as far as they know, the only thing in the universe. I believe the description (or perhaps an author interview I may have followed off a link) specifically stated that it was so-and-so number of miles long by so-and-so-number of miles wide and both were reasonably small numbers, I just can't remember how much.

I can't vouch for whether this was always the case or a relatively new development (but I think at least the main characters think it was always the case, and I don't think it was a fragment identifiable as part of Earth). I also unfortunately can't remember any characters or plot mentioned clearly (MAYBE a princess main character, and POSSIBLY the border being called something like the Veil but my mind may have pulled that from somewhere else). My memory also has the sense of this being new at the time and a first novel, both in the sense of not being (yet) part of a long fantasy series but also the first novel by an author, though I can't be certain. I thought the gimmick was interesting enough that I mentally sorted it into the 'well, maybe if I hear some really good things in the years to come' category. I didn't, I've never heard about it again, so I guess it wasn't something that was a huge success. I don't even particularly want to read it, my brain just really wants to figure out what book it was.

Now, generally fantasy doesn't capture my imagination as much as science fiction in prose form, and in fact usually in new release lists I just skip over anything labelled fantasy. For this one to have caught my attention, probably either: a) the nature of the universe being very tiny with nothing outside it had to be prominent in the very brief description new release sites often give (I think this was the case), b) the description/title had to look like science fiction and only closer inspection revealed it to be fantasy-but-with-an-interesting-gimmick (possible but I don't think so), c) the author had to be someone familiar to me in science fiction circles (but I really don't think so, I believe it was a first novel), or d) it just had really a cool title and/or cover that got me to look deeper into the book (which is the least useful, I know).

I know it is NOT The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, because the plots aren't similar, but for a long time that name got associated with it in my head (even now I think of it as 'The book that's NOT The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms'), so I think they may have come out at roughly the same time, which would ne 2010, but it could also be the that a new printing or sequel came out at that time or they were directly compared in some way or maybe the titles simply had a similar sound (the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms being a book I also looked into because the title really sounded cool).

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  • Similar to scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/76134/…, but probably not the same
    – Valorum
    Dec 31, 2016 at 21:12
  • You have a couple of typos (e.g. "Kemisin" instead of "Jemisin")
    – Spencer
    Dec 31, 2016 at 23:45
  • @Spencer Yeah, that comes from doing it on mobile. Blame whoever made asking a question from mobile worthy of a hat. I'd fix them, but maybe other would like to get some edits in for their own head-covering pursuits. Jan 1, 2017 at 1:44
  • This sounds like the manga One Piece, which is set in an ocean world divided by a long, narrow mountain range. Are you absolutely sure that it wasn't a natural barrier that divided the world you're trying to recall? Jan 1, 2017 at 5:18
  • @maguirenumber6 I'm certain it's not One Piece. Reasonably sure it wasn't a natural barrier because otherwise I likely wouldn't have had any interest at all. The idea of a particularly small, constrained 'universe' made me pay attention, but clearly not enough. Jan 1, 2017 at 18:10

5 Answers 5

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Since nobody has come up with a good identification in several years, have you considered Vance's "The Narrow Land"? It's only a short story, but the "world" is bordered on the land side by "the murk" and on the ocean side by "the storm" which form permanent walls containing a land only a few kilometres wide and extending slightly further lengthwise along the coastline, but not a very long way (a few days hike at most).

The storm-wall was changeless: a roll of rain and a thick vapor lanced with lightning. The wall of murk was the same: dense black at the horizon, lightening by imperceptible gradations to become the normal gloom of the sky overhead. The narrow land extended endlessly onward.

The narrow land does not have magical ends, however, it is circumscribed by 2 major rivers which are impassable - killing cold and fast current that would sweep any swimmer into the storm.

The Twos have a mediaeval level of technology - armour, polearms, writing.

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The Doomed City (1989) by Boris and Arkady Sturgatsky?

Gollancz released a trade paperback of that one about 10 years ago. The world was a strip of land, a tall wall on one side, a cliff on the other. When people threw themselves off the cliff, they'd be found smashed by the base of the wall. People would periodically switch jobs based on a lottery system. Some people mount an expedition to travel to the end of the strip of land and find an abandoned city that was much nicer than the one they lived in.

From Goodreads:

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are widely considered the greatest of Russian science fiction masters, and their most famous work, Roadside Picnic, has enjoyed great popularity worldwide. Yet the novel that was their own favorite, and that readers worldwide have acclaimed as their magnum opus, has never before been published in English. The Doomed City was so politically risky that the Strugatsky brothers kept its existence a complete secret even from their best friends for sixteen years after its completion in 1972. It was only published in Russia in the late 1980s, the last of their works to see publication. It was translated into a host of major European languages, and now appears in English in a major new translation by acclaimed translator Andrew Bromfield.

The Doomed City is set in an experimental city bordered by an abyss on one side and an impossibly high wall on the other. Its sole inhabitants are people who were plucked from Earth's history and left to govern themselves under conditions established by Mentors whose purpose seems inscrutable. Andrei Voronin, a young astronomer plucked from Leningrad in the 1950s, is a die-hard believer in the Experiment, even though he's now a garbage collector. And as increasingly nightmarish scenarios begin to affect the city, he rises through the political hierarchy, with devastating effect.

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This has some resemblance to the Ethshar novels by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Far from one book, it's a series (fourteen, as I recall last time I bought one, and that's been several years). Watt-Evans might have been familiar from his SF novel, The Cyborg and the Sorcerers.

The world of Ethshar is bounded between the sea and an impassable desert on east and west, undefined lands of a former enemy in a generational war to the north, and the "edge" to the south, where the world simply ends in a cliff bounded with mist. It's also distinctive in having at least a dozen different kinds of magic workers -- wizards, witches, warlocks, sorcerers, theurgists, demonologists, scientists, charlatans, and more. There are dragons ranging from barely bigger than a horse, to the size of a great whale. There are gods, demons, spirits, ghosts -- everything you could want in a fantasy world, all in a rough rectangle a few hundred miles in each direction.

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I'm throwing in my guess, again it's a short story:-

The narrow valley by R.A Lafferty

It's about a native American who doesn't like the idea of paying taxes on his government land grant (1800s) so he gets a shaman to put a curse on his property.

This results in what seems to be a remote ditch about eight foot wide, however if you attempt to throw a stone across it then it only appears to go a couple of feet before dropping.

You can walk or drive down a slope at one side and then find yourself in a large valley that's hidden from the world. The story moves up by generations to "modern" times (it seems like the 1950s but I'm not sure about that) https://www.ralafferty.org/works/stories/narrow-valley/

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Possibly Ringworld? Fits the description, at least as perceived in the immediate vicinity of anyone standing on it.

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  • Thanks, but I'm afraid not, I'm very familiar with Ringworld... this was much newer and I'm pretty sure it was fantasy as opposed to SF (or at least was marketed to look like fantasy, for all I know there was a SF reason for everything). Jan 1, 2017 at 1:45
  • Plus there's plenty of stuff outside the ring, even visible from inside it.
    – Valorum
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:21
  • And the Ring is very wide, well over a million kilometres across. The OP's world sounds a lot narrower.
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:49

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