Anyone who's taken a quick look around the insane Star Wars wiki (or any geeky subreddit for that matter) knows that world-building is key to great sci-fi, that strange confluence of science and sheer madness. For the most popular nerdy franchises, fans have mapped out every single detail, hungrily learning the names and backstories of every alien extra and the weather conditions of every fictional planet. But there are even some slightly lesser-known magnum opuses that are so insanely detailed, their worlds threaten to become more detailed than ours. What follows are six masterpieces of sci-fi that took world-building to the extreme.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
The classic 1995 anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion was about Shinji Ikari, a painfully insecure 14-year-old schoolboy who's called up out of the blue to fight titanic alien monsters called Angels by piloting a robot called EVA-01. That's about all people can agree on, because from there NGE becomes a vortex of despair, anguish, and existential dread expressed through giant robot fights and a visual language only ancient Jewish mystics can decipher.
If you've ever watched the show, you might have noticed that the opening credits feature a big, complicated diagram that looks like a bunch of circles and lines. It's also emblazoned on Commander Gendo's ceiling. It's the Tree of Sephiroth, the centerpiece of the mystical Jewish belief system called Kabbalah. The "Tree" is actually a giant map of God's order in the Kabbalistic universe, and different orders of angels are associated with different parts of the Tree.
Each Angel that arrives to attack Shinji has a Kabbalah counterpart, as recorded in the Book of Enoch, and this is not a Final Fantasy VII "let's-name-all-our-characters-after-random-mythological-figures" kind of name-dump-the plot of Evangelion pretty much reenacts the apocalypse as envisioned by a cult of ancient Jews called the Essenes. This makes Evangelion the only show where knowing ancient Aramaic can get you access to spoilers.
2. Frank Herbert's Dune
Before he'd even conceived Dune, arguably the greatest work of sci-fi in the past 50 years, Herbert extensively researched sand dunes on the Oregon Coast, collecting massive files of data plotting their movements and the effects of the US Forest Services' efforts to control them. From there, he began researching the cultures of the Navajo, Kalahari, and Arabian peoples, creating one of the key artifacts of the Dune universe: the Orange Catholic Bible, an amalgamation of dozens of different religions, including the fictional, hybrid Buddislamic tradition.
And Dune contains only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shadowy, oft-referenced event called "the Butlerian Jihad." The event was never fully explained in Dune, but shaped everything in the novel. It would take a whole other book (The Butlerian Jihad was published almost 40 years after Dune) to explain the cataclysmic events of the Jihad, which brought about the end of thinking machines and ushered in the age of mentats and the Spacing Guild.
3. Serial Experiments: Lain
The 1998 anime series Serial Experiments Lain is universally known for being an incoherent and disturbing nightmare of a show, creating an avant-garde legend that lives on to this day. But piecing together its veiled references reveals an even deeper realm of madness: references to Roswell and a global conspiracy with aliens, and allusions to hard scientific phenomena like the Schumann Resonance and scientists like Vannevar Bush, as well as the hypertext utopia Project Xanadu, reveal a huge depth of research into the darkest corners of cyber history and conspiracy theories. More than that, the full effect of Lain was meant to be absorbed across three mediums: a graphic novel, a video game, and the animation itself. Each one reveals a different aspect of Lain untouched by the other two, with the grand goal being, in true global conspiracy fashion, to create a "war of ideas" between Japanese and American viewers.
4. H.R. Giger's Necronomicon
The man himself is dead now, but his work lives on in terrifying detail. Few realize that the majority of the work in Giger's famed Necronomicon, the work that inspired Alien, was done almost entirely in airbrush, sometimes without templates or guides. Distinct images appear again and again in his paintings and sculptures, revolving around Giger's personal philosophies and fears, especially overpopulation, snakes/worms, and environmental destruction. Fans of horror will recognize that the title of Giger's seminal work was taken from the fictional grimoire of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, which supposedly contained the horrifying, mind-shattering secrets of the universe.
5. Menton3's Monocyte
Monocyte is a tremendously ambitious graphic novel about the avatar of Death, the Monocyte, being sent to end a millennium-long war between two races of necromancers on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Rather than pen and ink, much of the book's artwork comes from compositions of oil on canvas, created by Menton3, an artist who has posted pictures of his canvases, guidelines, and panels in various states of completion on his blog. (He also has a series of superhero paintings, which are awesomely gothic and eerie.)
One of the distinct features of the project is that the Monocyte is constantly surrounded by ritual circles featuring meticulously detailed alchemical symbols, which Menton3 has studied since his youth. Even more notable is the fact that the dialogue is hyper-archaic and opaque to the point of unreadability, which Menton3 and his co-creator, Kasra Ghanbari, claim was an attempt to imitate the logic of dreams, as well as pay homage to Menton3's favorite author, Shakespeare.
6. Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall"
"Nightfall," one of Asimov's most popular short stories, deals with a planet named Lagash, which has never experienced night because of its six suns. The story takes place just as a solar eclipse is occurring, an event that only occurs once every 2050 years, and shows the effects on the population of Lagash: total and utter insanity. Asimov, who wrote books on everything from the history of the world to chemistry and mathematics, weaves general relativity into the story as well as complicated solar relationships between stars, including binary systems. Researchers have actually published essays on these fictional stars' orbits, and new experiments have backed up some of Asimov's predictions about sensory deprivation and madness.