Science and Magic: Writing Science Fantasy by Elle E. Ire
January 10

Science and Magic: Writing Science Fantasy by Elle E. Ire

 

VICIOUS CIRCLE is what some people refer to as a science fantasy. Others would label it space opera. And of course, it’s also a romance. This means that the novel contains elements of both science fiction and fantasy, spaceships and magical abilities and ancient religions, laser pistols and old-fashioned revolvers or daggers, skin-tight ship suits and hooded robes. It’s a reluctant hero’s journey to multiple worlds, and as such, I’ve heard it compared in some ways to Star Wars, though there are no alien races in my universe. And there is very little hard science.

Confession time: while I did decently well in science and math in school, they were not my favorite subjects. (Don’t tell my calculus teacher spouse.) I took astronomy in college specifically for the purpose of having at least some factual basis to my science in the science fiction I was writing at the time. It was a fascinating subject and taught me just enough to know that I knew next to nothing.

But that was fine. In VICIOUS CIRCLE, the protagonist is an assassin. There’s no reason she should know how ships move faster than light. I describe what it looks like when a ship goes FTL because the character would see it and think about it. I gave the process a name—Weiss Space—named after the fictional inventor/discoverer of the FTL drive that spaceships use in my universe, but that’s the extent of the assassin’s knowledge, because really, that’s all she should know. She knows weapons and how they function, but not necessarily why. She knows how to fly a ship but not why it flies. If this were hard science fiction, or the character were an engineer or physicist, this would be different, but really, how many of us can explain the science behind the operation of the space shuttle, or cell phones, or cars? We have a vague understanding of it, but that’s it. We can describe what these things look, sound, and feel like when they operate properly (or improperly), but most of us don’t know why.

I also made certain to run any science-heavy scenes by beta readers with more knowledge than I possess. I’m not saying it’s all perfect, but since the majority of the science is made up, who can really judge? Would a human body be compressed down small enough to fit through a two-foot wide hole in a sudden hull breach? Would hypothetical energy shields prevent that from happening? Do you lose artificial gravity if the hull is breached? Etcetera, etcetera. 

At the end of the day, I hope the technobabble sounds real enough that readers will focus on the story and the characters and not worry too much about the science. The characters aren’t concerned with it, after all.

The magic, on the other hand, was much harder to write because it is of great concern to the characters. Without giving away too many spoilers, two major characters in the novel are users of magic and have grown up in a magical family. This means they have intimate knowledge of how their abilities work, what they are and aren’t capable of, and the repercussions using their powers will cause for both them and those around them. And the protagonist, our assassin, is caught up in all the magical usage even if she is not one who believes in such things. So while she doesn’t have to understand the intricate details, she does have to comprehend the consequences.

The key word here is consistency. I had to develop a magical system, its rules, its hindrances, and its costs for using it. One might think this is easier because I’m creating the entire system from scratch, but tracing it throughout a novel-length work and making sure I’ve obeyed the rules I’ve set forth for my magical elements is painstaking. 

Each individual instance had to be carefully examined. Would it work under these circumstances? What are the effects? How long will those effects last? What if it’s used with evil intent? How would that be different? Sometimes I felt like I needed an entire rule book for the magic.

Regardless, in VICIOUS CIRCLE the science and magic come together in cool and interesting ways. The unbeliever assassin may yet realize there is far more at work in the universe than the eye can see and the mind can process. And maybe the reader will reach the same conclusion.

 

Check out Vicious Circle today!

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