Today on the site, author Ginn Hale is back to talk about science in fantasy worlds in honor of her newest release, The Long Past and Other Stories, which is sort of a mashup of Alt-history, steampunk, and weird west. Here’s a little more info on the book and where you can buy it:
1858 –Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world.
In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission.
A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world.
At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.
And here’s the post!
On the surface all this scientific information in fantasy novels would seem like a contradiction. We fantasy authors make our livings spinning tales of magic; one might expect that we’d be more invested in the mystic and supernatural. But science in our real world does something very similar to magic in most fantasy realms. It lays bare the ways systems function while also illuminating the wonders of them. Both magic and science present wisdom as a kind of power.
Most fantasy books that feature magic will have the dictates of magic serve the same roles that physics or chemistry play in our world. For example, in the real world solar energy drives our winds and weather. But in a fantasy world perhaps the weather is powered by a colony of huge dragons that churning up the sky. Magic might have to be employed to discover their nests, high in the clouds and perhaps it will prove the key to calming the creatures, before they destroy any island nations.
This can get tricky when an author introduces real world science into a magical fantasy story, but it doesn’t have to be.
I suggest that if a world really was magical then the science of that world would discover as much. Scientist in a magical world would want to test and describe the parameters and limits of magic. So, when I needed to explain the mysterious ‘white hell’, in Lord of the White Hell, I was able to use the character of Kiram, a young engineer, to study the characteristics of the magical force and the young man who possessed it—Javier.
In The Long Past & Other Stories the character of Grover isn’t a scientist, but he’s practical and a problem solver so when he’s confronted with a magically caused rift in time—as well as flood waters and dinosaurs from the cretaceous era—he applies logic and reasoning to work out what needs doing. But the presence of science isn’t just felt in problem solving it’s also a powerful embodiment of human curiosity and wonder. Endowing characters and cultures with scientific values can actually enrich the magical qualities of a story.
Consider flight. It seems almost magical to witness a hummingbird zip through my garden. But when I discover that they are beating their wings 40 times a second, the truly astounding nature of theses animals begins to sink in. They move their wings so fast, so furiously and at just the perfect angles to generate tiny tornadoes, which they extend into the air around them and use like additional wing lengths. They’re like miniature storm-gods riding cyclones of their own creation! All the while their hearts are pounding 1,200 beats per minute.
Understanding just those few facts transforms my idea of these small shimmering creatures and fills me with wonder. And of course that is exactly what I want my readers to feel when they enter the fantastical realms of my books.
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)