“The Magic System Mad Science Experiment” by Ryan Decaria


Magic and Science? It’s my dream come true! When it comes to magic there are two distinct teams. One team cheers for hard magic systems, such as what’s found in Brandon Sanderson’s books, where there are clear rules and limitations. The opposing team cheers for soft or undefined magic, such as what’s found in The Lord of the Rings, where there are no limitations and those who use it are shrouded in mystery. Which team will win? Easy – the team you like the best!

Today we welcome my favorite mad scientist author and board game enthusiast to the blog. Ryan Decaria is going to try to win points for Team Hard Magic in his article about magic systems and mad science. Cue the lightning! Muah ah ah!


Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

The Magic System Mad Science Experiment

by Ryan Decaria

My mantra when writing science fiction and fantasy worlds is to treat magic like a science and to treat science like magic.

I’m gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Magic comes in two varieties: magic systems with rules and undefined magic. Brandon Sanderson is famous for the former in his Cosmere novels. Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings is a great example of the later. Who knows what powerful spell he’s going to come up with next. Still, in either methodology, magic can be seen as a part of that world’s natural laws.

Like any other natural force, magic can be studied, classified, and theorized about. The scientific method can be applied, because the cause and effects can be scrutinized. I’m going to say it again. Treat magic in your story as a science field of that world.

Now, your characters will probably not be scientist studying that magic (cept how cool is that), so they won’t necessarily care to use science or science terminology when wielding magic. I don’t think about gravity or how my internal combustion engine gets me to work. I just drive.

I came up with a great litmus test for your fantasy’s magic system. Let’s call it the Mad Scientist Experiment. For your magic system, imagine a mad scientist character living in your world who is trying to use the magic in new way by combining aspects or segments of your magic in unnatural ways. This can be the Frankenstein scientist, driven by the desire to create, the Doc Brown scientist, eccentric but good-hearted, or the nefarious scientist like Doctor Poison from Wonder Woman.

Does your magic have enough meat for them to operate? Can they create life? Can they seek immortality? What are the costs? What are their methods.

If you can’t answer any of these questions, perhaps you haven’t given your magic system enough depth. Answering these questions, might give your magic system a needed boost.

Here are some examples of great mad scientists in epic fantasy with mild spoilers:

  1. Saruman from Lord of the Rings
    • Focused on industry at the expense of the natural world
    • Breed a new species of orc
    • Created great forges and explosives
    • Became obsessed with power
  2. Ex-maester Qyburn of A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Anatomical experimentation on still-living people.
    • Excellent surgeon or a Torture Technician
    • Created a Frankenstein-like creature
  3. The Lord Ruler in Mistborn (spoilers in this one get a little meatier)
    • Found a way to gain immortality
    • Created new races and the inquisitors
    • Changed the natural laws of the planet
    • Combined two kinds of magic to great effect

But what about science fiction?

There are two kinds of science fiction: One cares about how the science works and the other cares about how the science affects the world.

In the first, science knowledge is at a premium, and you better get it right. In the latter, the science just works and no one is questioning why. Take hyperspace in Star Wars or transporters in Star Trek. The more you dig into the science, the more preposterous they sound, so you don’t dig into the science. You avoid the science because it just works and your story is about what that technology does to society and to people.

You treat it like magic.

I love the term handwavium because it describes the science in terms of magic. Handwavium is what powers unrealistic or impossible technology, such as faster-than-light travel, teleportation, and artificial gravity.

In conclusion, to create a rich and deep magic system, imagine how a scientist would study the magic and how a mad scientist would exploit it. You might discover a few plot points and a couple of awesome characters along the way.

Remember my mantra:

When writing science fiction and fantasy worlds, treat magic like a science and science like magic.

My favorite mad scientist author, Ryan Decaria

About today’s guest:

Ryan Decaria was raised on science fiction and fantasy novels and 80’s adventure movies. On rainy days, he sulks on the window, sill waiting for a treasure map, an alien buddy, and his own luck dragon. Ryan is the author of Devil in the Microscope and its soon to be release sequel, We Shall Be Monsters. He is also the host of the Meeple Nation podcast where he discusses the board game world. You can find him at madsciencefiction.com musing about how mad science uses the best bits of science fiction and fantasy at the same time.

Connect with Ryan:

Ryan’s Book: Devil in the Microscope

Bonus points if you can spot the rat in the picture!

When “science-fair-geek” Anika goes to live with her scientist father in a town built around his mysterious genetics laboratory, she is determined to prove herself worthy of his legacy. But all preconceptions about her new life are thrown out the window when Anika discovers her father is a megalomaniac living in a town populated entirely by mad scientists. Now Anika will have to navigate her way through a high school filled with vindictive evil geniuses, deadly science projects, and unspeakable human experimentation. Relying on her wits, scientific know-how, and talented allies, Anika fights for her very life, and the lives of her new friends. Will Anika have to become like her mad scientist father in order to save the day?

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“I Rolled a Life Changing 20 and You Can Too” by Jared Quan

For every single person the path leading to fulfillment and success looks different. Some prefer small consistent goals, some crave the big marathon push, and then there’s Jared Quan. Known around the Utah writing community as the guy who gets stuff done (and never sleeps), he often shares his favorite quote:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Jared is the champion of volunteering. Every year he donates countless hours, well into the hundreds, giving his time, his ideas, and his drive to the organizations he loves. Today, he shares his story with us.

I Rolled a Life Changing 20 and You Can Too.

By: Jared Quan

Four years ago, my second book “Changing Wax” was published. I had accomplished my lifelong dream, and no one had any idea who I was. Getting published was a massive struggle that took nine years to happen, and I was exhausted. Antsy to do something, but not ready to take on another book, I had an epiphany. I would use my knowledge and experience to make it my mission to help people achieve their dreams. I had no idea what that single decision would lead to.

After talking it through with my wife and we figured out that I could volunteer a couple hours a week. I went out looking for ways to get involved. Which was not nearly as easy as it sounded. I stumbled into my first opportunity after taking a shot in the dark and emailing the Mayor of West Jordan. Mayor Rolfe recommend that I join the West Jordan Arts Council. Shortly after I was appointed to the West Jordan Arts Council by the West Jordan city council. Serving on the Literary Committee under an amazing Literary Arts Chair John Pulver, I started to learn the ropes on how to do more in the community.

At the exact same time this was happening I met Johnny Worthen who recommend that I check out the League of Utah Writers. During my very first meeting with the Oquirrh Chapter it was announced by Chapter President Eliza Crosby that they needed a new Vice President, after a massive internal debate (and texts from my wife encouraging me to volunteer), I volunteered. Under Eliza, I was starting to learn about how the League worked and what things I could do to help.

I worked on a few projects with the Arts Council and the League which embolden me to find some additional small projects. I volunteered to help author David Armstrong at the Davis County Fair, volunteered to help acclaimed artist Roger Whiting at the DIY Festival, helped staff the League table at LTUE and Storymakers. I started to figure out how much time I could spend on projects and started to figure out how to better utilize the resources I have access to.

Fast forward to today, after dozens and dozens of projects, and events, I am now on five non-profit boards (League of Utah Writers, Storymakers, Cultural Arts Society of West Jordan, Eagle Mountain Arts Alliance, and Big World Network), I work four jobs (VLCM, Lyft, Real Salt Lake, and being an author), and spend time with my wife and five kids. My mission transformed into a passion, and then into a dream. I get to help people every day reach their dreams.

As you can see, I didn’t get into volunteering to gain position or rewards other than seeing people succeed. However, I discovered that volunteering selflessly was like rolling a 20-sided dice over and over. The number would randomly throw unexpected rewards. The key being that the service had to be selfless.

Like a waking dream I found myself sitting in front of hundreds of people at the LTUE conference 2019. I was sitting off to the side waiting for my turn to be a special guest with the Writing Excuses Podcast. I had rolled a 20, and I was being honored with a tremendous opportunity. I knew however, that even in this moment, it wasn’t about me, it was an opportunity to help others find ways to figure out what I had found out.

I watch as special guest Natasha Ence and Rosalyn Collings Eves, do an amazing job on the podcast. Then it was my turn to sit with the amazing team of Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler. We talked about volunteering and ways to find opportunities to volunteer. It was amazing.

When people had found out that I had selected to be on Writing Excuses, everyone asked how I had accomplished such a thing. I told people that I wasn’t sure, but I was honored to have such an opportunity, and talk about selflessly volunteering.

Everyday I wake up and live my dream of helping people. If you add the goal, mission or passion of helping people by volunteering (not just in the writing community), you will be rolling a 20 side dice that will change your life. It will help you accomplish amazing things and give you opportunities beyond your imagination. I have to thank all the amazing people for giving me the chance to volunteer and taking a chance on me. You just have to take a chance on yourself and volunteer. I would love to see you out there.  

Intrepid leader and Energizer bunny,
Jared Quan

About today’s guest –

Jared Quan is a video game addict and writer published in genres from Spy-Thriller to Horror/Supernatural, to Fantasy-Comedy. His work includes Ezekial’s Gun, Changing Wax, Classified, Pathological Passion, (Futuristic/Romance/Steampunk, which he co-wrote with his wife), Unclassified, and Prepped (a story in the Apocalypse Utah anthology).

He has extensively served the community in roles from the President for the League of Utah Writers, Board Member of the Cultural Arts Society of West Jordan, Grants Director of the Eagle Mountain Arts Alliance, Executive Director of Big World Network, Chair of the West Jordan Arts Council, serving on the Utah Poet Laureate Selection Committee, Recruiting Chair of the Association of IT Professional Utah Chapter, as well as serving as a general volunteer for countless events and organizations.

Jared was given the Gold Volunteer Service Award by the President of the United States for his over 1,500 hours of service to the writing community from 2015 to 2017. He has also received recognition and awards from the Governor and Lt. Governor of Utah for his volunteering.

He lives in Eagle Mountain with his supportive wife and five children.

Want to connect? It’s easy!

Find Jared at the following places:

About Jared’s Book, Changing Wax

Changing Wax is an action adventure comedy, taking place in the fantasy world of Wax, which resides just seven hundred sixty-two thousand, five hundred twenty-two million and five light years from Earth (give or take half a light year depending on Earth’s rotation). Wax revolves around rules established in the ancient Master Book of Magic, rules that don’t always follow basic logic or sanity. The story follows three adventurers: Gorath the misfortunate monk who can’t seem to get anything right, Odd Drip the Imp who is too smart for his own good, and Thomas Twostead, a teenage girl born on the wrong side of Wax’s never-ending war between Light and Dark. In the end, their teaming up might decide the fate of the world, while seemingly defying the will of the Master Book of Magic. Or are they…?

Find Changing Wax on Amazon

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New Anthology Release!

Tales of wise, ancient dragons hoarding treasure, terrorizing villages, and doing battle with noble heroes have long fascinated us. But dragons were not born old and wise, nor were heroes born brave and noble.Wings of Change gathers tales of young dragons growing into their scales and claws, and human youths making choices that shape their destinies – destinies that will be forever changed by their interaction with the dragons that share their world.

My story “Saffron Dragon” is about a blind Bangladeshi girl who discovers a dragon lives in her dreams. She must learn to both trust herself and the dragon to find her place in the world.

Wings of Change is available in both print and ebook on Amazon.

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Guest Interview – Jaleta Clegg

jaletacleggmed

Jaleta Clegg loves telling stories ranging from aliens and spaceships to magic and unicorns to elves and airships to monsters and mayhem. Her published works include space opera with the Fall of the Altairan Empire series, steampunk fairies in Dark Dancer, and silly horror short stories. When not writing, she enjoys watching good bad movies, crocheting stuff out of yarn, and messing in the kitchen inventing new dishes.

She lives in Washington state with a diminishing horde of children, too many pets, and a very patient husband.

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First, tell us a little about yourself and what originally inspired you to write your first book.

I’ve always loved storytelling, but hated writing things out by hand and all the mistakes I made with typewriters led to typing anxiety. It wasn’t until we bought our first computer, a used Commodore128 at a garage sale, that I felt free enough to really start writing. On the computer, mistakes were temporary. Rewriting was effortless. Words could just flow! Except, I had four little kids at the time. We had just moved to a new neighborhood. I needed to escape. So I escaped into my own head. I started writing. Within six months, I’d finished a fantasy trilogy rough draft, edited it, rewritten it, and was ready to move on to other things. I started a science fiction novel. Life happened. I was interrupted. But I kept pecking away at my novels, here and there, sometimes setting them aside for months, until I had eleven finished books in a series. That was when I decided to pursue publishing. So in a nutshell, my stories are my self-therapy and escape.

What is the project you are working on now and where did the idea come from?

I’m currently in the middle of a story tentatively titled Desert Lighthouse. I had this image in my head of a lighthouse in the middle of a desert. What kind of story could I tell about that? Who would build it there? And why? The questions bothered me enough that I started pulling together a story. It’s a strange one, with several different storylines that all weave together. Eventually.

colorful blue snowflake fractal

I’m also working on the sequel to Dark Dancer. I loved the idea of steampunk elves and magic from the first book and wanted to go back to that world. I also realized I left a lot of the story untold and unfinished. Hopefully Winterqueen’s War will fill in a lot of the holes.

I’m also working on a series of stories set in the fictional kingdom of Merkady where the humans have died out leaving behind Humankin, animals that look almost human, and Altereds, animals that can talk and think like people but still look like the original animals. I have a few characters that want me to tell their stories – a rattlesnake fighting for equal rights for Altereds and a bunny Humankin superspy. And don’t let me forget my version of Sinbad in that world, a leopard with a walrus first mate. I can’t wait to get to his story.

I think I have a problem with too many projects going on at the same time.

What authors have inspired you, and why?

I blame Andre Norton. I discovered her books when I was young and impressionable. It amazed me that people wrote stories about aliens and space travel and magic and monsters that weren’t aimed at kids. Her books led me to others by Asimov, Zelazny, Heinlein, Jack Chalker, and others. I haunted the small science fiction section of our library until I’d read all the books they had. But I wanted more.

I found Julie Czerneda and Elizabeth Moon. These women wrote the kinds of books I wanted to write. They told stories that I loved reading. I found Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, Douglas Adams, and Piers Anthony and realized humor could be part of science fiction and fantasy. I found other new authors who inspired me to keep writing and pursuing publication, namely Francis Pauli and Paul Genesse. I met Brandon Sanderson and Larry Correia, who never looked down on me, a newbie author, but instead gave me kind words and friendship. I could keep going with the list of authors I love, the ones who keep me reading and keep me dreaming, but the list would just keep going.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Can a whole book count? I really struggled with Chain of Secrets, the eighth book in my series. It’s a dark point in the overall story. Dace, the main character, is struggling with everything, nothing seems to be going right. The whole book was pretty dark, but when I go back and read it again, I love it. It’s about struggling to overcome, about doing what’s right even when it might cost you your life, about dealing with loss and betrayal. It’s about becoming a better person, about being true to your innermost self. It’s also about family and the ties we choose to bind ourselves with. The emotions were powerful and very hard to deal with when I was writing. I’m a very private person, so writing those raw emotions was a lot like walking outside naked. I have a tendency to shy away from the emotions, to put distance between my character and their feelings, so in editing I have to be brutal about closing that distance. Because I know the end result will be that much stronger.

When it’s time to create something new, what is your process?

I start with a scene or a character or sometimes just a line. Then I just write until I start to see a shape to the story. At that point, I usually need to set it aside for a while to let the story ferment and develop. Once I can feel the general shape of the outline, I can write it. With some short stories, the process takes only a day or less. With some novels, I’m still waiting for the story to gel together. I have found if I try to force it, I end up with a boring mess of a story.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I finally mastered fudge! At least the marshmallow creme/chocolate chip version. It’s been my unicorn for a long time. I’d try to make fudge and end up with chocolate frosting. Or I’d make frosting and somehow end up with a layer of fudge on my cake. I recently found a recipe that works for me. Now I can turn out consistently delicious creamy fudge.

I’m also very proud of the anthologies some of my stories have landed in. I have a comedy in the Baen anthology Mission: Tomorrow about a futuristic game show, The Ultimate Space Race, which is also the name of the story. It’s told by an older couple watching the finale together on the couch. Everything is branded, sponsored, trademarked, and commercialized. Kind of a snarky look at the future, but that’s where I see it headed.

I’m also the proud author of the obligatory fart joke cthulhu story, A Brown and Dismal Horror, in the Redneck Eldritch collection. Yes, my reign as Queen of the Fart Joke is far from over.

And I recently finished an afghan that I love. Crocheting those things take hours and hours, about four seasons of the X-files worth of hours.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Yes, I really want to be Han Solo when I grow up. I want my own beat-up spaceship and my own Wookie best friend. I want to explore new worlds and have adventures. If I can’t have the Millenial Falcon, I’ll settle for Wolf’s ship, and his company, from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, one of my all-time favorite movies. Or maybe I’ll go off adventuring with Captain Jack Sparrow on the Black Pearl. Or maybe I’ll just make up more stories of adventure and pretend they’re real. That’s really why I write.

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New Release from Jaleta Clegg!

Bundle Herebefairies

Fairies, fair folk, imps, trolls, and pixies—they haunt our myths from Ireland to Iceland and everywhere else. Join in the fairy fun, or fairy fear, as good, bad, and mischievous they show themselves. Dare you take the trip to Fairyland? No one who returns is ever quite the same.

On sale for a limited time!

https://bundlerabbit.com/b/here-be-fairies?nocache=1

Dark Dancer –

The Seligh crushed,
The captives found,
The barrier broken,
The balmorae freed.

A strange prophecy haunts the Seligh lords, rulers of the Fey and controllers of all magic in the Summerlands, a prophecy that foretells their fall.

A banished Seligh lord rules the Winterlands with an iron fist and his pets, the balmorae, patrol the borders against all intruders, guarding the secrets hidden beneath his icy lair.

A young woman rediscovers her heritage, a gift of magic and dancing that opens portals between worlds. She holds their fate in her hands. All who live within the lands of the Fey must choose where they stand—beside the Dancer or opposed to her.

And trust that she won’t destroy their world.

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To connect with Jaleta, go visit her at her sites:

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Jaleta also interviewed me over at her blog, go check it out!

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Join the discussion by commenting below!

Writing Fantasy Profanity

Bantha-ST

Don’t mix up your Bantha Poodoo with your Nerf Herders! Getting swearing right is important.

It’s writer Wednesday and today we are going to delve into the risque topic of fantasy profanity. Well, ok, it’s not all that risque. In fact, the reason many people like fantasy novels is that there is rarely ever any swearing.

Instead, we enter the world of alternate swearing. In a fantasy world there are different beliefs and different cultural practices that lead to different terms being considered profane, just like different English speaking countries have distinct swear words. Saying ‘bollocks’ or ‘bloody’ in the US barely gets an eyebrow raise because most people don’t know what they mean.

Using standard swearing in a fantasy novel doesn’t make sense because you wouldn’t expect an alternate civilization to develop the same swear words. When they are used they pull the reader from the narrative – a big NO NO.

Let’s see how these titles handle swearing –

Mazerunner, James Dashner: (I’m talking about the book, not the movie) The Gladers those who live withing the maze use ‘shuck’ and ‘clunk’ ans their stronger swears.

  • Clunk is a direct replacement for sh%t and comes directly from the sound made when using the rustic bathroom – and yes, this is explained in the book.
  • Shuck rhymes with fu%k for a reason.
  • Other slang includes: shank, slim it, slinthead, greenbean, jacked, and bloody.

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: There are a plethora of these, for the complete list, check out the wiki. These words are tied directly to the world where much of the protagonists history includes blood, fire, and magic. The most popular swear words are the following:

  • Flaming used much like we use ‘damn’ and expresses anger or hatred toward something or someone.
  • Blasted a slightly stronger version of ‘flaming’
  • Light used as an exclamation similar to how we use ‘god’
  • Burn (me, you, etc) is also similiar to damn and is used when people are upset
  • Blood and Ashes expresses anger and disgust.

Star Wars Universe: While this is sci/fi the same rules apply – it’s not our world or culture so the swear words would be different. I was actually surprised at how many of these there are, for a complete run down, including origins and definitions, check out this article.

  • F-bomb substitutes: crink/crinking, farkled. kark/karking, kriff/kriffing, krong, Skrog/skrogging, snark/snarking (no relation to today’s snarky).
  • S-word substitutes: druk, dwang, Holy Sith!, shab, shavit.
  • Other Insults: Bantha poodoo, e chu ta, hutt-spawn, laserbrain/blaster brain, lurdo, nerf herder, schutta, sculag, sleemo, son of a blaster, stoopa, vong.

Needless to say, there are many ways to handle swearing in your world.  The more deeply embedded into the culture and world, the better these insults will be.  If your world has a lot of water elements then there should be some water related swearing and insults, wethead, salt and slime, salty, bilge, etc. A desert culture would use a different set that evoked images of heat, dry, and stench.

Whatever you do, make it meaningful. Random words used as swear words won’t affect your reader nearly as much as words that have a history and a purpose.

Happy Writing!