“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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Free Fiction Sample, “Imprint” by Nicholas Adams

It’s Friday, which means I get to bring you samples, interviews, and articles from new voices around the world. Today, I have a special treat for you. Friend and fellow author, Nicholas Adams, has given me permission to share the first chapter of his novella “Imprint” a hard sci-fi with a medical twist.

In return, I got to go have fun and answer interview questions on his blog. Go here to check it out.

Cover of Imprint

First Chapter Sample of Imprint, a Novella

by Nicholas Adams

Malcolm slammed his fist against the mirror. “I’m telling you, Warden. The process isn’t ready yet!”

From under the spider web of fractured reflections, the older man’s image steepled his fingertips. “Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, would you mind repositioning me so I can see you clearly?”

Malcolm sighed, defeated. He swiped a finger across the broken glass. The floating screen glided across the mirror’s surface to rest within the last unblemished area.

“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way,” the man in the mirror glowered over his thick-lensed glasses, “let me remind you of the conditions of your exile.”

Malcolm braced himself for the full version of the warden’s favorite speech. “Your prior technological breakthrough caused the outbreak,” he began as if reading from a teleprompter, “and in spite of your synthetic organs’ success in treating life-threatening illnesses–,”

“You mean lifestyle threatening illnesses,” Malcolm interjected.

The warden interlocked his fingers and lowered them onto the black marble desktop, clearing his throat in frustration. “Be that as it may, it was your flawed technology that caused the disease that now threatens to wipe out humanity. And therefore, having been charged with attempted genocide, you have been isolated above the Arctic Circle because you promised the world you could fix this.”

Malcolm pounded his bruised knuckles against the lavatory’s cold, metal countertop. “I know, I know! But I need more time. And Cynthiana is the only remaining test subject. All the others died before I could make the bio-synthetic interface work. There are just too many variables. But, I think I’m getting closer. I just need more time!”

The Warden glanced somewhere off-screen and nodded to his unseen associate. “Time is not something of which you have an abundance. Get to work Doctor. We’ll be looking forward to your next progress report.”

Malcolm’s eyes automatically drifted to the calendar hovering below the warden’s image. Seven Days.

The Warden leaned over to press the button that would end their video-call but paused with his arm hanging in the air. “If you don’t have something significant to report,” he said not looking at Malcolm, “I’m afraid I’ll have to recommend that your exile will end, and we’ll begin the proceedings to schedule your execution.”

Malcolm slammed both palms on the broken mirror. “But, my wife’s condition. She’s terminal. You’ll be sentencing her to death too!”

“No, Doctor Silvestra, you’ve already done that.”

Before Malcolm could respond the warden’s image blinked out of existence, leaving him alone with only his anguished thoughts.

It’s all my fault. I’ve killed her. I’ve killed them all.

Malcolm’s shoulders quaked, as stifled tears dripped into the stainless steel sink. The flood of anguish pressing against the emotional dam broke through.

I can’t lose her. I just can’t. The rest of the planet be damned, but I can’t lose her.

Staring past his reflection, Malcolm spotted the ornately framed award hanging over his cluttered workbench. His stomach twisted. Several years before, when he received the plaque, he felt only pride and achievement.

Now, however, the image only served to remind him of his failure to keep a promise to Cynthiana; to completely restore her health, or, at least, free from her scars and debilitating pain.

Lettering under the bas-relief sculpture seemed to mock him. His eyes scanned the plaque, landing on the keywords that seemed to highlight his failure. Life Sciences Award, Innovative Breakthrough, Synthetic Organ Replacement.

The fancy words reminded him of his triumph—the 3D Nano-Modeling machine that built other devices on a microscopic level. Building on his wife’s work in Neural-Mapping, together they developed artificial organs that could mimic its natural functions.

Newspaper clippings covering his wall displayed headlines from around the globe. Phrases like Miracle, Saves the Life, and Cure for Death seemed to stand out like random street lamps in a darkened city.

Other news articles littering the wall reminded him of what he now fought against; a plague of biblical proportions. Headlines reading Mystery, Deadly, Burn Victims, and Horrific glared at him. The mainstream media sensationalized the outbreak by calling it The Scald.

Malcolm seemed to be the only one who actually understood where the plague came from; his Nano-modeler, v.8.14.

Long before he saw the correlation between his machine and the outbreak, The Scald had already sentenced anyone with an artificial organ to a slow, painful death.

With his newest Nano-modeler, v.10.27, Malcolm began his exile, with Cynthiana and a dozen dying volunteers at a self-sufficient research bunker in the Northwest Territories.

The collapse of civilization seemed to take only a matter of weeks. Accusations of bio-warfare crossed every known geographic and political border until the truth of Malcolm’s plague became public knowledge.

Riots, looting, and doomsday prophets littered the streets around the world. Malcolm barely got Cynthiana and himself to the bunker before the bombs fell, dooming the planet in a nuclear winter.

However, how the world ended no longer mattered to him. Not since The Scald ravaged his wife. Not even the failed experiments and deaths of the other subjects made an impact on him.

Cynthiana’s body yielded to the lesions faster than any recorded case, forcing her to remain in a pool of bio-nutrient gel 24 hours a day. The Scald had inflicted a rare side effect on her; three-quarters of her body became paralyzed and unresponsive to any stimuli.

Malcolm could not help flashing back to the days before The Scald took away her independence.

***

If you enjoyed this first chapter you can find the rest of the story on Amazon: Imprint, by Nicholas Adams. I also hear you can score a copy if you sign up for his newsletter. 🙂

Want more free stuff? Check out Nicholas’s freebies page.
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The enigmatic Nicholas Adams

About today’s guest:

Nicholas Adams grew up in the small, rural town of Boring, OR with his six brothers and sisters.

After graduating from High School in Gresham, OR he attended BYU-ID and received his Associates Degree in Pre-Med. From there he returned to Portland, OR and attended Portland State University where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology/Pre-Med before changing his career track to Architecture.

He completed his second Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at Portland State University before going on to achieve his Master of Architecture Degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

After his graduation he and his wife moved to the Phoenix Arizona area where they adopted four children over the next eight years.

Nicholas currently lives in the Salt Lake City area where he is an Associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the League of Utah Writers.

His other interests include movies, singing and motorcycles.

Connect with Nicholas:

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