Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Magic Fixes Science

I'm feeling liberated. This last week, I was jotting down a bunch of notes for a new story. It's science-fiction--odd because I don't think I've ever managed to read through a science fiction novel before. I was going over details of stem cell research and solar power, all to set up a situation that I find interesting. Then, it struck me: I was working on a lot of stuff that I don't actually enjoy writing or reading about.

I wanted to get to the actual situation created by the science and not get bogged down in the science itself.

So, I'm taking a new approach. Magic. Well, not really magic, but a good deal of hand waving at the very least. I'm going to skip through the details of the story set up, and just have the situation take place, even the science behind it is completely non-existent. I feel quite good about it!


  1. Some of the best science fiction doesn't bog down in the science at all. They make no excuses for what works or how it works or where it came from.

    Just like in reality. Nobody goes over the origin of a car every time someone gets into a car, or how the satellite radio or GPS works.

    I read sci-fi and the ones I enjoy the most dabble not at all into the science, but stick to the human element.

    - Eric

  2. Sometimes we don't need to know all the info behind an Event, but just the Event!

    I think the main reason I don't read SciFi is that all the technical stuff is, well, beyond me. Give me fantasy - dragons, elves, magic, a good sword fight or five - and I'm happy.

    I know for the one fantasy novel that I was working on, I was obsessing over the magical object, how it worked, and all that jazz. I couldn't think of anything else until I decided . . . it's magic, it works, and that's enough.

    Do we really know how Harry Potter creates a Patronous? He thinks happy thoughts, waves his wand, and speaks a word. I'm sure the magic is more complex, but . . . we as readers seem perfectly content with the simple explanation. Go figure.


  3. I love it. I actually used to be a sci writer first and foremost. Here's what happened:

    I took my sci fi very seriously, and I researched the heck out of the sci. This got complicated and cumbersome, and it bored both me and my readers.

    So I shifted my focus to the fi and wrote stories that focus on character, life, philosophy, and all the things I love.

    And then one day I said to myself, "If the sci isn't adding anything to story, why is it even there?"

    In my case, there was no reason, and I pitched it all together and realized that I was really writing literary fiction and psychological suspense anyway, just in drag.

    Every author's experience with genres is so different. It's one of the things I love about our chosen art. Good luck with your magic!

  4. Eric, that's good to know! I do want to focus on the human element, and I want to get to that as soon as I can in the story.

    Scott, I guess it comes down to the world, huh? If it's a magical world, readers will be readily immersed in it. If it's more realistic, then maybe some more things need explanation. I'm not sure. Just exploring. I usually write about people drinking coffee and looking at each other.

    Nevets, that's an excellent point. This story does have science/magic elements in it, but I still want it to be literary. That's the type of material I most love to read, so that's probably what this is going to be. It will have robots drinking coffee and looking at each other.

  5. Big D: "I usually write about people drinking coffee and looking at each other." Exactly. And how often do you find yourself explaining what "coffee" is? I say just jump into the story. Have an internal logic for your science or magic or whatever, but don't feel that you have to explain it. Just run with the story, that's my advice. As long as the story is internally consistent, I think it doesn't matter at all if the reader can say how everything actually works, in a physical science sort of way. I like Eric's GPS analogy. And remember Clarke's Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  6. Magic, fictional science, what's the difference?

    Sci-fi and fantasy are fun that way. :) World-building and scene setups require less careful research, or none at all. On to the literary stuff.

    For all I understand, my wireless keyboard is magic anyway.

  7. Yes, I'm enjoying doing this in my fairy-tale novellas. Magic is super fun to put in stories...but I did realize that the magic, or whatever it is that isn't explained, does have logic behind it. It's an interesting balance.

  8. When I read stories like this I prefer to not have the science explained to me. I think it is possible to suspend the disbelief of the reader if the story is intriguing and written well.

  9. I still want it to be literary ... It will have robots drinking coffee and looking at each other.

    Almost did a spit take of my own coffee all over my laptop. Awesome.

    I think they need to remake My Dinner with Andre for the 25th century, personally.

  10. I've always enjoyed the fantasy more than the science in sci-fi. I remember reading an Arthur C. Clarke book thinking, gosh, can't we skip the boring science lesson.. :)

  11. Magic as your new approach? LOVE it, and I'm sure you will too. Talk about making the writing more fun! =)

  12. I do enjoy science in my sf, and in fact, I am one of a (obviously small) number of people who enjoy Hard SF, where characters are thrown in as talking sock puppets of Some Awesome Idea.

    However, I enjoy character-driven sf, too.

  13. @Tara - I thoroughly enjoy reading really well-written hard SF. I just can't pull off writing it. I never run out of loose ends to research, and I write it all like my thesis.

    Which was not dry reading at all.

    For a thesis.



    Can't wait to read some of your sci-fi! Maybe even post a review of some of it! ;-)

  14. It's science-fiction--odd because I don't think I've ever managed to read through a science fiction novel before.

    This must be remedied immediately. I have reading suggestions, copious suggestions, an ever-flowing wellspring of suggestions.

  15. Just so you note, I never claimed I could actually *write* hard sf.

  16. At least consider reading literary sf, which may be similar to what you have in mind. (I don't mean the actual topic or even style of writing, but the same way of dealing with science and technology off-stage). Also, you might enjoy it more than space opera.

  17. Scott, yep. You're right. I think I was struggling with the internal logic though. I think I may be discarding that as well, even though I believe it to be helpful. We'll see. I think I'm going to just "write the damn story."

    Jeannie, ha ha! The term world-building always sounded like it required a lot of work to me. I've been curious to see what I come up with, though.

    Michelle, I think you hit on my biggest conflict. It's that balance. I tend to be minimal in my scene setting (at least I think I am), and maybe I felt like the science part demanded more somehow.

    writer.elh, that's really good to know. Thanks for your comment. Sometimes I feel the same way. Other times, I am curious about the science, especially when I'm suspicious of it!

    Nevets, if I can make one Nevets smile today, then it was all worth it.

    Crimey, I wonder if it's a matter of the set up. I can see how writing a story one way would invoke scientific questions that have to be answered. Writing it another way my not trigger the same questions. Maybe.

    coffeelnvmom, we'll see how it goes. I often love reading about magic, but when I've tried to write it myself, it has always fallen flat so far. I think maybe I'm experienced enough this time around to write something magical that I can stay engaged with.

    Tara Maya, That's great! This book won't have sock puppet least not intentionally. It's definitely character driven. If I had the awesome idea, maybe I'd go the other way. Here, I'm definitely inspired by a character, though.

    Loren, suggest away! I remember now that I have read Jurassic Park. Does that count? I'd be curious to see what you recommend.

    Tara Maya, what books do you consider literary sci fi? I have read Never Let Me Go. Does that qualify? I loved that book.

  18. Awesome Idea: Robot Sock Puppets drinking coffee and talking about faster-than-light travel! Hugo Award! (But only a Nebula runner-up; the winning Nebula book actually has FTL travel in it, not just existentialist conversation about it.)

  19. Gail, thanks for stopping by!

    Scott, they wouldn't talk about faster than light travel. They would talk about taxes or broken sprinklers or something.

  20. I once heard it said that all science is magic to literature majors. Sounds about right for this situation.

  21. Dominique, if only I were a literature major!

  22. haha It did make me smile. Khap khun krap, Pee Domey.

    And I think this robots drinking coffee and looking at each other thing could be pretty brilliant.

    It's harder to right about technical stuff you understand sometimes, I think. I manage okay with archaeology most of the time because most of archaeology is boring even for archaeologists.

    I've tried writing stories that call more on my knowledge of dental or forensic anthropology, and I just end up knowing and liking too much of the neat details. The story itself gets buried.

    Ignorance is bliss.

    One of the robots wants to say that, actually. It's on the tip of his audio output processor. But. He never quite seems to execute the emit command. And it cycles in RAM, fragmenting over time.

  23. Domey, you're definitely onto something.

    Did Douglas ever really tell us exactly how the sub-etha sense-o-matic worked? If he did, I don't remember. He compared it to a big electronic thumb to hitchhike with. That's all I needed to know.

    Well, that and never to go to a Vogon poetry reading.

    Surgery is in 8 hours- see you guys after it's all over.


  24. Bru,
    Wonderful to see you here! Best wishes on the surgery. Be strong! We're cheering for you!

  25. Thou art too kind, sir. Jurassic Park, by the way, fits nicely. If you're looking for hard SF, I, Robot is a good, classic pick. For sociological SF, it's hard to beat Neuromancer. It's a challenging read, but with immense payoff. It ruined its author because he never could write anything approaching its excellence afterward.

    Godspeed with your new project!

  26. I would also throw out the names Harlan Ellison and Phillip K. Dick as as sci fi authors who can be a little more accessible and interesting to readers coming from a literary perspective.


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