Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

This piece is by JacketRockArt and more of his work can be found here.
This piece is by JacketRockArt and more of his work can be found here.

Okay, I have to admit that I am very tired at the moment. I’m at the NECCT Conference in Connecticut this weekend and it was a fairly long drive. So, I’m going to keep this fairly short and simple today. Richard Cavendish, a historian who was fascinated by the occult, defined magic as the magician’s attempt to impose his will upon the world through the use of supernatural forces. Some would argue that science functions on a similar principle: that science is the scientists attempt to impose his will upon the world through the use of natural forces. Many have also argued that the sciences had their beginning in occult studies (i.e. that chemistry is related to alchemy, that astronomy is related to astrology, etc). Regardless of whether they are true, these claims are relatively common. So, here is my question to you today: what is the relationship between science and magic? Is magic simply science that we don’t understand? Are science and magic seeking to achieve the same fundamental goal (control) through different means? Is magic the predecessor of science? Is science the scion of magic, its usurper… it’s conqueror?

As always, you have 1000 words in which to answer this question. Write me a story that presents and defends your position, and have fun with it.

Philosophical Story Challenge

36802921925119186z8V0x9dvcHey guys, hope you’ve had a happy 4th of July!  It’s Saturday again so I’m here to bring you another philosophical story challenge. This week I want to focus on perception versus reality. I think it’s a common theme throughout life that everyone views the world through their own lens of perception which is crafted by their own experiences and biases. How can we come to a true understanding of what we see and experience if everything we see and experience is interpreted by a brain which overlays all of past experiences onto it; how can there be any objectivity at all? It’s easy to say that we should only deal with facts and empirically tested ideas but even these are in question–how can we trust an empirical test when it relies on our senses to interpret the data that it yields? It seems as though we just have to accept that at some level we have to trust our senses, even though we know how fallible they can be. The problem is that this leaves some room for differences between “reality” and our perceptions. 200 years ago if you had told someone about our atomic theory they would have laughed; they didn’t have the tools we have to measure the things that we can measure to verify this data. It is both the beauty and the weakness of science; it can tell you the most accurate information that you can observe, but that doesn’t make it true–it just makes it the most accurate information available. Your challenge this week is to write a story where perceptions and reality are different from each other. I’m leaving it up to you to decide how you want to portray this theme; but, as always, if you want to post on here please keep it under 1,000 words. Otherwise, feel free to write more! Have fun.

Story Challenge of the Week

This photo was found here.
This photo was found here.

It’s time for another story challenge! I know that some of you really like the challenge posts, and I hope that they’re useful for all of you. I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to our Christmas break, it should give me some time to catch up on the blog, and hopefully provide everyone with some stronger content. Anyway, you all know the rules for the story posts, but for those of you who are new: You must write a story of at least a hundred words, and not more than five hundred (if you want to post it as a comment – if it’s just for yourself, then it can be as long as you want).  The story must be about the theme given in this post.  So,  if the theme I give you is Life, don’t write a story about the lord of the underworld.  If the theme is War, don’t write a story about a farmer planting his crops.  Themes are very broad, so it really shouldn’t be hard to stay within a given theme, but I teach, so I know that some people have trouble with this.

Your theme: Dark Matter

If you follow science at all, then you’ve probably heard of dark matter and dark energy. At their most simple these terms refer to cosmological matter and energy that we are confident exists, but don’t really know anything about. I’m including a link to a basic article explaining both dark energy and dark matter.

World Building Part… I forgot… Anyway, it’s about Magic

I don’t think anything else needs to be said.

So, it’s been a while since I did my last world building post, and since my Thursday writer flaked out and didn’t write a post for today, and since I’ve put up four picture posts in the past week, I figured I’d write a new one for today.  I honestly don’t know which part this is (5 maybe?), but I’m too tired right now to go back and figure it out (I’ll do that for the next one I promise).  We’ve been talking about people groups (races) in fantasy and science fiction, and one of the defining aspects of the fantasy genre is magic (this actually appears with reasonable frequency in science fiction as well, though usually under different names).  There are definitely going to be a couple of posts about this (i.e. how magic affects your people groups, your cultures, your nations, etc), but before any of that I want to talk a little bit about how to write magic.

Many authors will tell you that you have to know how the magic in your world works, and to some degree this is always true.  Star Wars is an excellent example of doing this poorly, largely because so many authors write about Jedi.  In the EU novels there is a wide variety of force use, and none of it really follows a standard set of rules.  In one novel Luke can use the force to pull a Star Destroyer out of orbit, but in another he has trouble getting his lightsaber off of his belt.  Some authors impose their own rules on the force (Michael A. Stackpole does an excellent job of explaining and standardizing force use in I, Jedi… not that anyone follows him), and others take their rules from other sources (Drew Karpyshyn’s novels read as though all he knows about the force came from the Knights of the Old Republic video games… which admittedly he helped write, but it leaves him very limited).  However, throughout the novels (and the movies) the idea of the force is written and rewritten (midichlorians? really?), and then rewritten again (what is this thing in KOR2 about someone ‘eating’ the force and destroying it?) to the point that there is no clearly recognizable standard.  Obviously, this is a bad thing.

Magic should be something that seems to make the impossible real.

However, an author should also be careful to leave himself some freedom when it comes to magic.  Magic is magic, it shouldn’t feel like science.  Karpyshyn is a great example of this, another great example is Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson is a good author (hit and miss for me though, I love The Way of Kings but hate the Mistborn series), but his ‘magic’ systems feel like scientific formulas, everything is exactly known, and it all has to be explained.  Patrick Rothfuss (Name of the Wind) does a good job of making rules for his magic (sympathy), but also leaving a lot of real magic (naming) in his world.  On the far end of the spectrum is Glen Cook (The Black Company) who’s magic is delightfully surprising, and (to the reader) feels ‘real’ without being remotely formulaic.  I honestly can’t say whether this is a product of Cook having a solid core of what can and can’t happen somewhere in the background (the reader never gets much of it explained), or if he’s simply a good enough writer that he can pull it off without one, but the magic in his books makes it feel like anything is possible, while it is clear that not everything is possible.  It is always surprising, without ever feeling ridiculous, which is exactly what magic should be (in my opinion).

It should be dangerous.

Magic does not exactly have ‘rules’ in Avnul, but it does have guidelines.  For instance, there are the Hatarim and the Sannur, two different sets of god like beings, one more powerful than the other.  Both have the ability to grant their power to mortals, but obviously Hatarim can grant more power to more mortals than Sannur.  Magic is limited both by a character’s knowledge/creativity, and by a sources willingness to give up the power necessary for the spell.  There are, of course, other sources of power (such as blood), but these are very limited, and certainly can’t take the place of a Hatarim or Sannur.  I’m not going to go anymore into detail about magic in Avnul right now, suffice it to say that I have an idea of what is possible, and what is not, and this is the core of what you need.  Magic can be as powerful as you want in your world, but don’t write about how Arktosh the sorcerer can call down the sun from the heavens and sink continents, and then limit your sorcerers to petty tricks… at least, not without a good reason (i.e. Arktosh was so powerful that he all but destroyed magic and now everyone else has to make due with what’s left).  George R.R. Martin handles this well in Game of Thrones as he shows how magic in his world is connected to dragons.  When the last dragon died, magic all but disappeared (a few vestiges), but as dragons come back into the world through the course of the books, magic becomes more powerful, and other magical creatures begin to awaken.  The key is to be consistent, and if you appear to break consistency, both have a good reason for doing so (i.e. the plot line requires it) and provide the reader with a strong explanation for doing so.  Cook did this well in the later books of The Black Company.  I’m not going to try to explain all of it (it would require a second whole post) but the series is worth reading anyway, this is just one more reason for you to do so.

And it should be haunting.

Alright, that’s enough of my prattling for now.  Remember, with your magic: have an idea of the possible/impossible, be consistent, don’t turn it into science.  These are the three core rules of writing good magic.