Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Magic and Science, Wizards and Physics

Today my guest at Terry's Place is Karen McCullough. Karen is the author of ten mystery, paranormal, fantasy, and romance novels. Her hardcover mystery, A Gift for Murder, will be released in mass market paperback in June from Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery imprint; several of her novels are now available in Kindle, Nook and other formats from Smashwords.

According to science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I’ve always been fascinated by that suggestion. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why that’s true, and we’ve seen it in action often enough when more technologically developed cultures first come into contact with more primitive ones.

The truth is that for most of us a lot of the technology we use today seems almost impossible. As a former computer programmer and IT person, I’ve taken apart and put back together my share of computers, but in fact my iPhone still seems a big magical to me.

A riff on that idea formed the basis of my book, Magic, Murder and Microcircuits.

If an advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, why couldn’t what we call magic now actually be a technology that we don’t really understand?

Which led me to wonder, what kind of technology might that be?

There are plenty of options, including summoning intervention from outside sources (outside this universe, this dimension, some other plane of being), an invisible force of some kind that magic users can see or generate, or something so far out and different we can’t even contain the idea of what it might be.

The idea that interested me most was a version of the second, the invisible force, but I wanted to relate it to something that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with. In this book, I posit that magic is a kind of subatomic psychokinesis (the ability to move objects using just the mind). My wizards, of whom only a small number are actually strong enough to do anything useful with it, are psychokinetics who can view and move things on a microscopic level, but can do a lot of it on a scale that lets them do things that look like magic to everyone else.

One of the things I like about this system is that it imposes its own rules and limits on the characters. Because a wizard expends energy in doing mental/physical work, they can only do so much of it at a time before exhausting themselves, and they have to eat a lot to refuel.

As with most skills, they also have to be trained in how to use the power, and it’s a truly impersonal force that can be used for good or evil.

Using this system, wizards have to take into consideration the basic laws of physics. The more mass you try to move, the more energy it takes. They can do a lot by shaping gas molecules in air or pushing them in certain directions, diverting electrons, etc., but there are things they can’t do. They can’t fly; they can’t summon fire or throw fireballs unless there is already a fire in the vicinity; they can’t vanish into thin air; and while a strong mage can divert bullets, if one hits him he’s going to be just as injured as anyone else. They can only use the matter and forces that are available to them, and their abilities are constrained by distance and other environmental factors.

There are lots of possibilities and choices to make when creating a system of magic. They don’t have to be based in any kind of reality as this one is. In fact there are few rules about magic systems other than that you do have to have rules and they have to be applied consistently.

To read more about how this system works out in the novel, you can get Magic, Murder and Microcircuits for Kindle, for Nook, and in other formats from Smashwords for just $1.99. Read more about this book, including an extended excerpt, or any of Karen's other books at her website, http://www.kmccullough.com.

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Elysa said...

Karen's magical world is very involved and science based, but she blends it so seamlessly into the story you don't feel overwhelmed with explanations. I totally enjoyed reading MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS as well as all her other books.

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks, Elysa! And thank you, Terry, for having me on your blog!

Juanita Olson said...

Wow! I never thought of technology that way. That it was magic, even though I have always wondered how things worked. Hmm, we have all become magicians. Thanks for your blog Karen, I really enjoyed it.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Love the book title! I'm a sucker for alliteration. Clever to combine science and magic.

Karen McCullough said...

Thank you, Juanita and Jacqueline! Magic is such a fascinating topic, issn't it? There are so many ways to approach it and so many possible ways it could function.

Astrid Bryce said...

Karen, your world sounds like fun. As a long term wisher for psychokinesis, I have always thought that a powerful enough psychokinetic person could fly or teleport. Maybe that is still a bit futuristic for your world...