Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking the laws of physics

In and of itself, fantasy tends to break the laws of physics – for instance, with magic. So it sometimes takes a little more blatant and striking a twist to really catch readers’ attention, to give them a sense that this is a much stranger world than Ye Average Medievale Lande.

One way to do that is to not just break the laws of physics, but chase them down and ravish them senseless. Or to put it less floridly…

Perpetual-motion phenomena

These can’t happen in real life (though apparently people still submit proposals for perpetual motion machines to the US Patent and Trademark Office). They can be spectacular in fantasy, though. Imagine constant wild weather, such as the Whirlwind in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen series, or the storm on Jupiter which is wider than the Earth’s diameter and has lasted for well over a hundred years.

Another twist would be to make such a feature mobile – such as a great, permanent fog or abyss that moves slowly and randomly across the map.

Temperature anomalies

Ice-cold pools in the desert. Rapids with fire substituted for water. I’m also inspired by Jacek Yerka’s art in this, such as his painting “Sun Spots” – since sunspots are a couple of thousand degrees cooler than their surroundings, the sunspot is actually part of the countryside, complete with trees, grass and a little pond surrounded by a wooden fence. Around that is a boiling blaze of hydrogen being fused. It’s a stunning image.

Negation of gravity or the flow of time

If you ever have a chance to look at the maps in the Edge Chronicles books, you’ll see a river which flows right off the edge of the world (hence the name). No need to plan out an alternative water cycle in a fantasy world. And the Edge Chronicles also feature huge rocks floating in the sky, one of them serving as the foundation of a city and tethered to the ground by a thick chain.

Make such features a normal part of the world, and it’ll be all the more fantastical as a result.


Anonymous said...

Breaking the laws of the natural world is fun, but....

I hate it when they really don't make sense (story wise) and are just there for the Rule of Cool.


Anuroch, a desert in near the North Pole in Toril (Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting). I get that the desert was created by magical means, but a hot, sandy desert that north in the hemisphere?

Would have worked better if it turned into a dry tundra like the Antarctic interior.

In fact I prefer it when writers use science in creative ways which lend more realism to the work, like accurate weather patterns, continental drift and natural disasters.

I guess the watchword for breaking the laws of physics is "use but don't abuse".

Marian Perera said...

I don't mind such a feature if it's clear that magic keeps it there in its current state, though I'd like it if there was some reason given for the magic or the magician wanting a hot sandy desert in the north.

God knows there are times when I've wanted warmer weather here in the Great White North.

And some aspects of science that we take for granted, like continental drift, could be turned on their heads.

For instance, what about a world where the continents are being drawn together, and everyone knows this is happening? We could also assume that the convergence is happening fast, on a geological scale. Might make for an interesting story.