How do you make a functional system in your story more scientific than magical?

P.K.Acredon

Just a memer who went too far...
Joined
Jan 12, 2021
Messages
52
Its much harder to make a science system than a magic system because you have to know science. While I do study science, I'm always confused as to how to make a fictional one that seems scientific. Someone once told me that if you're going to make fictional science it at least must be possible in theory.

So I thought about this science fiction system: There are minerals that are extremely powerful that if turned into metal, can harness energy better than iron or copper. And people use it to such an extent that everything metal from big things like vehicles and building to small things like spoons to pans become some kind of computer or robot. Those kinds of metals that harness that kind of energy are from minerals compacted far beneath ground. There are also some other types of powerful minerals that are more lose like dirt or sand. The minerals in sand form are still used to make things like windows and glass and lens. How there are used is to make things like light bend and make things invisible because of how powerful the glass made from the powerful mineral is.
My biggest problem is not knowing how to explain where the mineral comes from or how its molecular structure makes it so powerful. I'm worried people will just call it magic because the minerals can't be explained. But maybe if I have an explanation about how they were formed and how their structure makes them powerful, it may be possible in theory and therefore be proper science-fictional technology.
 
Well, if the story belongs to the hard-fiction genre, then indeed there is a duty to explain it with pears and apples. Because otherwise ... For example, I don't know what kryptonite is for except that it annoys Superman a lot. Which leads me to think that in your story you basically only need to say that the wheel turns and that's it; actually the need to explain the elements of your story are directly related to its functionality in it.
For example, what you say about minerals to me as a reader will only interest me if those minerals have any importance in the plot, let's say that the thing is mining, caving. By the way, that metal with the capacity to become computers sounds like Transformers to me, right? In fact I think it was characteristic of his world.
Even so, this idea I think I can share. For example, my brother, who is a military man, told me about the advances of the hawksbill: they already created the M1, which weighs half a kilogram. Or the sniper rifle does not weigh more than a kilo although, yes, the barrel must be replaced after seven shots because it melts. That material, in my view, has more future applications, and hopefully not so destructive.
But he also told me about the power of graphite as a weapon to provoke electromagnetic pulses; in fact it is very dangerous to put a graphite pencil in the socket: you leave the whole house in darkness.
Well, in the line of glass I have allowed myself to invent glass with memory in my stories, but there is also a military application, which is due to the magnetic load that this glass can assume depending on certain variables, such that in a certain sense it allows to create a "magnetic arc" that confuses the aiming readers of a weapon with which they shoot you, for example.
Regarding the light that a glass or lens produces, I have not focused on invisibility, but on the transmission of heat or "a light trap" (a magnifying glass effect, remember what you did to the poor ants with the magnifying glass when you were a child), in fact, such that it disintegrates the victim or at least gives him a tan that I don't explain to you.
But, I insist, do not worry about explaining the origin of a mineral or atomic things unless the story is about that. :giggle:
 
As long as there's internal consistency to a fictional system, it doesn't much matter how it compares / relates to reality beyond the story, does it?

My biggest problem is not knowing how to explain where the mineral comes from or how its molecular structure makes it so powerful.

Say it was harvested by specially-constructed (AI-powered?) drones, from deep inside a nearby gas giant? Heat and pressure gives the material(s) amazing properties. That would satisfy me, as a reader.
 
I think it depends on your readership. One of my bugbears is Peter F Hamilton (and I have a lot of those on the shelf) and his orbiting space habitats which trail cables to generated electricity as they pass through the planetary magnetic field. With some suitable handwavium you can make the engineering work, but the physics means that the cable would act like an anchor on the space station, slowing and dragging it down out of orbit. So, this is an annoying pieced of rubbish for a physicist, but I still read the books. In this case, the fact that the "perpetual motion" power generation is just a side detail makes it easier to ignore, although it would have been better to put in a handwavium fusion reactor:giggle:.

So, as @Saiyali says, you need internal consistency, but if you foul up basic scientific details they had better not be major plot features if you want a scientifically literate readership.
 
If one is going to try to present an extrapolation of science, then it must be a logical sequence, otherwise, it is better just to start with a concept and present it as, 'it just is.'
There are minerals that are extremely powerful that if turned into metal, can harness energy better than iron or copper.

> This is a promise starting point.

And people use it to such an extent that everything metal from big things like vehicles and building to small things like spoons to pans become some kind of computer or robot.

> This seems to be a huge leap to embedded computing.

The current limitations on computer size are at the submicron level and the concern is when does a wire cease to be a wire and become merely a set of molecules? When does the ability to carry electricity start to fade?

The manufacture of homogeneous material, such as sheets of metal, spoons, and pans is straight forward. Computer circuitry contains lots of designed variation in materials to form discrete circuits. It is a manufacturing challenge, not a material challenge, that prevents turning spoons into computers.

As a potential audience member with some background in computers, I find the logic jump from a new mineral to ubiquitous computing too big. Either spend a lot more time defining a series of logical steps or skip the initial explanation and simply start the world with these capabilities already in place.
 
So I thought about this science fiction system: There are minerals that are extremely powerful that if turned into metal, can harness energy better than iron or copper. And people use it to such an extent that everything metal from big things like vehicles and building to small things like spoons to pans become some kind of computer or robot. Those kinds of metals that harness that kind of energy are from minerals compacted far beneath ground. There are also some other types of powerful minerals that are more lose like dirt or sand. The minerals in sand form are still used to make things like windows and glass and lens. How there are used is to make things like light bend and make things invisible because of how powerful the glass made from the powerful mineral is.
My biggest problem is not knowing how to explain where the mineral comes from or how its molecular structure makes it so powerful. I'm worried people will just call it magic because the minerals can't be explained. But maybe if I have an explanation about how they were formed and how their structure makes them powerful, it may be possible in theory and therefore be proper science-fictional technology.
Sorry, but I just don't know what you mean here. What does There are minerals that are extremely powerful that if turned into metal, can harness energy better than iron or copper. mean? What do you mean by 'harness energy better'? If you mean 'conduct electricity better' there is an answer to that: most materials decrease in resistance as you cool them. There are some materials that can be made into 'superconductors' at low temperatures. They have no resistance at all.
And people use it to such an extent that everything metal from big things like vehicles and building to small things like spoons to pans become some kind of computer or robot. And I don't know what you are getting at here. Computers these days are made by fabricating very small circuits on bits of silicon. I don't see what this has to do with large or small metal objects, or why you would want to turn a pan into a computer.
minerals compacted far beneath ground. Our knowledge of such minerals is limited, for obvious reasons, but if the mineral is crushed to an abnormal density by immense pressure, on recovery to the earth's surface it is likely to explode in a nasty manner.

I'm sorry to be negative, but these ideas are coming across to me as unscientific pseudobabble. I'll try to be constructive now: if you want to write science fiction, it does no harm to know a bit about science and technology, so that you can avoid actually contradicting established knowledge. If you don't have this background and don't want to spend several years acquiring it, then concentrate on the end result. Your imaginary invention should have some practical function, and you should avoid going into detail of how it works. The classic example in space opera is the 'hyperdrive' for travelling faster than light. Writers of space opera don't explain how the 'hyperdrive' works - it is just a way of getting from star A to star B and advancing the plot. (In fact many people think it would not work, but you never know...)
 
If one is going to try to present an extrapolation of science, then it must be a logical sequence, otherwise, it is better just to start with a concept and present it as, 'it just is.'


The current limitations on computer size are at the submicron level and the concern is when does a wire cease to be a wire and become merely a set of molecules? When does the ability to carry electricity start to fade?

The manufacture of homogeneous material, such as sheets of metal, spoons, and pans is straight forward. Computer circuitry contains lots of designed variation in materials to form discrete circuits. It is a manufacturing challenge, not a material challenge, that prevents turning spoons into computers.

As a potential audience member with some background in computers, I find the logic jump from a new mineral to ubiquitous computing too big. Either spend a lot more time defining a series of logical steps or skip the initial explanation and simply start the world with these capabilities already in place.
It's nice to get some feedback from someone who knows these things. Come to think of it yeah something basic like spoons don't need to become computers.
How about this scenario: The powerful minerals that can harness energy is used to make machines that create holograms that are more tangible.
If you played the game portal 2 there are blue bridges of holographic light that the player can walk on.
Maybe when the powerful minerals are used to make machines, they can have enough energy to make holograms that can be felt like a brick wall.
This just gave me a thought: the main character goes in the wild and brings a tall cylinder device which is a machine made from the mineral. He enters a password and then a hologram of a house is made from it. It looks and feels pretty similar to a real house but everything has this transport view.
The novel I'm writing is about a man who hates this advanced world because he feels its the reason why he experienced pain. One of the reasons why he hates it is because since the society he's in projects holograms everywhere he starts to doubt his own perception of reality. The machines observance (which create the holograms) start to seem more real than his observance with his own eyes. Making him feel worthless.
 
There are some materials that can be made into 'superconductors' at low temperatures. They have no resistance at all.
Supercooling is technically feasible, but it is not practical for everyday use in a large array of consumer products. This is where a newly discovered mineral with as yet unpredicted properties *might* explain a major advance in electronics. A more valuable advancement, though, might provide an improvement in power storage or generation. Some speculation.
  • Just as there are dedicated graphics controllers in computer systems currently, projecting that there might be holographic chips in the future does not seem too farfetched. The generation scheme would need to rely on a single transmitter broadcasting out rather than the intersection of multiple units broadcasting in.
  • AI modules could become decentralized so that individual units could be placed in individual devices. This would be in contrast to having a central AI unit that external devices communicate back to.
  • The biggest issue is probably power consumption. To allow for multiple, ubiquitous intelligent devices, battery life would need to improve approximately three orders of magnitude, from the span of hours to a decade or longer between charges.
That being said, I believe that unless the mineral plays a key role in the story plot, any such justification for the growth of computing power is probably unnecessary for the reader. Just start with the assertion that the devices exist in the proposed era and proceed from there.
 
Supercooling is technically feasible, but it is not practical for everyday use in a large array of consumer products. This is where a newly discovered mineral with as yet unpredicted properties *might* explain a major advance in electronics. A more valuable advancement, though, might provide an improvement in power storage or generation. Some speculation.
  • Just as there are dedicated graphics controllers in computer systems currently, projecting that there might be holographic chips in the future does not seem too farfetched. The generation scheme would need to rely on a single transmitter broadcasting out rather than the intersection of multiple units broadcasting in.
  • AI modules could become decentralized so that individual units could be placed in individual devices. This would be in contrast to having a central AI unit that external devices communicate back to.
  • The biggest issue is probably power consumption. To allow for multiple, ubiquitous intelligent devices, battery life would need to improve approximately three orders of magnitude, from the span of hours to a decade or longer between charges.
That being said, I believe that unless the mineral plays a key role in the story plot, any such justification for the growth of computing power is probably unnecessary for the reader. Just start with the assertion that the devices exist in the proposed era and proceed from there.
Could you maybe look at my recent comment and see how the minerals are used to create machines that make powerful holograms and how it plays into the plot?
 
I will try to present something to give a science-like explanation for projecting physical bridges, but I would ask you to consider whether you are willing to constrain your world to reasonable extensions of physics or would be more comfortable in simply defining a magic system that does not need to comply?

First I will eliminate two of your concepts.
  • Holograms are light-based phenomena and light has an extremely weak force and is not able to overcome the force of gravity. Holograms cannot be physical bridges.
  • Minerals would have chemical interactions with other materials, but would not create new physical phenomena. A mineral will not transform something into something it is not.
Now for some science-ish handwaving.
  • Assume the discovery of a new subatomic particle, let's call it an Xon for now. Normally, an Xon has a weak bond to other Xons, but in the presence of an electro-magnetic field, it exhibits a very strong bond. Assume that even a weak magnetic field can cause this effect to minimize the power needs of the electro-magnetic generator.
  • Assume the development of a manufacturing technique to attach Xons to other molecules, think dust or fine metal filings. This might be analogous to the ionization of toner in an ink jet printer, except that the attachment is long term.
  • By using a pair of electro-magnetics and directing them through a cloud of Xon infused dust, a solid object is generated. It dissipates as soon as the electro-magnetic current is turned off.
  • As the cross section of the electro-magnetic field is round, probably a minimum of four projectors, two on each side of a chasm, would be needed. This would allow a depression for a pathway to occur between two beams. I am unsure of the possible interference patterns that might occur near the pair of transmitters at either side.
  • More complex structures would likely require more transmitters and also a complex program to modulate the output of each transmitter.
This means, though, that the hermit character would not be able to discover a single transmitter that provides much more than a circular blob encasing its tip when turned on. As I noted at the start, I would suggest going with a plausible magic system rather than trying to back fit your world into having a basis in an extension of science.
 
I will try to present something to give a science-like explanation for projecting physical bridges, but I would ask you to consider whether you are willing to constrain your world to reasonable extensions of physics or would be more comfortable in simply defining a magic system that does not need to comply?

First I will eliminate two of your concepts.
  • Holograms are light-based phenomena and light has an extremely weak force and is not able to overcome the force of gravity. Holograms cannot be physical bridges.
  • Minerals would have chemical interactions with other materials, but would not create new physical phenomena. A mineral will not transform something into something it is not.
Now for some science-ish handwaving.
  • Assume the discovery of a new subatomic particle, let's call it an Xon for now. Normally, an Xon has a weak bond to other Xons, but in the presence of an electro-magnetic field, it exhibits a very strong bond. Assume that even a weak magnetic field can cause this effect to minimize the power needs of the electro-magnetic generator.
  • Assume the development of a manufacturing technique to attach Xons to other molecules, think dust or fine metal filings. This might be analogous to the ionization of toner in an ink jet printer, except that the attachment is long term.
  • By using a pair of electro-magnetics and directing them through a cloud of Xon infused dust, a solid object is generated. It dissipates as soon as the electro-magnetic current is turned off.
  • As the cross section of the electro-magnetic field is round, probably a minimum of four projectors, two on each side of a chasm, would be needed. This would allow a depression for a pathway to occur between two beams. I am unsure of the possible interference patterns that might occur near the pair of transmitters at either side.
  • More complex structures would likely require more transmitters and also a complex program to modulate the output of each transmitter.
This means, though, that the hermit character would not be able to discover a single transmitter that provides much more than a circular blob encasing its tip when turned on. As I noted at the start, I would suggest going with a plausible magic system rather than trying to back fit your world into having a basis in an extension of science.
First off I can't thank you enough for all of this advice. Seriously thank you so much.
I would like to clear some things up, though.
"I would ask you to consider whether you are willing to constrain your world to reasonable extensions of physics or would be more comfortable in simply defining a magic system that does not need to comply?"
This is very complicated to answer because as weird as it sounds there is both science and magic systems in the world. I already made tons and tons of lore that fit in with tons and tons of themes I wish to tell to make a coherent and good story. It would take ages to explain why there is science and magic systems in the same world and ages longer to explained why I incorporated them into the story. Heck. This particular story isn't even about 10 percent of what I added in the overall universe. Its just a little event that happens in it. So for right now I will only focus on this science system. And this system MUST be science in order for the story to work. Your information was very insightful. Already I have a ton of scientific information.
"This means, though, that the hermit character would not be able to discover a single transmitter that provides much more than a circular blob encasing its tip when turned on."
He brings a ton more things like someone going on a camping trip brings a ton of things like tent supplies, trailers, laptops, and supplies in the natural environment. And using your suggestions, its still fits in with him installing machines to project physical objects like a house. My main idea of how these machines work is because the machines are like computers that bring things into physical form like a 3d printer using some kind of particle like that fictional Xon you've mentioned.
Just imagine it being similar to a computer connected to a printer printing 2d pictures or words or printing 3d models. These machines are like computers and they print physical structures because of certain advanced subatomic partials or something. Just so you have a better picture. Usually people don't even have a clear picture of a bunch of science stuff.
 
I have some questions. What is the conflict in the story? What is the situation in which as a reader I will be able to realize that it went from an initial situation A to a final situation Z? The problem with info-dumping is that many writers are so enthusiastic about things that matter only to them that they completely forget that it is about telling a story. That is to say, they do not even reflect on "how they should tell that story"; they are only interested in exposing the fact. Besides is not even a fact, but pages and pages of explanation. I don't see people talking about how things work in their environment even in my neighborhood. They all have two or three computers apart from the phone, my niece even put coins into her laptop, she thought it was a wurlitzer, but no one is interested in talking about silicon or how they are made. The only exception is the occasional mother or aunt explaining this to a child for obvious reasons. But the reader is not a child, and if he begins to think that you are feeling him feel that way, well, he will stop reading your story. But in fact it is a problem that writers are grappling with all the time, how can we manage to explain details of a world, especially one that is not ours, without the reader thinking that we are forcing him to swallow cartloads of information?

On the other hand, you say:

Usually people don't even have a clear picture of a bunch of science stuff.


And I wonder if by chance it is even a duty of people to know these things. In the Enlightenment century, yes, anyway; but not at this time. Well, I can understand that you think that way, because you are a scientist. But as a writer I would not dare to criticize people; maybe because I'm afraid of being arrogant. Instead I prefer to find a middle ground. I already understood that, as much as I am obsessed with talking and talking about all the things that interest me, I must admit, whether I like it or not, that my reader has the perfect right to share those interests or not. We writers call this "Preaching" and in the sense that interests the reader it becomes dialogue, and if I am really good, I can move him, thrill him to tears, the few hours that he will have remained reading my story will have enriched him spiritually; in the other sense, it is only a monologue, a thesis, not a novel, and we become a little more writer only when we manage to establish that dialogue.
This, explained in equation, means that I must give up saying everything. And even, on the other hand, I must be careful not to insult the intelligence of the other percentage of readers who are incredibly smarter and more erudite than I am. They even know theology. Which leads to the great conclusion that if they are reading a story, even a hard science fiction one, what they are going to prefer is the story; not that you explain to them so much how things work that, just see how they contested you only here in the forum, they already know that they can be otherwise. :giggle:
 
Read Komarr by Lois Bujold.

See how she treats the investigation of the mirror "accident". Her father was an engineer and she read SF from an early age so I would not be surprised if that affects how she thinks and writes.
 
It's a great question.
It depends on the world you are writing about ( how similar it is to our world, is it an alternative reality or a reflection of some kind...), when and how are you introducing the system, and the necessary depth ( relevance for properties of the world ).
If you want to make the system more scientific, start with a hierarchy and interaction model.
The hierarchy should always be based on conversion or balance of some kind ( everything should have a source and path ). Also, remember that energy can’t be created or destroyed but only generated and dissipated.
Other important aspects depend on the detailing, ornamentation, and architecture/form of the story ( how it warps, shapes properties of the world as I mentioned).

Hope I'm being helpful.


P.S.
I'm kind of a specialist in this, so if you have a specific question about models or scientific elements ( science ) for the story, Would be happy to assist/ help.
 
My biggest problem is not knowing how to explain where the mineral comes from or how its molecular structure makes it so powerful. I'm worried people will just call it magic because the minerals can't be explained. But maybe if I have an explanation about how they were formed and how their structure makes them powerful, it may be possible in theory and therefore be proper science-fictional technology.
Let’s start with the world. You can create a convincing model/ system based on known mechanisms and technology, modified for your story.
It's hard for me to give you specific advice. I don't necessarily understand the type of world/ reality you are writing about. If it's an alternative Universe, deviation from our reality will always make it more magical than scientific, but if your world is in a different universe, well things get much easier ( especially if you have a decent understanding of natural processes).
 

Back
Top