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Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse books?

"Hell's Gate" and "Hell Hath No Fury", by David, Linda Evans, and Joelle Presby, take the clash of science and magic to a whole new dimension...join us in a friendly discussion of this engrossing series!
Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by JimHacker   » Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:27 am

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PeterZ wrote:The two principal ways magic has been dealt with in the stories I have read has been either channeling or some systematic way of imposing the will unto the physical world. In no case has magic not had a systematic definition to explain it. It follows that the scientific method can be applied to any non-chaneling magic.

I have yet to run into any fantasy story involving magic that doesn't follow this basic premise.


If you want to find some innovative magic systems look at the works of Brent Weeks and Brian Sanderson.

Brent Weeks in particular has very well developed, intricate and innovative magic systems which vary series to series. Personally, I found his 'lightbringer' series too complicated in some ways, but here magic is based on the spectrum of light, with different frequencies/colours involved in different magics. I much preferred his debut trilogy (the Night Trilogy). Here the magic system was less complex but was still explained, defined and worked predictably within its limits. I definitely recommend that trilogy btw - its rather dark but ultimately uplifting, and very very well plotted out and written.

Then there are Brian Sanderson's mistborn books - where the magic system is based around gifted individuals consuming different metals and getting different magics depending on the metal. Again, this is a clearly defined system with limits.

There are plenty of fantasy series out there which have properly defined magic systems - I much prefer them as they can avoid the deus ex machina and plot holes which can plague books without defined (and thus limited) magic. However, there are few where magic is truly scientific - by which I mean it has the scientific method applied to it by the society in the book. I think this is one of the most innovative and interesting things about the multiverse series - pitting a mid-industrial-age society (but mostly based on our science) against an cuspal-information-age society (but based on a very different science, aka magic)and seeing what happens. I think the Arcanan society's technology and its attitude to technology has interesting parallels to our own (and pretty much embodies the rule 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishabl from magic'). In some ways I was disappointed on learning that Weber is planning on taking the series in a different direction to this.
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by Astelon   » Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:18 pm

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In my view the distinction of magic acting as a science comes from its interaction with known physics. In D&D, Harry Potter, and other mentioned stories magic supersedes physics, which otherwise apply.
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by bkwormlisa   » Sat Aug 22, 2015 1:38 pm

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Magic systems depend on the author. Some like to have no rules, so they can do anything they want (Tolkien is a classic example). Others want rules and systems so the readers know what can and can't be done (Brandon Sanderson is one of the best at it, and his magic systems tend to be very different than the classic ones). L.E. Modesitt also does highly original magic systems, including one where black magic (magic of order) is good and white (magic of chaos) is bad, though his systems are less systematic and I don't like all of his series. I like Tamora Pierce's books, though she definitely doesn't have as much of a system as Sanderson. I would disagree that there's no system, especially for the craft magic, but it's certainly loose in some places.

How you define your search for rules depends on whether or not you consider D&D to be systematic; whether you're looking for understandable rules of each spell or a coherent overall system. In D&D, you know what can be done with each individual spell, but the overall logic of what can and can't be done with magic (assuming anything can't) and why different types of mages can and can't cast different types of spells doesn't exist as far as I can tell. It has all sorts of rules which are necessary for players to make it work, but there's no real underlying logic in my opinion. There's certainly no conservation of energy or mass or anything like that, which most systems that are well defined (and attempt to be at least vaguely realistic) have. But it doesn't need broad logic or realism to work, and that's probably too much to ask for anything designed by committee and redesigned so often anyway. It works and is close enough to balanced to function, which is all most of us care about.

I like Sanderson's "Laws of Magic". He favors hard magic (with rules, even if they conflict with our physics) over soft magic (without rules or internal consistency).

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
Sanderson’s Second Law of Magics: Limitations > Powers (more limitations than powers, or that limitations are more important than powers).
Sanderson’s Third Law of Magics: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

The links above lead to his articles on the subject that I find really interesting. I'd say that at least in these books, Weber is using "hard" magic, with rules, though there's a lot about the Arcanan rules we don't know yet (but hopefully will find out in this books, which should have far more on Arcana than the first two). Not always; I don't consider the War God books to be particularly hard magic, since we know so little about what wizards can do (Weber might or might not have rules for wizardry, but we sure don't know very many).

Actually, science fiction can be just as "hard" or "soft" as magic, and Weber always favors hard understandable physics and rules, while others (Moon for example, since she's been mentioned) just have vague references to FTL travel and communication with no clear idea of how it's done, what speeds and distances it can really cover, what kind of starship it takes to do it, or anything else. Basically, Weber does science fiction, while Moon and others like her do what's called space opera. Star Trek is probably THE classic example of space opera. I prefer science fiction, though space opera can still be very fun to read, especially for those that don't care for infodumps and reality to interfere with the story. John Ringo and David Drake are also hard sci-fi writers I like (fair warning: Ringo almost never finishes a series, so his stories rarely reach completion; don't read them if you hate loose ends), while Bujold's Vorkosigan series is also hard (and unlike some others, each book is complete and without cliffhangers).

JimHacker: I've never heard of Weeks, but I'll try him. Thanks for the recommendation.
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by Tenshinai   » Sat Aug 22, 2015 5:45 pm

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bkwormlisa wrote:L.E. Modesitt also does highly original magic systems, including one where black magic (magic of order) is good and white (magic of chaos) is bad, though his systems are less systematic and I don't like all of his series.


Well, if you´ve read most of his Recluce series, you should know that it´s not really a matter of good or bad, but how it functions.

Lorn and Cerryl are good examples of chaosmagi being "good". There´s also "bad" order "mages"(i can´t recall any names at the moment).

However, the most powerful ones overall are the grey magi, that maintains balanced forces.
BOTH chaos and order magic is literally "bad", as it creates unnatural divisions.

In at least one of the books, some of the chaos mages outright suggest letting Recluce and its ordermages become stronger(and especially to make more orderforged metal), because that leads to more chaosmagi being born.

Anyway, it´s an interesting variation on magic systems, for example, both order and chaos magi could try to cure an infection in a person, but the way they would do it would be world apart, the chaos mage would burn it away in a potentially extremely dangerous flash, while an ordermage would either do classic "healing magic" or strengthen the patient or similar...

If you haven´t read enough of the books to know the above, i suggest you try reading them in chronological order instead of publishing order, it makes MUCH more sense.

IIRC, i think i started with the "Fall of angels", since at the time the Magi/Scion of Cyador prequel books wasn´t out yet.


Of course, the magic "system" in his Spellsong cycle is at the same time extremely systematic, AND completely openended. Have to put what you want to happen into words made song, but aside from that, almost anything is potentially possible. Like when someone ends a battle with a magical WMD, created by drawing on realworld physics.

bkwormlisa wrote:I like Tamora Pierce's books, though she definitely doesn't have as much of a system as Sanderson. I would disagree that there's no system, especially for the craft magic, but it's certainly loose in some places.


Well, there is SOME degree of a system yes, however, again and again magi break the system one way or another, sometimes by simply wanting something specific to happen strongly enough, other times by reacting instinctively to danger etc...

So while there is a system and the ground level, once characters step beyond that, it tends to become a matter of the characters figuring out a way to mold the magic to do what they want.
With ambient and craft mages especially obviously not sticking much to any potential "rules of magic" while scholarly magi tend to be more bound by the same rules.
(mostly referring to Circle of magic, since it´s the series i´ve read completely)

bkwormlisa wrote:Basically, Weber does science fiction, while Moon and others like her do what's called space opera.


I wouldn´t put it nearly that clearcut and simple.
And most of Weber´s scifi is usually referred to as specfically "space opera", i get the delineation you prefer, but others seem to disagree.

Also, too often, there´s the risk of trying to settle on a "hard grounding" so to speak, and then find out that you made the story you were telling impossible, or just stupid.

However, THE biggest reason for not trying to be too overly specific, especially those authors trying to be "scientifically realistic", is the fact that what was considered a realistic future a century or 50 years ago, is drastically different from what we might think realistic today, or a century from today.

And what is impossible today, might be easy tomorrow, just because someone figured out how to cheat physics in some way previously considered "never gonna happen".

bkwormlisa wrote: Star Trek is probably THE classic example of space opera.


Funny thing about that, is that ST has actually predicted things more than once with pure technobabble. :geek:
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by bkwormlisa   » Sat Aug 22, 2015 6:42 pm

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I admit, I only got a couple of books into the Recluse series, probably because I was reading it out of order. I've meant to go back, but haven't yet.

As for Ms. Pierce making things happen just because the character wants to badly enough, that's almost universal. Even Weber throws in impossibilities at crisis times (like Honor speaking perfectly despite her crippled mouth when she's in a towering rage, or hypering perfectly in a crunch despite the uncertainty imposed by the resonance zone). No, it's not a good thing, and no, her system isn't as rigorously developed or rule-bound as many, but almost all books have the occasional slip in that regard. Not something you should forgive an author for doing too often, but also not something you can condemn an author for on rare occasions.

In the Circle of Magic, the rules I got from it were that academic mages were bound to a fairly rigid formula, while the ambient mages were far more instinctual and relied as much on will as on process, along with active cooperation from the craft in question (which seems to imply that inanimate object are capable of acting, however bizarre that is). If those are indeed the rules, then there's a whole lot of flex in the ambient system and she can do much of what she wants without specifically explaining how. A system, but a very soft and open one. I don't deny that. The Spellsinger and Imager systems are likewise very open-ended and flexible, since they're based on songs or visualizations.

The delineation between hard science fiction and space opera being whether or not they specify their technology is the one everyone I know uses, but there are a whole lot of other people out there, so some may well define it differently. And it's not really as clear-cut as I probably made it sound. If some consider Weber's books space opera, well, it's all in the definition and it may well be in their/your view. I don't have a problem with that, though it can make conversations with strangers online difficult when different people use different definitions. What do you consider the definition of space opera to be, if you want to discuss it?

And yes, setting down hard rules can turn around and bite you if new things are discovered. Lackey's Talent series and the stars she picked come to mind, and there are lots of other ways it can be a problem. And yes, those that never specify a system don't have to worry much about science suddenly invalidating their work. I'm sure if anyone's still reading them in a hundred years, some of the things in them will seem as silly as the first science fiction does to us. Obviously, some authors (Weber included) choose to define their physics anyway. Good, bad, or otherwise, some do it.

Star Trek has shown many things that became reality, true enough. It's also shown many more that never did (not to mention violating its own rules at time, like a lot of TV). It's fun to watch, but accuracy was never its primary goal, or even consistency. :)

And Star Trek isn't the only science fiction that made some accurate predictions. Strangely, media and fiction seem much better at that than the experts do. I wonder if that's because the experts have tunnel vision, because fiction predicts many more things and so has an absolute (if not percentage-wise) number of correct ones, or if people look at the fiction and try to make it reality? o^O Or, more boringly, it could just be be cause we don't think about the expert predictions that were right. I doubt there's a simple answer there either.
Tenshinai wrote:
bkwormlisa wrote:L.E. Modesitt also does highly original magic systems, including one where black magic (magic of order) is good and white (magic of chaos) is bad, though his systems are less systematic and I don't like all of his series.


Well, if you´ve read most of his Recluce series, you should know that it´s not really a matter of good or bad, but how it functions.

Lorn and Cerryl are good examples of chaosmagi being "good". There´s also "bad" order "mages"(i can´t recall any names at the moment).

However, the most powerful ones overall are the grey magi, that maintains balanced forces.
BOTH chaos and order magic is literally "bad", as it creates unnatural divisions.

In at least one of the books, some of the chaos mages outright suggest letting Recluce and its ordermages become stronger(and especially to make more orderforged metal), because that leads to more chaosmagi being born.

Anyway, it´s an interesting variation on magic systems, for example, both order and chaos magi could try to cure an infection in a person, but the way they would do it would be world apart, the chaos mage would burn it away in a potentially extremely dangerous flash, while an ordermage would either do classic "healing magic" or strengthen the patient or similar...

If you haven´t read enough of the books to know the above, i suggest you try reading them in chronological order instead of publishing order, it makes MUCH more sense.

IIRC, i think i started with the "Fall of angels", since at the time the Magi/Scion of Cyador prequel books wasn´t out yet.


Of course, the magic "system" in his Spellsong cycle is at the same time extremely systematic, AND completely openended. Have to put what you want to happen into words made song, but aside from that, almost anything is potentially possible. Like when someone ends a battle with a magical WMD, created by drawing on realworld physics.

bkwormlisa wrote:I like Tamora Pierce's books, though she definitely doesn't have as much of a system as Sanderson. I would disagree that there's no system, especially for the craft magic, but it's certainly loose in some places.


Well, there is SOME degree of a system yes, however, again and again magi break the system one way or another, sometimes by simply wanting something specific to happen strongly enough, other times by reacting instinctively to danger etc...

So while there is a system and the ground level, once characters step beyond that, it tends to become a matter of the characters figuring out a way to mold the magic to do what they want.
With ambient and craft mages especially obviously not sticking much to any potential "rules of magic" while scholarly magi tend to be more bound by the same rules.
(mostly referring to Circle of magic, since it´s the series i´ve read completely)

bkwormlisa wrote:Basically, Weber does science fiction, while Moon and others like her do what's called space opera.


I wouldn´t put it nearly that clearcut and simple.
And most of Weber´s scifi is usually referred to as specfically "space opera", i get the delineation you prefer, but others seem to disagree.

Also, too often, there´s the risk of trying to settle on a "hard grounding" so to speak, and then find out that you made the story you were telling impossible, or just stupid.

However, THE biggest reason for not trying to be too overly specific, especially those authors trying to be "scientifically realistic", is the fact that what was considered a realistic future a century or 50 years ago, is drastically different from what we might think realistic today, or a century from today.

And what is impossible today, might be easy tomorrow, just because someone figured out how to cheat physics in some way previously considered "never gonna happen".

bkwormlisa wrote: Star Trek is probably THE classic example of space opera.


Funny thing about that, is that ST has actually predicted things more than once with pure technobabble. :geek:
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by Tenshinai   » Mon Aug 24, 2015 8:09 am

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bkwormlisa wrote:What do you consider the definition of space opera to be, if you want to discuss it?


Actually, i don´t think i have one, i don´t bother separating them that much. IIRC, someone defined space opera as "sci-fi on big numbers", maybe that´s the closest... :D

bkwormlisa wrote:Good, bad, or otherwise, some do it.


As long as they try to do it in a way that is INTERNALLY consistent (i don´t mind if they break physics of the real world, as long as they don´t break physics of their own world ), it´s good.

bkwormlisa wrote:Star Trek has shown many things that became reality, true enough. It's also shown many more that never did (not to mention violating its own rules at time, like a lot of TV). It's fun to watch, but accuracy was never its primary goal, or even consistency. :)


True.

bkwormlisa wrote:And Star Trek isn't the only science fiction that made some accurate predictions. Strangely, media and fiction seem much better at that than the experts do. I wonder if that's because the experts have tunnel vision, because fiction predicts many more things and so has an absolute (if not percentage-wise) number of correct ones, or if people look at the fiction and try to make it reality? o^O Or, more boringly, it could just be be cause we don't think about the expert predictions that were right. I doubt there's a simple answer there either.


:lol:

A little bit of each perhaps...

bkwormlisa wrote:In the Circle of Magic, the rules I got from it were that academic mages were bound to a fairly rigid formula, while the ambient mages were far more instinctual and relied as much on will as on process, along with active cooperation from the craft in question (which seems to imply that inanimate object are capable of acting, however bizarre that is). If those are indeed the rules, then there's a whole lot of flex in the ambient system and she can do much of what she wants without specifically explaining how. A system, but a very soft and open one.


Yeah, there is an underlying system creating a "base level", but the rules are either not hard, or it´s "easy" to break them once they step above that base level.

bkwormlisa wrote:As for Ms. Pierce making things happen just because the character wants to badly enough, that's almost universal. Even Weber throws in impossibilities at crisis times


Author fiat is hard to get rid of completely. It might be nice, but unlikely to happen.

I´ve written enough fanfiction myself to find that it´s horribly easy to use author fiat even when you´re specifically trying to avoid it completely.

bkwormlisa wrote:I admit, I only got a couple of books into the Recluse series, probably because I was reading it out of order. I've meant to go back, but haven't yet.


Thought so, as it´s only the first books that depicts the good/evil, order/chaos idea, because of how they focus on one side.
It´s only when you start seeing the other sides that it becomes interesting(i really think he should have released the books in chronological order).

"The White Order"/"Colors of Chaos" follows Cerryl and gives a lot of differing views.

The Cyador books look at preceeding events of the first "chaos empire".

And the "Fall of Angels"/"Chaos Balance" shows where a lot of the ideas came from(a scifi war) and how they ended up as distorted as they are.
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Re: Is magic being treated like science in the Multiverse bo
Post by Jonathan_S   » Mon Aug 24, 2015 10:19 am

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bkwormlisa wrote:The delineation between hard science fiction and space opera being whether or not they specify their technology is the one everyone I know uses, but there are a whole lot of other people out there, so some may well define it differently. And it's not really as clear-cut as I probably made it sound. If some consider Weber's books space opera, well, it's all in the definition and it may well be in their/your view. I don't have a problem with that, though it can make conversations with strangers online difficult when different people use different definitions. What do you consider the definition of space opera to be, if you want to discuss it?

Personally I tend to think of things as space opera when they have grand sweeping battles, and the space combat is a major focus of the story.

Whereas I tend to think of hard sci-fi as exploring the impact on society of a "what-if" new technology.

But even within those somewhat vague definitions there is certainly a range of "hardness" within what I'd tend to lump under space opera -- on the softer side you've got storied that basically don't explain the tech (they just want to recreate epic space battles), then on the harder side you've got things like Weber's Honorverse novels where you can make predictions or counter-examples based on fairly well explained invented technologies and that rigor underpins the combat.

At this point the Multiverse books (all 2 of them) haven't explained the mechanics of either side's magic/talents that well; but then they've got 1/15th the space in which to relay it as the Honorverse. But it does seem that there are rules the authors worked out that control the magic; we just aren't privy to a lot of them yet.
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