The Thermodynamic Model for Distinguishing Fictional Science from Fictional Magic

Oh, the age old problem! Any sufficiently fictional technology is indistinguishable from fictional magic. Faster than light drives? Going really fast magic! Psychic powers? Mind magic with a sciency name. Teleportation? Vanishing magic! Robots? Golems! Viral zombies? Actual zombies!

Well a crack team has been working on this problem here at Felapton Towers and we’ve come up with the Thermodynamic Model for Distinguishing Fictional Science from Fictional Magic.

But first a word of caution. This model only distinguishes fictional science from fictional magic. It does not distinguish Science Fiction from Fantasy. To do that you’ll need a graph.

The model works like this. First consider the fictional setting, technology or whatever of the book in question. Now consider the laws of thermodynamics.

  • Is talking at length about how the laws of thermodynamics might apply NOT utterly missing the point of the book?
    • YES! Then this may be a case of hard science fiction.
    • No. Then move on.
  • Is talking at length about how the laws of thermodynamics might apply utterly missing the point of the book but you can imagine the author worrying about it somewhat and so talk about it anyway i.e. it sort of looks like a legitimate criticism of what they made up?
    • YES! Then this is fictional science!
    • No. Then move on.
  • Will people look at you blankly or maybe step away or change the subject when you start discussing how the laws of thermodynamics would apply when Mr Darcy’s shirt is all wet from diving into that pond in Pride and Prejudice? Or how the opening line is phrased as a kind of universal axiom implying that the steady state of early 19th century upper-class English society is a pairing of men in possession of good fortunes with wives?
    • YES! Then you are oddly trying to critique Jane Austen using thermodynamics. Don’t let the strange looks put you off. This could be both fun and interesting – it probably won’t be, but stick with it. This also works for Charles Dickens.
    • No. Then move on.
  • Are the violations of thermodynamics egregious and repeated and incompatible with any kind of consistent physical universe and also the author clearly doesn’t give a shit and also the reaction is a bit like trying to discuss thermodynamics and Jane Austen despite the obvious implication that a perpetual motion machine is possible in this universe and the characters should obviously build one as that would be a better use of their time than chasing magic MacGuffins.
    • YES! Then you are looking at fictional magic. This might be a horror story so don’t assume this is a fantasy novel. Check your tropes first!
    • No. Are you actually reading a book about thermodynamics?
      • YES! Cool but that isn’t fictional.
      • No. Have you reached the heat death of the universe?
        • YES!
        • No. Keep going, you’ll get there eventually.
Advertisements

6 comments

  1. RD F

    I’d like to see your critique of Jan Austin’s works, actually. A great author, cruelly overlooked due to not existing in this timeline…

    Like

  2. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 12/13/16 I Never Thought I’d Be Playing The Straight Pixel To A Tin Scroll | File 770
  3. rea

    Are the violations of thermodynamics egregious and repeated and incompatible with any kind of consistent physical universe and also the author clearly doesn’t give a shit and also the reaction is a bit like trying to discuss thermodynamics and Jane Austen despite the obvious implication that a perpetual motion machine is possible in this universe and the characters should obviously build one as that would be a better use of their time than chasing magic MacGuffins

    Sounds like you’ve been reading Fantasy, specifically <em Atlas Shrugged.

    Like