Science in Fantasy Novels

So, I was just tinkering with a formula to quantify the relative magic-inhibiting capacities of iron on faery magic (1 horseshoepower = the amount of inhibition produced by a 4 kg wrought-iron horseshoe at a distance of 1 m) when I stopped long enough to check my RSS feeds. Well, what should I find but this observation from i09’s Annalee Newitz: “Science in Fantasy Novels is More Accurate than in Science Fiction.”

Here’s a snippet:

One might argue that good worldbuilding in fantasy always involves hard science. Authors from N.K. Jemisin to George R.R. Martin and Ursula Le Guin have created alternate worlds whose geology, climate, and ecosystems are so good that they’ve captured the imaginations of scientists. These stories represent earnest attempts to create new environments based on what we know from studying the deep history of our own world.

And this:

Given what I already pointed out about how magic and advanced technology are basically indistinguishable in science fiction, we’re going to have to admit that there’s something other than magic that divides “fantasy” from “science fiction.” It seems to be the kinds of science the two genres tackle. The hallmarks of rigorous science fantasy are a focus on Earth science, as well as biology and ecosystems. Science fiction, on the other hand, tends to focus on physics, cosmology, and engineering. Both genres often incorporate anthropology and political science.

What do you think? Does she have a point? And, what sorts of scientific accuracy do you enjoy reading in a fantasy novel?


One thought on “Science in Fantasy Novels

  1. One of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quotations is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But more to the point…I personally believe that scientists who write science fiction (or fantasy) tend to create more realistic worlds than those not versed in physical (and they are all ultimately physical) theories. For example, positing the evolution of something like a dragon isn’t really totally unbelievable. Positing the evolution of a Centaur is stretching it. Having said that, I do like Centaurs.

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