Many of the issues with superpowers boil down to one question: are they science or magic?
Since the Rough Passages Tales take place in a modern world built on scientific guiding principles, people attempt to explain superpowers. But I show them failing, over and over. It’s an acknowledged truth in my world that the models are all flawed, and the answers are always changing. (Which, come to think of it, is a fairly accurate portrayal of scientific development. Will my scientists ever resolve the mysteries? I’m not saying.)
The tricky part is how to much to show and tell. The more unreal a power is, the more I will research it and the less I will explain. As a reader I don’t like drowning in hows. They distract me. Plus honestly, when it comes to speculative fiction, less is more. Process is much easier to screw up than basic principles and premises.
I like Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Twelve-foot-tall humanoids with super-strength and nigh-invulnerable bodies (for example) can’t be explained by current models of physics, biology or anything else, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be.
I put countless hours into conceptual development and reading relevant research. (Ask Spouseman about one hours-long walk and discussion about population-level statistics…) Then I develop plausible mechanisms for unnatural abilities. Plausible means they’re logical, internally consistent and don’t violate known scientific principles, not that they make any sense according to currently-known processes.
And then I find a million little ways to dish out that huge pool of data in tiny spoonfuls. I might insert a villain using a wind blast to disrupt a winged air elemental who flies by creating her own localized lift. Or a character might tease a giant friend for eating daily briefing papers after reading them.
I want to avoid drowning readers in long treatises on the theory of elemental powers and universal vibration-tuning or other such malarkey. This is how I interpret the hoary old writer’s advice show, not tell. If it isn’t embedded, it doesn’t get shown. The more unreal something is, the more I will think and the less I will show. How does the air elemental control air? Not gonna touch that. They do. Premise accepted or not, reader’s choice.
Think that’s unrealistic? When was the last time you pondered the miracle of your refrigerator’s inner workings upon grabbing a cold drink? Or your car. You turn a key or press a button, and engine magic happens. You don’t spend two minutes thinking about internal combustion and fuel injection. Well. I don’t, anyway.
So I don’t bog down my stories writing about processes I would have to break science to explain in detail
True confession rant: I am so TIRED of fiction breaking science. Triple helix DNA. Mutating neutrinos. Reverse-pulse-magnetism. (whut?!) Diseases “deciding” to evolve. Cauterizing big, bleeding surface wounds. <sound of broken weeping> I’m begging here. Run a quick fact-check before passing on science myths, and if you can’t explain your faux-science premise without putting vocabulary in a blender and making meaningless word porridge, DON’T TRY!
Keeping it simple is the best way to keep it real.
2 replies on “Making Superpowers Make Sense”
“Plausible means they’re logical, internally consistent and don’t violate known scientific principles, not that they make any sense according to currently-known processes.”
Aw that’s beautiful. No radioactive spiders? No aliens from space?
No Greek maidens on hidden islands with bullet repelling bracelets? If she’s Greek, why does she have a European face? if she’s been on the island, why did they need to invent bullet proof anything? wouldn’t bullet proof armor work better than bracelets?
The lack of basic science literacy from the creators of spider bites and mythological maidens often irks me. All the gobbledygook jargon-splaining only highlights the basic factual errors and gaping logic holes…but I digress. (Aliens aren’t my explanation, but it’s certainly a plausible way to tackle things. Infinite possibilities and all that)
That whole “but why do they look European if they’re not?” thing made me smile. I got in SO MUCH trouble in Sunday school for dissing pictures of white Anglo-Saxon Jesus with swarms of blonde and redheaded little children. Ah, good times…