Enjoy a little science in your fiction? How about in your epic fantasy? Recently scientists have been applying their methods to fictitious worlds, including Skyrim, Westeros, and the alternate universe of Harry Potter.
Jane Robb, geologist and educator, has mapped the rock formations of the Skyrim province of Tamriel. Her false color maps show the location of ores (such as gold, malachite, and moonstone) and discusses the geological processes that create them, including compressional faults and the cooling of magma with fluid intrusion. She’s lined up the resulting surface features with the ore locations to tell a surprisingly scientifically accurate story about the rocks in Skyrim. She plans to incorporate all her work into a new mod for the game, because she considers videogames “excellent at communicating scientific principles.”
Above ground, a group of astronomers have hypothesized a solar system which could possibly produce the seasons of Westeros from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In their paper, Kostov et al. postulate a system of two G-type stars (like our solar system’s sun) and a single planet whose axis of rotation isn’t tilted (unlike Earth). The astronomers presented their research in the form of a scientific journal article that alternates between equations and allusions to Westerosi locations and adages, making it a very clever piece of fanfiction. Read it for the in-jokes, not the physics, because they conclude their hypothetical planetary system wouldn’t produce the Westerosi seasons.
Andrea Klenotiz, a biology student at the University of Delaware, has presented J. K. Rowling with a letter giving a possible genetic basis for Rowling’s novels’ assertion that the wizarding gene is dominant. Klenotiz hypothesizes the wizarding gene is a single, autosomal (not sex-linked) gene including repeating triplets of nucleotides (genetic molecules). These triplets are unstable and so the number of them will vary from parent to child. A certain number of repetitions are required for the person to express wizard powers. Klenotiz based her hypothesis on the real-life behavior of Huntington’s disease.
All of these efforts have the potential to get non-scientists interested in science, which is a wonderful thing. But I worry that presenting the science of fantasy as science undermines the credibility of the profession whose goal is to determine the factual truth. For folks without an understanding of the scientific method, does this make them want to dig in deeper or does it come across, like Arthur C. Clarke said, as “indistinguishable from magic?” What do you think?
Image by C. Robert O’Dell and Kerry P. Handron (Rice University), NASA (Creative Commons Share Alike).