Yuck, There’s Thermodynamics in my Magic System

The development of the magic system in the Fourth World came about naturally as I was telling the stories that took place there. While many out-of-the-ordinary processes in the world I created could technically qualify as magic, the part that most people would think of as magic (i.e., the powers that sorcerers would use to flamboyant effect) is something called binding. By using willpower, a sorcerer is able to bind a particular substance to a point of his choosing. For example, an ironbinder could create a focal point in the air which drew metal to it, very much as if that point became magnetic. Pretty simple and straightforward, right?

As it turns out… not so much.

In one of my stories in The Clans, a character has a magical object that has been heatbound, meaning that it has a permanent binding which allows it to draw heat out of its immediate environment, thus making them much cooler. As a plot device, it served its purpose well, and I thought it was kind of a cool concept, so I was proud when I handed it over to my beta readers. They liked the story, but one of them pointed something out to me that seemed to present a serious problem.

Left unchecked, the mere presence of this heatbound object would eventually destroy the entire world.

So much for simple and straightforward.

Thermodynamics formulaThis beta reader of mine is primarily a sci-fi reader, so he is very particular about the cause-effect relationships in a way that only an avid hard-SF reader can appreciate (although Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks are changing that, with their magic systems that act more like physics than hand-waving). So when he discovered how this object worked, his mind spun out all the implications of such a thing.

So what happens to all that heat that gets drawn into the object? Nothing; it just packed in there, so that the core becomes more and more superheated… and will every moment for all time. Therein lies the rub: heat gets continually drained from the world into what amounts to a black hole of thermal energy, never to be seen again, until there is no more heat left. The Fourth World eventually becomes nothing more than a giant snowball.

Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to just scrap the whole idea of the heatbound object. This character could very well perform his tasks with some other object that wouldn’t destroy the world, and the story would go on. Besides, I never set out to create the coolest magic system. I created the magic system to fit in with the world where my stories take place. If this one little idea ended up on the cutting room floor, I would still be true to my goals for the Fourth World stories and you, my dear readers, would never know the difference.

But where’s the fun in that?

So I’ve decided to challenge myself and come up with a solution. I’ve got a pretty solid idea of how to fix it, but I’m going to run it by my people first, just to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve overlooked. After that, it’s just a matter of inserting a paragraph or two and applying another layer of polish, and “It Beckons” will be in final form for the book. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.

3 thoughts on “Yuck, There’s Thermodynamics in my Magic System

  1. The cheating answer to this problem, btw, is to have the thing explode when it gets too hot inside. It’s cheating AND retconning, sorta, to have this happen even though the maker either didn’t think about its heat capacity or thought it was infinite. And the fun part is you can have a totally unexpected explosion of any desired size to play with!

    If you want to be boring in your cheat just have it have an unanticipated maximum capacity. Then it can at least fail at the least possible opportune moment. You could also have it start leaking heat back out when it hits the max, which again offers opportunities for hijinks to ensue.

    Alternatively, the fact that the thing is eventually going to destroy the world can occur to one or more characters, and stopping it can then become a new subplot or the plot of a whole new story.

    I’m sure you thought of all of those. I’m just laying them out.

  2. I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re wonderful!

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