The following sample chapter from Joyce Hertzoff’s novel The Crimson Orb is infused with elements of Science Fantasy (SciFan). Please stay tuned after the sample, and I will offer a critique of the Science Fantasy elements that were displayed in this excerpt:
I sat on a carved wooden bench in my favorite corner in the vegetable garden, watching the boys at their morning sword practice with my father and wishing I was out there with them. My brother Blane, nineteen years old and blond like Father, was easily besting the Duke’s son Kerr, as he usually did.
My favorite of the pure black cats inhabiting the Manor jumped up on my lap, licked a paw, then curled up and promptly fell asleep. It was that kind of warm summer day when, if I wasn’t with the boys, I didn’t want to do anything more than sit in the shade of the old apple tree, inhaling its sweet scent. Since I was ten I’ve dreamed of learning to feint and parry, thrust and slice like Blane, Kerr, and my other brother Donal. But I’m a girl and it wasn’t seemly.
Girls of ten to twenty were relegated to the sewing room, where Jannet, the governess and seamstress, taught us the fine art of needlepoint. I couldn’t sew a straight line to save myself, and I really wasn’t interested in learning. Our only other lessons were in the kitchens. Cook, whose name was Bridey although no one ever called her anything but ‘Cook’, not even her husband, taught us to boil an egg and make soup from whatever was available. That wasn’t so bad, because we could eat what we made and no one else was the wiser when it tasted awful.
Blane won his match, and next Donal fought a duel with Adair, the Duke’s younger son. I watched them closely, Donal’s red hair and Adair’s blond shining in the sun. I hoped I could learn by paying close attention, if not by actually using a sword. Mind you, these were short practice swords, not meant to do much damage. Donal appeared to be doing much better than I’d seen in the past.
I was startled by someone sitting down next to me on the bench. It was Madoc, the Manor’s resident wizard. I never heard him coming, and yet suddenly he was there, like magic, which was what he wanted everyone to believe.
“Donal has improved, hasn’t he?” Madoc hadn’t lost the accent revealing he came from the East Islands. You would think a wizard would do something about that. But his magic came from knowing what others had long forgotten. All I knew was that things had been different in the past. He had knowledge from reading ancient texts, and passed some of it on to the boys.
I looked into his warm, dark eyes. “Yes. His movements are more…” I strove to find the right word. “…more fluid.” I waved my arms about, imitating my brother.
“He’s learned how to become one with his sword,” Madoc said. “Notice how Adair has to work to make the sword do what he wants, but Donal lets his sword go where it should.”
I turned to him. “Did you teach him that?” I asked.
“Your brothers both have some magical talent, an understanding of how to connect with everything around them,” Madoc explained. “I just helped Donal to recognize how to use that.”
“Oh,” I said. As much as I wished they’d let me learn to use a sword, my desire to study magic with Madoc was even greater.
He’d come to the Manor when I was eight. The Duke’s previous wizard was getting old and the Duke wanted a younger man to take his place, although I doubt he expected a lad of sixteen. Yet Madoc had shown his abilities on several occasions, despite his youth. He taught the boys who were interested in his art, and gave all of them lessons in science as well.
Now, eight years after his arrival, he was part of our lives, and no one questioned his ability.
“Why aren’t you in the sewing room with Morna and the other girls?” he asked.
“I hate sewing.” I hesitated about going on, but the need to tell someone who might help make it happen was too strong. “I would rather learn to sword fight and do magic.” There, I’d said it.
He looked deeply into my eyes and asked, “Why do you hate to sew?”
I shrugged. “I’m not very good at it.”
“Do you hate it because you’re not good at it, or can’t you do it well because you hate it?”
That was a question I’d never considered. “Do you think that, if I liked sewing and thought it would somehow be useful for me, I’d be better at it?”
Then he really surprised me. “Nissa, you probably have as much magical ability as Blane and Donal.” He paused briefly while I considered that and what it had to do with what we’d been talking about. “Just as your brothers use the energy around us to guide a sword arm, you can learn to use it to improve your sewing.”
I swallowed. “Would you teach me?” I dared to ask. “I mean, show me how, as you’ve shown them?”
He stared at me for so long that I was afraid he was preparing to say ‘no’, but then he surprised me one more time by saying, “Meet me in my rooms this afternoon when the boys return here for sword practice, and we’ll see how good a pupil you can be.”
I thought I would burst with happiness. Madoc was going to teach me to do magic, or rather how to use it!
“I’ll be there!” I said. He laughed, but it was a friendly laugh.
The cat woke just then and jumped off my lap. “Well, I guess I’d better get back to Jannet before anyone misses me, not that I think they care.”
I could feel his eyes on me as I walked off. It was more of a skip than a walk as I made my way through a wooden side door and down the narrow hallway inside the manor. But my good mood dissipated when I entered the room where my fourteen-year-old sister Morna and a few other girls sat at two tables, hemming the cloth napkins they would be embroidering.
“Narissa Day, where have you been?” Jannet asked, her broad accent deepening with her annoyance. Few people called me by my full name, but usually it was when they wanted to scold me.
“I…I needed some air,” I replied. It was true that this room was stuffy. Lint from the linen cloth we worked with hung in the still air and I could actually see it when the light came through the two tiny East windows that early in the morning.
“Well, you’re falling behind. Morna, show your sister what she’s to do,” Jannet instructed.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Morna said, smiling her usual radiant smile. She still hadn’t outgrown the sprinkle of freckles across her nose and her bright red hair cascaded over her shoulders. You had to smile with Morna whenever you looked at her.
For the next hour or so, I worked diligently at hemming large squares of cloth under Jannet’s critical eye, hoping that my lesson with Madoc in the afternoon would make this task much more pleasant in the future. The time passed slowly on the old hourglass Jannet used to time our work. I was always the last to finish.
Well, this time, though last, my finished hems were more or less straight and my stitches were even smaller and more even than Larena’s. She was the Duke’s daughter, and the second worst seamstress after me.
“Verrrry well, ladies. You may all wash up and go to luncheon,” Jannet said.
We stood up and then trooped out toward the dining hall, stopping at the trough just outside to rinse off our hands before we ate. The hall was already filling up. The boys, hungry after their exertions on the practice field, were lined up to get their food. I just hoped they’d leave something for the rest of us.
At dinner, Cook and her staff sometimes came out of the kitchens and served us each plates of meats, cheeses and fruit, but luncheon was a more casual affair. All the food was on a trestle table along one side of the room and we took our plates over to select what we wanted to eat.
As I stood waiting my turn, I saw Madoc already seated at a table with my parents and the Duke and Duchess. Lord Graham, who was visiting from south of the capital city of Arris for a fortnight, was also at their table. I suppose you’d consider Holm Manor and the village of Holmdale a backwater. It certainly wasn’t the largest town in the realm. Mother occasionally took us to Dunswell to visit relatives and to see the ruins there. To me it seemed too large and too noisy. I very much liked it here in the country, although occasionally, after reading one of the books Glynis gave me, I longed for romance and adventure.
“Stop daydreaming,” Glynis said. “Let’s see what the boys have left us.” Almost as tall as I was, and willowy with long blond hair, Glynis was my best friend. I knew I should have told her what Madoc had promised, but I wanted to keep it my secret for a little while. I didn’t think she’d understand, just as she didn’t understand why I didn’t want to learn to cook or sew, or even how to fix my mousy brown hair the way she fixed hers, preferring to just tie it up out of the way.
I filled my plate with dark bread and butter, carrots that I knew had come out of the garden that morning, and some of the fish that Lord Graham had brought with him and Cook had smoked. It was rare for us to have any fish, but the boys had ignored it, preferring cold, sliced meat from last night’s roast, so there was plenty, and I liked it.
I sat down with Glynis and Morna and the other girls at one end of a long table, and ate while the others chatted about the latest gossip, and about the boys. Honestly, I didn’t care if Cook’s assistant, Elin, was seen with the Duke’s man, Rhain, near the stables, or how cute Kerr was, with his long blond lashes and piercing blue eyes. As far as I was concerned, Kerr was an arrogant and dull-witted young man.
After luncheon, we returned to the sewing room for an hour. Jannet spent the first twenty minutes explaining the stitches and colors of thread we were to use for our napkins. They’d be for autumn use, and so would depict the leaves and their changing colors, burnt umbra, red orange, rust, and gold.
My first attempt was disastrous, but the second was at least recognizable as a leaf. I was pleased with my effort, but also happy when Jannet set us free for an hour before our next lesson with Cook. I stuffed my threads and needles in their box, and quickly folded my napkins before rushing out without a word to any of the others.
I’d never been to Madoc’s chambers before, although I knew where they were at one end of a long, drafty hallway towards the back of the Manor. The odors emanating from the rooms were acrid and yet tantalizing. I knocked on the heavy wooden door. It creaked when he opened it.
“Come in,” he said. “I was just brewing some tea. Will you have some?”
“I…I thought it was some kind of magical potion,” I said.
“Well, tea does have magical properties, doesn’t it?” His smile was contagious.
I nodded. “I guess so.”
He motioned me to sit on a wooden chair, belatedly removing the heavy volume that lay open on it before I sat down. I looked around. There were books everywhere, on shelves along two walls, on the floor and on the main table. Along with the books, there were all sorts of vessels. I didn’t know what half of them were for. “Any luck with your sewing after our talk?”
“Well, I tried to imagine what I wanted the stitches to look like and that seemed to help,” I told him.
“Good. Yes, that’s a good start,” he replied. “Hmmm, have you ever done any drawing? That may be the best way to show you what I mean.”
“What, you mean, fruit and vases and things? Still lifes?”
“Yes, that will do.” He rummaged on the main table in the room and came up with a mostly clean piece of paper, as well as a piece of charcoal. “Now, why don’t you draw me an apple?”
I took the items from him, found a clear spot to put them down and began to draw the almost round shape of an apple, then added a stem.
He took the paper from me. “Not bad,” he announced, before handing it back. “Now, close your eyes and picture an apple, think about the shape, the sweet but distinctive taste, the smell.”
“All right,” I said, doing as he instructed. Immediately I thought of the apple I’d eaten at breakfast. It hadn’t been particularly sweet, since it was really too early in the year for good apples, but the red color of the skin and the apple aroma were there.
“Now, without opening your eyes, draw what’s in your mind’s eye,” Madoc instructed.
I was sure this picture would come out much worse, the shape all wrong, the lines not meeting, but I concentrated on what he suggested.
“Now open your eyes, Nissa.”
I opened them and looked at the paper. The apple I’d drawn was so much more…more apple- like…than the first one. I smiled.
“You’re surprised,” he said. “But you shouldn’t be. Your hand is part of you and the charcoal can be just an extension of it. Your thoughts can travel from your mind to your hand and thence to the writing tool. If you have a clear picture of what you want it to be, then that will translate to what appears on the paper.”
“You said something earlier about the connections between everything…” I knew I wasn’t quoting accurately, but I thought he’d understand what I was asking about. “Tell me more about that.”
“Everything around us is made up of tiny particles, so tiny that no one can see them. They’re held together by various strong energy forces,” he began to explain. “But there are weaker forces between each individual thing, each person, each animal, each bit of earth. Those of us who can focus on those forces can use them to do what we call magic,” he said. “There’s really nothing ‘magical’ about it.”
“So you’re saying you really aren’t a wizard?”
“If being a wizard is making things disappear or pulling items out of thin air, then no.” He pressed his lips together before going on. “But to me, being a wizard is using what skills and knowledge and abilities I have to help other people. Magic is just tricks. Wizardry is something else entirely, and you, my dear, have the kinds of skills to excel at it.”
“Oh!” I was astonished. None of this was what I’d imagined. But it made sense, and it did sound like something I could do.
“Tomorrow when you’re at your needlework, see if you can use this technique to sew better than you ever have.” He tapped the paper with my two apple drawings on it. “Like this.”
“I will!” I grinned at him. “Thank you!” Impulsively, I stretched up to hug him. Madoc isn’t that much taller than I am, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. “May I come back tomorrow?”
“Of course. After all, I want to hear how well you did,” he told me.
I left him, almost looking forward to the next day. I wondered what Jannet would say when she saw the sewing I’d do.
In this story, Joyce introduces a unique SciFan Concept where the magic that her world accepts as the norm isn’t truly magic after all. This is a type of SciFan that uses alternate or imaginary science that is simply impossible given all known scientific laws, theories, and constraints. What is perceived in this world to be magic is in reality an impossible science. Magic is fused with science, but not necessarily in a coherent sense. Thus, this story falls under a classification of Standard SciFan.
What is SciFan? Find out here. Do you have a SciFan story to share with the world? Can you think of existing stories that should be properly classified as SciFan? Let’s revolutionize the publishing industry and clamor for the debut of the SciFan genre taking the stage! Come join our SciFan Society to learn how you can participate in this growing movement!