I finally finished listening to the audio books for the Inheritance Cycle, the 4 books starting with Eragon by Christopher Paolini. You can watch his skill as a writer and his world grow and develop through the books, as well as getting deeper as you see more of the cultures and locations in the world as it goes along.
I’ve been trying to think how to write about these books, and a review of each one is probably in order. However, there’s also talking about them as a whole, and for Science Fiction Saturday, it seemed right to talk about just how much science fiction informs these books.
It’s definitely fiction with an understanding of science, that’s for sure. It has all the trappings of fantasy, yes – elves, dwarves, magic, a medieval setting, and a hero’s journey. However, it’s this fantasy world that has a clear underpinning in the laws of our world, and where the magic is different, it’s a highly defined and explained magic system.
Really, the magic system and the way it works and is used in the story is one of the main reasons to read these books, one of the main unique features. Also probably some of the harder parts to adapt into film! (I never saw the movie adaptation, short of a few painful moments caught on TV). And it’s the magic system that both allows for that view into the world of science, and which takes this world and matches it to the definition of science fiction that I’ve worked with here on the site.
Well, matches somewhat. When magic itself is called out as a difference, it’s hard to get past. However, the magic system in Inheritance is all about ingenuity, cleverness, and out-thinking your opponent. It’s a magical language with the names of things, and where the mages have to commit to the spell they have spoken. So what happens with magic is based mainly on the knowledge and imagination of the magician.
Mainly on knowledge… and the rest is about energy. It takes as much energy with magic to do something as to do it in the mundane way, it just happens faster and perhaps differently. But that means the magician expends all of that energy at once – to, say, dig a ditch or descend a mountain. It’s dangerous.
So a lot of the science in this series is about energy – how much it takes to do a task, how much the magician has available. And the distance from a target (it’s harder to do something far away), or the weight of things, or these other physical aspects of the material world.
However, there’s also a mental aspect to the magic system – magicians are telepathic, they can read minds and speak through minds. And through this open mind experiencing the world around him, Eragon discovers a great deal about the natural world – following the lives of ants, for instance, like in The Once and Future King.
There’s all kinds of great scientific discoveries peppered throughout the series, for instance when Eragon discovers the fact that the world is round, or when he hears theories that we are not solid, but mostly empty with small particles holding us together. Lots of information about animals (as well as the invented biology of dragons, of course). About human anatomy as well, ways to kill them for sure, as well as some of the concerns Eragon starts to have about protecting himself or others. His magically calloused knuckles for punching, for instance.
Paolini also worked in plenty of war, and politics, and other problems that are common in science fiction. And the modern world. And fantasy too, I suppose. It mostly just ends up genre-bending, with so many aspects of the world thought out and explored and explained. It’s modern, I suppose, with so many things we know today being an exciting discovery in the medieval world of Inheritance. It has a science fiction feel, with so much focus on science. It’s fantasy in its outer shell, with the races and places and magic. It has elements of horror, of war.
It’s good stuff. I had remembered liking it, but was not disappointed in the re-read (listen). It was quite good.