Scientific Magic

Rice_MagicintheStars276Pat here:

Before I can put the first word to the page of a new book, I need research. The characters may be hopping up and down in my mind, shouting their ire, but they’re still too unformed for me to “see” them—and I don’t mean their appearance.

As a for instance—the heroine of the Magic book I’m currently plotting has already appeared in other volumes, so I know what she looks like, and I know something of her personality and background. I know what she wants. But I have utterly no clue how she can go after it because this is 1830, after all, and they don’t have the internet or Craigslist. I don’t want to give her away just yet, until I’m ready to write (yeah, I’m one of those authors who can’t talk about plot until after a book is written). 

Nachet_collection;_Barrel_of_old_Nurenberg_microscope._Wellcome_M0000205But this time, I’m not writing one of my Ives heroes (pause for silent weeping). He’s scientific, yes, but I needed a titled nobleman and the Ives family has more bastards than titles. I had some odd idea that he might be a physician, or possibly someone who works with microscopes. Until I can “see” what he does, I can’t do anything. So I started by researching microscopes.

Yes, they had microscopes in 1830, but they were pretty crude. Even in the 2nd century BC the Greeks knew that water bends light. By 100 AD, the Romans could create glass that was thick in the middle and thin on the edge and learned this lens could magnify an image. Although, since they called them burning glasses, I suspect they spent more time trying to create fire with them.

The microscope above is an old German monocular, probably from the early 1700s. The one below left is a solar microscope by Peter Dolland of London from about 1790, considered one of the finest makers of microscopes at the time. But think–solar…London. Does not compute, right?

It wasn’t until the 17th century that Leeuwenhoek invented anything close to a microscope, and that was only a single lens. Low quality glass and lack of light created distortions that prevented microscopes from real 1780-1790,_solar_microscope_by_Peter_Dolland,_London,_England_-_Golub_Collection_of_Antique_Microscopes_-_DSC04810usefulness until nearly 1870, unfortunate for my hero. Although several glass problems were resolved by 1830, lighting wasn’t, and that limits usage. So in my time period, the best use of microscopes was determining the existence of cells and their structures—interesting but not exactly hero material. My guy might be able to discover a bacterium if he uses glass manufactured by my fictional Ives experts, but how do I work that into the story in my head?

To tell the truth, I don’t know yet. I’m now researching arsenic and medicine and tuberculosis and my characters are about to pitch fits. Anyone want to make a story of all this? Or I could just make my hero a gambling lout who changes his spots… But then I’d have to research gambling! Anyone know any good books on any of these topics?

40 thoughts on “Scientific Magic”

  1. Is it weird that I prefer arsenic to gambling? Well, not swallowing it, of course, but reading and writing about it. :p
    Catherine Lloyd actually uses a combination of poisons, one being arsenic, for the murder of an elderly lady in Murder Comes To London. In a note, the author mentions a book by Orfila, the “Father of Toxicology”, which was published in 1817, so it should have been available for your 1830s hero to read. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila – Traite des Poisons
    So… your titled nobleman can travel, right? I imagine him befriending a medical student who is trying to find a cure for tuberculosis (without any success, unfortunately), and who tries every potential remedy himself, actually making himself sick in the process. Finding him half dead as a result of poisoning himself by taking said remedies, your hero tries to save him by studying Orfila’s Traite des Poisons. What he learns from it will actually help him prevent a murder later. LOL See? A story on the spot. (Unfortunately I have no idea where YOU could find this Traite des Poisons, but perhaps you could ask Catherine Lloyd about it?)

    Reply
  2. Is it weird that I prefer arsenic to gambling? Well, not swallowing it, of course, but reading and writing about it. :p
    Catherine Lloyd actually uses a combination of poisons, one being arsenic, for the murder of an elderly lady in Murder Comes To London. In a note, the author mentions a book by Orfila, the “Father of Toxicology”, which was published in 1817, so it should have been available for your 1830s hero to read. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila – Traite des Poisons
    So… your titled nobleman can travel, right? I imagine him befriending a medical student who is trying to find a cure for tuberculosis (without any success, unfortunately), and who tries every potential remedy himself, actually making himself sick in the process. Finding him half dead as a result of poisoning himself by taking said remedies, your hero tries to save him by studying Orfila’s Traite des Poisons. What he learns from it will actually help him prevent a murder later. LOL See? A story on the spot. (Unfortunately I have no idea where YOU could find this Traite des Poisons, but perhaps you could ask Catherine Lloyd about it?)

    Reply
  3. Is it weird that I prefer arsenic to gambling? Well, not swallowing it, of course, but reading and writing about it. :p
    Catherine Lloyd actually uses a combination of poisons, one being arsenic, for the murder of an elderly lady in Murder Comes To London. In a note, the author mentions a book by Orfila, the “Father of Toxicology”, which was published in 1817, so it should have been available for your 1830s hero to read. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila – Traite des Poisons
    So… your titled nobleman can travel, right? I imagine him befriending a medical student who is trying to find a cure for tuberculosis (without any success, unfortunately), and who tries every potential remedy himself, actually making himself sick in the process. Finding him half dead as a result of poisoning himself by taking said remedies, your hero tries to save him by studying Orfila’s Traite des Poisons. What he learns from it will actually help him prevent a murder later. LOL See? A story on the spot. (Unfortunately I have no idea where YOU could find this Traite des Poisons, but perhaps you could ask Catherine Lloyd about it?)

    Reply
  4. Is it weird that I prefer arsenic to gambling? Well, not swallowing it, of course, but reading and writing about it. :p
    Catherine Lloyd actually uses a combination of poisons, one being arsenic, for the murder of an elderly lady in Murder Comes To London. In a note, the author mentions a book by Orfila, the “Father of Toxicology”, which was published in 1817, so it should have been available for your 1830s hero to read. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila – Traite des Poisons
    So… your titled nobleman can travel, right? I imagine him befriending a medical student who is trying to find a cure for tuberculosis (without any success, unfortunately), and who tries every potential remedy himself, actually making himself sick in the process. Finding him half dead as a result of poisoning himself by taking said remedies, your hero tries to save him by studying Orfila’s Traite des Poisons. What he learns from it will actually help him prevent a murder later. LOL See? A story on the spot. (Unfortunately I have no idea where YOU could find this Traite des Poisons, but perhaps you could ask Catherine Lloyd about it?)

    Reply
  5. Is it weird that I prefer arsenic to gambling? Well, not swallowing it, of course, but reading and writing about it. :p
    Catherine Lloyd actually uses a combination of poisons, one being arsenic, for the murder of an elderly lady in Murder Comes To London. In a note, the author mentions a book by Orfila, the “Father of Toxicology”, which was published in 1817, so it should have been available for your 1830s hero to read. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila – Traite des Poisons
    So… your titled nobleman can travel, right? I imagine him befriending a medical student who is trying to find a cure for tuberculosis (without any success, unfortunately), and who tries every potential remedy himself, actually making himself sick in the process. Finding him half dead as a result of poisoning himself by taking said remedies, your hero tries to save him by studying Orfila’s Traite des Poisons. What he learns from it will actually help him prevent a murder later. LOL See? A story on the spot. (Unfortunately I have no idea where YOU could find this Traite des Poisons, but perhaps you could ask Catherine Lloyd about it?)

    Reply
  6. Sorry the formatting is not ideal, but I got them on short notice from a friend and I didn’t question her sources. They’re still readable :p and they may come in handy when doing research.

    Reply
  7. Sorry the formatting is not ideal, but I got them on short notice from a friend and I didn’t question her sources. They’re still readable :p and they may come in handy when doing research.

    Reply
  8. Sorry the formatting is not ideal, but I got them on short notice from a friend and I didn’t question her sources. They’re still readable :p and they may come in handy when doing research.

    Reply
  9. Sorry the formatting is not ideal, but I got them on short notice from a friend and I didn’t question her sources. They’re still readable :p and they may come in handy when doing research.

    Reply
  10. Sorry the formatting is not ideal, but I got them on short notice from a friend and I didn’t question her sources. They’re still readable :p and they may come in handy when doing research.

    Reply
  11. Science always loses me (in real life, NOT in the stories!) so I have NO idea where to look for your research. (Odd statement from one whose other genre is SF? No truly. My brain lacks hooks for science. I can tell you some fairly complicated facts about physics or about chemistry, but I can not build a whole. I can’t connect up this information, so I have not real science.)
    Oddly enough, I have more success with biology, but I don’t shine there. I DID read and understand “The Real Eve” but that is of no use to you. No one has discussed genetics as yet as Mendel in only 6 years old.
    Cant offer help, but I know I’ll like it when you get there!\

    Reply
  12. Science always loses me (in real life, NOT in the stories!) so I have NO idea where to look for your research. (Odd statement from one whose other genre is SF? No truly. My brain lacks hooks for science. I can tell you some fairly complicated facts about physics or about chemistry, but I can not build a whole. I can’t connect up this information, so I have not real science.)
    Oddly enough, I have more success with biology, but I don’t shine there. I DID read and understand “The Real Eve” but that is of no use to you. No one has discussed genetics as yet as Mendel in only 6 years old.
    Cant offer help, but I know I’ll like it when you get there!\

    Reply
  13. Science always loses me (in real life, NOT in the stories!) so I have NO idea where to look for your research. (Odd statement from one whose other genre is SF? No truly. My brain lacks hooks for science. I can tell you some fairly complicated facts about physics or about chemistry, but I can not build a whole. I can’t connect up this information, so I have not real science.)
    Oddly enough, I have more success with biology, but I don’t shine there. I DID read and understand “The Real Eve” but that is of no use to you. No one has discussed genetics as yet as Mendel in only 6 years old.
    Cant offer help, but I know I’ll like it when you get there!\

    Reply
  14. Science always loses me (in real life, NOT in the stories!) so I have NO idea where to look for your research. (Odd statement from one whose other genre is SF? No truly. My brain lacks hooks for science. I can tell you some fairly complicated facts about physics or about chemistry, but I can not build a whole. I can’t connect up this information, so I have not real science.)
    Oddly enough, I have more success with biology, but I don’t shine there. I DID read and understand “The Real Eve” but that is of no use to you. No one has discussed genetics as yet as Mendel in only 6 years old.
    Cant offer help, but I know I’ll like it when you get there!\

    Reply
  15. Science always loses me (in real life, NOT in the stories!) so I have NO idea where to look for your research. (Odd statement from one whose other genre is SF? No truly. My brain lacks hooks for science. I can tell you some fairly complicated facts about physics or about chemistry, but I can not build a whole. I can’t connect up this information, so I have not real science.)
    Oddly enough, I have more success with biology, but I don’t shine there. I DID read and understand “The Real Eve” but that is of no use to you. No one has discussed genetics as yet as Mendel in only 6 years old.
    Cant offer help, but I know I’ll like it when you get there!\

    Reply

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