As I venture forth into a new genre (Steampunk, see Matthew Delman’s treatise on the subject) for a contest, I found myself desiring to break the laws of physics in favor of fashion. Bad scientist! I know.
Now, there are some rules you can break in genre fiction, and some you cannot, and it’s important to know which ones. Once I figured out (actually, Matt told me) that steampunk was really a variant of SF, not fantasy, I realized that my original law breaking ideas wouldn’t work. Too bad.
The opening scene in my fictional novel (it’s a “fictional” novel, because it’s not really a novel, it’s a pretend novel for a contest. Get it? Ok, I’ll stop now), has my steampunkerish protagonist running through a dark forest. Naturally, we need gear for such a thing, and I originally came up with an idea of bug-eyed light gathering goggles (let’s call them goggicals), complete with leather straps and lots of bolts to hold these sweet hand-ground objective lenses. The only problem being a persnickety law about conservation of light, and the field of view during magnification, and long-story-short, my goggles would have to look more like binoculars and wouldn’t do much for running through brambles in low-light conditions.
Heavy sigh. But they looked so cool! Well, in my head, anyway.
Turns out there actually were optics-only light-gathering “night glasses” used in World War II that could effectively enhance night vision, but only at a distance, and only to the level of the general ambient light conditions. I may yet punk out those rad night glasses and put them in the story. Regardless, along the way I discovered that my protagonist has a fascination for optics, hand-grinds lenses, and peers at the stars. So, all that time was not entirely wasted.
The laws of physics get broken all the time in fantasy and space opera SF, but there are at least plausible reasons given for it (gravity in space? Sure, with my special gravity boots). But once you break a law then you have to consistently apply that (broken) law throughout your story, which can cause some problems. Having light magically multiply itself was a law with far-reaching consequences, far too painful to explore for my purposes. Besides, there are much easier laws to break (or bend), especially when you have the craziness of quantum mechanics and the things we have yet to know about physics to play with, all of which leaves lots of room for conjecture and outright hookum (alternate worlds! Dark matter!).
Do you worry about violating the laws of physics, or do you merrily invent your way to a fantastical world? Once you break a law are you careful to explore the consequences? Or do you stick to realistic worlds where normalness applies?