I apologise if this is rather vague but I'm struggling with creating a concept that would allow a Victorian (steampunk) civilisation to have antigravity ships and floating islands through the use of a mined crystal resource. However I also want it to have other effects without making it seem too 'fictional' or contrived (which I realise may be difficult).

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Essentially I don't mind it being magic-esque and don't want to get TOO bogged-down with scientific analysis in the story but I do want it to be believable and not just "it can do anything because it's magic". My story has engineers etc that study it and are unlocking its effects.

The civilisation is steam/clockwork based but this crystal allows their skyships to fly (antigravity) and allows Floating (static) Islands. I also want it to be able to create shields/forcefields that encompass skyships in a protective bubble. Later this tech usage can be personal (used to shield humans) and maybe allow them to fly with the crystal used in personal angelic-like wings.

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I also want the crystal to be able to power things, for example provide 'clean' energy which the Elites keep repressed so as to continue making money off steam energy - a plot point.

My problem is I don't want it to seem as if the crystal can just do anything and lose some realism or suspension of disbelief. I also need ways for how these different effects are 'activated' and controlled / contained.

I had the idea that maybe if heat is applied to it, it activates its antigravity effects i.e. a small chunk of the crystal burning in a furnace makes the ship float, but the crystal isn't actually depleted but somehow its effects mixes with the steam produced to create antigravity effects / mingles with the steam produced. Obviously they don't have electricity or are just discovering it so perhaps a small electrical charge could be used or it could absorb / be activated by kinetic energy perhaps. Also seawater / salt concentrations could activate effects?

I'm looking into Aether effects too and Aether manipulation as possible reasoning.

Essentially I want the antagonists to want to weaponise this crystal into lasers / WMDs etc while the protaganists realise the 'good' potential of clean energy and removing the reliance on steam / pollution etc.

So I need to understand limitations and effects without making it seem too Deus Ex Machina if that makes sense. The crystal is usually inert when discovered (otherwise it would be perpetually floating in the atmosphere) but somehow makes ships float without the need for huge helium-ballons, can make Islands float, can be weaponised and also generate forcefields.

Any suggestions, limitations, rules etc would be much appreciated! Also other ideas for further effects would be appreciated but again it's not hyper-scientific or hyper-realistic but I would like it to seem logical and not overtly fantastic / impossible. In the future of the timeline it could be discovered that the crystal is actually type of dark matter, negative mass, anti-matter (obviously in my timeline such theories would be unknown) or from another dimension entirely, but the citizens in this timeline find this strange crystal and are uncovering its effects, both good and bad ushering in the age of skyships and skypirates etc.

EDIT: On Electricity: One idea was that small electric currents could activate certain effects, as Victorians did have some usage of electricity and basic dynamos etc. Maybe an electric charge could create some forcefield out of plasma/Aether/'energy' around skyships and protective energy barriers? Meanwhile heating the crystal 'activates' it's anti-gravity effects?

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    $\begingroup$ A substance which breaks thermodynamics and is "not overtly fantastic"... The canonical name for a substance which works as a gravity shield (and thus enables heavy things to fly away) is cavorite (from The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells, published in 1901). You do understand that such a substance would be the source of infinite amounts of energy by definition, right? (Hint: take an ordinary waterwheel, and place the gravity shield under half of it; hey presto, it turns with no need for a source of energy.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 11 '18 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for that. It's a struggle as I want a steampunk/victorian society that doesn't have unlimited free futuristic energy but is perhaps beginning to 'tap into' it. As in I want the society to still be steam-based and Victorian-era whilst having access to this handy crystal.... $\endgroup$ – Ionatia May 11 '18 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ a mined crystal resource This is problematic as it's got that anti-gravity thing going for it, so what's preventing it from lifting off and accelerating away from the Earth instead of sitting calmly in a mine waiting to be dug out ? It would be better if it were manufactured than if it was mined - i.e. made by combining things that did not combine naturally or using conditions that cannot happen in nature. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 11 '18 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Ionatia How would the meteor have ever impacted with a planet? Its anti-gravity properties would have pushed it away from massive objects like planets or stars. Even if it was only anti-gravity when activated by heat, it would get plenty hot once it hit the atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Joe White May 11 '18 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Seserous the book your are thinking of the the Aeronaut's Windlass. $\endgroup$ – John May 12 '18 at 5:41

11 Answers 11


An easy way to avoid a crystal that can do anything is to split it up into several different crystals that each have their own defined properties.

For instance, a red crystal that causes anti-gravity when exposed to heat.

A green crystal that is an electricity multiplier, a small current becomes a much higher current.

A blue crystal that emits a kinetic energy dampening field when placed next to an activated green crystal.

The scientists/engineers would be looking at new ways to harness these effects, and you could also have other crystals that they haven't figured out how to unlock yet. Say a yellow crystal that takes a certain frequency of sound, or to be placed near radium, but because they never tried that combination they've never gotten it activated, and have no idea that it creates a huge pulse of superhot plasma, or a coherent beam of light, or whatever.

As to how, unless it's really important I'd recommend leaving it a mystery.
Sandersons first rule of magic says An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

No matter how much you try to science it up, it's going to be magic. And that's ok. So long as the characters in the story treat it like science, and you don't try to explain it using our worlds rules. It's your world, it has its own rules.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I'd rather have one crystal do all. I'm not entirely opposed to it changing state, e.g. having different effects as solid crystal or differing if somehow changed to a liquid or gas state, but I'd rather not have too many different resources / crystals... Maybe different effects if it's heated / electric current applied / surrounded by seawater etc. ? $\endgroup$ – Ionatia May 11 '18 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ This is starting to sound awfully familiar $\endgroup$ – Pharap May 12 '18 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ The different effects could be based on impurities, so it is one crystal just with multiple types. a large number of gemstones are the same material just with different impurities. (ruby and sapphire for example). $\endgroup$ – John May 12 '18 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ @John right. That really does work, and I did have that thought while writing the answer, but it kinda got lost in transcription. Thanks for bringing that up. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 13 '18 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Ionatia it's your question, so you get to make the rules. My only concern (if that's the right word) is that it not become a magic screwdriver that does anything and everything, except that it doesn't work at this point because that would make it to easy. It's the one thing about Dr Who that has always bugged me. John's idea about it being a single crystal with different impurities seems pretty elegant, but once again that's up to you. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 13 '18 at 0:45

The crystal is a perfect battery

Make the crystal absorb and store energy for later use, instead of produce it. The value of the crystal becomes more about how much energy you have stored inside of it.

For example everyone could get a few crystals, start a bonefire and throw them there. After a few hours you could use them to power different types of machines or lamps.

Your Elite would control over the market, because they would had high pressure and heat furnaces, charging crystals of great quality for years while burning tons of coal and wood.

Thanks to the crystals you could fuel anything you wish, anywhere.

  • Flying citys, with enough energy it's posible, expensive but posible.

  • Flying ships, don't need alot of thing to make it work.

  • Shields for ships and personnal and most thing would be tech based because you have the energy to do it all.

Must be taken in consideration that with this kind of crystals you would end up having lasers pistols by default.


Since this crystal literally defies physics, its going to have to be something we've never seen.

Consider making these not be natural crystals, but something left over by Others. These others were incredibly technologically advanced, capable of things like powering spacecraft between planets.

This calls for a mighty leap in power storage. Lithium Ion batteries aren't going to cut it. Make these crystals actually be arrays of nanomachines which have some property that lets them store vast energy and manipulate forces like you want. Argue that they appear to be crystaline because that was the high art of the day for these Others. I can say from experience that there are many schools of performance and martial arts which value the ability to appear utterly motionless while teeming with energy under the surface. Structuring these nanomachines into crystal shapes would be a natural artistic choice.

This explains why they react with things like steam: the crystals weren't designed to be crushed up in some furnace. They were designed to impart their power with great care and control. Things like anti-gravity and shielding would be parlor tricks for such an advanced society. And it also explains why you could have shielding on your ships and never run out of air. A delicately constructed artifact like this would be more than capable of discerning oxygen molecules from stray bullets.

Also, it offers an interesting plot point. As people start to realize that these crystals have "unlimited energy," they start to realize that they don't. They just had so much energy that nobody noticed its limits until the society starts exploiting them.


Different effects.

The effect could require the crystal to be cut in a certain way, thus different effects could be produced by different cuts. Cut aligned with one crystal lattice axis produce effect 1 while cuts aligned with the other produce effect 2. So every crystal produces all effects but cuts are made to maximize one effect over others. This also means the skill of your gemcutters affects the efficiency of your devices.

Alternatively different impurities could produce different effects, the properties of of some real world crystals change noticeably based on impurities. this means how useful an effect is is also based on how rare that impurity is, unless they have an industrial means to make said crystals.


You could model yor crystals after permanent magnets in that they are not free energy, they wear down eventually. magnets can levitate things but it is not free energy becasue they degrade in doing so getting slowly weaker all the time. Old crystals would produce less effect and eventually just stop altogether. You could even have something like a curie temprature, so they lose their antigravity properties if they get to hot, so they have to be kept cool. You might even be able to remelt them to do process X to them a they cool to restore the properties.

Alternatively they only act as converters so you need to pump energy into them to produce the effect. Energy could be supplied in your choice of flavors; electricity, heat, light, pressure, or "aether". Some real world crystals can convert pressure into electromagnetics(piezoelectric) or the reverse (crystal radios).

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the different cuts. I was going to go down a similar route. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 12 '18 at 7:11

I would try to be as specific as possible as to what the crystals do (the how can be unknown) and make the various applications be extensions and clever uses of that fundamental trait. This lays down the ground rules as to what this amazing substance can do, and (hopefully) makes the applications believable without becoming deus ex machina.

In this case, the crystals appear to be some sort of force-field generator. Perhaps the strength and range of the field generated is proportional to the size of the crystal and the energy (could be heat, electrical, or even kinetic) applied to it. The larger the field is, it gets "fuzzier," with a less distinct boundary. So a very large field could be used in flying ships (the field is pushing against the ground, but it's large enough that objects on the ground only feel a very small and diffuse pressure.) Smaller fields could be used as a personal shield (not impenetrable, but slows things down greatly.) Weapons you can get creative with - a very small but very intense field that's suddenly turned on inside a casing of shrapnel would make an effective bomb. Perhaps by shaping the geometry of the crystal(s), you can shape the field to give you a directional field strong enough to punch holes in targets. Etc.


When a jeweller makes a piece of jewellery the cut of the crystals, the way they’re set and the positions they’re in are all very important.

When a photographer uses a lens assembly the lenses are precisely ground and positioned to get the focal lengths just right.

When magnets are used in transformers and generators the magnet size and positioning is vital.

So too with these crystals.

In their natural uncut state the effects of the crystals are usually random, cancelling each other out in the same way that iron molecules aren’t naturally aligned to create a magnetic effect.

When cut by a skilled jeweller, however, the story changes. Each cut, each precise angle between one face of the crystal and the next changes the properties of the crystal, sometimes eliciting strange responses like a gentle glowing, the crystal resisting movement as it pushes against the Arther or the crystal starting to float gently like a helium balloon.

Even that isn’t the most startling thing. When Benedict Wittleforth accidentally left two part-cut glow crystals in the same tray he discovered that he could change the colour of one crystal by changing its position relative to the other, and so was born the science of Positional Crystallics. Essentially bringing two or more crystals into a set configuration allows for fine grained mechanical control of the crystals properties, as well as vastly increasing certain effects (like the anti gravity properties).

Now Airships have anti-gravity engines that have variable lift control, a series of well cut crystals in a ring with the ’control crystal’ moved in and out of the center to change how much lift is generated. Lasers can be created by shifting a line of correctly fashioned crystals into position, inertial shields turned on and off and calibrated by changing the orientation of crystals in a complex 3d lattice, and some even say that it might be possible to generate electricity using the mythical ‘lightning cut’ (though this is heavily doubted by the Establishment’s best Crystalline engineers)

Naturally most modern ships have multiple redundant systems, as damage to these carefully designed and (given the minute differences between every crystal cut) bespoke systems can require a lot of attention from a skilled jeweller and a skilled Crystalline engineer to fix. Not only that but in some cases of extreme damage multiple systems have been reported as interacting unpredictably, as seen when the battleship Magnificence spontaneously crushed itself following a cannon strike to its central lift core.


You said it yourself, the crystal is anti-gravity. Left to its own devices, the crystal will want to go up. So they tend to be mislaid. A lot.

Thw worst heartbreak of a ship captain is having a chamber breach and watch his crystals head for the shy, knowing his ship is about to go the opposite direction.

Whether they depart the solar system or simply get annihilated in the upper atmosphere, I leave to you.


Could have its effects be dependent on purity (if it even can be impure), internal crystal orientation (like how magnetic substances have internal orientations) and possible side-effects accompanying the wanted effects, like all anti-grav also has high magnetism, or slowly spawns lightning storms.

They might not know how to alter the crystals' properties reliably, with only known way to change the effects, is hitting it.

Which might be dangerous, because reasons. Like it projects a force field and pushes people away or something.

Also maybe zapping it with electricity, but that could be even worse, due to more energy input?

If it breaks, then it can be pieced back together by just pushing the pieces together, but the fusion event is also dangerous, perhaps?

The crystal could also emit bad radiation, like Gamma or something, making its infinite energy ability, be a detriment, in most cases.

Unless your society has enough science to figure out precisely how the crystal gets energy, and you want to do that, then you can just leave it out, and mysterious. Not all ways for the appearance of infinite energy can be figured out from Victorian Science.


How the crystals harness magic

Crystals are the perfect medium to perform geometric magic.

The crystals, alone, may be rather inert. However when put near each other in the proper positions, rather incredible effects can be observed. Perhaps there are different kinds of crystals, allowing unique combinations to create unique effects. It can tie in with ancient beliefs in sacred geometry. After all, a crystal is a complex geometric structure, and if geometry can give rise to magic, imagine what happens if you put multiple crystals themselves in a magic-promoting geometric formation! This is similar in concept to astrology where the alignment of celestial bodies is said to have an effect on our lives. Many other magical beliefs and mythologies have revolved around the relative positioning of multiple magical, holy, or mystic objects with each other.

Crystals are mediums for vibration magic.

To mix science and magic, these crystals could behave as crystal oscillators, much like real-life quartz crystals can be made to vibrate and precise frequencies when electricity is supplied. Vibration magic has become a popular idea, and the magical aspect can be reduced if you want to invoke the idea of vibrating strings from string theory. It's not a magical superstition to say that the entire universe is made up of these little things who's vibration determines the very fabric of matter and energy.* If someone could control this through crystals, there's no telling what they could do!

Limitations of crystalline magic

The effects of crystals can be blocked by another substance.

Like a strong magnet inside an iron case will not emanate a magnetic field, a crystal's effects may be blocked by another material. This could allow for flying cities to control their anti-gravity forces by dynamically exposing or occluding crystals, in much the way a nuclear reactor's neutron control rod is used to control the rate of a nuclear reaction. A weapon may involve having an incredibly powerful crystal shielded, with the trigger removing the shield and releasing an incredible amount of force all at once, much the same way a classical gun releases the force in gunpowder in a burst.

The crystals slowly wear down as they are used.

A large, fresh crystal may have a lot of energy stored up, but as more is demanded from it, it can slowly break down. This can be caused by the crystal actually being burnt up, losing mass over time, or simply becoming more and more disordered internally (losing its crystalline structure). The amount of force required to keep an entire city in the sky may require a very large crystal that must be replaced every several years / decades / centuries in order to stay fresh. This could also be added as a plot device, allowing crystals to have a limited value. It would prevent you from using them to create a perpetual motion machine and harness infinite power from one small crystal.

* Yes, I know the "vibrations" in string theory are unrelated to literal oscillations produced by a crystal resonator, but that explanation is still more believable than anything relying on "It's magic. I ain't gotta explain shit."


For making such a resource I have a few suggestions:

  • The resource will need to provide benefits and dangers of using the crystal.

  • Make them a source of being an ultimate capacitor; being able to take in almost any form of energy and store it for use later.

  • Have an ability to be changed into multiple elements to be a specialized crystal.

  • The only downside to Shards are their volatility; and that once broken or damaged; they ooze a toxic gas that deforms, mutates, and kills all foolish enough to be near it.

  • The Crystal should be used everywhere and in everything. The Larger the Shard the more powerful the results.

  • Although crystals are quite powerful they do have a limit to as how much they can handle.

These factors will let you set limits for the technology and allow even the weakest of people be able to understand and use it. The idea for weapons is that it will just be pure energy when used or other elemental power if you so choose.

For making Airship float simple make it use for its engines and it powers it to keep it above the ground.

You could also have them be used in evil experiences that can create some form of crystal monster since they are capacitors it would allow them to be easily controlled by someone who can create such a monster.


Potential limitations: volatile, requires additional energy to extend 'anti-gravity 'field'', small supply, starts falling unnaturally fast when broken, etc.

There's also some rules in physics relating mass and velocity that you could choose to apply.

It could be perpetually active, and thus possess some of the problems usually associated with drilling for oil-when pressure is released it starts flying up into the sky, perhaps making mining a dangerous business in areas which possess crystal, unless you mine up instead of down. The obvious weapon uses are an attack from below, or launching the target buildings or cities straight up into the air. The advantages of attacks from above (dropping heavy objects from great height is comparable to attacking with meteors attacks) could be amplified if crystals can be reversed to increase gravity, although that might break the crystals (brittle isn't the first way people describe diamond, but if a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, I can imagine a sufficient impact might...shatter them), which invites the question (also important to mining or manufacture) - what happens when they break? Some crystals such as sugar generate brief flashes of light when crushed, so what do these crystals do?

If a ship requires these crystals to fly, destroying the crystals could a disastrous crash (or they fall upward, to be lost in the depths of space).

For comparison, some nuclear generator designs have the disadvantage that they're comparable to nukes, and if damaged... This could bring to bear the fact that attempting to armor the part of the ship with the crystal to protect them or the mechanisms using them might make the same amount of crystals less useful, since all the weight you add still has to be carried by the crystals if you still want the ship to fly. (There's some work in rocket science dealing with the fact that increasing weight usually means you need more rocket fuel, which also adds weight, which means even more fuel.) On the other hand, if crystals help with accelerating/decelerating in any direction, a lighter ship might be more maneuverable.

On the other hand you could make the crystals' power changing the direction things fall, with some sort of energy consumption associated with say, the mass of the ship, or object you want to effect. This could potentially be used to prevent or reduce feasibility of perpetual motion machines, if you want to preserve the laws of thermodynamics, although if you've got your heart set on flying ships made out of wood, engines which use fire might not work out.

However I also want it to have other effects without making it seem too 'fictional' or contrived (which I realize may be difficult).

I would recommend coming up with a system for what everything does, and then have the characters learn more as they go along (There are some tips you can find on the sort of writing you described by googling Hard Magic System, written by Brandon Sanderson who has a system for writing fiction that somehow feels very realistic).

  • $\begingroup$ What if one effect is to make things 'lighter than air', somehow temporarily changing the density (somehow)? So anything within the force-field becomes almost weightless? $\endgroup$ – Ionatia May 13 '18 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you can split the forces something is under, things can be made weightless by making half of the gravitational force go 'up' while leaving half pointing 'down' so they cancel out. Density changing could consume/produce lots of mass in a very dangerous or hand wavy process, or conserve the mass and compact/spread it out like changing states of matter. If your goal is just to levitate things, you can just create forces. Going with physics is less work on making a framework, and I think the inverse-square law limits doing things at ridiculous distance without sufficient power. $\endgroup$ – user558317 Aug 30 '18 at 21:40

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