Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Talk: Magic vs Technology



Fantasy vs. Science Fiction Worlds


There's this age old tradition of fantasy novels taking place in the time of lords and ladies, princesses, dragons, knights, and young village boys who set out to make their fortune. There's also a tradition in science fiction, in which books are either set in the future or in parallel universes in order to make the technology landscape viable. But who says that magic and technology can't co-exist?

The line blurs a little bit in steampunk novels, since they're set in the past, usually around the Victorian era, but feature steam-powered automatons and scientific contraptions. Still, this seems like a very small niche for science fiction and fantasy to overlap. I am an engineer, so I am such a nerd when it comes to cool technology, but a little magic here and there would be cool too!

How can technology and magic co-exist?

I think one of my favorite series as a kid is a great example of how magic and technology can coexist. I loved the Artemis Fowl books because there were magical creatures like fairies and goblins, but they relied on really cool technology like Neutrinos and had a centaur hacker to help them navigate the modern world. It only seems natural that if magical creatures evolved to fit the present day, they would have access to more advanced technologies than we mere muggles do because they can use magic to bridge the gaps where science stops. 

More recently, I've really enjoyed the Powder Mage trilogy, which has two main systems of magic. One is the usual element-based magic that involves reaching into some magical force/being/place and channeling it via the elements of air/water/fire/earth. There is also a second system that revolves around using gunpowder as a sort of super-drug that heightens your senses and endurance and also gives you control over things like where your bullets go and how to avoid getting blown to bits in a war.

Another series I love to death is Mistborn. While the first trilogy was set in a more traditional medieval-esque setting, the Alloy of Law books are really fun because they start to integrate magic with the technology of the Wild West: printing presses and sensational headlines, pistols and rifles and shotguns, gas lamps and the glimmers of skyscrapers. We've been promised Mistborn trilogies that will show that world in many different stages of technological evolution, which I'm really excited about!

What next?

It's great that the Mistborn trilogy is going to evolve magic and technology together over the course of many books, but why hasn't it occurred to many people that they can set their fantasy stories anywhere in time? It's frustrating to me that so many authors rely on the tried-and-true tropes of medieval-based fantasy, especially when they use "historical realism" as an excuse for their homogeneous and generally socially-backwards societies.

A little bit of technology and magic mixed together can go a long way. Just imagine if we had the magic to harvest energy or to heal emotional trauma. Think of how far that would go to creating a more sustainable or compassionate earth! Magic and technology can make our dreams of flying cities and a world without illness into realities!

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