“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
That’s a quote that’s been invading my brain space lately. I think some of it was having read this article by Chris Sims of ComicsAlliance discussing preferred explanations for creatures associated with Hallowe’en. (Followers of my Twitter feed may have seen me tweet the link out earlier today)
Anyway, it got me thinking. Where is the line between science and magic in the fiction I write, especially the piece I’m going to be working on for NaNoWriMo? As I’ve mentioned a time or two, it’s going to be a fantasy piece. This means that for the first time I can use straight up magic to explain or drive events, rather than having to come up with a scientific (or at least pseudoscientific) explanation and rationale. As Joe Quesada infamously said in regards to the Spider-Man storyline One More Day:
“It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.”
Unfortunately, I’m something of a nerd (a shocking revelation for someone referencing Spider-man comics on their own blog, I’m sure you’ll agree) and I can’t accept that logic. Magic might not obey the laws of physics that science is subject to, but it does have to have a consistent set of internal rules. To me, it has to work along exactly the same principles in the climax of the story as it would in the prologue. Otherwise I’m cheating the reader. It also helps create story telling dilemmas for the characters that just aren’t present if spell-casting characters are all powerful. If you establish early on that magical characters can heal wounds, but can’t raise the dead, then death still means something.
I’m still working the rules for how magic works in my fantasy world, but one thing that is consistent and a lynchpin is that all spells have a blood price that must be paid. he price is paid Either in the blood of the spell caster or of someone in their vicinity. The blood donor doesn’t have to be willing, but the spells will be more effective if they are. Also, there are some rules based on balance. For example, to cast the traditional wizardly fireball, the caster’s body temperature is going to drop somewhat in proportion.
I’m sure there will be more rules than that in the finished piece, but those are two nice cores to build a foundation around. I don’t think I’ll have it as developed as the fantasy author Brandon Sanderson does, but his set of laws are a damned good model to work with.
When it comes to technology, I try and keep thinks relatively grounded and extrapolate based on what currently exists for any science fiction things I write, though with a few breaks from reality or physics (notably faster than light travel) that might serve the story. My most common futuristic pieces are space opera or science fantasy, and in those cases, I am using the technology as magic, based on Clarke’s maxim. I still try and keep the rules consistent though.
I don’t write horror, but if I did, I think I’d probably stick with pseudoscience origins for whatever the threat might be, as to me that thin veneer of plausibility makes a horror tale scarier. After all, “it could happen” is far scarier than “a wizard did it.”
I realize that this really only applies to genre fiction, but those are the largest subset of NaNoWriMo authors, so I guess it works in this series.
How do you handle magic and futuristic science & technology in your stories? Is there a difference?
(Photo by: David Gwynn)