Making it all Up

This post is going to be a little late, and thank you for your patience – I was under the weather and although the clouds are thinning, I’m still not in sunshine. Actually, I woke up this morning and had forgotten it was Saturday, and it wasn’t until I was talking with my friend that I realized I didn’t have a post. Or a topic. Or, really, much of a brain. Fortunately, we’d been discussing her writing work-in-progress, and when I brought this post up, she suggested a topic.

How to balance hard science and fantasy in writing?

There’s a bit of an assumption about writing fantasy I run into from time to time. ‘That’s so easy to do, you just make it all up.’ I suppose it’s possible that there are fantasy authors out there who don’t bother with any research, they just make it all up. But reality as an underpinning to fantasy is essential to my reading pleasure, and I suspect strongly that this is the case for most readers. So the ability to blend science with fantasy is essential. You can’t disobey the laws of physics because ‘it’s magic’ any more than you can in Space Opera, unless you want your books to take regular flying lessons.

The friend I was talking to – I’ll call her Thing 2, since that’s her nickname in our group, and using her real name is confusing here – was commenting on the fact that she couldn’t find images as generated from the latest night-vision system. Since it’s not legal for civilians and all. She’s trying to research her work, and to blend science in with her fantasy. She’s doing it right. Her imaginary world isn’t going to have capricious magic use that exists for the convenience of her plotline. When vampires show up, they won’t be ignored and dismissed, actual science will be done on them and their traces.

This is what I like to read about. Magic that is limited, has a price to use, and it’s not like turning on a tap. Well, if it is, it’s with the understanding of where the tap is connected to pipes, and a pressure tank, and a well, and the well WILL run dry if you try to pull out too much, too fast. Just like in the real world, magic could be handled like chemical reactions: you can react some substances with others, bot not all. Reactions should be endothermic or exothermic. A catalyst will help the ‘spell’ get over the initial activation energy need to make it proceed faster (or proceed at all, in some reactions). if we’re going to keep this chemistry as magic metaphor, we should also keep in mind that the ‘water’ coming oout of our tap matters, a lot. You don’t use regular tap water for chemistry, it’s got contaminates in it, and ions and goodness-knows what-all. No, you want deionized water that is from a controlled source so you aren’t reacting with something unknown like calcium carbonate. You also want clean glassware. Some of these fantasy novels with their oddball ‘organic’ wood or stone containers *shudder* I don’t know what you’re going to get out of that and when was the last time you read about a witch scrubbing and sterilizing their workspace? Heck, half the hurdle in Analytical Chemistry is learning how to properly wash dishes. Also, some magical reactions will be more, ah, energetic than others. And if my fantasy writer readers want to play with THAT concept, check out “Things I won’t Work With” a series of chemistry blog posts.

Pulling myself reluctantly away from that metaphor (what? I really like chemistry) I’m not sure that’s what Thing 2 wanted to concentrate (heh, heh… concentrated vs dilute magic. Back away from the Chemistry jokes, Cedar) on. Science, in the purest form, is the study of the universe using mathematics and measurement. This is done with observations, experiments, and hypotheses that can be tested, repeated, and proven. I don’t see any reason why a well-written fantasy can’t adhere to the same rules of the universe as our known sciences. It does mean the author should have at least some grounding in basic science, though.

My point, if you managed to follow me through this odd ramble, is that you can’t just make it all up. Not an make it into a good book with a solid story. If you want to blend hard science and fantasy believably, you have to do your homework. Thing 2 is on the right track, and I am hoping she keeps at it – this would be her debut work, and it’s got a lot of promise. I do enjoy a well-done fantasy, especially an urban fantasy that pays attention to the rules of the universe and doesn’t break science without a very good reason. Or some kind of explanation afterward when the main character demands to know what the &*^$ that was!

Operating on limited brain, I can only think of two titles offhand that did a really nice job of pairing the two fields of magic and science. I am sure you all can come up with more, and please do. The first, and highly recommended, is the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett. The second much more recent is Julie Frost’s Pack Dynamics which gets into (lightly) the mad science of vamps and weres.

What can you suggest for blending hard science and fantasy in a story?



84 responses to “Making it all Up

  1. I used two basic concepts to construct the cosmology I used in my novels. I stole them from pseudoscience, primarily Reich, Adamsky, Fort, and Velikovsky.

    First is the Law Of Conservation Of Order. I imagined entropy as set value that gradually increases in the universe over time (the arrow of time) but can be manipulated on a local level, providing that the overall level remains constant.

    The Outsiders are able to “eat order” (I call them “orthovores”) and thus prolong their own existence at the expense of everything else around them. The technology that they give to humans operates on the same principle, it concentrates order to operate, which yields a corresponding increase of disorder–greater entropy–in the area around the usage. (This explains why casinos–which are order accumulators that harness probability–are inevitably surrounded by run-down and decayed neighborhoods.)

    This is the power source for the “magic” of my world.

    The second concept is the Law Of Hierarchical Metaphysics. That is to say that physical laws change as a function of the local level of order (the “entropic gradient”). When the level is flat and uniform, physics (and hence chemistry and biology) operates by standard laws we all learned in Earth Science. However, by concentrating order in a particular area, once can induce a change of state in the fabric of space and the natural laws are different within a particular area. I envisioned this process as occurring in phase jumps–a region would suddenly become subject to different laws when the entropic gradient reaches a critical threshold.

    Now, I don’t ever explain any of this in my books–occasionally characters talk about it, but never in any great detail. My narrator doesn’t understand any of the “how” behind the things that happen around him. But the fact that I knew it and had it worked out in my own mind does, I think, make the practical application of the Outsider’s power consistent and logical.

    • I agree, and I think you’re right not to put it all in the book, but the reader can tell it’s there.

      • I think that it can be really tough to leave out things that aren’t relevant to the plot, when you’ve spent so much time and effort figuring them out.

        I see a lot of fantasy novels where authors put in long digressions about the history or politics of their fantasy world and I can almost hear the author saying, “Damn it, I stayed up all night working this stuff out–you ARE going to pay attention to it!”

        I do the same kind of deep background on my characters and so much of it never comes up in the books. But I do believe that it isn’t wasted (at least I hope so) because it helps me to write even walk-on characters as real people.

        • And who knows when that walk on might take a larger role. The work is done and if a minor character in one book becomes more major in another the information is already there to draw on.

          • Reality Observer

            Validation! Thank you both…

            I sometimes think I’m doing way too much background – then while I’m writing it, an entire scene forms full-blown in my head, one that would never have existed if I tried just writing it down straight.

            Which does tend to get a lot of documents open on my system, but, ah well. Eventually they all get finished…

            • At least you’re writing it down and not forgetting it.

              • Reality Observer

                There are a few deities of the writing profession that are able to keep the whole thing in their heads – or even create it as they write (and don’t somehow end up throwing out an entire novel at the end…).

                I’ll never manage that. There’s always something on my task list about fixing glaring inconsistencies even with it all written down.

          • Yeah, I do that a lot.

        • I see a lot of fantasy novels where authors put in long digressions about the history or politics of their fantasy world and I can almost hear the author saying, β€œDamn it, I stayed up all night working this stuff out–you ARE going to pay attention to it!”

          The adventure novel I can’t work up the nerve to publish originally had a scene where a character built a fire with a tinderbox, flint, and striker. It ran on for several pages. I shortened it to the character kneeling and building a fire.

          • I think some detail – especially with a skill few have, like starting a fire – is not a bad thing. I’ve been asked about the rabbit hunting I have a character do.

            • Reality Observer

              I think you got sufficient unto the need (and not excessive) detail into that one, if it is the piece I am thinking of. OTOH, I am at least a bit closer to that character in background than a complete urbanite.

              • If you mean Vulcan’s Kittens, thank you. I wanted to convey it without grossing teen girls (my target audience) out.

                • Holly

                  Back in the day when I was a teen girl, my best friend and I were eating lunch, and some boys came by and thought they’d gross us out by talking about a squirel they’d seen run over in graphic detail. Unfortunately for the boys’ plans, we had spent the previous weekend at my house butchering my rabbits. So we one-uped them. The boys quickly turned green and fled.

                  All that to say that scene didn’t register to me as anything that would gross anyone out.

                  • Reality Observer

                    I should ask my sisters whether they have any stories. Daughters of a veterinarian, they all worked in my Dad’s hospital at one time or another; he didn’t spare them from the “icky” stuff any more than he did me.

                    Hmm. Some people may be eating lunch about now, so I won’t go into any details…

                    • I learned not to read anything that mentioned Ivermec while eating. Parasitology and pasta do not go well together,

            • I had to do a bunch of research on how to prepare game birds for cooking and eating, because I didn’t know, and my protag was about to do that very thing. πŸ˜€

          • Details done right add a bit of education to the reader’s experience. And can be useful for effects. For instance if your character had been desperately cold, so cold he had to consciously think his way through getting a fire going, you can drag out the emotional effects a bit longer.

            • Yes, this exactly. It can be very useful in developing a character and reinforcing the emotional as Pam puts it. Writing too tightly scrubs away much of that, and makes it less fun and engaging to read.
              There’s a balance.

  2. Reality Observer

    Another bookmark. Just had to introduce that site to me, didn’t you. Now I’m trying to figure out how to build a story around hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane. (The only thing I know right now is that it will involve – big booms…)

  3. I just look at it as having consistent rules for magic that also takes into account known physics and also what is known by the society. Chemistry was done in less than pristine conditions before it was understood as well, and it still is in things from cooking to mixing resins for fiberglass or for castings. Yes, it matters, and I used that in a story that’s shoved into the bottom of the trunk. But for some things it can get “close enough.” Not close enough for processes required by our level of technology, but people were making soap for centuries before anyone understood what was happening more than putting in so much fat or oil and so much ash drippings or potash (and how they did it before hydrometers to measure the concentration of the base is fascinating).

    What people thought was going on with such things is downright interesting, and raises the question of whether magic works exactly as our characters think it works. We know, of course, but what do they know? The above story that wouldn’t gel followed the decades old trend and made it a form of substance, and the characters understood that. But what if the story was in the same world half a millennia earlier? People used to swear the phase of the moon was important in soap making; today we turn out the quality product regardless.

    If our magic, though, is something else, a cause falling out of favor in our time, it can be more capricious. There would still be “laws” of a sort, just not the hard, concrete, laws we’re familiar with in science.

    • Oh, sure, it will work, but how accurate and precise will it be? LOL – actually, that could be a fun thing to blend in. The ‘making soap’ level of magic vs the ‘making very precise isomers or polymers’ level of magic.

      • Hedge witches and hedge wizards, and the wise old granny and her poultices vs. Court Wizards vs. Battle mages.

        • Or simply a matter of artisans. Not everyone could make good soap or tan a hide well. You could have house magic that might have bad aftereffects, such as soap with uncombined lye, and have the pros who were very good at what they do, and neither really have an idea of what’s going on. The pros could have theories, like the theory of similars or that a plant could be “ruled” by a planet, or that different times affected different parts of the body, all of which was once a part of European medicine. But the reality could be different, with success or failure having nothing to do with the theory.

          • I love this as a theory of magic. The evolution of science wasn’t always smooth and logical…

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Alchemy in Chris Nuttall’s Schooled In Magic series is very much a “we know what works but aren’t sure why” thing.

              The main theory is that “mana” (the energy behind magic) accumulates in living things so combining plant and animals parts under certain circumstances can have useful results.

              The “profession alchemists” have very carefully worked out the variables that work, don’t work and cause disasters. Note “don’t work” in this case means nothing good or bad happens.

              One aspect of alchemy is getting “pure products” to work from. Many alchemist prefer to do that sort of thing themselves. Others have to purchase such products but only from respected dealers. Of course, any dealer who sells impure products is “visited” by annoyed alchemists or the heirs/associates of dead alchemists.

              Any alchemists interested in researching unexplored territory in alchemy are very very often told “go somewhere away from people to do your experiments.

              • TRX

                > aren’t sure why

                That doesn’t mean it can’t work.

                The physics that shone the light of ten thousand suns across New Mexico, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki was so incomplete it wouldn’t get you through a first-year physics class in any decent school.

                The difference between engineering and magic is that engineering works for anyone, not just people who believe in it, or were born with the secret power, or were blessed by some diety.

                Once it works for everyone and behaves in a reasonably predictable fashion, it’s engineering, even if you don’t understand all the details of why it works.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard


                  IIRC some alchemy in Chris’s world requires the maker being a magician but yes it is still “engineering”.

                  Of course, much of magic in Chris’s world is mainly “engineering” as Magicians “knows what works” but “not why it works”.

                  Also, part of the “fun and games” of creating new spells in that world, is that once a magician shows something is possible, other magicians can and will figure out ways to duplicate the new spell even if they don’t witness the spell at work. πŸ˜€

                  Now, there are spells that a given magician can’t do because the spells require more “magic” power than the magician has but a knowledgeable magician might create a spell that requires less “magic” power. πŸ˜‰

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      There’s a Japanese media property often referred to as the Nasuverse. (Originally made for pornographic videogames, and covering a number of alternate incompatible universes.) One of the questions it raises in me is whether the provided background cosmology is true, or whether it might be explained by something else and the IC analysts being nuts.

  4. I keep repeating to myself what I recall of Dean Wesley Smith’s, “It’s fiction, you’re making it up.” as a mantra. Still and all, I would like somebody’s opinion of how well I’ve melded fantasy and reality in my series, which, sadly, with two of potentially twenty-plus books published has to be viewed as a work in progress. But I enjoy researching my science and lore — reading in fields as far flung as archaeology and genetics, looking for ideas as well as factual background matter.


  5. I keep remembering Terry Prachett’s lampshading of this very thing: An old witch’s observation of a young witch. Paraphrased for poor memory: [The young witch] was always questioning whether the eye of newt had to be from this species, or would that one work better, and keeping meticulous records on that sort of thing, because she was certain it would matter. Nanny Ogg knew that it did not. That was why [the young witch] was going to be an excellent doctor, and Nanny Ogg was an excellent witch.

  6. Lackey’s Diana Tregarde novels if I remember right !

    • And her short story where Diana Tregarde is at the romance writers’ Halloween party, and one of them accidentally summons something. Diana has to figure out how to get rid of it.

      Larry Dixon’s essay on magic systems and how the Vales are produced should be required reading for writers who want to dabble in fantasy and do it right, IMHO. I’d already sussed out how he and Misty have Valdemar’s “real magic” work, but he laid it out beautifully in that essay.

  7. Ben Yalow

    For modern hard science fantasy, I’d point out Poul Anderson’s “Operation” stories, collected in Operation Chaos, as an exemplar of pure magic-as-science.

    And, when it comes to the older material, I’ll point to what John W. Campbell did with his “fantasy” magazine, Unknown. Campbell was trained as a scientist before he became a writer/editor (his BS was in Physics from Duke, where he transferred to after he had to leave MIT when he failed German), and his writers pretty much invented the hard fantasy genre, and Unknown (until he had to fold the magazine in 1943 due to wartime paper shortages) was his primary vehicle for those kinds of stories while it was around.

    (Disclaimer: Although I’ve been assisting this year’s Hugo administrators on working with Retro material, I have no access to the vote counts or ballots. I would normally still feel reluctant to mention works on the ballot because of my peripheral connection to the Hugo process, but, since I’d already had an article published in a fanzine about works from the period, I feel I can still mention works that I’d already publicly recommended.)

    For example, two of the classic stories of magic-as-science were in Unknown. DeCamp and Pratt’s “Enchanter” stories (“The Roaring Trumpet” and “The Mathematics of Magic” (later published in book form as _The Incomplete Enchanter_), and their sequels, _The Castle of Iron_ and _The Wall of Serpents_ (which was not in Unknown; it came out in 1960)) are, as you can tell from the titles, treating magic as a accesibble through math. And Heinlein’s “Magic, Inc.” is a hardboiled story with magic as another kind of engineering. And Unknown had a story which read like a Saturday Evening Post story about a swimming competition, except for the mermaid in it (DeCamp’s “Nothing In the Rules”).

    Unknown only lasted 39 issues — but it created a genre, and many of the finest exemplars were published there.

    • Sounds like some excellent reading and thank you!

    • Maybe all this was the start of “secular” magic in fantasy? In the real world, and strictly from an anthropological, could not “magic” be remnant of the worship of gods and things? What, then of a smith who might hypothetically work metal in accordance with his worship of a god, the rites producing an outer layer of steel on a sword? We would recognize it as metallurgy, but he might think it a form of magic.

      So in a fantasy world, at what point are the things that people are doing are chemistry and physics, and what point is it magic? Would they recognize the difference?

      that’s chasing a rabbit, though. We can make worlds with magic that works any way we like. But if magic is done by gods or things, what is their interest in the matter? And are they being strictly on the up and up about it?

    • Reality Observer

      Since it won’t be “retro” for a long time yet – what do you think of Harry Turtledove’s “The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump”?

      His best novel ever, IMHO – and about the only one that didn’t get turned into a series, dang it!

      • Ben Yalow

        I liked Toxic — but my (equally personal) opinion is that Guns of the South was his best novel.

        Like so much of “magic as engineering”, it owes a lot to “Magic, Inc.” and the rest of the stories in Unknown. But it carries the plot off fairly well, although I’m not sure that the cute puns didn’t throw me out of the plot periodically.

      • Luke

        It’s very good.
        But I wouldn’t call it his best. I *would* call it his funniest, and possibly his most enjoyable.

        Guns of the South is my least favorite book of his. (Of course, the fact I detest it likely marks me as a fairly hardcore ACW buff. Accurately so, I must confess.)
        My favorite of his was “In the Presence of Mine Enemies”. With second billing to “How Few Remain”.

  8. Pingback: Where Science Meets Magic: A Book List – Cedar Writes

  9. Being a geologist I could see stone being practical for alchemy to a certain level. There are non-porous, non-reactive stones. And sometimes reactive is good. Want to neutralize an acid? Powdered limestone until it stops fizzing.

  10. In my opinion Tim Powers does about the best scientific fantasy out there.

    • Ben Yalow

      Powers wrote a new Afterward to the currently in print edition of Heinlein’s _Waldo & Magic, Inc._, which is an excellent short description of the two stories in the colleciton.

  11. Magic as Alternative Physics is how I see magic, if I can see it at all. (It takes some effort.) The first time I encountered this was in Niven’s “The Magic Goes Away” and stories in the same world, which treats magical power as an exhaustible resource that you can use until it’s gone, like a seam of coal. I would have preferred to see more about the limits of the use of the power (which seemed like it could do damned near anything in the story, until it ran out) which spoiled it a little for me.

    When I was a teen I remember wondering what a real magician would think of things like television (and electricity in general) nuclear reactors, and lasers. In my latest novel, when magic hacker Stypek jumps into our universe and figures things out, the realization makes him yell out loud: “My god! These people use physics as alternative magic!”

    Because we do.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Emily (a young woman from our world) in Chris Nuttall’s Schooled in Magic series has been bringing our ideas to her new world.

      Oh, she figured out how to create a fusion reaction with magic. IE a “Nuke Spell”.

      Two problems.

      First, she realized that it’s too easy to duplicate. IE if she’s seen using it by other magicians, the other magicians will be able to figure out how she did it.

      Second, she’s has a “range problem” so far the “Nuke” will go off too close to where she is. Fortunately, the only time she had to use it, she was able to create a “pocket dimension” for herself and another person so they weren’t “there” when the “Nuke” went off.

      • Oh, and Rincewind was a physicist when he popped into our world.

        • Which book was that? I don’t remember him doing that! Makes sense, and I’d like to read it.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            The first one. When they popped into that Clancy pastiche, he was a expert in breakaway oxidation phenomena in certain fission reactors.

            • For onlookers, the book Kevin cited is *The Colour of Magic,* which is evidently the first appearance of Rincewind the Magician. I gotta read that ASAP.

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                He was the first protagonist of the first Discworld book. And the second.

                • Luke

                  And shortly afterwards, magic on the disc world largely became powered explicitly by narrative necessity.

                  Pratchett would be near the top of the list that I’d use to argue against the Original Post’s point. (And yes, I strongly disagree with it in most fantasy settings. Sure, I start my background lore by writing several different creation myths and put a lot of effort into mythic past events, pantheons, religious festivals, calendars, and the like. But at the core, they really don’t matter. Magic must be capricious to be magical. And the mechanism by which the god of Fate makes the utterances of his unwilling prophet come true–from a certain point of view–with a side order of sadism–is unimportant and irrelevant.)

    • This shows up in Niven and Pournelle’s Burning City and Burning Tower. There are some limits, IIRC.

  12. Christopher M. Chupik

    Brandon Sanderson does a great job of blending real physics with magic in his works. There’s almost as much hard science as sorcery.

  13. BobtheRegisterredFool

    ‘Thing 2’ sounds someone I saw mentioned on Lawdog’s blog.

    A big point of the one sane protagonist wizards in Drake’s Isles books is the effort she takes to minimize contamination of the small magics she works. She is a ‘jeweler’ who works on a very small scale. She could have powered up to a large scale by reusing tools, or dragging up the old tools of powerful dead magicians, but would’ve picked up unintended influences.

  14. Bob

    Yeah, but what if you’ve got several different parrallel universes, each with a different kind of magic?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Then there are universe’s where there appears to be “different schools” of magic.

        Are they ones where there are different types of magic or is it a matter of “different approaches” to doing magic?

        Of course, “More work for the author” applies to that situation. πŸ‘Ώ

        Note, one of Barbara Hambly’s magic worlds has “different schools of magic” that don’t get along very well. Bit of a problem when a new “religion” starts that is attacking all magicians. πŸ˜‰

        Oh, this is the home world of the magician who finds himself working for our Nazis.

  15. Bob

    One quick trick: a world where the scientific method is not understood, or only understood by a small number of people, and only in part.

    So how do you separate out the superstition and mumbo jumbo from what really works?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Engineering. Engineers know what works and what doesn’t work.

      If somebody repeats a bunch of “mumbo jumbo” and it doesn’t work, then people would know that it is a bunch of “mumbo jumbo”.

      Of course, if somebody does the “mumbo jumbo” along with “something else” with good results and somebody else does the “something else” without the “mumbo jumbo” with good results, people would get the idea that the “mumbo jumbo” isn’t necessary.

      “Trial and Error” existed IMO long before the scientific method was a concept.

      • Bob

        That would be where the ‘small number’ comes in. And the notion of sharing information and discoveries isn’t present. Each group keeping a lid on their own methods and passing them on to initiates, and even putting out disinformation, spellbooks that don’t work or aren’t meant to.

        One of favorite parts of Name of the Rose was the library designed as a labyrinth with booby traps, to make actually finding information impossible for anyone but the librarian. The idea that knowledge isn’t to be shared, but hoarded.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Good point.

          I’ve noticed that many stories where “magic actually works in our world” have the would-be magicians having to deal with spell-books that are encoded and/or have missing bits in order to hide knowledge from outsiders.

          Mind you, I suspect that in a world where magic actually works and is common, while there will be attempts by groups to “hide their knowledge” from outsiders, over the long term such attempts would fail.

          Of course, with magic, mistakes could be very dangerous for the spell-caster. πŸ˜€

          • Bob

            You could employ the premise that simple things are easily doable, like: making dry and combustible material catch fire, but bigger, more complex and physics-defying and permanent stuff would take corresponding study and labor.

  16. Ray Rayburn

    Is “Thing 2” at all related to “Mother thing”?

  17. audioconsultant

    In Lord Darcy’s universe, history forked when the laws of magic were discovered. However, it is clear that the laws of physics did not change, merely human knowledge of them. In Lord Darcy’s world much of what we know of science has never been discovered, just like how in our world none of the laws of magic have ever been discovered. While the stories are only set in Lord Darcy’s world, it would be possible to imagine stories set in our world after someone discovers the laws of magic here …

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Nit, I think Lord Darcy’s world “forked” from ours when King Richard the Lion-Hearted didn’t die as he did in our world. πŸ˜‰

      Mind you, while I greatly enjoyed the Lord Darcy stories, I really don’t buy the idea that the use of magic started so late in a world where magic was possible.

      If “secular” magic was possible, there would be people using it in what we would consider pre-history.

      Things like starting fires via magic, finding safe water via magic, spotting dangerous predators via magic, spotting good prey animals, etc would be very useful and tribes that learned to use such magic would have a major advantage. πŸ˜€

  18. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    This may be Off Topic but Bob made a comment that reminded me of a “common theme in fantasy” that I dislike.

    It’s a theme often used to “explain” why magic isn’t common and/or publicly known to exist in “our world”.

    Basically it’s the “Evil Religious Organizations Hunt Down Magicians” idea.

    Yet, Bob commented on a “simple magic to start fires” so it got me thinking (dangerous I know).

    Of course, here I’m talking about “secular magic” that doesn’t depend on “making spirits/demons/godlings” do something.

    Take certain simple magics like “starting fires”, “finding safe water”, “knowing where dangers/prey animals are”, etc.

    These would be very useful and tribes that had such magics would survive easier than tribes that lacked them.

    So all things being equal, the societies that developed from early human tribes would have working magicians or if they didn’t have working magicians, they’d fail when they went up against societies that did.

    So Religion would have to recognize “good magic” that helped people as opposed to “evil magic” that harmed people.

    Of course, if a Religion developed that condemned all magic, then how could it fight against Religions that accepted magic as a possible good thing.

    Back track here, I don’t believe in any sort of magic that can not be used to harm others especially if the magic users needed to do in self-defense.

    So the Religions that accepted magic as a good thing would have magicians on their side against the Religion that saw magic as evil who would lack magicians on their side.

    So if “secular” magic existed then the Religions that would continue to exist would see magic as something that could be used for good ends.

    So IMO if Christians destroyed all magic-users, then they weren’t real magic-users. πŸ˜‰

    • Bob

      The scenario could be that the magic conveyed an excellent initial advantage to early peoples, but conveyed a long term disadvantage either intellectual or practical that prevented to society from developing past a certain point. Perhaps the practitioners actively encourage dependance and the society becomes stuck in place. Maybe something else, and another society with hard-earned knowledge of weapons and organization takes them out.

      And then maybe someone from that ‘advanced’ society applies scientific principles and training to the ‘primitive’ superstitions, and gets amazing results that even the original practitioners couldn’t imagine.

      Lovecraft wrote some of his best stories with just that conceit.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Or the Age Of Iron ended the Age Of Magic. πŸ˜‰

        Seriously, there may have been reasons for the Age of Magic to end but mainly here I was muttering against the idea that Christianity ended the Age of Magic. πŸ˜€

        • OTOH, I used the premise that magic doesn’t work around Christians in a fantasy world. That has certain implications about magic in that world that I never bring up.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Nod. That idea doesn’t bother me.

            It’s the idea that the Church went after all magic users to kill them and does so without divine protection that bothers me.

            • Bob

              A quick answer : limited abilities on the magic users part, and sheer numbers on the Christian part.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Interestingly, in one of Harry Turtledove’s fantasies, pagan magic is being used against a Christian town but the Jewish sector of the town is not affected by the pagan magic.

  19. Anonymous123

    Your post reminds me of that HG Wells quote, “anything is possible, then nothing is interesting”.

    BTW, you should add a forum to this site; you are leaving $$$ on the table here…

  20. morrigan508

    well, I thought I did a half way decent job, YMMV

  21. Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows is set on a world whose rotation and orbit match so that one side of the planet is always in daylight and one side is always in night. The dayside has science, and the nightside has magic.
    There’s also his Lord of Light book, which sort of follows Clarke’s law about sufficiently advanced technology, but has djinn, Indian gods, reincarnation, etc. Loved that book.

    • Ben Yalow

      Lord of Light is the classic book I point to when people claim there’s a line between fantasy and SF, and that they can distinguish between them. Most people think of Lord of Light as fantasy — which it appear to have many of the tropes for — but it’s clearly SF (spaceship crewmen, technological explanations for tranfers, etc.).

  22. B. Durbin

    Counter-argument: R.A. Lafferty. Mind you, the magic *does* follow rules of a sortβ€”the rules of narrative need. But it sure isn’t physics. Neil Gaiman has also managed that a couple of times.