Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Technology in Fantasy

Most of the fantasy I write is set in a pseudo-medieval setting. Most the fantasy I see published is either pseudo-medieval or urban. While in-between exists, they aren't very common.

So where are the fantasy novels with a decent level of technology? Where are those with prints and guns? Often you will have either magic or technology, but the two shouldn't be exclusive. I don't believe one can completely replace the others. Technology is accessible. It does not require its maker to stay around, or for you to know the details of its creation. Anyone can use a gun. You just pull the trigger.

Print in particular is something I want to use at some point. It changes the way information spreads and how your ruler(s) will communicate with the people. A simple political intrigue can be complexified by print, especially when nosy reporters are trying to get a scoop. Propaganda could become an important aspect of the novel.

We often default to medieval fantasy by force of habit, but when you consider the myriad of possibilities offered by combining your fantasy races and magics with technology, it's a wonder there aren't more of these books out there! There's steampunk, but it's only a fraction of what could be done.

And if you have recommendations, give them! I'll want to know what has been done in the area before I start my next WiP.


  1. Aren't you scratching the jello-like wall between fantasy and science fiction? Too much technology and you'll find the books filed in the sci-fi area. Swap swords for guns and you get the same thing.

    I'm not arguing that this is right (or wrong) but it does point to the artificiality of these genre distinctions.

    Cheers --- Larry

  2. Yes and no. There will never be magic in science-fiction. Everything is supposed to be explainable by science (or pseudo science, at any rate). Hence the name. ;)

    Of course, too much technology will bring it closer to the limit, but I would hardly call a world with mages and a strong press industry a science-fiction. Swap swords for guns but keep the fireballs and... what do you get? Something new and fun, I think!

  3. The only concern that springs to mind for me would be redundancy. Why invent a machine that does something easily accomplished with magic? Why study arcane lore and master difficult magical techniques if technology has a simple gadget for the same purpose? Of course, it all comes down to what you decide about resource availability and labor, how widespread magical ability is and how high a price its use exacts on the user or on society. Off-hand, I can only recall steampunk mixing them. that I've said that, I seem to recall a recent fantasy novel involving magic and the equivalent of cybernetics. I'll have to go through my back issues of Locus. This will drive me crazy until I find the name.

  4. "Of course, it all comes down to what you decide about resource availability and labor, how widespread magical ability is and how high a price its use exacts on the user or on society."

    That's a good point. I guess having both magic and technology requires a balance that isn't easy to strike. If mages aren't frequent, it is more likely that someone devised pieces of technology that can be used by all.

    Really, this is like any worldbuilding. It requires careful thought, and asks that the writer considers multiple aspects in order to have a final product that is believable.

  5. Steampunk is developing some interesting, interrelated systems of technology and magic. And there are some other notable ideas related to communication or alternate communication in fantasy, such as this (captured my imagination for days):

    I always kind of wondered if the traditional hero's journey of epic fantasy would be possible in a connected, faster-paced society. Since the hero tends to at least start off vulnerable, if his face was printed on flyers posted across the continent, would he even survive long enough to accomplish his goal?

  6. Hillary, that link is awesome! Thanks a lot. ^^

    And yes, the whole farmboy saves the world quest changes quite a lot if there's print. I bet they'd dirty his name long before he became a hero of the people. I would. :P

  7. In a world where propaganda smears magic, one lone farmboy must rise up...etc...

  8. The Dark Tower series comes to mind, with blending technology and magic. There are guns (the main character is a gunslinger) and there are magical doorways to other worlds (some of them just like ours, complete with all of our technology). In fact, the series seems to suggest that the gunslinger in question lives in the distant future, rather than the distant past.

  9. Oh great! My TBR pile just got even bigger. ;) This suggestion gets moved up high for the simple reason that I've yet to read ANY Stephen King, and I think that's a shame.