1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Magic can't coexist with technology... like really...

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Lowen, Mar 27, 2018.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    There are many kinds of magic. Take a look at what exists in Tolkien's world. No rules, or almost none, yet it *feels* powerful in that world. Or look at what Piers Anthony did, where each person can do only one specific bit of magic and sometimes it's incredibly trivial, like the ability to make a fart sound. Systems like Le Guin's Earthsea can be elaborate without having a whole bunch of rules. There is, in fact, no particular reason why you have to have teleportation exist at all. You can still have magic. Then there's god-based magic where people have to pray for magical effects, never knowing quite what they'll get.

    All and any of that can exist in a 21st century setting. Steampunk showed the way on this. You just invent one or more magical substances to power your machines.

    The range of solutions and approaches really is quite broad. The more fantasy you read, the more you will discover.
  2. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

    As do I, and my setting is one such world. Instead of being contradictory, magic and technology can bolster one another, both directly in the form of magitech, and indirectly by uncovering new scientific principles that can be applied to the other.

    For example, a magical healer could heal someone by sending out vague healing energies at the patient, but this would be an inefficient use of energy, leaving less for the treatment of other patients. A knowledge of medicine and anatomy would enable a magician to know exactly what needs to be fixed and how to do so, allowing them to save their power for others who may need it. Of course, they can avoid using any magical energy at all if they have access to an effective non-magical remedy.

    Even if anybody can learn magic, and magic can be really powerful, technology is still useful as a labour-saving device.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I mix magic and modern day technology in my setting too.

    In theory anything you can do pretty much anything with magic, but in practice it gets more and complicated the more advanced effects you want to achieve. Throwing a fireball would be a relatively simple task for someone who's skilled in magic and who's practiced it a bit. Speeding up time in a localised area to allow an injured bodypart to heal faster would be a lot more complicated, and doing it while the person in question is in active combat would be impossible in practice, but not in theory - unless you're using divine magic in which case it's really your god doing it and not yourself, but only if the god feels like it.

    In addition, not everyone can do magic, and of those who can most will require a partner.

    In order to cast magic spells you first need to channel the aether into a weaveable stream (or multiple streams), and then you need to weave that stream in the right way to produce the effect you want.
    Roughly one person in twenty five is able to channel aether, and roughly one person in twenty five is able to weave aether streams into magic. Most of these people work in pairs with one channeling and one waveing.

    One person in twenty five times twenty five (625) is able to both weave and channel, and can cast magic on their own.

    The numbers are picked in such a way that an average size school class will have at least one kid who's fluent in magic in some way, either as a weaver or a channeler. This means most people will have personally encountered someone with magical abilities of some kind (this doesn't include elves who are all able to both weave and channel to some degree).

    To sum things up then.
    - Magic can, in theory, do anything.
    - Magic is, in practice, limited to the skill and training of the practitioner.
    - Not everyone is capable of wielding magic.

    In this case, there's still plenty of room for technological advancements for the convenience of everyone who's not magically gifted.
  4. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I agree with the other posters. There's no particular reason why magic can't exist with technology unless one is all powerful - or unless you've got a rule as in Arcanum where magic interferes with technology and vice versa. Eg turning on your toaster kills the light of your enchanted stone etc.

    But a more interesting question is, what happens when one of these two things suddenly becomes far more powerful and prevalent. Say one day the world has both and muddles along, and then the next someone finds a way to give magical, near godlike abilities to everyone. Then you have the makings of a story on your hands! The reason I suggest it is because I used it in a recent book, and created an entire history based on the very concept - and the disasters that happen when that miracle of magic slowly goes away.

    Cheers, Greg.
  5. elemtilas

    elemtilas Sage

    Heh. It's in running away from what we fear that we run straight into fear's bosom!

    Depends on what magic actually is. I tend to favour the argument that magic per se never actually makes an appearance in LotR, for all Gandalf is called a wizard. Remember, he and Saruman and Sauron and Tom Bombadil are not wizards, They are not even beings of earth. Bombadil's case is a little unclear, but the others are all powerful spirit beings from Outside the world and have come Inside for various reasons.

    Those things accomplished by Sauron are not accomplished because he waves a wand and recites some hocuspocus words. They are done because it is in his nature to be able to do those things, and through his will those things are sustained.

    Even the Elves do not understand what is meant by "magic". Galadriel herself tells Sam that she doesn't understand what he means, and as much as says "our high technology and deep understanding of the world seem like magic to you, when in fact it is not".

    My take, in The World, is that what we'd call "magic", they call dwimmery and is simply the (unusually lucky) result of certain natural forces being properly manipulated. Dwimmery is like an airplane: you're lucky that the forces of lift and drag and acceleration and gravity were well balanced and the whole contraption landed safely --- that was magic! Dwimmery is like a light switch: we flip a switch in blissful ignorance of what goes on, but somehow an entire room is illuminated! --- that too is magic!

    Dwimmery is, I think perhaps, a little more difficult to add to the mix without screwing things up royally. Some people have a nearly innate capacity to manipulate dwimmery. To others, it seems like they but wave their hands and fire appears to consume a stick, or they pass their hands into an injured body and on bringing them out again, all the hurts are healed --- is that not also magic‽

    Some people have a more difficult time and have taken to "storing" the dwimmery they are able to command. By perhaps imbuing a wand or staff with power, and causing a manipulation of substantial reality by use of cunning and arcane spells.

    Still others have sought to combine dwimmery with ordinary technology. This is called thaumology. Here, certain components are strictly technological in nature, while others are strictly matters of dwimcraft. Take for example, Lord Maytagge's Self Actuating Laundry Board Mechanism with Attached Wringer.
    It is a fairly nondescript and ordinary looking device, entirely mechanical in appearance. You stoke the thing with coals or wood chips, make sure the water line stopcock is open. You open the great bronze lid on its ordinary brass hinge and throw the clothing in along with some washing soap. But it's when you turn the great Knob on the front that the magic begins! Stored within the device is a kind of energy. A potential, if you will that will, once activated, bring the whole glorious mechanism to life!

    I guess if I told you that magic in The World largely involved the subtle manipulation of wee strings of matter, either changing their composition or rearranging their position with respect to one another, then it may no longer seem so entirely magical anymore!
  6. L. Blades

    L. Blades Dreamer

    I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread...

    Firstly Lowen I would like to suggest to not to limit yourself too much. What I mean by that is, don't force one thing to depend on the other; consider that Magic, Technology, and Religion can all be Completely independent of each other. You can make a great start at this by asking yourself what each one is exactly. They could be broken down into the following categories:

    Magic; a type of power, source of energy, or force, or even an act. It may have no prerequisites, it may not need a religion or god, it may not have any bearing on technology.

    Technology; a physical thing that has been constructed, using materials and methods. This is purely the focus of design and manufacturing, no matter how primitive or advanced.

    Religion; this is a belief system, and can be based on anything. This can be a belief in a supernatural being, or a system, or even the worship of a technology. It doesn't require technology, magic, evidence, or logic; religion can be created by a story, and can be just as, as if not more powerful than any magic or technology as a tool of control or oppression.

    None of these necessarily have to conflict with each other. From reading the thread though, I do like the interesting ideas of how some can be related to the other, such as a magical substance being required to fuel a technology in the steampunk genre. Or for example you could have a society whose religion worships a technology, say the sword.

    In a fantasy world limitless magic would make it deeply flawed, as others have pointed out (what's to stop someone blowing something up with ten thousand nukes?). I particularly like Yora's comment, "Limitations are more interesting than powers. If magic is free, unlimited, and can do everything, there isn't much interesting going to happen." - I would focus on how magic works in the world, rather than how a world could function around magic. You don't need to go into too much detail of How your magic system works, but you can if you want as long as it's relevant to the story. I've wrote the whole of my first book deliberately not going into much detail of the 'how's (or the 'limits') of magic; but have laid the foundations of how it is going to be explored in the sequel.
    Helen Bennet-Kröger likes this.
  7. tofit

    tofit Dreamer

    Some technologies will still be useful. You could use magic items to power machines like some kind of heated item. Magic in a sense is a science, if it were real scholars would break it down into a science. Technology would be your magic wand, or your telepathic glyph. There would still be ways of explaining technologies and magic and how they work together. Just treat it like it's a science.
    Helen Bennet-Kröger likes this.
  8. This was a really useful interesting read.

    Just wanted to add one thought that I don't think has been said yet: geography.

    This is a point I generally see people (myself included) forget. When creating a world, we need to think about the real specific geographies in between cultures. So let's say you have a tribe of people using magic close to a river. Then across from the river I write about a society of people which technologies are advances more than ours today - they can time travel, beam themselves up, live forever. Wouldn't these two cultures have interacted over the hundreds of years they've been living there? Wouldn't they have strongly influenced each other?
    Now what if there wasn't a river separating them but a few continents? Then I can totally believe that these two cultures have not advanced in magic or in technology.

    This is based in the assumption you want to have both magic and technology but use them in different settings. With putting the two together, there are smart posts here. To me it also depends on what the culture you're describing would deem the stronger force: magic or technology? The secondary force would probably be used to enhance the primary.
  9. raygungoth

    raygungoth Acolyte

    I'm always weirded out by this idea and statements like this. Where I grew up, a song that's supposed to make it rain and the ability to fix a car were both considered what you'd call magical in a book.

    But let's back up a bit. Technology is defined as a tool, system, or process designed to solve a problem (this is the working definition). This means that if your setting has spells that work, they're technology. Just like how a different series of evolutionary paths would result in a different ecosystem entirely, so, too, would a different set of physics result in a different technological base. Just because we wouldn't recognize familiar elements - i.e., electricity and its properties, magnetism, gravity, etc. - doesn't mean it's not technology. Magic wouldn't have to coexist with technology because it is technology.
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    It always seems to me that when people make such categorical statements they've somehow forgotten that they control the world of the story.

    There are plenty of stories where magic and technology co-exist, so that should be empirical evidence that the proposition posed by the OP is wrong, as least insofar as we're talking about constraints on actual fiction. If you want to make your world as logically-consistent as possible, then yes you have to game out some of this stuff, but at all times you remain in complete creative control--if something doesn't make sense at first, tweak the world so that it is logical, or come up with a rational underpinning for it that make sense in the context of your story.

    There is rarely a can't in fiction writing, and especially in SF/F, that holds up to scrutiny.
    TheKillerBs and TheMirrorMage like this.
  11. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    The notion that magic and technology cannot co-exist is nonsense. In my work in progress there is both magic and the technology akin to that of the 1930s with a few minor tweaks here and there.

    In the world of my work in progress magic (called sharara (Arabic for Spark)) is gifted by the gods to 0.5% of all adults when they turn 16. However they have to learn how to use the sharara properly as it takes skill - and both excellent physical and mental fitness - to use and master it. A Master of the sharara can fly carpets over long distances, heal practically any injury or illness and even take out a fort but Masters are very rare. Healing powers isn't much good in a world where technology has now meant that one hundred sahir (mages) couldn't heal tens of thousands of wounded people suffering the complex array of wounds and diseases that can be inflicted by Western Front (World War I) style combat. The modern army has little need for a sahir who could bring down the walls of a fortress when artillery, tanks and bombs dropped from aircraft can do pretty much the same thing. And who needs a flying carpet when an aircraft, airship or glider can do the same thing? The very role of the sharara is one of the core sources of conflict in my work in progress.

    In a society where magic is confined to a few people technology would still evolve. The question is how that technology emerges, what type of technology emerges and the pace that technology emerges. Equally importantly, can the technology and the magic within a society work together? In The Legend of Korra the sort of technology we would expect in a world modelled on the 1920s has come about but magic hasn't died off. Instead a new bending power has emerged: the ability to metal bend. It has also raised fundamental questions about the roles of technology, science and bending in society with the very religious, social and political stability of the world of Legends of Korra at stake.
  12. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

    The degree to which magic impedes the progress of technology is proportional to its mass applicability. In a world where magic exists, it's not going to be some conflicting force with science - it's just going to be a field of science. Even in soft magic worlds where magic is sentient and unreliable. "Science" is nothing but the act of studying something. So what if magic behaves inconsistently, so do people, and we have sciences to study those too.

    So for technology to be suppressed by the presence of magic simply means the magic is a more reliable means of getting things done in that universe. Why spend all that time trying to figure out the complex series of mechanics needed to build a car, when you can just politely ask your carpet to perform the same tasks? By the same measure, if magic is the sort of thing where minor errors will summon city-destroying demons on a fairly regular basis, maybe it's better to leave the task to the natural forces that don't open up hellgates when mishandled.
    TheKillerBs likes this.

Share This Page