Friday, March 22, 2013

A World of Magic-powered Technology

Magical devices are extremely common in fantasy stories of all stripes. Cloaks of invisibility, magic wands, and crystal ball variations abound (and much more).

Steampunk stories at times blend the magical with a Victorian feel...or make technology that might be imagined to work in the 19th century (but which can't really), actually work, producing an effect that is almost magical. I mean things like airships shaped like sailing ships with levitating balloons that are in fact far too small for the weight lifted, or mechanical men who act in ways more complex than current robotic technology can deliver--but powered by mechanical clockworks.

But I think it would be interesting to feature stories in which devices are built--that is, technology exists--that are based on mechanical devices with magic essentially taking the role that electricity and electrical-powered devices perform in our world. So you'd build an elevator, for example, much like we do in our technological age--it would roll smoothly on lubricated ingrained vertical wheels to reduce friction, while the weight of the lift itself would be carefully counter-balanced against a counterweight connected via a cable, so moving the elevator would be simply a matter of changing the balance of the system, instead of directly lifting the weight of the device. But instead of a powerful electric motor to change the balance, a simple magical spell would do so. Perhaps uttered by an elevator attendant--say a magical apprentice gnome. The gnome, perhaps wearing the red cap of elevator attendants of a bygone era, says, "Balanceatus super" or something and the counterweight ascends, the cable lowering the elevator car down.

Or there could be a camera with a lens that captures light...but the image it captures and focuses on is captured by magic and transported by magic. Which would in effect be much like a WiFi device, but would never have to be plugged in for power; its batteries would never have to be replaced (though spells would have to be recharged, whatever that takes). Or a carriage that moves smoothly on wheels with lubricated axels, the driver turning a steering wheel, but the drive motor is a magically tumbling block of metal or something similar.

In fact, a fantasy story could feature a world that parallels ours in every way, with a magical equivalent of computers--monitors are glass screens dotted with phosphorous which are illuminated by pixies in flight--keyboards don't exist, but the analog is a magical parchment that converts handwriting to images on a screen that can be copied and transported elsewhere. The Internet could exist via series of imps and fairies and/or dimwitted demons routing magical messages from glowing screen to glowing screen (I would make this fantasy Internet operate on "true digital"--that is, the numbers 0-9, not binary code). Air travel could be provided by large lightweight aerodynamic aircraft with lift (as we have them), but with dragons harnessed under the wings to provide thrust.

Fantasy skyscrapers of glass and steel could be connected by roads made smooth by giant rollers pushed by trolls. Rifles hurling projectiles could be fed bullet casings containing water where we would put gunpowder. A spell could transform the water instantly into steam, pushing the bullet down the gun barrel. Submarines and spacecraft could purify their air by words that freeze out atmospheric carbon dioxide. Companies that summon or breed or otherwise provide simple magical helpers would drive industry. Instead of "General Electric Corporation" being important, there would be a demand for "General Gnomic Services." Instead of "Microsoft," there would be "Minifairy."

Note that this sort of story may have already been done--I'm not familiar with such stories, but they may well already exist. Also note that there is an underlying assumption here--that even in a world of magic, principles of science would still apply--leverage would still work the same, lift would still be lift, materials science still materials science. There would just be additional forces to be harnessed in such a world that we do not have access to...which is why we are required to rely on less elegant and interesting solutions to our technical problems...

You can download a story of mine illustrating this concept from Amazon at this Technically Magical link.

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3 comments:

  1. There are similar things in Final Fantasy where you have machines like airships and robot armor powered by magic. Also, Warcraft kind of plays around with that concept a little bit, but not as heavily as Final Fantasy.

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  2. Yeah, I'm familiar with the look of both Final Fantasy and Warcraft--however, while the broader concept of things they have done relates what I was talking about, I was thinking specifically of a story world very much like our own in every possible way--but magic would substitue for electricty and some other energy sources...so things would be weirdly familiar, but different. Skycrapers, big cities, internet, broadcast TV, cell phones, automobiles, passenger aircraft, communication sattelites, rifles, power tools, heavy construction gear, etc. etc., all the basic items of life of the modern world we know would exist. But all would be different in often-subtile ways, all would have a magical aspect...

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  3. I mean things like airships shaped like sailing ships with levitating balloons that are in fact far too small for the weight lifted, or mechanical men who act in ways more complex than current robotic technology can deliver--but powered by mechanical clockworks.



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