So very often in fiction you will see either magic or technology. Rarely both. When you do, they usually don’t get along. This is so common that there is an entry for it on TV Tropes. For the instances where magic and technology aren’t fighting, you indubitably come across Clarke’s Third Law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
You also tend to run into people complaining that C3L misunderstands what magic and/or technology is. While they make some good points, I don’t necessarily agree with them. In most uses of magic within fiction, it follows a specific set of rules. It’s studied and experimented with, and advances are both thrilling and potentially dangerous. It can be used for good or evil, but is itself neither. It can kill or save, and it’s often used to make life a little simpler/easier. To me, that’s basically a layman’s definition of technology.
Personally, I find that in a world with easy access to magic there would be less need for technological developments (so they would occur at a slower rate, and potentially not at all). If I can create magical light that automatically turns itself on when the sun goes down, well… I’m probably not going to need to invent the light bulb, now am I? But if magic isn’t easily or widely accessible, there needs to be an alternative. This is generally where technology comes in.
So how should you balance the age-old debate of magic versus technology?
That really depends on your story (obviously). But I’m going to talk a little bit about some different examples of how magic and technology might mix.
High Tech, High Magic, All Friendly
This type of arrangement is going to be your “science fantasy” genre. High tech equipment, vehicles, weapons, and machines combined with a strong magical presence can make for interesting combinations. Both Star Trek and Star Wars are (or have) examples of such a combination. Neither has a negative impact on the other, and they are used in different ways.
Another option is to have magical tech. This can be a way to bypass things that currently prevent quick inter-planetary travel, time travel, complete and accurate health care, and other such modern problems. Of course, this tends to blur the line between magic and technology, but it could make for an interesting new look at traditional sci-fi ideas.
High Tech, Low Magic, All Friendly
Once more, this is going to have a very sci-fi feel to it. With a low magic presence, that might mean things like telepathy, telekinetic abilities, and other “mental powers”. Or it could simply mean that magical ability (however you define it) is incredibly rare, but also celebrated when found.
This might also cover modern supernatural type stories.
Low Tech, High Magic, All Friendly
This is the traditional “fantasy” set-up. There’s very little technology, often pre-guns (so 13th century or earlier) and a lot of magic to make up for it. What tech there is rarely interferes with the magic, and generally there is little antagonism between the few who make/develop tech and magicians.
An alternative might be a “modern” recreation where magic has resulted in items that mimic most of our modern technology.
High Tech, High Magic, Strained Relations
Whether scientists and magicians dislike each other, or there is some stigma attached to one or both, for some reason magic and tech don’t really get along. Scientists and magicians probably don’t socialize, and if two did it would be a bit of a scandal. But there is no reason beyond the human element that the two don’t mix.
High Tech, Low Magic, Strained Relations
Whether this is sci-fi, modern, or otherwise, there is probably some fear directed towards magic and those that use it. This could be simple superstition, misunderstanding, genuine/justified fear, or even just dislike of magic.
Low Tech, High Magic, Strained Relations
This would probably be the reverse of the above. People are superstitious, misunderstand, dislike, or are scared of technology.
High Tech, High Magic, Do Not Mix
Potentially falling under the Science versus Magic War, technology and magic have potentially catastrophic results when mixed. They may only neutralize one another, or interfere in some way, or they may have actual explosive repercussions when combined or used in close proximity to each other.
High Tech, High Magic, Full-On Hatred
This usually falls under the Science versus Magic War. Scientists and Magicians hate each other and will actively fight. It could also simply be a statement of how horribly the two (tech and magic) behaviour when combined (explosions, tears in reality, firestorms, death, etc.).
High Tech, Low Magic, Full-On Hatred
There is a high potential for a witch-hunt culture. Magicians are viewed as unnatural and likely evil, and there would be a strong desire to kill or imprison them.
Low Tech, High Magic, Full-On Hatred
This would likely be a flipped version of the above. Scientists are viewed as unnatural and likely evil, and there would be a strong desire to kill or imprison them.
This and the above could potentially be situations where the High Tech/Magic is the “evil” side, oppressing the underdog unjustly. A Magocracy type system where the side in power does what it can to suppress the other, so as to maintain its control of things.
So which of those do you like the sound of? Can you think of any other possible ways of mixing magic and technology?
Later this month I’m going to take a look at some things to consider when trying to decide how you’re going to mix magic and technology in your story.