Monday, December 6, 2021

The Magic Comes Back


Matthew Hughes's Henghis Hapthorn stories (and related stories of The Spray) take place in Earth's Penultimate Age, an era where science is beginning to wain and magic returning. Implicitly, this seems to be the age before Vance's Dying Earth, an era, of course, dominated by magic. This isn't the only setting with the pretense of returning magic: it shows up in place as diverse as Shadowrun and the 80s cartoon and toyline Visionaries.

I think this would be an interesting direction to take a science fiction setting in. You could use your favorite: Star Frontiers--or Strange Stars. The easiest thing to do would be to play post the change and just use those species and setting elements (minus the technology) in a fantasy setting. You could also play during the transition from tech to magic, which I could see having some interesting possibilities. Maybe have an era where spells and the like are beginning to appear but spaceships and other high tech stuff are still operational.

7 comments:

bombasticus said...

That's really good. I tend to focus on the "long afternoon" part of the dying earth trope so this transition or Moment of the Change is a real eye opener. Taking it to starship SF immediately gets me thinking in tangents . . .

* someone could go back to DC now and offer a Legion Magic Wars ongoing book that fills the five-year gap with tales of how the galaxy managed (at great cost) to put the genies back in the bottle. Thinking back to the weirdness around that extremely abrupt storyline makes me wonder if maybe Giffen and Gaiman got drunk and came home with a great concept neither was really equipped or willing to take ownership. I think the Gaiman connection is important in this scenario.

* speaking of five-year missions, a Star Trek timeline that diverges from Catspaw (or just builds directly on it) would be extraordinary. What if instead of getting called back to fight the Klingons the ships have to come in because the stars are right? This could also weigh in on the changes we see in the Klingons and other alien civilizations . . . the return of old wild magic affects everyone differently.

* for Traveler fans all you really need to do is have the Vilani food machines break down, forcing all those people to go back to chewing fermented toxic pulp or whatever they did in their prehistoric dreamtime. Aton 77, director of Saro University, thrust out a belligerent lower lip and glared at the young newspaperman in a hot fury.

* pondering this on the way down to the kitchen my old favorite panel of all time came back to me, Adrian's fractal antarctic dome with the caption "the casually miraculous." A post Watchmen as immediately followed by a kind of summer of miracles . . . Watchmen: The Golden Age. How that would change comics!

Simon J. Hogwood said...

I was actually just going to mention Star Trek, since some of the very earliest episodes implied that psionics were a known and measurable thing even in the human population, not just certain aliens. Of course that was because Trek was at the tail end of a trend where psionics were assumed to be the mind science of The Future, but with the benefit of hindsight we can reinterpret that as a regression instead of progress.

JB said...

Not sure if you're familiar with "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," but that type of premise...set in the far future instead of Victorian England...would suggest one way to handle a "return to magic" concept.

[main difference being you don't have actual historical records to riff off]

My main hesitation with the idea is - in a spacefaring age - how "Earth magic" would function off-world or in interaction with extraterrestrial species / civilizations. When I get to this stage of brainstorming I always go back to George Lucas and his original concepts of "the Force" as the best way to handle magic in an intergalactic setting. Which negates the fun of anachronistic Earth "magic," with its ties to mythology and folklore.

Maybe something more like WH40K but less paranoid/totalitarian? At least it has the superstition/ritual aspect to it.

bombasticus said...

Sad Scotty on the day the laws of physics actually changed!

Dick McGee said...

You could also have the decline of science and rise of magic (and superstition) be the result of social engineering and deliberate suppression rather than some "natural" turn of events. The Fading Suns setting follows this loosely, with various power players (Noble Houses and the Church, and some of the Guilds) having gradually reduced access to technology and education where the commoners are concerned. They've also gradually discovered(?) explicitly supernatural abilities like theurgy, diabolism, and (to a lesser degree) psionic powers that can't be easily duplicated or even understood by scientific means. The inability of even Republic-era science to really explain the Jumpgates and other Ancient tech, or the titular fading suns phenomenon made that easier as well.

To someone unfamiliar with the real course of history (ie the vast majority of people in the setting) it would look like science has just faded with the passage of time, while faith (and counter-faith, and the temptations of the dark between the stars) has grown stronger.

Matt Hughes said...

For those who are interested, I've written one novel where the change from rationalism to sympathetic association (i.e., magic) actually takes place. Space opera civilization collapses and budding thaumaturges emerge from the rubble and begin to contend for dominance.

The book is called A Wizard's Henchman and it was published by PS Publishing of the UK in 2017.

Matt Hughes

Trey said...

Thanks, Matt. I will definitely check that out!