Let's talk fantasy technology

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    @karthmin agreed. His systems are stunning from a sheer effort and creative standpoint, but though they do connect in some ways to the themes of their separate books, the scientific/natural approach does take away a little of their potential for ‘theological’ depth.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    @kate Precisely! For what he’s trying to accomplish, I don’t know if there’s a better way to do it.

    myths don't die

    Hope Ann

    Yesssss. Theology and magic systems. *coughs* *watches how Kate makes hers* *tries to do the same without copying her and everyone else*

    what framework would you use for a magic system?

    And what would be your underlying framework, @kate? Not sure if we ever discussed it. *looks at topic title* this is close enough to tec. Besides, it will give us something to do besides darkeyes and brightlords insulting each other.

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.


    Underlying framework? Um… like… more specifically how? XD @hope-ann

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Hope Ann

    @kate kinda…? If Sanderson’s magic systems can be better, then how can they be better? What should their source be and is one system better than another or is it all about what one is trying to achieve?

    *kicks back because it will take everyone all night to figure out an answer*

    Also, it’s after nine so whatever you say can be used for blackmail.

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.


    @hope-ann *kicks back and blows black origami swan off her palm*

    Simple. It’s in the core of things. Sanderson attempts to use natural and scientific symbolism to point to the supernatural. Much the same way some Greek philosophers agree that worship of nature and the cosmos is worship of the God who created them. There is an element of truth, but also stumbling blocks due to the chosen method that can’t really be removed.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Daeus Lamb

    @kate I want to hear more of these theories.

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢


    *is not sure which theories exactly are being requested*

    *takes it as an opportunity to rant at her leisure*


    *adjusts heavy black glasses*

    To further explain my Sandersonian theory, let’s look at Allomancy. There’s no denying the principles and concepts explored in the context of the system are critically linked to the theme of the Mistborn trilogy. ‘Every push has a pull’ single-handedly set the stage for the ageless power-struggle between Ruin and Preservation, and also by connection symbolized the clash between Vin’s EiL (those who have power are bound to use it tyrannically if necessary for the good of everyone; ruin can be harnessed for good) and Elend’s gentler, more idealistic ‘trust to the inherent goodness of the human heart to acknowledge what is right, and right will preserve itself’.

    In my opinion, while these themes were fascinatingly set up, there was never really a satisfactory conclusion. The scientific system that was able to propose these questions could not provide a cathartic answer. Because of its highly logical nature, it could capture none of the paradoxes that make the reality of who God is so profound.

    Though Ruin and Preservation, as the divine authorities in the Scadrian System, should have been the deciders of ultimate evil and ultimate good, they seemed more bound to the limits of their respective investitures (that’s Cosmere-speak for the splinters of power ‘invested’ from a shard into a planet and/or people, which create magic systems) than they were in control. Yes, they could control things to an extent— but only within the limits of their respective systems. For Preservation (or ‘Fuzz’; thank you Kel) that would be Allomancy, and for Ruin that would be Hemalurgy. They each embodied a single concept, and though one concept was arguably more ‘moral’ than the other, there was no ultimatum to judge between them.

    The best it could give us was a combination through a Vessel who could wield them both. Given the pieces Sanderson gave himself to work with for that story, that was the most perfect outcome possible. But a story should be able to reach beyond its own logically contained world and resonate with the truest truths in our world— the world it was written for. Magic systems especially, as a trademark of fantasy, have tremendous potential to symbolize deeply spiritual things that go ‘under the radar’ in reality. The purpose of fantasy is to make the underlying gears of our reality clearer by stripping away the rust and oil of everyday existence and offering a clearer picture of what life truly is.

    And… yeah. I guess that’s enough for now. 😛

    @hope-ann @karthmin

    @josiah-degraaf you might like this discussion too.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.


    Let’s see, what’s the tag. @josiahdegraaf

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Daeus Lamb

    It’s just @josiah.

    Ah, so the theory has more to do with the starting point than the mechanics then?

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢


    @Daeus-lamb ooohh, actually, the mechanics is a whole different discussion. 😛 Give me a bit to see if I can think of a way to explain it more coherently than I did for poor Hope.

    INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.

    Martin Detwiler

    @hope-ann Definitions first. As far as I am aware, these are original to me (apologies to whoever I stole these from if they aren’t originally mine O.o):

    Hard magic system: Magic system is integral to solving plot conflict (e.g. every Sanderson novel ever). In a hard magic system, we should be careful to apply Sanderson’s First Law.

    Soft magic system: Magic system is not integral to solving plot conflict (e.g. Tolkien).


    I personally think that magic as a staple of fantasy is used to best effect when it is a soft system. All of Sanderson’s magic systems are essentially sciences, when it comes down to it. I think this removes the magicness of magic, and strips it of it’s potential usefulness as a truth-telling, theme-building element.

    Brandon’s magic systems are excellent. As a story element in plot, worldbuilding, and conflict resolution, they are great! And as systems, they are hugely creative and all credit to him for his brilliance. But they aren’t truly magic. They’re fundamentally scientific, because they are a normal function of the world in which they occur. His magic systems are like the laws of physics for his sub-created worlds. Granted, they are usually in the process of being discovered as we are reading his books. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they are simply an innate part of how those worlds work.

    I believe that if magic can be understood and comprehended in the way that Sanderson’s magic systems can be, it has lost it’s otherworldliness, transcendence, and unique beauty. As a truth-telling element of our stories, magic has then has lost it’s greatest advantage: which is the presence of something transcendent, incomprehensible, possibly even divine.

    Have you ever noticed how Tolkien deals with magic? None of his POV characters throughout the Lord of the Rings are magic users. They are almost always hobbits. The plain ones. The people of the homey holes, munching mouths, and fuzzy feet. There are a few moments (in The Two Towers) when Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn have an independent storyline, and the POVs are mixed a bit then. I think we have some from Aragorn. And during the journey through the Paths of the Dead, we have a section that is from Gimli’s POV. But never directly from the POV of a magic user. (If this is a faulty claim, I apologize. I say this to the best of my current knowledge and memory, both of which are quite fallible.)

    But this is my point: Tolkien expertly crafted his story in such a way to put his magic on a different plane from the everyday POV that the reader identified with most closely. This is something that I feel is really, really important to maintain if we want to preserve the full potential of magic as a storytelling element in fantasy.

    [In addition to the point about magic, telling the story from the POV of (almost) always hobbits helped Tolkien with other aspects as well: Aragorn comes off as so noble and mighty in an organic way because we are quite literally looking up at him through the eyes of hobbits the entire time. The elves are otherworldly, foreign, and achingly beautiful, because they are so much more highly exalted than the humble little inhabitants of Hobbiton and Bywater. And Gandalf. Dear, old, Gandalf. He’s a mystery through and through, because he’s the exact opposite of a hobbit, and it’s a hobbit’s eyes that we nearly always see him through. He’s a wanderer, but hobbits are homebodies. And most important, Gandalf is a magic user, and the hobbits are nothing if not the plainest, simplest folk in Middle Earth.

    We, the readers, are most closely akin to hobbits; and it is through their eyes, by and large, that we experience the wonder, majesty, beauty, sorrow, and depth of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s world could not maintain the awe and wonder that it invokes if we were firmly fixed in the heads of the great ones and the magic users.

    There’s also something thematically relevant about having hobbits as the main POV characters… it is they, lowly and small though they be, who are the story’s biggest movers and shakers. And that’s Tolkien’s point. It doesn’t matter how small or unimportant you may appear to be. You can literally change the world. It was, in a very true sense, the Little People who won the War of the Ring, through little deeds done with courage, loyalty, and a persevering devotion to plain and simple goodness.]

    But anyway, back to the question at hand. What is my underlying foundation for magic and magic systems?

    In order for it to be magic and not science, it has to be transcendent in some way. It has to break the barrier between the world that is (as your characters know it), and the world beyond, which they cannot see or ever fully comprehend. To be blatantly straightforward, I believe that it must have something of the divine in it.

    Spoken words causing a change in perceived reality? Read Genesis 1! As trope as spoken spells may be to the state of fantasy in the present day, it’s a thoroughly Christian concept. I don’t think that we should ever lose sight of just how important that is. (Not in any way to imply that spoken magic is the only system we can/should create.) But we have, as it were, a corner on the market when it comes to magic in fantasy, because we have a worldview that thoroughly accepts and even relies upon the supernatural/divine. We should be the ones using it to best effect.

    I’m sure I’ve overlooked something, or made a poor argument at some point, so I look forward to the sharpening that you all bring to my ideas.

    Masterful discussion and analysis of Sanderson’s magic system in the Mistborn series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Brilliant thoughts.

    myths don't die

    Taylor Clogston

    @karthmin Sorry to be constantly disagreeing with you to probably no useful end but… I disagree about your definitions and analysis of magic =P Generally hard magic is described as rational and explained while soft magic is described as mystical, wonderous, and inexplicable. I think a discerning writer will make sure to only use believable methods of resolving plot conflict, but we don’t usually divide magic’s squishiness using that specifically as our litmus test. It feels like fixating on the effect rather than the cause to me, which I guess isn’t a terribly big deal here but I’m a cynical niggler.

    I guess I want to ask “why does magic need to be mystical?” but I know from our previous conversation you think fantasy in general should fill the same roles as Lord of the Rings, so I guess there’s that. Even in Middle Earth, “magic” is described as being in many ways a fundamental part of how the world works, often just as a natural trait of whoever uses it. Galadriel tells the hobbits they would call her craft magic, though this idea is strange to her, and even Tolkien himself used language (in letter #155) we’d identify as hard if a newcomer used it today:

    I am afraid I have been far too casual about ‘magic’ and especially the use of the word; though Galadriel and others show by the criticism of the ‘mortal’ use of the word, that the thought about it is not altogether casual. But it is a v. large question, and difficult; and a story which, as you so rightly say, is largely abiut motives (choice, temptations etc.) and the intentions for using whatever is found in the world, could hardly be burdened with a pseudo-philosophic disquisition! I do not intend to involve myself in any debate whether ‘magic’ in any sense is real or really possible in the world. But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction between magia and goeteia [NOTE: goeteia is derived from Greek. Goety is defined in the O.E.D. as ‘witchcraft or magic performed by the invocation and employment of evil spirits; necromancy.’] Galadriel speaks of the ‘deceits of the Enemy’. Well enough, but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goeteia bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides use both, but with different motives. The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is especially about it) domination of other ‘free’ wills. The Enemy’s operations are by no means all goetic deceits, but ‘magic’ that produces real effects in the physical world. But his magia he uses to bulldoze both people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate. Their magia the Elves and Gandalf use (sparingly): a magia, producing real results (like fire in a wet faggot) for specific beneficent purposes. Their goetic effects are entirely artistic and not intended to deceive: they never deceive Elves (but may deceive or bewilder unaware Men) since the difference is to them as clear as the difference to us between fiction, painting, and sculpture, and ‘life’.

    Both sides live mainly by ‘ordinary’ means. The Enemy, or those who have become like him, go in for ‘machinery’ — with destructive and evil effects — because ‘magicians’, who have become chiefly concerned to use magia for their own power, would do so (do do so). The basic motive for magia — quite apart from any philosophic consideration of how it would work — is immediacy: speed, eduction of labour, and reduction also to a minimum (or vanishing point) of the gap between the idea or desire and the result or effect. But the magia may not be easy to come by, and at any rate if you have command of abundant slave-labour or machinery (often only the same thing concealed), it may be as quick or quick enough to push mountains over, wreck forests, or build pyramids by such means. Of course another factor then comes in, a moral or pathological one; the tyrants lose sight of objects, become cruel, and like smashing, hurting, and defiling as such. It would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho’s introduction of more efficient mills; but not of Sharkey and Sandyman’s use of them.

    Anyway, a difference in the use of ‘magic’ in this story is that it is not to be come by by ‘lore’ or spells; but it is an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such. Aragorn’s ‘healing’ might be regarded as ‘magical’, or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and ‘hypnotic’ processes. But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science; while A. is not pure ‘Man’, but at long remove one of the ‘children of Luthien’.

    I think you hit the nail on the head as regards to the hobbits’ PoV. It’s because of their PoV we see so much of this as magic, and even they are magic users by the standards of Middle Earth, possessing “the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along…”

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    Josiah DeGraaf

    This was a fascinating discussion to read through. Thanks for the tag (or at least the attempted tag, @kate! 😉

    The philosophy behind Sanderson’s works is really interesting. When asked once about how his Mormon faith influences his writing, he once responded that one of the main ways was through his understanding of deity. Since he believes that all humans will eventually become god in heaven, his stories explore how people would act if given god-like powers (either with magic or with the Shards). I think this is one of the reasons why his symbolism fails to be as transcendent as it could be. Since Mormonism (to my knowledge) has less of a transcendent difference between God and man, this is reflected in his stories. The Shards are supposed to represent men-who-became-gods, not the true God, and as a result they aren’t transcendent in an evocative way.

    I also agree with @taylorclogston about the difference between hard and soft magic. The difference in my mind is how much magic can be defined, controlled, and logically analysed. The more it’s like a science, the more it falls into the category of hard magic. The less it’s like a science, the more it falls into the category of soft magic. There’s perhaps an interesting connection between this and the above discussion about the nature of the transcendent in Sanderson’s works. The more hard the magic is, the less transcendent it is and thus the less sense of “natural wonder” it evokes. I personally prefer harder magic in my own writing because I’m a very analytic person, but there’s a definite loss that accompanies it (even if it gains other things).

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

    Hope Ann

    @kate Basically, everything goes back to the source. And when the source is a solid, theological view instead of science, one can take a magic system much further. (though, to be fair, Sanderson’s magic and religion makes much more sense when you realize he’s Mormon and study that to some degree, like @josiah said.)

    Sanderson wrote out a few articles/laws on magic which are fascinating. Ever read them? Anyway, he detailed out hard and soft magic. His definitions were a bit more like what @taylorclogston said – hard magic being more science while soft magic was mysterious, though the examples of Sanderson and Tolkien still stand. I think Sanderson’s is a better definition though, cause the same magic system might be background in one story and part of the plot in another. Their mystery and fantasy and ‘magicness’ has more to do with what kind of system it is than how much it is used in relation to the plot.

    (Also, @taylorclogston. Side-note. No problem with disagreeing. XD That’s what the discussions are about, after all. I mean, so long as everyone is nice, which everyone is, so… 😉 )

    I think what you are talking about, @karthmin has more, or at least as much, to do with the presentation of magic as it does with how the magic actually works (what you were trying to explain to me, Kate).

    Magic systems are powerful when they have religious undergirding because of our ability to connect them to good and evil in this world (it ought to be carefully done, of course. Because there is evil power in this real world, as well as good power. Which is why I’m not a huge fan of some amoral force that people can use for either good or evil as they see fit).

    Personally, I think a cross between hard and soft magic systems can bring in the best of both worlds. I love how Sanderson has the ‘checks and balences’ in his systems. Basically making sure all powers have weaknesses and flaws which makes things interesting, adds to worldbuilding, and keeps magic from solving the story’s problems (it’s the characters who need to solve the plot problems, be they using some sort of magic or not). At the same time, their foundation can have religious and theological underpinnings. Not to mention the actual presentation has a lot to do with it too because the acts will be much more mysterious to a hobbit or someone who hasn’t seen it before than it will be to someone who uses it. But, especially with the religious overtones, I think one can write someone who uses the powers or magic and still get a sense of mystery–perhaps through how they view it themselves.

    *blinks at long, rambling paragraph* hopefully that makes some sense. A system that is part of how the world works, esp. when it comes to flaws and weaknesses, but that also carries a sense of mystery…an aspect I’m mulling over in regards to my own system. It’s founded in theology, but the ‘divine’ and mysterious could be better worked in, I think.

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.

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