Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.
The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?
One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.
The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.
The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand. But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.
But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.
Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.
Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.
For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.
A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.
Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.
Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.