Again, bonus internet points if you can identify the movie I’m quoting.
So Worldcon was on this past weekend, and thus the fields of genre discussion have been a little touchy this week. It’s nice to see that the majority of discussion exemplifies the oft-repeated advice for authors and other industry professionals to try and keep their tempers in check and not say anything online that they wouldn’t say to someone in a pub. Even if we all disagree, at least we can get along.
Well, most of us can. On the upside, you can gauge quite well who is likely to give you the time of day if you talk to them in the bar at a con and who isn’t based on their online conduct.* Someone who goes from zero to explosively insulting in three tweets flat is probably one to avoid.
Anyway. Tom Pollock (author of The City’s Son and The Glass Republic, available in all good stores now, buy them, seriously, what are you waiting for) wrote a ‘blog post last night about world building. It got me thinking about the stuff I have been writing and am planning to write in the future. More specifically, it got me thinking about magic.
What I’ve been writing of late is fantasy, but there’s no magic in any of it. I’ve been worrying about that because one of the big hallmarks of fantasy is that it’s a space where magic can exist, and as a fantasy writer it feels like I have a duty to put magic in.
The thing is, for these projects, I don’t particularly want to. I think I can achieve pantsless crazy (good term) and create something fun and satisfying without it.
For example, Gunslinger Symphony is an alternate-earth western. There’s no magic, but what I have done is transpose almost all of the scientific development of the 19th (and early 20th) century to post-Civil War America. Mass nostalgia for the boundless energy of the gold rush combined with some leaps in scientific discovery have created a second rush, but instead of gold the commodity is ideas.
Of course the first thing people say when I tell them this is, “oh, steampunk,” but I’m loathe to apply the label because although steam power certainly exists, it’s not the driving force. Everything that’s in the book has existed, in one form or another, in the real world – I’ve just switched it all around.
Okay. Okay. Maybe I need to give you an example. Gregor Mendel was a monk and a pioneering geneticist who very famously crossed pea plants. He also worked with bees, and spent a lot of time trying to breed bees that produced especially delicious honey. The latter plan didn’t go so well, though, as he ended up breeding bees that made tasty honey, but were also incredibly aggressive.
So, in Gunslinger…, Mendel ends up accidentally killing the abbot at St Thomas’s and ends up in exile in the US, still trying to breed the perfect bee.
Long story short, KILLER BEES.
Gregor Mendel, beekeeper and ninja
Similarly, the draft of The Spirit House (terrible placeholder title, I know, but it has the BEST first line**) I pulled out a few weeks back is fantasy, but it isn’t terribly magical. It’s full of spiritualism and madness and dances along the line between the rational and the supernatural. It’s not about magic being real or not, but more about how the world is shaped by belief.
I guess my point is that it has taken me a long time to get used to the idea that fantasy doesn’t necessarily need to have magic. All it needs is to be is fun.
*Caveat: talk to them in a “normal human interaction” way. When I was at Eastercon a guy came up to me in the bar and asked who my agent was. No “hi”, no introduction, just “you have an agent who is it tell me.” I told him (because it was a very easy way to get rid of him) but I made sure to add, if you do submit, please don’t do it like you’ve just approached me. I felt embarrassed for him, really. He just laughed and said “it’s okay, I’ll tell her you recommended me.” EPIC CRINGE.
**which I will probably edit out.