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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

GUEST POST: Mixing Magic with the Mundane World by Tom Doyle

My most recent novel, The Left-Hand Way, is a contemporary fantasy thriller of magician-soldiers and psychic spies. It’s the sequel to American Craftsmen, but its new story expands the U.S. focus of the first book out onto a global stage. In this series of books, I’ve mixed magic with the modern mundane world. This creates certain problems that can usually be ignored in the pseudo-medieval and alternate world settings of much of fantasy. The main difficultly is the fantasy equivalent of Fermi’s Paradox--if magic is out there in our version of the real world, why don’t most people see it?

Some writers answer by not trying to hide the magic--the world shifts, or the supernatural comes out of hiding, and everyone finally knows the truth. But I would guess that secrecy remains the more common approach. So how can anybody keep such a huge secret?

The Harry Potter books deal with this problem by having wizards mostly off in their own version of reality, not usually accessible or visible by muggles (but there’s still some spillover into our reality from Hogwarts). In contrast, for my version of the modern world, magic has always been very active in mundane events yet also hidden in the background. My soldiers and spies have to act constantly in war and peace and change the direction of history--everything from the American Revolution to the D-Day landings to recent developments in Ukraine.

To make this cryptohistory plausible, the magic should be such that it’s not usually noticed even in plain sight. That means the scale and scope of powers should allow for natural and statistical explanations. For example, altering the local weather for a finite time is probably the biggest scale power that any craftsperson has, yet it’s also an event easily attributable to chance, as many of the temperate regions of the globe have changeable weather within wide norms. So, the unlikelihood of the bad weather that saved George Washington’s army at Brooklyn Heights or the brief window of good weather than allowed the D-Day invasion to go forward may draw historical interest, but few would assert magical intervention.

But most of the magic in my books is not on the same level of magnitude as changing the weather. Instead, it’s oriented to providing advantages in personal combat. These supernatural skills allow soldiers to fight at a level just beyond normal human, but they can’t fly about like superheroes, and craftspeople in all-out combat will exhaust themselves within an hour at most.

It aids secrecy that my magician-soldiers are not detectable by scientific means. Craftspeople aren’t different physically from normal humans, and I have no supernatural creatures except for the spirits of the dead. To keep magic covert, the folks in the know should be highly motivated to keep the secret. Despite our present-day problem of constant leaks, there are recent historical examples of hundreds of sufficiently dedicated persons keeping a secret to their deaths--for example, the British codebreaking operations at Bletchley during World War II. For my characters, it helps that nondisclosure is a normal part of their jobs--special ops and intelligence. It also helps that there’s a historical pattern of persecution if the craft secret is known, and that the fear of such behavior remains a consideration even in our more tolerant age.

Finally, I have a big stick: governments don’t want these supernatural powers to be widely known, since their use often violates or at least circumvents international and domestic law. To this end, they will silence leaks and leakers by any means necessary. As my characters like to say, any public display of magical power outside of government service is Ex-22, as in Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

During normal periods, my characters view their world as functioning smoothly under an inverted form of Clarke’s Third Lawany sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology True, their covert power can be elitist and anti-democratic in a way that parallels certain techno-elitist strands of SF, but modern societies seem big and resilient enough to cope with their hidden presence. But in the crisis of The Left-Hand Way, an ancient evil stretches the system to the breaking point, and magical secrecy begins to fail along with the other arrangements between mundane and craft authority, with potentially devastating consequences for my characters.

A big thank you to Fantasy Book Critic for inviting me here, and if you’d like to see more of my work, please visit my website.


Official Author Website
Order The Left-Hand Way HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of American Craftsmen

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Tom Doyle is the author of The American Craftsmen series. He grew up in Michigan and did his undergrad at Harvard, while completing his law degree at Stanford. He writes science fiction and fantasy in Washington, DC. He has also won the WSFA Small Press Award and the Writers of the Future Award.


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