Indistinguishable from magic

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

I mentioned on Tuesday that the fantasy world I am creating is actually more a “science fantasy.” What that means for my story is that the “magic” in the Island Kingdom is called magic only because it isn’t well understood. It’s so far beyond it’s time, beyond the technology needed to see or understand it that it looks magical, unnatural, the same way we used to see chemical reactions or plagues. If the inhabitants of Cahuatlan had access to microscopes and Geiger counters, they would find terrible explanations for the mysteries surrounding them.

The point behind science fantasy is well explained by game designer Monte Cook. He says, and I agree, that giving fantasy a scientific explanation places limitations on it, and paradoxically opens things up for the storyteller.

For instance, in my story, “magic” is a largely deadly transformation that leaves the few survivors with unusual abilities. Once I knew the science behind the changes (which will remain secret for now), I “discovered” the following things:

  • There are real physical, cellular level reasons for both the costs and the abilities that come from these transformations.
  • The initial response to the transformation is fever, weakness, and a yellowish froth at the mouth. This is fairly universal across the different kinds of transformation.
  • Those that don’t survive die of heart attacks, pulmonary embolisms and strokes. Those who study transformations in Cahuatlan are digging into just what these things have in common.
firing a bullet


Placing limitations on a world has the same effect a barrel has on a bullet. The barrel provides direction and focus. A longer barrel makes it much more likely that you’ll hit the target. The same with a story. Putting boundaries in my world pushes the energy in new directions. An interesting story is not one where magic can do anything. Instead, an interesting story explores the limits of magic (and technology) and what people do when faced with those limitations…

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