Technology and Magic

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

 

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Better have a dragon, Joffrey.

Fantasy and science fiction share some elements, particularly the need to build a world for a reader. One thing that’s true for either genre, though, is that you can have so many things be true for the world depending on the level of technology.

Transporters = Teleportation Spell

Faster than light space travel = Cosmic ships following the time flow

Blasters = Wands

Seriously, if you told my great-grandmother about smartphones, netflix, and the internet, she’d have looked at you like you were crazy. Even my grandmother hasn’t gotten past basic television.

I can see how technology can very easily appear magical. As a reader, I am absolutely willing to suspend disbelief when I pick up either genre of books.

I will caveat this with some science fiction gives little lee-way for made-up science. One particular author I read years ago refused to use faster-than-light travel as it didn’t conform to what we know about space travel. Interestingly, however, the same author had cryogenics in the story to compensate for the long flight times to Jupiter where they were going to terraform moons.

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Terraforming in process. Or is that a magic spell…

Neither cryogenics or terraforming are exactly proven science, but it was a still a good story.

For me, that’s what it’s about. A good story. I want to read something and be immersed in it. I want to care about the characters and what they’re doing.

Start bogging me down in too much scientific detail or the minutia of your magic system, and I start skimming. If I can’t find the good bits again pretty quickly, I move on to the next book.

Both genres also have to be careful how they handle gender differences. I have seen too much misogyny masked in, “But that’s how it was.”

In some cases, it could be an accurate portrayal if medieval Europe, though frequently it isn’t. But here’s the thing, this is a fantasy world. The religion. The norms and mores. You can choose a Judaeo-christian society, just as you can choose to create one like the Mosuo.

Still, it’s interesting how certain themes come through both science fiction and fantasy.

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Okay, so maybe some we’d rather not see.

It’s fun to explore the impossible, and both genres do that. I enjoy reading both. Of course, there is that one thing I see in fantasy that science fiction has yet to tackle: dragons!

You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

How about you? Do you see magic and technology as interchangeable? Perhaps indistinguishable? Why or why not?

Why Fantasy?

I love science. You see me quote it in my posts a lot. Part of the reason I like it is because it can actually help give us predictable outcomes, make life better for everyone, and it isn’t dependent on opinion.

Science doesn’t care that you want the Earth to be the center of the universe. It isn’t. It’s demonstrable, provable, and repeatable. Anything else is a hypothesis rather than proven science.

If it turns out to be wrong, we change. From Newton to Einstein to Hawking, our knowledge grows and changes. Then the engineers get a hold of it and make fabulous things, like the phone in my purse.

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Given this, why do I love fantasy? Why do I have a character use a teleportation spell when I could use a transporter and the theory of quantum entanglement?

Here are six reasons I write fantasy:

 

  1. Dragons. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? No matter how hard I try to realistically wrap dragons into a science fiction world, it feels wonky at best. Even in a fantasy world, you have to be careful with how you use dragons, what limits on their power you put, and how to keep them from becoming the god-beings they already see themselves as being. Perhaps FTL dragon space travel…

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  1. The White Knight – This has always been a favorite trope of mine, so of course they feature in my work. Yet, the white knight doesn’t feel right in much of sci fi. While Star Trek, at least TNG, took the high road and showed humans in a more Utopian universe, most of my experience with science fiction doesn’t go this route. It tends to be gritty, filled with anti-heroes, and a very bleak outlook on our future.

 

  1. Aesthetics. – This is tougher to define, but there’s something more fun to me about horses, silk dresses, and castles. Yes, I know the smell was horrible, hygiene lacking, and the castles drafty. I know how women were treated since the advent of the plow. But that’s not what I’m writing about. This is a fantasy world with a different pantheon of gods and a different history. Once we add in magic, the benefit of brawn over brains diminishes. It allows me to experiment with good and evil in different ways.Which leads me to…

 

  1. Good Always Wins – I find this is easier to realistically achieve in fantasy world. Unless…

 

  1. Space Opera – Unless I am looking at writing Space Opera. Which, I have considered. I’ve had a few ideas floating around for alien words on the edge of the galaxy. I’d got he space opera route partially because a big portion of what interests me in Sci Fi is alien worlds, colonization, etc. That means FTL travel, and FTL travel doesn’t mesh with science as we know it. And yes, I do like space opera. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly. Westerns aren’t my thing, but wow, I loved Firefly. Still mad as anything that they canceled that show.

 

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How about you? Do like sci fi or fantasy? Which do you prefer to read or write? Why?

Book Review: Finder's Keepers

Rating: 6/5 stars

Title: Finger’s Keepers

Author: Linnea Sinclair

 

It’s been a long time since I have come across a book this good.

Best I have read all year. So yes, I am giving it six stars.

If you like science fiction and a good romance, this book is for you.  The romance is good as is the plot. The two are perfectly intertwined, and I feel like the book would’ve been flat without either. Really the first book I have read in ages where both the plot and romance are so well crafted.

For the story itself, imagine Han Solo is a woman and Darth Vader isn’t really evil and isn’t more machine than man. And there you have an amazing set-up for the story.

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The story starts out with Trilby Elliot seeing a spacecraft crash near her own dilapidated ship. Nothing quite works right on her ship, she has no money to repair it, and even those things that work have a few faults, including her droid co-pilot. Sounds like the Millennium Falcon and C3PO, right?

She goes to the crash site to salvage it and instead of finding a ‘Sco enemy, she finds an Imperial officer who was escaping from the ‘Sco. She takes him back to patch him up.

When Tivahr wakes up in sick bay, he’s determined to get back to the Empire and tell them what he learned in ‘Sco territory. He thinks it’s important enough that the Empire itself is at risk. Rather than telling her he’s the High Captain of the Enterprise, err, Razalka (the fastest, best armed Hunter ship around and the height of Imperial technology), he lies and says he’s a lieutenant.

Eventually the two start working together to get her ship flight worthy. She’s had trouble with men and recently broke up with a man that was rich, wealthy and powerful. She is very happy “Rhys” is only a lieutenant. He “gets” what it’s like to have to take orders even if he does do it aboard a cushy top-of-the-line Imperial ship.

Things get steamy between them, and I love the fact that she jumps him.

They finally get her ship up and working. Rhys is a hacker extraordinaire, even better than Trilby. And that’s saying something.

On their way out, they get attacked by the ‘Sco.  They survive because Rhys is awesome, and he uses the opportunity to convince her to go back to Imperial space and rendezvous with his ship.

There are some hijinks as they meet up with his ship, but this was the only part of the book I wanted to hurry up. I was annoyed how long it took her to stop hating Tivahr because he lied and said he was lieutenant. Of course he lied. Who would make themselves out to be a better hostage?

It doesn’t take them too long to figure out that it was the data banks on her ship the ‘Sco were after. Why? Because her ship is old, and the data banks on it are even older. And there are some forgotten back doors into empire territory that the ‘Sco want, especially as they are making a deal with the Conclave. This could mean war all over again, and this time, the Empire will be at a severe disadvantage.

 

Pros

  1. The story has a plot. A good one.
  2. I loved Trillby. She’s strong willed, a skilled hacker, and a good pilot. She’s also compassionate, loves her friends, and does her best to keep herself fed.
  3. I loved “Rhys” or Tivahr the Terrible. Yes, he’s a demanding jerk when he gets back to his ship. In control. Powerful. But he still loves Trilby, and it makes him human and you can identify with him. He also did laundry for her and got the towels fluffy.
  4. I loved that Rhys changed by the end of the book. Still arrogant. But not loathsome.
  5. Their romance was earned. It wasn’t love at first sight. As a matter-of-fact, he had to overcome the fact he took her hostage at first sight.
  6. And he fixes her droid for her. True love, that.
  7. The romance is sweet and tender. A true romance.
  8. The steamy scenes are steamy, but also tender and passionate. Not something you’ll go back to reread, but fit very well in the story.
  9. The world building is spectacular. I don’t know what a mizzet is, but I know their farts are foul. Lots of colloquialisms unique to the world, and even snippets of an Imperial language. Never overdone, never bossy or in your face. Very well done, in fact.
  10. Easy to hate the ‘Sco and Trillby’s ex without either being over-the-top.

 

 

Cons

  1. The only con to the story was when Trilby was being irrational about Rhys lying, and the whole thing didn’t feel in character for her. I get that the author didn’t want to get them together too soon, but with all the other tension of the plot going on in the book, it would’ve been fine for this to be less of an issue than it was.

 

Okay, so yeah, only one con in the whole book. It was fabulous. I devoured it in less than 24 hours and had to force myself to put it down to go to bed Saturday night. So glad I started reading it on a weekend as I finished it Sunday morning! I am definitely going to check out this author’s other books.

 

Diamond Part 5: Bourbon in the Dark

 DH’s next installment of the Drake Diamond Saga. I like Betty. Unusual for me as vampires aren’t usually my thing. 

Part1Part2Part 3, Part 4 are available if you want to read them for the first time or get a refresher.    

Ace

Betty has to rush off to meet Papa Thorne, and she swears to me she’ll be back as soon as she can.

“I’m already a dead man in a cemetery,” I assure her, smirking.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”

She smiles apologetically at me, and I catch another glimpse of her fangs.  Then she turns and runs off with a superhuman speed that surprises me.  Although it really shouldn’t.  It occurs to me that I’ve spent the evening with a blood-drinking creature who preys upon the living.  I’m not afraid of her, myself.  I’ve got no blood to drink.  But how would I feel if Betty preyed upon someone like Maxine to meet her dietary needs?

Or Lana?

In all the stories I’d read about vampires, they were monsters.  The bad guys.  The stories were filled with fear, tragedy, and death until the happy ending where the good guys finally destroyed them.  Usually involving a wooden stake and a mallet.  Dracula.  Nosferatu.  Varney.

Maybe they’re not so bad once you get to know ’em.

Of course, I’ve only known Betty for one night.  She’s likable enough.  Not sure I trust her though.

I’m not the trusting sort to begin with.  The trusting sort doesn’t do well in my line of work, for one thing.  But that’s not the only reason.

I’d worked on a fair number of kidnapping cases, both as a cop and as a private eye.  When making ransom demands, kidnappers almost always say “don’t go to the police or your loved one gets it”.  They do that ’cause police have a lot of experience and proven techniques at their disposal for effectively dealing with kidnappers.  If you go the police for help, the kidnappers are likely going to wind up behind bars instead of getting paid.  So they use fear to keep you from doing the smart thing and going to the professionals who know how to effectively unravel their plans.

Same thing with brainwashing cults.  They tell their recruits…their victims, that is…that psychologists are evil.  To be avoided at all costs.  That’s because psychiatrists and psychologists are really good at recognizing brainwashing techniques, and the cults don’t want that.

So earlier when Betty told me not to think too much about the magic she used on me, or it would stop holding me together, I couldn’t help but see the same pattern.  I got to wondering if besides raising me from the dead she cast another spell or two on me.

And then there’s the matter of giving me a place to stay.  In her family’s mausoleum.  In a cemetery surrounded by a brick wall with decorative wrought-iron spikes and heavy wrought-iron gates.  She says she didn’t know I’d be vulnerable to iron.  But she knew ghosts were.  And I’m not exactly a ghost, but whatever I am, Betty’s the one who cast the spell.  I was a desperate experiment, she says.  Maybe she was telling the truth.  Maybe.

I may not trust Betty.  Not fully.  But for now she’s all I’ve got.  For now.

Now that she’s run off, I might as well head inside the mausoleum.  She’d said she spent a lot of time fixing up the inside.  Might as well have a look.

Right inside the entrance there are some steps down.  Not very many.  Coming into the crypt is like stepping down off of a porch.  First thing I see is a row of plaques on the wall.  A bunch of names I don’t recognize, and Salvatore “Sonny” Malone.  His plaque is recessed into the marble wall about an inch.  The other plaques are flush with the wall.  Odd.

I press my hand against his plaque.  There a soft “clunk” sound, like a weight somewhere shifting position, and the plaque springs out, flush with the wall like all the others.  And the entrance quietly slides closed behind me.

And now there’s not even moonlight.  The darkness is absolute, pitch black.

And I can see just fine in it.

Guess from now on the only thing I’ll need a lighter for is my cigarettes.

It’s different, seeing without light.  And yet it’s still “seeing”.  I can see all the colors and textures and patterns I can see in light.  But I see them in the dark, while also seeing that it is, in fact, perfectly pitch-black dark.

Is that hard to picture?  Once I figure out how to describe color to someone who was born blind, I’ll have the words.

Past the row of plaques are walls with long recessed shelves.  And on each shelf lays someone wrapped in a shroud.  Well…this is a crypt.

“Pardon me.  Don’t get up.  Name’s Drake Diamond.  Betty said I could stay here.  Hope you don’t mind.  It’s just for a few days.”

Nothing.  Either Betty was telling the truth about them Resting in Peace, or I’m being snubbed.  Hard to say which is more likely.

There are three layers of shelves, from about waist high all the way up to the ceiling.  It’s a narrow corridor, only slightly wider than a closet.  I don’t recognize the names carved on the shelves either.  Three body-length shelves later, about twenty feet, the corridor ends but there’s a stone spiral staircase down.

One rounded flight down, and I find myself in a cozy one-room apartment.  No kitchenette, and no bathroom, but that’s okay.  I don’t need them anymore.

There’s a desk with a blotter, and a wheeled leather swivel arm chair.  On the desk is a crystal decanter and a couple of matching glasses.  No filing cabinet.  Not sure I need one, but the desk doesn’t look right without it.  There’s a coat rack by the desk, too.  Across the room there’s a comfy looking sofa and some cushioned chairs.  The floor’s even covered by a decent rug.  In another corner there’s a wardrobe and a few other cabinets.

Of course, when you fix up a crypt, it’s still a crypt.  All four walls are more of those shelves, and there are a few dozen folks interred here, by my guess.  And it’s still pitch-black darkness.  Something tells me if I wasn’t undead, I’d find it awfully creepy in here.

“Evening, folks.  You may have heard me upstairs.  Drake Diamond.”  I give a slight nod to the crypt in general and touch the tip of my fedora.  “Betty assures me none of you will mind my staying here for a few days.  If she’s wrong, don’t hesitate to speak up.  I’m sure we can work out a reasonable arrangement.”

After what feels like a full minute none of them voice any objections.  Yeah, I remember what Betty said, but that’s no reason to be impolite.

After hanging up my coat and hat on the rack, I make my way over to the desk and take the crystal decanter and pull out the knob and give it a whiff.  Bourbon.

I pull over a glass and I’m about to pour, but stop myself before a single drop leaves the decanter.  Why the hesitation?  Because wasting good bourbon is a travesty, and the question just occurred to me:  Is bourbon going to be the same, like cigarettes?  Or a hollow sensation of its former pleasure, like eating?

Frowning, I recap the decanter and put it down, and put my hands in my pockets.  Empty.  My matches and smokes are in my coat.  Betty’s right.  I’ve got no wallet.  No keys.  No cash.  Couldn’t have gotten a room or a bed without bumming more off of her.  Macho pride, she called it.  Well, dead or not, a man needs his dignity.

“Anyone here mind if I smoke?”

They’re exactly as chatty as they were before.  I go over to my coat and fish out my smokes and matches.  Six cigarettes left.  I’ll have to buy more soon.  Maybe later I can find some loose change over in the sofa cushions.

Striking a match, the tiny flame makes the room suddenly oppressively dark.  I can barely see a thing.  I let the match fizzle out, and I can see again.

I take out another match and do the same thing.  Light it, and let it fizzle out.  Same thing happens.  And again with a third match.  Now I’ve got a working theory.

Seems as though when there’s any light at all, even from a single match, I see like I did when I was alive: by light.  It’s only when there’s utterly pitch black darkness I can see like the dead.

With a fourth match I light up and take a few puffs, shaking out the match and looking around for an ashtray.  None.  I’ll have to get one of those.  No way I’m even going to try to quit smoking now that I’m already dead.

I crush the match out on the stone floor of the crypt, like Malone once did in my office carpet.  Even such a minor desecration makes me feel guilty.  I’m just here for a few days.  But to these other bones, this is their final resting place.  I should be a more considerate guest.

The glow from the end of my cigarette when I inhale is dim enough that my dead-sight still works.  Good thing, too.  I’d hate to stumble in the dark and knock over the bourbon.

Betty’s words in the diner come back to me:  tobacco nourishes death.  Well, in my case bullets beat it to the punch, but that’s why I still enjoy smokes while food, which nourishes life, gives me no pleasure.

Booze?  That seems like a gray area to me.

Sitting at the desk, I pull over one of the glasses and tap my cigarette ashes into it.  Until I get a proper ashtray it’ll do.  I’ve made enough of a mess as a guest here.  The other glass I set next to the decanter, and pull out the top once again.  I carefully pour myself two fingers of bourbon, and set the decanter back down and cap it.  Moment of truth.

I sniff the bourbon, and there’s a hint of a bitter, nutty aroma to it that complements it well.  I take a sip.

I’ve had good bourbon before.  Smooth, smoky, and slightly sweet.  But now I feel like I’ve just tasted it for the first time.  I have no idea what brand or label of bourbon is in this decanter, but this is top-shelf stuff.

I’m not too proud to admit, I’ve got a tear in my eye.  With all that I’ve lost, suddenly the little, simple pleasures that I still can enjoy mean that much more.

I sip the rest of the bourbon in the glass very slowly, savoring the taste of each drop.  The smoky, nutty, sweet taste sprinkling lightly on my tongue.  After I’ve finished my drink and my cigarette, I feel more alive than I’ve felt since I woke up in Betty’s chalk circle.

That’s when I notice the lamps.  There are a couple of unlit kerosene lamps here too.  One on the desk in front of me, and another one over by the wardrobe, on top of one of the cabinets.  They were there all along.  I just didn’t notice them until now.

Betty brought all this stuff down here, just so I’d have a place to stay.  She may have raised me tonight, but she’s been planning this for a while.

And besides all the furniture, and the most expensive tasting liquor that’s ever graced my unworthy mouth, she also brought a pair of kerosene lamps.  So I’d have light down here.  To see.

She doesn’t know I can see in the dark?  Maybe she really didn’t know about the iron.  What else doesn’t she know about me?

Is she wrong about Lana?

I mean, about my being able to talk to Lana.  See her again.  As far as I know Betty’s never met Lana.  But that whole business about Unfinished Business…I’d give up being able to enjoy bourbon and cigarettes if I could have another chance to…to…

Of course there are tears in my eyes.  Crypts are dusty places.

The Apocalypse Ticket

My first attempt at Flash Fiction. The challenge was given by Chuck Wendig here.

 

The Apocalypse Ticket

I looked at Mac and she looked at me, both of us sucking in one last clean breath as the doors to the bunker opened. The rest of the team stood behind the blast shield, ready to flood the area with gamma rays if anything forced its way in.

Nothing did.

We hefted our packs and walked out, the doors closing with an ominous and final thud.

Following the concrete tube, we walked into a brilliant light that seared my eyes and forced me to turn away.

Tears ran down my cheeks as Mac touched my shoulder. “Put on your Uplink.”

The moment it settled over my eyes, the light dimmed and a pre-war map displayed our destination and directions.

“Bet none of those streets still exist,” Mac said.

“It’ll auto correct as we go and send updated information back.”

“Let’s hope they don’t need it,” Mac said.

I swallowed and nodded. We needed to survive and bring back the needed components so we could all make it another hundred years.

Mac and I worked our way down the mountainside, but the endurance training hadn’t prepared us for the uneven terrain, choking undergrowth, or burning sun. After a few hours, I was sweating, my legs ached, and my feet hurt.

“At least the chiefs were right about nothing surviving,” Mac said. “Haven’t even seen a squirrel.”

Peering through my Uplink, I wondered if it would be able to identify a squirrel if we saw one.

As the sun dipped low, Mac pointed to a dilapidated shack in the distance.

Fear filled my throat and tightened my chest. “It’s not structurally sound.”

“Nothing’s gonna be, and there might be tin, iron or gold.”

I thought back to our training. The risk was minimal, and the training said people had kept gold and silver jewelry before the war. I followed Mac.

The front steps had rotted away and the door hung off its hinges. Mac stepped inside, her weapon drawn. I drew mine and followed behind her, the weight of the gun cold, slick and foreign.

After a hundred years, there was little to find. Tattered drapes twisted over broken windows and trees sprouted up between rotted floorboards. Bits and pieces of debris littered the floor, but I couldn’t identify most of it and neither could my Uplink.

“Over here,” Mac said.

I followed her to what had once been a kitchen. Cans of foodstuff lay scattered across the floor, their exteriors corroded and labels worn away.

“Lots of metal in here,” Mac said. “Looks like copper plumbing too.”

“No neodymium.”

“Didn’t expect there to be. Let’s hope the chiefs are right and there’s still some in that battery factory.”

“Assuming it’s still there.”

“Better be,” Mac said.

I opened my magpack and withdrew the despacer. After a few minutes, I’d reduced the usable metal down to the size of a fork and loaded it into my magpack.

“Curious?” Mac asked as she held up a couple of rusted cans.

“Not really.”

Mac grinned and popped open the can.

“What is that?” I grimaced. The smell was nauseating, and the greasy brown contents looked worse than the smell.

“Looks like canned meat product.” Mac stuck her finger in the gelatinous goo.

“Do not eat- I can’t believe you just did that.”

“Tastes better than it smells,” Mac said and grinned as she offered me the can. “Sure you don’t want to try a bite?”

I shoved it away and swallowed back bile. “Positive.”

Mac sat down beside me and we split a tube of foodpaste.

I glanced over at the can of gooey meat. “Could you imagine eating that?”

Mac shrugged. “They needed more calories than we do.”

“They weren’t confined to an underground bunker.”

“Or modified.”

I rubbed my legs. “We should find a place to spend the night.”

“This seems as good as any.”

“Sure the walls won’t come down on us?”

“Haven’t come down in a hundred years. Doubt tonight will be the night.”

I considered that for a moment, and while it wasn’t a logical argument, I was too tired to argue.

 

The high pitched chirping of our Uplinks woke us and warned of a huge creature moving at 25 mph in our direction. Fear swallowed me as a huge mass of fur and claws barreled through the rotted walls.

The beast gobbled the contents of the meat can and swung its shaggy head towards us. Mac stood frozen beside me as it snarled and reared up on its back legs.

Gunshots deafened me and pounded through my head as a pre-war robot shot the creature.

The creature roared and charged the robot.

I steadied my breathing and aimed my weapon.

As the creature knocked the robot to the ground, I pulled the trigger.

The creature flew across the shack, knocking down the rear wall, and then exploding as it smashed into a tree.

“What the hell kind of gun is that?” the robot asked as it stood up.

“Wait, you’re not a robot?”

“No,” he laughed as he removed his helmet. “Knight-Captain York reporting for duty.”

“Knight-Captain?” I looked up at the strange man. The top of my head barely reached his shoulders.

“You’re not from around here,” York said.

“But you are. We thought no one survived the war.”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “Glad to prove you wrong. But we should move before the smell of blood brings something nastier.”

“Where to?” Mac asked.

“There’s a checkpoint not far from here. On the way there, you can tell me what two civilians are doing up here in the wilds.” He motioned to their strange weapons, the Uplinks over their eyes, and their odd gear. “And you can explain all of that.”

Civilians. So more than just the military had survived.

I looked at York and then back over at the dead creature. Those of us in the bunker were supposed to be mankind’s ticket past the apocalypse, the start of a new future. I thought about what we’d been sent to retrieve and what we’d found.

There were other people. People that lived outside the bunker.

The future of mankind had happened, and it had happened without us.