Tuesday, January 18, 2011

establishing the rules

It’s not a snag. Not really. More a point of divergence that may or may not be an issue. It does, however, raise some interesting points worthy of discussion. It goes something like this…

When creating a situation in which the “known world” we live in collides with the “unseen world” of magic and legend, there are choices to be made. To begin with, does the collision bring about a blending of magic and technology? Or do the two negate one another? I’ve been wrestling with this concept all weekend. I blame this on J.K. Rowling. We’ve been doing a marathon run of the Harry Potter movies, mainly because my partner, Donny, had never seen any of them, but also because I like the milieu. Call it research of sorts.

In any event, Rowling goes out of her way to keep technology out of the picture, which I find very interesting. The story of the boy wizard, Harry, is said to take place in today’s modern world. Even so, one never sees a cel phone or a computer. The few televisions that do make an appearance are brief and most likely present to put context to the Muggles who are too wrapped up in their own world to take notice of the magical one surrounding them. This is an interesting approach

Donny and I had a short discussion about this phenomenon and it is his opinion that the author made a conscious decision. Because the children of Hogwarts are there to learn the ancient arts of magic, it would stand to reason that they wouldn’t have computers or cel phones. It makes a kind of sense. There are private schools in existence today that don’t allow cel phone usage on campus. Also, as an author of children’s literature, Rowling is providing an alternative to the technologically-based entertainment option that often finds kids plugged into laptops, cel phones or televisions for hours at a time. Okay, I can buy all that.

Still, the question of just how much technology to allow is a large one. There have to be rules about such things. Where Otherwhen is concerned, is it an all or nothing situation? If Club Dark’s neon sign works, why wouldn’t a telephone? And if a telephone works, why wouldn’t a cel phone? Would televisions still work, though cel phones and laptops don’t? If so, what are the physics that allow it to happen? I am FAR from a scientifically minded person, so I don’t have the answers. And because I have such a shortage of time in which to ply my chosen trade, spending too much of it following threads of minutia that really have no particular influence on the plot, is futile at best. It all comes down to color and texture.

In one scene, I have the protagonist Tristan Desmond enter an Elvish safehouse with her partner, Ulric. There she sees a group of elves smoking pot and watching re-runs of Happy Days on a decrepit television set. She also notices that the set isn’t plugged in. When she asks how it’s possible, she is told that the elves have figured out a way to capture the transmissions that are still bouncing around in the atmosphere, but that they are distorted and “unpure.” Hence the “plot” of the episode she’s watching, in which Fonzie has to rescue Richie and the gang from a marauding Shoggoth. She thinks nothing more of it and moves along. This scene is incidental, but adds texture to the plot, which has Tristan dismissing the elves as allies, because they are too wrapped up in the more hedonistic aspects of humanity’s lure. It also serves to show just how screwed up the once “predictable” world has become.

Is this a cheat? I don’t think so. I believe that some aspects of technology would still exist in this changed world, but because of certain influences, distortion would be a problem. Consequently, most technology would be abandoned, because it has become unpredictable. Telephones may work, but you may not always reach the party you intended. Cel phones and laptops would be far too unpredictable. Imagine the viruses that a magic-based society could unleash. And what about combustion engines? Those should still be viable in their most basic forms, though computer chips would eventually prove worthless in terms of efficiency. The ramifications are legion.

There have been plenty of writers out there who have dabbled in this magic vs. technology field. Some of them are favorite authors of mine, including Jim Butcher, Simon Green and others of the so-called “Gritty Urban Fantasy” genre. Then there were the made-for-cable movies, “Cast A Deadly Spell” and “Witch Hunt,” both of which follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective Harry Philip Lovecraft in a 1940s Los Angeles peopled by wizards, witches and other supernatural creatures. Each has its interesting points of departure, but no two milieus are the same. Which leaves plenty of wiggle room for an establishment of laws.

Ah, but those laws must be established and that is where the “snag” comes in. I’d rather be writing, right now, but until I get a handle on this whole technology angle, I can’t really proceed. It should be simple and expressed quickly, I think. As I said, it isn’t a major plot device, so it shouldn’t become a sticking point. It should, however, make sense. Much like the genre known as steampunk, it has to be logical in order to work. Nothing drives me crazier than a “world” that doesn’t make sense. Establish the rules and follow them. That, then, has been my latest challenge. Still, it is a progress of sorts…

"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen." ~ Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)

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