1. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Inventing fantasy technology?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Melzaar the Almighty, Sep 23, 2010.

    I was just reading a book in which the author uses some sort of magical long-distance communication device whose name is pretty much a literal translation of "telephone" in English from the Greek... I know that because I few months ago I thought I'd be smart and find out what that exact definition was in several old languages when I was inventing my own silly fantasy communication device - and was really annoyed to discover I'd almost called the bleedin' things "telephones" :p

    Aaanyway, point is, not long later I was chatting to a friend about this story, and he told me he'd probably never read it just because when people re-invent modern technology in a fantasy setting and give it a cute name, it drives him so up the wall with annoyance at how twee it is that he can't bear to look at it any more.

    Setting aside the fact "telestones" is a pretty lame joke (yes they communicate through lumps of rock), is this a thing that generally repulses people about fantasy? I'm quite worried now... A lot of my non-real-world fantasy is full of these sort of lame puns and re-invented technology. :p


    I know it's bad to do a full fantasy setting then use modern technology as shortcuts, by the way. I do work around that so they aren't cheating - and where I do have to rely on the fantasy technology, I made it do a lot more work than a real world thing would do, so it's making things easy, but in an AWESOME way, instead of a "nur I could do that, who needs magic?" ... as an aside but pre-empting one branch of discussion from this. :p
     
  2. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Puns might drive readers away, but there isn't anything inherently wrong with re-creating technology.

    Different civilizations did, after all, develop technology separately in some cases. Writing systems, for example, and ships. Animal husbandry and domestication. Runners or riding messengers, to spread word quickly. Birds as message carriers. Weapons of war, including how to work bronze and iron. You get the idea.

    Unfortunately, as with many other writing questions, the answer largely depends on how the technology is used and how well the author integrates it with the surrounding fantasy culture. "Telestones" would have to be part of a great culture, or the Greek of "tele" would make me shelve the book again and buy something else. But I have no problem with silkworm raising, development of grain-harvesters, horses as domestic animals, ships, or even sources of electricity -- provided the worldbuilding is sound overall.

    I tend to have very high standards for this sort of thing, though. When I worldbuild, I have a tendency to go whole-hog, so if a culture has a technology I want to ask how and why. Castles imply siege warfare. Huge well-maintained roads imply a longstanding infrastructure and stable government. Blue paint may imply that the people have access to lapis lazuli, or are importing it. Dyes imply at least primitive chemistry and experimentation. More modern industrial processes imply that the culture has figured out a way to make sulphuric acid in large lots. Metals imply mining; timber implies forests and logging; foreign spices implies trade by one means or another.

    And a world that feels real despite my questions gets money from me and from the friends I drag into reading those books. A fair trade, I think. If you're going to play God and build a world, you might as well take the care to make it a neat one.
     
  3. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    To me, a good fantasy world is one that doesn't attempt to mimic our world. I like a fantasy has a completely separate paradigm for some benefit of technology rather then just another name for it.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It makes sense a fantasy world would create things like long-distance communications and other things that resemble useful items of a technological world, assuming the magic is developed highly enough to do it.

    In my view, it is more nonsensical to have a fantasy world where there is plenty of magic, and the magic is powerful, but everyone lives like they're in the Middle Ages. Makes no sense whatsoever.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Agreed, Steer. 90% of the stories that do this end up really getting on my nerves. :)
     
  6. Tessie
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    Tessie Contributing Member Contributor

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    I concur, Mal and Steerpike. That doesn't work out at all. Try to imagine poor serfs and then think of sorcerers or witches in the same time period performing their magic. I'm not a big fan of that sort of magic anyway, but Mel, I think it might better to create something different. It does seem a bit lame to copy examples from our modern age. I do like the sound of "telestones," though. :)
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Eh, my fantasy world is sufficiently different - and gets more and more fantasy as the story progresses - that I don't think I have a problem starting it in a city that could be mistaken for the real world if I wasn't explaining that most of the technology runs on magic. :p I just... like having a guy on a big fantasy quest making jokes about using a stapler... Heh heh heh :p

    I'd never go so close to the real world if the whole story was set in one place. I like my different worlds. :p I just wanted trains and phones and laptops around because I'm not sure other people would understand my subtle differences between this magical city and that magical city without some point of references they understood.... I tend to forget other people can't read my mind sometimes, so it's easier just to go with broad strokes so if I do forget to say something, people still know what's happening. :p

    Like you guys, I've always felt it was really stupid a magic-using society could stay backward. The only way to explain it is to give commoners less magic - like, pretty much the stuff that real witches were accused of having - minor healing powers and curses that look more like fate - and if there are wizards around, make them too stuck up to share. :p

    I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I know the fact one of my main characters has what's basically a magic-powered laptop on her is going to be important - and not for what you'd normally be able to do with a laptop with the internet on it.

    But I have definitely found a dozen uses for a telestone that no normal mobile phone can do - and won't be able to ever, ever do unless we develop technology that's SERIOUSLY freaky. :p

    Oh god, me too - I sat up into the night debating the benefits of cotton over linen and which one they were more likely to have, since the climate they were in would have allowed for either, especially with the trade and magic and all... I'm a history student, and it's pretty hard to reach university level without having to think about trade and economics and blah blah blah, so I end up thinking it out almost like it's one of my textbooks. :p
     
  8. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    In my fantasy story, I have basic steam technology, but also these things stones that the religious leaders put in their ears to listen to their gods. They are just plot devices, and I don't think they are gimicky. The stones are found, not made, and the steam is accurate. I even have solar hot water heaters in one place, and this is a medievil style fantasy I am writing. Just because we discovered things in a certain order doesn't mean that others have to find out things in the same order.
     
  9. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    If you look at the meaning of a telephone it comes from the greek tele (far) phone (voice). Often a lot of the gadgets that we see in the modern world have meanings taken from the greek or latin or in many cases they are named after the inventor or they are anagrams of the full meaning.

    What I think you should do is create a history for this device. It's all very well saying that it has been around for thousands of years, but that is lazy and will put readers off. If you can explain to the reader where this clever name comes from and explain the history of the device then you will become a good storyteller.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would waiting roughly 30,000 words to suggest that perhaps someone invented it be okay? :p

    (that wasn't *too* sarcastic - the main character is pretty much brainwashed into thinking his society practically sprung into existence fully-formed complete with awesome technology :p)
     
  11. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    That is the only needed answer to this thread.

    There are two main branches from that main trunk:

    1 - Fantasy worlds are about imagination. If you don't have enough of it to invent your own fantastic tools and have to resort to use current technology, you might be better writing another genre.

    2 - Fantasy worlds must be coherent. Fantasy is not a carte blanche to do whatever you want. Putting a piece of current technology without taking into account its consequences, breaks the world. Any and all items, abilities or whatever changes over the base world must be taken into account. Especially a current piece of technology which has a very deep impact and is often ignored.
     
  12. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    Whatever you invent - magic or advanced technology - you must specify its boundaries. Most authors don't, or can't. That's why I find it difficult to read fantasy and sci-fi these days, there is rarely any suspense or meaningful conflict. I read one recently (I won't say what because it might spoil it for others) where the main character, near the end of the book, actually turned back time. Not only that, he used an ability never even hinted at in the preceding story. Pathetic. And this guy used to be a good writer, he got sucked into making money rather than building coherent worlds, which he used to do incredibly well. Even Mieville (bow, scrape) did it with 'Kraken', a world where anybody can do anything, no matter how bizarre, and therefore it's just 500 pages of silliness with no tension or drama. The protagonist is never in danger because either a new character with mad powers will pop up and save him or he will himself realise he has some useful new power that will get him out of that situation very nicely, thank you.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heh, you guys are making me feel like I have to explain so much of this story to justify myself against these comments. :p

    I did think these things before I started, and I decided I was up to the task of not looking like an idiot writing a phone and a laptop into Lord of the Rings. :p

    Anyway, consistency is the important thing - and the fact that my story is a comedy reassures me I'm allowed leeway for being silly with the rest. :p I'm not falling back on that to cover anything up, and as the story progresses I'm looking deeper into the magical theory behind the inital impression. But I think the tone of the opening will be enough that no one should get annoyed by the odd intrusion of fantasy into what seems like the real world for the first 500 words or so. :p

    (and then it becomes Lord of the Rings with laptops or something, I don't know :p)

    Ooh, didn't see your post - hi, Horizon. :D

    My main characters are all non-magical. :p It helps a lot. :p
     
  14. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    The way I understand it, is that it requires knowledge to use magic, and knowledge is power, and those with power rarely wish to share it (especially in the dark/middle ages).

    In fantasy terms, evil sorcerers aren't going to want to share their power, because if everyone can do it, it weakens their position.

    Good wizards aren't going to freely give away their secrets either, if for no other reason, to keep it from ending up in the hands of the evil sorcerers.

    Most of the normal folk aren't going to possess enough of the higher learning and understanding of the mystical arts to make it work anyway.

    The rulers of countries would keep all the available magical powers they can control under their thumb, in order to preserve their government (kind of like the laws restricting machine guns, flame throwers, grenades, tanks and helicopter gunships from private ownership, but the government forces have all they can afford).

    In a world with high speed internet, cell phones bouncing signals off satellites and an international space station, we still have third world countries living in dark ages conditions.
     
  15. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that's mostly because people in power are jerks, though. :p You know, just in general. :p

    Aanyway, I've never really liked that kind of social structure in Fantasy... it's sort of interesting to play around with for a bit, but I also figure that if people have the ability to use magic, they'd figure it out one way or the other - hence common magic users like witches or whatever, who can be just as powerful as wizards, but have totally different ways of using magic. I'd never write a society where people who CAN use magic if they had the means, DON'T. I just figure they'd get the means. :p Maybe they'd still be initimidated into not improving their situation much, fearing more established magics, but they'd use some sort of magic...

    I don't like fantasy stories where ONE guy randomly discovers he has the ability to use magic and no one else can at all from his home village, unless there's a very specific reason why they can't, like the big bad has blocked all forms of magic, except this one kind he conveniently forgot about or something. :p It's a bit cheesy, but at least it makes sense.
     
  16. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Yes, they are mostly jerks, but that doesn't change the fact.

    I tend to think that people who fight and claw their way to the top of a fantasy world would be similar, based on human nature if nothing else (presuming you want elements of realism and plausibility).

    Now fantasy cultures governed by non-humans are wide open to interpretation. :)
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find anger diminishes my peoples ability to use their magic. I find they can use their powers in their magic fighting, but when scrapping with a brother or a close friend they punch first think later.

    I also found a way to explain it being like a recreation of Earth etc. Personally I struggle with technology that tries too hard in a fantasy book - if it is humour that is fine.

    For me if you have an issue with a story or how the fantasy works then taking a step back and finding a way to explain it helps if you can't then a new way needs to found. I had a complicated way of explaining why not a lot vehicles were used in my story but in the end I moved the Palace to be close to cliff paths which were more sensible with horses. Changing them into birds gave them a more effcient mode of transport and only ever mention one vehicle:)

    With the second one it was harder so I actually placed them in the rebel part of the country where there are no real roads, and had to explain why no flying lol so I made the weather really bad.

    My view is if you have a why go with it if you can't think of one take it out.
     
  18. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like a bad kind of writer. Terrifically so.
     

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