Urban Fantasy: Magic vs. Technology

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Magic and technology don’t mix, or so they tell me.

Never mind who “they” are, just go with it.

Ahem, back to the subject at hand. In some works magic and technology, principally high tech, don’t mix. The reason lies in the conflict between paradigms: magical thinking versus rational thought. The first is primitive and visceral, while the second is modern and grounded in fact.

Or so the thinking goes.

This comes in several variations:

  • Divergent Realities: Where one rules, the other is diminished or non-existent. Usually connected to the fundamental rules underlying the universe. In Michael Moorcock’s eternal champion series, magic is tied to the forces of Chaos while science is linked to Law. Where one dominates, the other is suppressed, so much so that if one conquers the other, the reality collapses and a new one emerges.  For fantasy writers this is a great way to keep a society locked in medieval stasis.
  • Clashing Paradigms: Magical and Scientific thinking collide. One simply can not comprehend the other. This incompatibility keeps the two separate. This goes beyond a difference of opinion. The magical and the mundane exist in different cultural spheres. The rational mind dismisses the magical as pure superstition, while the magical mind can’t understand how mundanes survive without magic or ignore it even when they are staring right in the face.
  • Techbane: Magic somehow screws with the inner workings of high technology. The more sophisticated, the easier it will go “poof!” It may be the sheer power of a cosmic fragment to warp reality or a mage leaking so much mana that every circuit board within a square mile will sizzle and melt as he walks by. Harry Dresden has this problem in spades.
  • Immunity to the Mundane:  So the not so friendly neighborhood vampire shows up at your doorstep. No problem, you got a double serving of 12-gauge lead for him. Wait, he shrugged it off? Oh s—! Simply put, mundane weapons don’t affect the supernatural. It may be a general quality of all things magical or something specific to the threat. You have to fight fire with fire, I mean magic with magic.  Work around  this problem do exist. If lighting would kill a troll, so will ten-thousands kilowatts per hour from your city utility will do the trick. No silver knife, how about a silver bullet? And so on. Less about technology not working and more about getting creative when option A fails miserably.
  • Suspension of the Scientific Principle: A variation of A Wizard Did It! Technology doesn’t work in a given place because a wizard conjured an anti-tech field of some sort. Maybe it suppresses electricity or some such. Either way, your car is dead and you will have to push X amount of miles until you get out of the zone. It may be a quality of an object or person, but unlike the techbane objects affected come back to life the moment they are out of the area of effect.

Doesn’t affect all technology of course, only whatever it’s considered “high” technology. Hammers, wheels, pulleys and swords are fine, gun powder, computers, and the cell (mobile) phones, not so much. It is all highly arbitrary, even if the author/writer can come up with a good explanation for it.

Of course the real reason goes something like this:



And now for something completely different:

4 comments on “Urban Fantasy: Magic vs. Technology

  1. […] Mon- TV Tropes: Overranked Soldier or I can’t believe they gave that idiot a promotion! Tue- Urban Fantasy: Magic vs. Technology or why my MP3 doesn’t work in Hogwarts. Wen-Wizard’s World War: Dead Zone Thur- World […]


  2. I wonder if this is because for a long time, in real life, people felt that religion clashed with science?

    Nowadays, I know a lot of people who are comfy with both spirituality and science, and don’t think the two must necessarilybe enemies. I wonder if that will have an impact on fiction.


  3. In my opinion – deftly mixing tech with magic is actually really clever. If you understand the history of science (and physics) – most of it developed out of philosophical ideas – which is also the basis for some magical thinking as well.
    Both magic and tech – come from our minds.
    And as A C Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
    So it stands to reason – that if you can make magic work with tech – then why not? I love stuff like that.
    You know why?
    Because magic creates MYSTERY – Science/tech tends to take away the mystery. And mysteries are always exciting!
    Therefore mixing elements of irrationality and rationality actually makes for some VERY interesting writing and world building. As I am currently doing.
    Also, Anne McCaffrey <– Dragons in space?


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