Man, Machine, Magic

When writing fiction, I am forced to review what I am doing time and time again. That makes me learn more about my creativity. A truism — certainly, but also an educational experience. Gradually I realize what themes I put into my stories.

A recurrent notion is how the protagonists master machines as tools in their struggles. This is a thoroughly modern idea, perhaps dating back to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel about Frankenstein and his monster.

Most fantasy authors operate in the pre-modern paradigm, in which the protagonists strive to resist or master magic and nature. An explanatory example: The concept of the machine as a “force multiplier” is only hinted at by Tolkien in his descriptions of Saruman’s realm. The One Ring, the ultimate force multiplier, is clearly a Norse magic device granting the user superhuman perceptive abilities and charisma with non-material means. Even though Sauron used smithcraft to make it, it is not a machine.

I feel more comfortable writing in a modern paradigm. The machine, which is constructed by human skill, uses material substances from nature (iron, wood, petroleum, or its equivalents) to provide the protagonists with superhuman mobility, strength or perception. That is one reason that I have shifted my fantasy world Gondica (inter alia the stage for the Spiran och staven novel) to a post-medieval context.

That is an unusual approach in fantasy, because it lessens the importance of supernatural forces. Yes, there are such at work, like the spirits of the Direweald’s shamanistic para-reality The Endless Forest or the Dan-shi mystics’ ability to use spiritual strength to temporarily ignore constraints imposed by the laws of nature. But the mechanurgists (alchemy/artisanship magicians) use their sixth sense of perception to construct alchemical machinery by which they impose their wills on the world.

In some manner, this is the outlook of Jules Verne transferred to a world that somewhat resembles the Baroque era. Yes, whenever I take a closer look at my fantasy writings I see the recurrent shadows of this French giant. He was the first SF author I encountered, at the age of 8, and by the age of 15 I had read with great pleasure all his novels that had been translated into Swedish (a dozen or so). Somehow, his visions of the competent man mastering Nature by the clever use of technology — be it pre-industrial or Victorian — resonated with something in my soul.

I belong to a clan of engineers; its first one (my father’s mother’s father’s father) built church organs in the mid-19th century and my nephew belongs to its sixth generation. I have chosen a different professional path, currently earning my living as a tech writer. But whenever I write fiction, the engineer archetype, to borrow a Jungian notion, always enters the stage and assumes a commanding role.

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