Examples of Magic in sci-fi

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by DarthTom, Oct 9, 2012.

  1. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The discussion about fantasy and science fiction got me to thinking - are there any examples of where magic is used as a plot device in traditional science fiction?

    Typically - and especially in Trek - magic is debunked by science. So are there any examples where Harry Potter type magic is used in sci-fi?
     
  2. Silvercrest

    Silvercrest Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Force.
     
  3. Deckerd

    Deckerd Fleet Arse Premium Member

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    Any form of ESP by humans, so most of B5 basically.
     
  4. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    You consider that 'magic?' ESP - like Deanna Troi's - is typically presented as an evolutionary enhancement not magical powers.
     
  5. Deckerd

    Deckerd Fleet Arse Premium Member

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    Deanna was half Betazoid. That was the half that was telepathic.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, that's the key element that makes this a difficult question to answer. The very nature of science fiction is that it's generally assumed that every phenomenon, no matter how bizarre, has some kind of scientific explanation. While that may include things that the readers would find magical or fanciful, by the internal rules of the universe they're still scientific. Psychic powers are just a superstition or a fraud in reality, but in many fictional universes they're an accepted and understood science, so they wouldn't be considered magic.

    Generally the only place you'll find magic qua magic in the context of a universe that also incorporates sci-fi tropes is in comic-book universes, which are generally amalgams of so many different types of story that SF and fantasy tropes intermingle freely. In both the DC and Marvel universes, magic is an acknowledged reality, a distinct form of power existing alongside more conventional "scientific" phenomena.
     
  7. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    That's very true. I suppose you could argue that the 'Force," in wars is presented as quasi magical ability and the Jedi are often dissed by those that rely solely on science to fight wars and solve problems.

    Likewise, didn't Rowling in the Potter encyclopedia explain the wizards magical abilities as an inherited trait and even identified an element they have in their DNA that gives them the power?
     
  8. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Robert A. Heinlein's Waldo.
    Diana Wynne Jones' Homeward Bounder.
     
  9. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    What about L. Sprague de Camp's "Incompleat Enchanter" stories. Or is that more a case of applying scientific principles to magic?
     
  10. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Except that Star Wars isn't really intended as science fiction. In Lucas's own words, it's space fantasy, akin to Flash Gordon or John Carter of Mars. It's essentially a sword-and-sorcery fantasy epic dressed up with the trappings of space opera.


    Come to think of it, another place you can find mystical/magical tropes coexisting with science and technology is in Japanese productions like anime, manga, and live-action tokusatsu films and shows. Japan is a Shintoist culture, basically animist, believing there are spirits inhabiting everything, so they don't perceive the same kind of divide between the physical/temporal world and the spiritual world that Western culture perceives. So a lot of their sci-fi just presupposes the existence of a spiritual element underlying the products of science and technology, whether it's atomically mutated dinosaurs like Godzilla or the giant robots piloted by the Super Sentai Ranger teams (aka Power Rangers). Star Wars itself has a very Eastern influence in its approach to spirituality, which is what reminded me of that.
     
  11. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Larry Niven created the Teela Brown character, who had the psionic power of genetically inherited luck, which had been isolated by breeding based on random chance over multiple generations.

    As Chistopher says, anything magical or supernatural in science fiction is almost always qualified as being only something resembling that but with an in-universe scientific explanation.

    Even in Star Trek episodes such as TAS: The Magicks of Megas-Tu, the magic power is the natural law in an alternate universe. I believe that, in-universe, Q power is simply beyond the power of Federation science to grasp, but still nevertheless is not regarded in-universe as supernatural.

    If you step out of the confines of what the in-universe conceit is, though, much of "technology" in science fiction is fantastic and based on no principles that resemble those of actual real world science. In this sense, much of the technology in science fiction—and phenomena—are actually magic.
     
  12. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

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    "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Arthur C. Clarke,
     
  13. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Conceptually then what is the difference between the Q and the wizards in Potter other than the Q don't use magic wands and/or conjur up 'magic,' with incantations that are an off take from ancient Latin?
     
  14. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Also an excellent choice where magic and science are more or less reconciled in the fictional universe.

    It is correct that magic and science are more or less put together in comic books. However, even there it turns out in practice that there is much less magic than supposed science. This appears to be because science and magic just don't fit together tonally.

    As to Clarke's Law, that must have been intended to justify seemingly impossible feats in SF by appealing to as yet unrevealed possibilities that will leave modern ideas of impossibility irrelevant. I don't think that this will be the case. The laws of thermodynamics, for one, are here to stay. Any paradigm shifts will incorporate them and their prosaic everyday consequences. Science is corrigible, not a delusion that might be dispelled.

    Nor do I think many people really believe the other interpretation of Clarke's alleged law, where one is fundamentally the same as the other. If there was news about radar sighting some object making a powered landing, then we saw someone who claimed to be the Mahdi emerging, I don't think we would suddenly convert to Islam just because said personage did seemingly impossible things. We wouldn't believe in magic, we would believe in tech we didn't understand and a deception we could understand uncomfortably well. The only people who would attribute the creature's amazing feats to the supernatural would be those who already believe in the supernatural.

    There are writers who really believed that ESP is indeed a natural phenomenon. There are also writers who thought ESP would serve as a scientific sounding explanation of something they wanted to put into their stories. In both cases they wrote something that was stylistically the opposite of fantasy. And there are readers who stopped accepting ESP as scientifically plausible after they learned better.

    Claiming the first wrote fantasy ignores authorial intent. Claiming the second is fantasy ignores style. And claiming the same works suddenly turned from SF into fantasy because someone's mind changed is astoundingly trivial. Equating SF and fantasy is grossly philistine. Also, the plausibility standard either applies to all literature and drama or it's just a malicious double standard. Lastly, the arbiters of plausibility frequently fail to correctly assess plausibility.

    SF is something fantastic that is still somehow supposed to be natural. Fantasy is something fantastic that is supposed to be supernatural. The reason that getting the difference right is that by definition real plausibility is better style in SF, whereas it is completely irrelevant to fantasy.
     
  15. Mister Fandango

    Mister Fandango Fleet Captain

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    "Psionics" was just a means of giving magic a scientific explanation and terminology. The only real difference between a psychic and a wizard is one wears robes and a funny hat.

    That said, the RPG Shadowrun features genuine magic with near future sci-fi. Elves, fireballs, conjured demons, the whole bit. Right along with cyberarms, virtual reality, and nanites.
     
  16. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    JK Rowling however attempts to explain the wizrds abilities in terms of a magic gene or inherited trait. How is this different than the Q in Trek? In both cases, the supernatural is explained by using scientific principles.
     
  17. Deckerd

    Deckerd Fleet Arse Premium Member

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    I don't mind the two being blended because they're virtually indistinguishable aside from the props.
     
  18. DarthTom

    DarthTom Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    That's true. How teleportation is treated in Trek vs. Potter is a good example.
     
  19. Drago-Kazov

    Drago-Kazov Fleet Captain

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    There was a a magician that showed up in Farscape.

    Any idea who he was?
     
  20. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk The Real Me Premium Member

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    Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept features science and magic. The hook is there are two worlds, one world is governed by magic and one by science and they exist in separate universes, but some people can cross over.