thinking about use and abuse. I should mention that this post got real nerdy, real fast. Forewarned is forearmed.
The fantasy genre trades on creating easily digestible allegories for political and societal problems and then addressing them. That, and mother fucking magic. And while literary critics may discuss the contrast of idyllic rural existence versus the dehumanizing effects of industrialization, readers tend to remember the time that Draco cast the roofieus charm on Harry. Seriously, what is with these guys? The point is that the escapist appeal of magic tends to be the larger draw. Which is fine, a good story should be enjoyable on a lot of different levels. If the creative possibilities of magic are the teaspoon of sugar that makes the social discussion medicine go down than so much the better.
What’s interesting to look at regarding the depictions of magic in most literature and other mediums (ahem, D&D) is that they are relatively limited. This should not be construed as an indictment of the authors, but rather simply an artifact of trying to imagine the practical applications of a limitless force. It might help to think of a modern parallel: Software. To anyone who writes code, or is familiar with technology news, people are constantly using, abusing, misconstruing and expanding the use of software. Technologies hook up new things in new ways with new services and possibilities offered every day. Now, try to map some of this discovery and advancement back to magic. Creative, inventive uses of magic would emerge at a rate limited only by the accessibility of the medium. The more people that can cast magic, the more ideas get tested and the more discoveries are made.
Let’s take for instance, the ability to communicate magically. Quite a few novels and mediums describe magical communication, and traditionally it is limited in some scope. You can only send 25 words, or the recipient must be able to see the same sun as the sender. Occasionally creative people will find ways around this (the recipient and the sender both have a painting of a sun for instance) for story purposes, but rarely a complete co-opting of the limit. Let’s look at how similar problems were dealt with in software. First thing, the 25 word limit roughly corresponds with the limitation of low bit rate communication in the olden days (9600 baud modems, god yes). The improvement that people came up with was encoding. Heck, zipping a file is just a form of encoding that specifically focused on human language. Words would be replaced with letters to save space, so “The cat” might be replaced with ‘a’. So, “The cat is hungry. Please feed the cat.” becomes “a is hungry. Please feed a.” saving 12 letters. I have a feeling that a similar sort of encoding would be in use magically. As for the sender/recipient limit, I would imagine some sort of negotiated protocol. Perhaps wizards buy a book of sun pictures and negotiate with a third party to agree on which picture the sender and recipient shouldl look at, then they can communicate. That’s somewhat analogous to port negotiations for software communications today.
It would be interesting to see where this would go. If magic has always existed, are people just fantastically advanced in these worlds? It would be like the Information Revolution occurred in 30,000 BC. If all the progress in scientific and technological advancement began 32,000 years earlier, where would we be now? Well, in a fantasy novel that society would have been wiped out by their own hubris 10,000 years ago. Now, the ruins of their greatest city have been discovered and a race to make it there has begun. Who will control this unlimited power and what of the force that wiped out the Ancients? You get the idea though, barring a necessary plot hook or mcguffin these cultures would be incredibly advanced.
That said, unemployed mages would be required to answer questions regarding COM interface pointers in order to get a job at MagecroSoft. So, I guess that’s a wash?