Rjurik Davidson discusses: Mixing Red and Blue – On Magic and Technology

May 12, 2014 Author Feature, Giveaway 12

In a world of magic and ancient technology, in a city rife with civil unrest, 3 separate lives tangle in a struggle for power, control and ideals. UNWRAPPED SKY hosts a land full of strange races and high tension.

The author, Rjurik Davidson joins us today to tell us about mixing magic with technology. Be sure to enter the giveaway as well for a chance to win 1 of 2 hardcover copies of the book!

Unwrapped Sky

Read my review of UNWRAPPED SKY


                   There used to be a consensus in the speculative fiction field that magic and technology – or to recast it in another mode, fantasy and science fiction – didn’t mix. The great Ursula K. Le Guin once expressed it like this: ‘But of course fantasy and science fiction are different, just as red and blue are different; they have different frequencies; if you mix them (on paper–I work on paper) you get purple, something else again.’ There was here a gentle implied criticism of her own, early work, Rocannon’s World, which was ‘definitely purple.’It was a novel which prefigured her later concerns, but which isn’t among her best work.

                       Why did we think they didn’t mix?

                   Magic and technology are in many ways opposites. Magic is for the select few, an elite who are chosen by talent or personal power. Technology is democratic, available to all, used by whoever can wield it.

                   This notion was translated into another plane by science fiction intellectuals, Darko Suvin foremost among them. According to Suvin, fantasy and science fiction thus operate according to very different logics. Suvin argued that science fiction was rational and progressive, a literature of ‘cognitive estrangement’. It helped us understand our world by showing how it might be different, and by making us think scientifically about it. By contrast, fantasy was irrational and reactionary, mired in myth and neo-feudalism. Fantasy didn’t explain, it simply asserted. It didn’t make us think about the world, but helped us escape it. It was a literature of irrational consolation.

                   When I first came up with the idea for Unwrapped Sky – that magicians might be an oppressed class – this kind of thinking blocked me. For I was scrabbling around, trying to think about an industrial world with magicians, and in my mind, they didn’t mix.

                   The book that changed that, for me, was Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, which married fantasy and science fiction – in sensibility, at least. Not long after reading it, I conceived of the city of Caeli-Amur.

                   At this time, in 2005, the New Weird had emerged (and I was only vaguely aware of it), and was busy showing that all those previous notions about the separation of fantasy and science fiction, of magic and technology, were wrong. The New Weird rediscovered the original weird tradition from the 1920s and 1930s – including H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith – and reminded us that the distinction between fantasy and science fiction was an idea corresponding with the post World War Two boom. Now we live in a world a little more like the 1930s, and our new ideas of science fiction and fantasy resemble theirs a little more too.

                   When I was about 20,000 words through my novel  Unwrapped Sky I started to read Ian R. McLeod, China Miéville and Jeff Vandermeer and they taught me more.

                   In Unwrapped Sky, the magic (thaumaturgy) has a distinctly scientific feel. It is composed of equations and formulae. It is made up of a number of disciplines, which are fragmented. The character Maximilian is searching for a lost ‘unified theory’ of thaumaturgy. Readers will notice here the parallels with the search for a unified theory of quantum physics and relativity theory. This ‘dark science of thaumaturgy’ is helpful in marrying the technology in the book to the magic.

                   Indeed, Unwrapped Sky continually plays with the two genres. What begins as fantasy slowly reveals itself to by more and more science fiction (perhaps I borrowed this from Delany too? I can’t remember). In the novel, the former golden age of the ancients suffered a terrible cataclysm and war. Their utopia then fell into a dark age, from which the world is slowly emerging. This chronology means that the ancients had a technology far in advance of the contemporary world of the novel. Arthur C. Clarke one said that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ What if that technology was a past technology? Unwrapped Sky asks. What if magic were scientific? What if the technology was magical? There is much more to be said on the questions of magic and technology, of fantasy and science fiction, but hopefully Unwrapped Sky makes its own small contribution.

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Unwrapped Sky

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city’s survival.

Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.

In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.

Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.


Unwrapped Sky

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*gasp* This book was provided by the publisher! No worries though it’s an honest review and all opinions expressed are my own. This post might also contain affiliate links. To view my full Blog Policy, click here.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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12 Responses to “Rjurik Davidson discusses: Mixing Red and Blue – On Magic and Technology”

  1. Nathan (@reviewbarn)

    Reminded that as I love new weird, I probably ought to someday give the old weird a try some day as well. Never read Lovecraft specifically, and I probably should just so I can see what I missed.

    Read this book people! It is damn good, and that cover looks mighty fine sitting on a shelf.
    Nathan (@reviewbarn) recently posted…Reflection: The Death of the Star Wars EUMy Profile

  2. Charleen

    I really love genre-benders like this. I like an explanation for why magic is the way it is, and if that explanation has its basis in some kind of science, all the better. Why can’t they be compatible?
    Charleen recently posted…Review: The InnocentMy Profile

  3. Nick @ Nick's Book Blog

    First of all, wow! What a gorgeous cover! Secondly, how have I not heard of this book before?!?
    This is an interesting guest post topic. Magic and technology don’t seem like they would interact well at first thought, but I can see how scientific elements could be incorporated along with magic. After all, chemistry began because of alchemy!
    Great post! Thanks for sharing, Tabitha! 🙂
    Nick @ Nick’s Book Blog recently posted…Review : The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah StrohmeyerMy Profile

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      Now that I realize there is a whole subgenre of ‘New Weird’ books like this I’m making it a point to find more of them.