I recently have been giving some thought as to what my space opera would look like as a space fantasy, reimagining it, so to speak. “Reimagining your space opera setting into a space fantasy?” you might ask, if you weren’t already lost at “magic” and “cosmic ley lines”. Have I gone over to the fantasy side, leaving you, my dear science fiction fans, in the dust? Fear not; I am not only not going over to fantasy, I have actually gotten back into the swing of things with my latest science fiction romance novel (which will probably end up being a novella technically, but who’s counting?) “Letters from the Airy Deep”.
Having not written a worldbuilding post in a month, I have thought it over, and I’ve considered how my setting, which is hard science fiction, might work as a space fantasy. After all, at least from a storytelling perspective there’s really not that much difference between “hard” “magic systems” and science, particularly the kinds of science that deviate from our world in science fiction.
My world has an interesting little wrinkle since it’s an alternate history that is somewhat rooted in the world we know. If I were to write a fantasy with magic in space I would have it be very widespread or at least prominent, and this wasn’t really the case in history. However, my setting diverges from our history in 1900 with the early invention of the transistor, and takes a hard turn toward a better world when the Great War is resolved quickly, leading to no further general conflicts or great depressions. This leaves a whole century to work with in between then and now that could be filled in with fictional history.
The Advent of Magic: cosmic Ley Lines?
If I were to turn my world into a fantasy I would parallel the advancement of magic with the advancement of technology. Perhaps magic is “discovered” at some point in the 20th century and people gradually learn how to harness its powers, much like the steam engine or oil. One could even put a more science-fictional twist to it by linking it to lines of research into paranormal phenomena, particularly extra-sensory perception.
One idea I like for the rise of magic is for some force, perhaps something like galactic or even universal ley lines, to intersect with the Earth in the 20th century, granting humans access to magical powers, or perhaps awakening or enhancing human magical potential. For an added twist perhaps it only works, or maybe just works best, on people born after the Earth falls under its influence, so there is a new generation of children with special powers. That might make for an interesting story.
By now of course the first such children would be very old, and the magical population may have stabilized, unless the influence of the cosmic ley lines is ever-increasing, endowing those more susceptible to it with even greater powers, and expanding the population able to use magic over time.
This could be a natural phenomenon, but having it coincide with the advent of the nuclear age and the space age, which in my timeline is the mid 20th century, would be just too much of a coincidence for my comfort. A much better way to go about it is if the cosmic magical forces have some sort of a will of their own and seek out sapient beings across the universe who are ready to use its powers.
For humans, going into space, developing nuclear technology, or even the industrial revolution itself could be the threshold. Alternatively, perhaps the powers are latent and only appear to those who travel into, or better yet are born, in space, in the view of the cosmic magical forces having proven they are worthy of receiving powers. The “Starborn”, my setting’s term for those born in space instead of on a planet, would be far more of an elite than they already are!
Aliens endowed with Magic following cosmic Ley Lines
To balance this out, maybe there could be an influx of other creatures or races able to use magic. Alien creatures who are endowed with magic, are nigh-indestructible, and have a will of their own might start appearing on Earth around the same time magical humans first rise. They might serve the humans who are not endowed with magic, preventing them from becoming too resentful of the magical, and perhaps preventing those who are magical from seizing tyrannical power as a magocracy.
My concept for these creatures is that they might be starfish-like, with big brains covering most of their bodies, but there could easily be a wide diversity of shapes and sizes, and multiple races of these cosmic guardians. They might even take the form of spirits or angels like in classic mythology and religion. One might characterize them as emanations of or maybe even the generators of the magical cosmic ley lines that Earth passes through or perhaps attracts in the 20th century, but I would prefer to think of them as benevolent aliens who are drawn to its power and the thrill of discovering and giving pleasure to a new race.
Of course there could also be not-so-benevolent aliens drawn to its powers too. While it’s possible that the benevolent aliens are sufficiently powerful to ward off any such evil influences, it might be much more interesting in terms of the story to have both malevolent and benevolent magical aliens that contend with each other. If I were to pursue such a setting I would have to give that some more thought, though.
We could also have both malevolent and benevolent humans who use magic, with the aliens perhaps deliberately letting evil uses of magic persist to some extent as a way to test how worthy the humans are to continue to use the magic and perhaps to receive even more powers in the future. A doctrine of free will or some extent of non-interference in the race’s natural development might also apply. There are all sorts of fascinating possibilities.
Endowing those before the Starborn with Powers to warp Space?
One wrinkle in the “only Starborn get powers” idea is that it seems almost like a waste to go to the trouble of developing nuclear pulse propulsion and build space habitats only to have it be superseded by magic. Still, the magic might enable them to go further and it might be cool to have a Gerard O’Neill-style space setting with magic, supernatural powers, and wizards.
Still, my inclination would be more for the original development of spaceflight to be magical in origin, with various forms of magic substituting for conventional spacecraft propulsion. I really like the idea of a key part of the magical powers being the ability to warp the metric of spacetime, i.e. generate gravity, warps, and wormholes through the power of the mind. This would obviate conventional spacecraft propulsion, and lead to portals being the key to spacefaring civilization.
I could even take the idea of wormholes infinite connections to infinite points in space and time existing at the quantum scale I’ve previously thought about as a basis for effective faster-than-light propulsion technology and put a magical spin on it; these powers of the mind granted to the humans through the cosmic ley lines might enable you to do it without technological apparatuses.
The magical Powers of this Space Fantasy Setting
Using magical powers to manipulate gravity, lifting up material for or whole parts of cities in space, is a really cool concept, as is opening up portals to anywhere in the cosmos. It would be a far more rapid expansion of man through the stars than exists in my current concept for my science fiction setting, but it would be great!
Of course a full suite of magical powers would be present, from seeing into the future, to invisibility, to healing, to immortality, and telepathy. In particular I really like the idea of good intentions and spells or whatever you call it within magic making those under its influence more beautiful, youthful, healthy, wholesome, happy, intelligent, fertile, and invigorated; in contrast, bad intentions and spells would make those under its influence ugly, elderly, sick, perverted, unhappy, dumb, sterile, and zombie-like. This sort of thing happens not only in fantasy generally but also in real life, though in fantasy magic accentuates it to extremes.
This magical system would have a bit of a science-fictional spin to it compared to other fantasy, but it would unmistakably be space fantasy. Admittedly one could make the cosmic magic “an energy field generated by all living things” like in Star Wars, granting in principle anything that is not impossible within the laws of physics as we know them, much like sufficiently advanced technology in harder science fiction.
For an even more science-fictional spin it could be characterized as technology, perhaps incomprehensibly advanced technology, left over from a sufficiently advanced civilization, indistinguishable from nature, which formerly dominated the universe and uses ours as an unconscious reservoir for their own more overt activities in our time in a higher plane of existence. I outline more about that general idea in this blog post.
The Magical Army of Christmas
These details aside, one aspect of this space fantasy that would be different from classical fantasy is that the 20th century without the Great War, especially earlier on when these magical powers will appear, is much closer to steampunk than it is medieval fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I have to wonder if incorporating some more medieval elements into the aesthetic of this space fantasy might be warranted if I were to pursue such a setting.
One idea I like to kick everything off is to for the Christmas Truce in the First World War to be the real point of divergence. Either the soldiers being granted magical powers as the Earth attracts one of the cosmic ley lines or the benevolent aliens helping them end the war would make for an interesting premise, as would any “divine gifts” that might be bestowed upon them. Few if any of them would possess magical powers themselves, since they are not the ones most susceptible to these cosmic forces.
It might be possible, though, to imagine a substance that makes one much more sensitive to them that only the aliens might have access to. In this I am inspired by the spice melange from Dune. If I go down this road the Christmas soldiers might get a supply of this substance, though I’m not sure if I would even go there. Alternatively, as in my original science fiction setting, I might just have them win the struggle the “natural” way. Another possibility might be for one of the earliest people who manifest magic coincidentally be one of the soldiers, who ends up being the leader of the rebellion against the war.
One idea I really like is for the benevolent aliens to offer to teach the humans who manifest these powers how to use them effectively and for good, sort of like guides and guardians. I think that would be really cool.
Magic obviating Walls, Windows, and Spacesuits?
Space habitats in this space fantasy setting might still be rotating, but magic grants the possibility of manipulating gravity so that spinning is not needed; the spacetime metric could be warped “directly”. Additionally, the space launch method could be direct anti-gravity, levitating men and materiel from planetary surfaces. Another possibility is to establish a wormhole connection, though without creating a magical bubble around the portal equalizing the pressure with the destination air will flow out of it and into the destination, e.g. the vacuum of outer space.
Magic also grants the possibility of not even needing spacesuits. If a skin-tight bubble could be established around a man, and wormholes opened up to circulate air in from any suitable location, a man could survive being in the vacuum indefinitely. The same principle applies to spaceships and space habitats too, and could even be accomplished by technological means theoretically through e.g. the use of nanotechnology. The magical version might require active mental effort, though, so it might remain limited, at least until magical powers become so strong almost all people can do it without thinking. Alternatively, perhaps some more of these benevolent aliens could be employed.
An even cooler idea would be for alien artifacts, rather than the aliens themselves, to appear. This would be a space fantasy analogue to the rings of power from The Lord of the Rings, where the artifacts grant power to their wielders but also have minds of their own, reflecting their original magical forging. It could even be rings in this instance too, since they’re rather neat anyway, and have a mythological basis.
Yes, there are all manner of possibilities. If I were to create a fantasy setting in what’s supposed to be our Earth and our solar system I would do something like this, i.e. reimagine my alternate history science fiction setting through the lens of fantasy.
It could easily be a bright and romantic vision, honestly much like my setting is now, but more in keeping with fantasy trappings, and opening up some other possibilities that in my science fiction setting won’t be realized for centuries or millennia, such as wormholes. I’m almost torn between this and the more fantastical possibilities outlined in this blog post of settings having nothing whatsoever to do with Earth. In any case I won’t be taking up any of this immediately, since I’m still working on “Letters from the Airy Deep”, so I’ll have plenty of time to think it over!