We Three Links

1. Anna Katherine (one half of whom is alg) writes about systems of magic or the lack thereof in an aptly titled post “rules? in a knife fight?”. This so brilliantly expressed my own feelings that I was left saying, “But on the other hand…” (which is how I reply to most of my own opinions).

2. AV Club’s Keith Phipps has worked his way up to Sturgeon’s More Than Human in his Box of Paperbacks Book Club. This is an unusually good entry in a very good ongoing series of pieces. On the other hand, I still feel that “Baby Is Three” is better as a standalone story than as Pt. 2 of More Than Human.

3. SFFAudio has a nice review of the audiobook version of Blood of Ambrose. The reviewer, Seth Wilson, rightly picks up on some of the traces of Arthurian legend in the background, and mentions among them a long-dead character named Uthar. This character was originally named Lothar, but I became increasingly unhappy with this as the novel wore on, because the name sounded too terrestrial. If I was smashing the world flat and giving it three moons so that it wouldn’t be casually mistaken for Earth, how could I have a character named Lothar? So I coined the name Uthar. I liked the sound of it, especially with the “th” pronounced as a soft theta, not the hard Gemanic aspirated “t” of “Lothar”. And at no point in this whole process, until I read Seth Wilson’s review, did it occur to me that “Uthar” might bring to anyone’s mind Uther Pendragon, a figure of nontrivial importance in the Arthurian mythos. Uff da. I think I’m going to assign myself some sort of prize for lazy nomenclature on this one. On the other hand… No, there is no other hand this time. This is a rare one-handed opinion from me. As of this moment.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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7 Responses to We Three Links

  1. peadarog says:

    I used to be a big fan of “rules” for magic until I read Felix Gilman’s “Thunderer”. The first chapter of that (most people prefer the rest of the book for some reason) absolutely blew my mind with its irrational magnificence.

    • JE says:

      I think rules can be good. If it’s been a big deal all through a story that the fnorbalorb needs twelve zenboes to generate a flying carpet, and the heroes have been running all over subcreation trying to find zenboes, the fnorbalorb had better not start spontaneously generating flying carpets in the absence of sufficient zenboes.

      If you know what I mean.

      I think what I mean is that rules are part of the expectation game that the storyteller plays with the audience. And the storyteller should fulfill some expectations and subvert others, according to a nonsystematic system which is definitely not rule-governed.

      • peadarog says:

        I lean towards agreement with you, although I’m not sure I could carry that off myself, since my mind, alas, is anally rational. I’ll watch you do it, though 🙂

  2. zornhau says:


    That’s a very useful link.

    My WIP has rules, but they are very high level to do with what magic can and can’t do, and the sorts of costs involved… nothing you could use in an RPG.

    • JE says:

      Re: Magic…

      This makes sense, I think. A serious scholium is going to have areas where things are known and rules apply, and areas where the rules (if any) are not known. Physics is serious (any scholium that allows you to blow stuff up is serious) but physicists disagree about string theory, dark energy, etc.

      • zornhau says:

        Re: Magic…

        No, even higher level than that!

        For example, the man-hours cost of magical effects is roughly the same for producing something similar in a hi-tech civilisation. E.g. super weapons require the same R&D whether mundane or magical.

        Or, the spells can only effect real qualities. So a spell to protect you from being shot doesn’t affect your hard-to-hitness, rather it screws up the other guy’s archery. Since an inverse square law applies, this means that the closer you are to a shooter, the safer you are….

        The different schools of magic all have their own theories, all of which seem to work most of the time.

        The two key ideas, I suppose, are to specify how magic can shape the world and its culture, and to avoid ERB’s radium rifles.

        • JE says:

          Re: Magic…

          Interesting, interesting. I had an idea once that, since magic is to certain religious/philosophical beliefs what technology is to science, the different philosophies of the Greco-Roman world should have had different types of magic associated with them. (This doesn’t seem to have been true, but any story based on it would be set in an alternate reality anyway, so that’s not a problem.) I had a couple of story-ideas to go along with this, but they’ve been simmering on the back-burner for a while.

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