PDA

View Full Version : Magic and the Economy


SFFWorld.com
Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum


Pages : [1] 2 3 4

onions
July 31st, 2007, 07:47 AM
I found myself ranting about economy in worldbuilding in my blog some time ago and then thought it would be really interesting to hear your opinions.

Also: Hi! :)
*waves*
I've been gone a while but it's good to read all your posts again!

Basically, my question is how important it is for you to work out the economy of your worlds and how you go/went about it. :)
And generally, what you think of the topic.

Here's what I blogged about (sorry about the pontificating tone):

I was talking to Peter earlier who thinks I am too anal and apodictical about the economic aspects of worldbuilding. I think he's just wrong. :p

The important things I need to know if I launch a new world (particularly one with machines in) are surely - what is the main fuel source that enables everything to run? What are sources of wealth and who controls them? With what do people earn money (or whatever it takes to have them fed and warm)? Because this shapes the world people live in.

You think what you eat.

Otherwise you end up with some absurd la-la land like Stephen Donaldson in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. This is, take note, the man who calls his magical land "The Land" and his evil entitiy "Lord Foul". Nobody there actually seems to work or earn anything except for the few dirtgrubbers, yet everyone is miraculously well fed and happy. Knowing Donaldson, the dirtgrubbers are donating their food to the Lords voluntarily simply because they know they are all part of a functioning whole and they are in Utter Harmony with each other.

A world with magic is not simply our world (or a pseudo-medieval world that one writer seems to copy off the other) with added magic. A world with magic would be fundamentally different from ours. Why?

- Because why would anyone bother to make a chair by hand if you could create it by sheer power of will?
- Why would anyone bother to invent writing or even speech if you could communicate by telepathy and store ideas in mental capsules? (In fact, our stone age ancestors would probably have preferred mental communication as it would have given them a benefit in the hunt.)
- Why would the industrial revolution even take place in a world with magic? Why would there be machines and all these mechanical aids that we have created to enlarge our scope of action on earth?

Certainly, it is possible to have public transport and household appliances and writing and speech and whatever coexist with competitive magic. But they would have to have a reason to be there, not just because the author can't fathom a world without percolators and hairdryers.

A world of magic wouldn't just remain happily ensconced in the trappings of medieval Europe, either. The Middle Ages weren't an inevitable milestone that all worlds go through. They happened for a very specific set of reasons in a very specific place and eventually they ended. A world of magic, too, would develop; technically, politically and economically, but on its own terms.

Another interesting economic aspect of world building would thus be: In a world of mass needs and mass production, how would magic be incorporated to service the economy? Would it be?
Can we imagine little wizards perched on their workbenches in a magical production line for telekinetically operated pianos? Would there be pianos in a world where artists can create musical experiences in other people's brains?

(Incidentally, J.K. Rowling makes a valiant effort to explain how wizards and muggles share their world and how their societies and economies differ fundamentally because of who they are. However you feel about the World of HP, it is not a naive thing created out of thin air.)

All things considered, I don't think it at all anal to expect writers to work out the basic economy of their worlds before they carry on with the more gratifying and pleasurable parts. It is not necessary to tell readers each and every detail of the setting he's reading about, but knowing it and letting details of it enter the narrative lends a story depth, realism and intelligence it would otherwise lack.

kater
July 31st, 2007, 08:04 AM
- Because why would anyone bother to make a chair by hand if you could create it by sheer power of will?
- Why would anyone bother to invent writing or even speech if you could communicate by telepathy and store ideas in mental capsules? (In fact, our stone age ancestors would probably have preferred mental communication as it would have given them a benefit in the hunt.)
- Why would the industrial revolution even take place in a world with magic? Why would there be machines and all these mechanical aids that we have created to enlarge our scope of action on earth?

Certainly, it is possible to have public transport and household appliances and writing and speech and whatever coexist with competitive magic. But they would have to have a reason to be there, not just because the author can't fathom a world without percolators and hairdryers.

A world of magic wouldn't just remain happily ensconced in the trappings of medieval Europe, either. The Middle Ages weren't an inevitable milestone that all worlds go through. They happened for a very specific set of reasons in a very specific place and eventually they ended. A world of magic, too, would develop; technically, politically and economically, but on its own terms.

Another interesting economic aspect of world building would thus be: In a world of mass needs and mass production, how would magic be incorporated to service the economy? Would it be?
Can we imagine little wizards perched on their workbenches in a magical production line for telekinetically operated pianos? Would there be pianos in a world where artists can create musical experiences in other people's brains?

(Incidentally, J.K. Rowling makes a valiant effort to explain how wizards and muggles share their world and how their societies and economies differ fundamentally because of who they are. However you feel about the World of HP, it is not a naive thing created out of thin air.)

All things considered, I don't think it at all anal to expect writers to work out the basic economy of their worlds before they carry on with the more gratifying and pleasurable parts. It is not necessary to tell readers each and every detail of the setting he's reading about, but knowing it and letting details of it enter the narrative lends a story depth, realism and intelligence it would otherwise lack.

Interesting ideas, some thoughts straight from that are:
- Magic AS currency
- Limited number of the population 'do' magic and thus technology as an equality revolution
- Magic ability limited, thus ruling out mass production and the need for technology
- Defining the 'Middle Ages' as one lump period of time and then associatiing it with fantasy worlds and magic is off the mark to me

Personally unless it's an important factor in the story I don't care about the details too much, catch-all coin is fine by me. A clearly defined magic system is another thing and I don't believe the two are always mutually inclusive.

James Carmack
July 31st, 2007, 09:17 AM
The details of the economy only matter insofar as they're pertinent to the story. You're not going to care much about the exchange rates if your heroes spend all their time on a magical quest out in the wilds.

Now, if you're the type who likes to work out all the fine details for personal reference (and obsessive-compulsive perfectionism), then, by all means, do so.

I second kater's objection to calling the Middle Ages this one lump or even feeling obligated to bind yourself to that sort of setting for a fantasy story.

The most important bit of that little essay is to think of how the different circumstances would shape your world. That's good advice.

onions
July 31st, 2007, 10:08 AM
Thanks for your comments!



I second kater's objection to calling the Middle Ages this one lump or even feeling obligated to bind yourself to that sort of setting for a fantasy story.


Just to clarify, I think we are in agreement. I don't think fantasy should be limited to any period of history. My objection is towards the generic sword and sorcery novels that all seem to be set in the same type of medievalesque world. And I don't see why they should. Lack of imagination? Tried and true formula? No idea. I was just referring to a particular type of irksome fantasy, that's all.

And yeah, I totally agree you might not need the exchange rates if you're just going to send your hero off into the forest anyway. It's not necessary to worry about details that are irrelevant

BUT I think that economic details are a lot more relevant to stories than people think. So you might think "oh, I don't need to know about financial stuff because my hero is just going to dress up in armour anyway and start slaying monsters."
Not realising that to buy a full set of armour would cost him about a year's worth of what he earns and how would he get at THAT money that fast?

That's the kind of thing I mean. It might still be a fun story, but plot holes make it more...well, dumb.

Dawnstorm
July 31st, 2007, 11:02 AM
I don't think it makes much of a difference if you say "middleages" or "Southern Spain, 1250 - 1264" for the argument to work. Adding "institutionalised magic" (something that can be reliably reproduced; not "miracles") has an effect on how you use resources. Basically it's a matter of head-techniques vs. hand-techniques, with the distinction blurred.

Imagine a magic system where self-teleportation is possible, but teleportation of things isn't. (Things include the clothes you're wearing.) Information is instant; goods are not. Intellectual property could have been factor in "medieval" times, long before they thought of the idea (19th Century, I think?). But there are plenty of side effects. Is public nudity allowed for messengers? Are they restricted to "booths"? Military intelligence? Postal trade based on mnemonics?

A simple change, a different world.

It's not about working out the details. It's about not accepting an absurd ceteris-paribus hypothesis when writing. (At least I think so...)

***

[Hi, Onions!]

Davis Ashura
July 31st, 2007, 02:17 PM
I had to look up "apodictical". Welcome back Onions and damn your ten dollar words!
I have to agree with Onions. I want to know that the world created is internally consistent. One of the things involved is economics. I don't want to necessarily know the details of the economics but the characters should have an understandable means to obtain money and purchase stuff.

lin
July 31st, 2007, 03:05 PM
I agree that Harry Potter's world does a good job of having economics and magic co-exist.

They still have vaults full of gold, no? And rich and poor people.

A concept I've seen in the past is what I'd call "fairy gold" You can magically create gold, but it doesn't last and will turn back to dust as the spell wears off.

Notice how the "don't freak the muggles" thing explains why people who can fly have to have train tickets.

It's odd that food can magically appear, but Ron can't afford snacks. But possibly the food was transported, not created.

It's definitely worth thinking about this stuff and pinning it down, both to avoid pitfalls and to dazzle the reader with how cool you are.

onions
July 31st, 2007, 03:47 PM
It's not about working out the details. It's about not accepting an absurd ceteris-paribus hypothesis when writing. (At least I think so...)

***

[Hi, Onions!]

Aw, hey Dawnstorm. I did follow your thread about your novel from time to time. Glad you're getting on. :)

And yeah, I guess that was what I was getting at. Though sometimes you have to talk about details to work out the whole thing.

Lin: I guess you can argue the Ron-snack thing one way or another. :)

Darkon
July 31st, 2007, 05:43 PM
I agree with needing to have a functioning world. Mine is way over done and economy is key. I don't go into what townships need what and stuff like that but I do go into what countries or regions produce what. So if a war grips an area the production of live stock is cut short by the ravages of war that lets me know that countries that need supplies form this country are going to go lacking.


As for magic reworking how tech works mine is similar allot of things we use today have been made by magical means and not on the tech front. Yet there are groups that hate magic and are trying to bring the glory of tech back to the world that was lost.

example of a magic item replacing tech

Dreamers stone - entertaining magic item - when a person touches it and wants to dream the person falls asleep but they are then in full control of what they see and hear. They also have full recollection of what happed to them when they where dreaming. If more then one person touches the dreamer's stone they will be put into the same dream. There is also Dreamer stones that have preset environments in them letting people share there idea's with others. Story writers have embraced dreamer's stones with open arms. There have been problems with people becoming addicted to dreamer stones and used to get away form there troubled lives. Dreamer stones can be set to wake the dreamer up under set conditions like if some one enters the room. It is also used as a training aid for practicing combat and magic.


So when an epic fight between city states erupts and tech is pitted against magic and the blade all hell brakes lose. Oddly enough the people preaching the use of tech power there contraptions and society by Ripping the ability to use magic out of there enemies and villagers. Which triggers the hole clash to begin with because nothing has the power density needed to drive there economy that the link with the source provides... the source is really a weakening in the fabric of our reality. Even in our world they can't explain where 90% of the energy that makes the cosmos move... They call it dark energy or dark mater. Or the power of the vacuum. But in my world the fabric of reality has weekend so much that most of the world can gain access to the power. Causing large problems but solving others.

lin
July 31st, 2007, 09:58 PM
One obvious place to start in depicting a magic economy would be with supply and demand. Without a way to spell that out and balance it, there is nothing happening. You can't have an economy based on water. But on Arakis they could.

So the question becomes, is there anything to limit the supply that magic can create?