Why are magic and technology so often seen as mutually exclusive in mainstream fantasy and sci-fi?
|Except in very rare circumstances.|
Why do we do that?
Clarke's Third Law
Even if you have no idea who Arthur C. Clarke is, you've heard his third law. In a nut shell it states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is an oft-quoted rule when it comes to fiction, but according to Esther Ingels-Arkell over at i09 the law doesn't really work the way we think it does.
Accroding to Arkell's argument this law only holds water if the feat being accomplished is something we believe we can't do ourselves with the right time and training. While we might not be able to build a TV or a laptop, much less a car that runs off of solar power or methane gas, most people who know these things exist believe that they could be replicated by anyone. The reason that we freak out about magicians who seem to be able to levitate, people whose brain waves can bend spoons, and those who can be buried for a week before rising unharmed is that we know, deep down, these are not things that anyone can do. These things are well and truly magical.
Is Magic V. Technology Really About Ignorance?
Let's go back to A Flight of Dragons for a moment. The central crux of the story is that mankind is embracing technology and logic, and it is this philosophical decision to give science a big ole' bear hug that is robbing the world's great wizards (well, all but the evil one) of their powers. This is in a very real sense a metaphor for how we as readers and writers often think about magic. Magic is a product of a simpler time, whereas science is a product of enlightenment. Science can be explained, and magic can't be. Even in our fiction magic is something that just can't exist in a world where we've split the atom, have flying cars, or combat capable laser cannons. And if it does exist then technology just closes its eyes and refuses to admit that magic is there.
|I see your fireball, and raise.|
Well, most of the time anyway.
Breaking The Mold
There are a lot of niches where the sliding scale has been trod underfoot. The roleplaying game Shadowrun and the books set in its world combines the elements of high fantasy with the gritty neo-noir of cyberpunk for a strange, exciting love child. D20 Modern allows mages to store spellbooks on their palm pilots, and in Pathfinder gunslingers might adventure alongside sorcerers to deliver a one-two punch (even in this game though the resistance to guns existing alongside magic is prone to some hardcore resistance).
In the spirit of this co-existence I'll make a suggestion that goes even further; what would magic enhanced by technology look like? Say that ancient covens always had 13 witches because that was the timber the chant required to hit the proper level; what could one witch with a mixer and recording software accomplish? If psychotropic mushrooms altered your brain chemistry and perception so you could see spirits and ghosts, what could modern pharmaceuticals allow you to do? Using enchanted steel to make a sword is one thing, but what about bringing magic and science together to make a rail gun straight from the heavens?
What kind of marriage would you give science and magic if you wanted them to play nice?