This most important of times in human history is often either maligned or ignored by epic fantasy.
The precedent for this seems to have been set by Tolkien. In his Lord of the Rings series, industrialization and technological advancement only seems to happen among the orcs. This is portrayed very well in the film where we can see great clouds of toxic pollution hanging over Mordor, and in Sarumon's lands he tears down the ancient forests to fuel and make room for belching factories to arm his Uruk-hai.
There are plenty of others who focus on the disadvantages of technological progress in their epic fantasy. The starkest of these are post-apocalyptic epic fantasy; these are fantasy worlds that take place on a future Earth after nuclear war. Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy is one example, while Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's Death Gate Cycle is another. In these worlds we see the ultimate endgame of industrialization—near annihilation.
So I asked the question. "What place does magic have in an industrializing world?" The answer I found: a big one.
In my novels, the old school of magic—the Privileged with their elemental sorcery—are deeply entrenched in the nobility of the world. Along with the nobility they oppose this new rising middle class of capitalists and the factories and unions that come with them. At the same time they don't mind getting rich off the backs of the working man, or the canal being built over the mountains that will enable the import of more luxury goods.
The new powder mages, with their sorcery based on gunpowder, embrace industrialization. How better to produce more gunpowder and flintlocks? Factories help the Adran army become the best equipped among all the Nine Nations. The greater population density of the cities make it easier to find and recruit more powder mages.
Then there's the Knacked and their talents. The sorcery of the commoners is turned to whatever use they can find for it. Inspector Adamat uses his perfect memory to aid in his investigations. Olem becomes Field Marshal Tamas' bodyguard because he doesn't need sleep. The commoners adapt. They use their magic to better themselves in an increasingly complicated world.
There are some that might argue that industrialization takes the "epic" out of "epic fantasy." They might say that writing in this time period goes against the whole spirit of the genre. I don't agree. I think there are magic and heroes, good and evil, adventure and intrigue to be found in an industrial world and that the Industrial Revolution opens up a whole new set of possibilities for epic fantasy. Magic does not fade with technological advancement. It adapts along with the people that use it.
Brian McClellan lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and between 6,000 and 60,000 honey bees (depending on the time of year). He began writing on Wheel of Time role playing websites at fifteen. Encouraged toward writing by his parents, he started working on short stories and novellas in his late teens. He went on to major in English with an emphasis on creative writing at Brigham Young University. It was here he met Brandon Sanderson, who encouraged Brian’s feeble attempts at plotting and characters more than he should have. Brian continued to study writing not just as an art but as a business and was determined this would be his life-long career. He attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp in 2006. In 2008, he received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. In November 2011, PROMISE OF BLOOD and two sequels sold at auction to Orbit Books. It is due out in April of 2013. More info can be found on his website or on twitter.
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