Suspension of Disbelief: Magic Time
3/5 fire-breathing dragons.
Marc Scott Zicree and
Barbara Hambly has been one of my favorite fantasy authors for a long time, due to wonderful characters and a need to explain or at least speculate about how everything supernatural actually works. Her Dragonslayer features diagrams of dragons with comments about hollow bones, and in Those who Hunt the Night, a young doctor of the Victorian era tries to get blood and nail samples from vampires. So when I saw Magic Time at a book store recently, I naturally bought it.
The plot is fairly straightforward: some vast magical field is created that causes all electrical things to cease functioning. Civilization reverts to anarchy with lots of cholera and typhoid; some people discover magical abilities or transform into magical creatures, based, it seems, on whatever monsters or angels* lurk in their hearts. A small band of mismatched heroes set out on a quest to discover what is happening and save the world against all odds.
While I recognize the “magic destroys electricity” as a convenient and common trope, it annoys me. That batteries might not work in the presence of some magical force is bullshit. Electrons are going to flow from source to sink, because they are electrons. If they do not, that implies that whatever the magic force is has fundamentally altered the nature of the universe, which is going to lead to a lot more side effects than non functioning appliances. As in, I think we’d all die, because our bodies run on electrical impulses, and if things stopped having electrical charges completely, things would stop existing in the form of things. Electrical charges are fundamental to the existence of things. If we are still alive and there are things, electrons still behave the way we expect them to, and batteries will continue to work. Electricity is not weird magic that ceases to function in the presence of other magic. While I am more than happy to accept that some magically generated catastrophe could destroy our infrastructure, by which I mean the power plants and our ability to refine whatever fuel we are using to power them (Well, maybe. I’m not certain I buy that one thing and one thing only can destroy fossil fuel power plants, hydroelectric plants, wind farms, AND all solar panels everywhere. The apocalypse is unlikely to be all-encompassing), there is no reason that batteries won’t work until they run out of charge and generators won’t work until they run out of gas. I would be completely fine with a magic spell that drains all electrical charges and magnetizes the shit out of everything within a certain radius; destroying electrical things, by magic or otherwise, is the easiest way of rendering them non functional, after all. It is such a pity that Barbara Hambly is only collaborating here. Normally she doesn’t do this. She has, in fact, written a series in which people from a magic using reality find their way to our reality, and not only does magic not magically stop electricity, an evil mage decides the thing to do is turn himself into a mutant evil supercomputer (I so relate) that uses both magic and electricity. So I’m going to blame Marc Scott Zicree who is a writer for shows such as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and New Voyages), which are not known for in-depth consideration of how stuff actually works. So that makes me sad.
Other than that cliched misunderstanding of electricity, Magic Time is a very enjoyable read. Unfortunately, a few of the plucky heroes are given to short bursts of introspection which can be fixed via a hackneyed motivational speech, but there are enough characters with depth and good dialogue that this isn’t too much of a problem. And quite frankly, I love plucky mismatched heroes that try to save the world against all odds. Particularly when a lot of time and care is given to following the lives of a lot of peripheral characters of different genders and races, as they navigate a suddenly changed world and/or morph into strange monsters. Especially since the monsters can include fire-breathing dragons which plucky heroes attack with swords. Attacking a fire-breathing dragon with sword, how delightfully optimistic!
This is only the first volume of a trilogy, and while it never really transcends standard fantasy plotlines, it tells the standard story in an enjoyable enough way that I am planning to read further. I predict a happy enough ending (except for the people killed by the fire-breathing dragon and cholera), and really, a happy ending can be a delightful thing.
*Is there a less religious antonym for monster?