Getting The Tech Level Right


Something that I’m currently trying to nail down to my satisfaction is the technology level in Corpus. It’s a fantasy story but the plot requires the existence of guns. That still gives me quite a varied range of historical tech levels to pick from, ranging from Regency era to modern or beyond. The thing is that the inclusion of more advanced technology starts to impact the feel and expectations of a fantasy-genre story and, whilst it’s fun to challenge readers’ expectations a bit, there’s a limit to how far you can push it before they start to feel mislead or cheated. As a label ‘urban fantasy’ has quite different connotations to ‘high fantasy’.

Secretly goblins?

Secretly goblins?

The easy solution, of course, is therefore to keep it as low-tech as possible and stay with early guns – Regency or Napoleonic levels of development. Just to be awkward, though, Mercy the goblin wants a motorbike. She says she’s heard about Sons of Anarchy, and would like to subscribe to their newsletter. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure there weren’t any Harley Davidsons involved in the Battle of Waterloo.

I was talking about the problem with a friend over the weekend and she suggested mixing tech up, rather than keeping to a historically cohesive level. Work out what needs to have been invented in order to have motorbikes, extrapolate what else that would have resulted in and leave out the bits you don’t want. As a world-building exercise, it’s a very interesting project (although it requires considerably more knowledge of engineering than I possess). The hitch with it is, again, one of genre expectation. Once you start mixing historical tech levels, you quickly stray into steampunk or even cyberpunk. Those are very strong sub-genres indeed, with powerful expectations and labels attached. I’m quite wary of taking that route as I suspect steampunk aficionados would not consider Corpus to belong in their section of the library.

Am I being too conscious of genre boundaries? Crediting them with too much power and definition? Or will Mercy have to put up with a horse instead?


3 responses »

  1. Technology is generally advances in application & utilisation of energy to perform work. The biggest advances have generally been seen when new ways to generate energy are discovered. So early on we see animal drawn farm tools and transport. Then we see water and wind powered factories. The next big advances were steam, followed by petrol. Linked to Steam and Petrol we see generation of electricty on a wide scale. As soon as electricity was widely available, look how fact the tech level advanced.

    Now, what if humans attentions were focused elsewhere, on something other than science? Something like magic? Magic, in many fantasy settings, is a source of energy (Fireballs, lightening bolts etc) and so therefore it is not inconceivable to invent a fantasy setting that has elements of modern(ish) technology combined with traditional fantasy elements.

    A very good example of this would be D&D Eberron. If you haven’t seen it it’s well worth looking at as an alternative view of “technology”. It contains a great deal of recognisable technology that is generally powered differently to the real world. Here’s a prime example for consideration:

    • And I can see how the limitations of magic would drive tech development. Interesting, thanks for the pointer. I’m aware of Eberron but haven’t ever played it.

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