What Do I Do With Technology In My Fantasy Universe?

Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

I am writing a fantasy novel. And yes, there will be castles! But my quandary at the moment is less with castles and more with technology.

The technology I am most specifically referring to is technology as defined by dictionary.com in it’s fifth definition, which reads:

the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

I know what I don’t want in my world. No vehicles, no cell phones (or telephones in general), and absolutely no computers. So, as a means of transportation and communication, these devices are out. Which means I have to come up with, or use, alternative modes.

I don’t want firearms, mostly because I want them to kill each other with swords and blades and axes. You know, as you do.

There will be no microwaves or other modern food devices (no Keurigs!). Which will have an effect on mealtimes, and eating while traveling. I’m going back and forth about using ovens ( a more early form) and ice boxes in lieu of fridges. Also, is running water and plumbing completely out in a world that does not yet have cars? Lamps? Maybe.

I know what I don’t want in my world, but neither do I want my fantasy world to be firmly entrenched in the usual medieval milieu. And while I am intrigued by aspects of the medieval setting and society, I don’t want to make it the entire world of my setting. I feel like a lot of fantasy writers veer more toward the medieval setting because that is what most fantasy worlds are set in.

In the last few decades or so, that has expanded, but even in the expansion, the settings as defined by what technology exists are clearly cordoned off into their own sub genres.

Urban Fantasy usually has a setting with modern, recognizable technology in a large city or urban area. I wonder if you set a story within this setting in the country, would it still count as urban fantasy? Of course, there isn’t (to my knowledge) a defined genre term for modern technological fantasy settings with close similarities to our world that aren’t in a large city.

Also, I feel like a lot of fantasy-esque stories that are in modern settings that are not our world (as we know it) get moved over into the science-fiction genre.

Then there is steam-punk, which has a clearly defined historical setting, as well as a clearly defined type of technology, such as automatons and airships (similar to blimps).

Another common trope in fantasy is that technology is often magic-powered or influenced by magic, which is not a thing that is happening in my fantasy world at all.

There are powers, and abilities that are not normal to humans, but not necessarily anything I would call magic per se. Which means magical driven technology is out.

So, I am stuck with the normal physics and science of the natural world. Which is cool and interesting in and of itself, but I am having a hard time finding writer resources within the fantasy genre that talk about using a more early form of technology without magic in a fantasy setting. I am also having a difficult time figuring out which technologies can exist without having to include others I would prefer not have an impact on the story.

Any recommendations?

Articles, journals, essays, books, blog posts, anything would be helpful. Also, I am interested in further discussions about the nature of setting in fantasy, and how little or much technology plays a role in fantasy in general.

And to end on a provocative note: must magic be such a defining force in fantasy as we know it? Have we limited ourselves in what fantasy we write and read by making magic such a large part of fantasy as a whole? What would fantasy be, to you, without magic, or less magic?

Let me know in the comments!

Here are some resources I did find.

While I didn’t find a lot of information that would help me with my specific quandary, I did find some interesting resources and discussions on technology in fantasy.

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