Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws :
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Steampunk is a literary genre that doesn’t mind a dash of fantasy mixed in with its Science! The best example of genre this would be the Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor, who also wrote two Science & Magic Steampunk books around his characters, the Extraordinaires. There is no reason as to why you can’t have a mix of both scientists and magicians in a Steampunk setting.
So, how does magic work in a Steampunk setting? Well, you can work it two ways. You can either make the magic so outrageous without any rhyme or reason, for an Absurdist literary take on magic. Personally, I prefer the other extreme, where the laws of magic are just as ‘logical’ and ‘rational’ as the laws of physics. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld runs on this kind of magic; when a man is turned into a frog, conservation of mass means that there is a balloon of extra matter floating bout the ceiling. Magic takes work, effort and training, as well as a modicum of natural talent (though that never slowed down Granny Weatherwax). I’m using Discworld as an example because Raising Steam is most certainly a Steampunk narrative, and several of the other novels certainly overlap the Fantasy and Steampunk literary genres.
Rational magic works in a Steampunk setting because it still conforms to rules. And – if you reread the quote that introduced this article – you can see why magic and science are easily confused by the ignorant or mechanically naive. After all, do you really know what makes a television work? For all you know, it could be magic…