Written by Ramona Wheeler
Three Princes is set in a world “where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire.” The alternate history genre is often associated with magic and mythology, and there is magic in this novel, although you might read to the end without noticing the swish of a wand, or a wizard lurking in the background. The magic is ancient Egyptian magic, a subtle and mysterious kind of power—the power that built the Pyramids.
There has always been a hunger in the world for great magicians. The past century has seen the rise of many: Lennon, King, Mandela, Obama… There is no explanation for the power and impact of these people. There is no logic in the faith of their followers. It is not about logic. It’s about magic.
Science and mythology both struggle to find the proper alignment between self and reality. Do you see the wind as the manifestation of an invisible presence, or that of an invisible force? Do you call it magic or magnetic? Absolute angles or absolute angels? In an old story, members of a primitive tribe were told that germs were creatures, too small to be seen, that got inside them and caused illness. They replied politely that the missionary had taught them not to believe in invisible demons anymore. Reality is not altered by vocabulary.
Levitation differs from flying only in the source of lift energy. Flight can be examined, explained and duplicated. Levitation cannot. Anyone can make a machine. The instructions for these are simple and direct—but how do you make a leader? An artist? A kind person? A psychotic? How do you make someone love you? How do you make someone vote?
Getting people to agree with each other is the most powerful magic we have.
Technology uses physical law to shape reality. True magic shapes behavior, beliefs, hopes or fears, to make people do something to change their world. Stage magicians who use sleight-of-hand trickery and con-men who use outright fraud have always pointed to the truth, that their real magic is the ability to make us believe we are witnessing physical law overcome by will power. The dismissal of their kind of magic as “merely psychological” is an attempt to defuse its awesome power. Humans are afraid of its reality, yet in the same gesture we yearn to control it. We do not elect leaders—rather, we elect “magicians,” who male us believe that they can overcome physical obstacles with political will power.
We are not so much thinking animals as we are feeling animals who can think. Medicine was the first science to acknowledge that some degree of magic is needed to make the technology work. Magic and technology, however, are as different, and as much alike, as differing orders of infinity. Technology is really very simple. True magic is so profoundly complex that those who use it best often have the least understanding of it. It is as subtle and as powerful as the difference between self-control and mob control. The magic of will power is difficult to master, but once under control it is the single most vital force on Earth, the highest magic. Even global famine created by the harsh realities of physical law can be averted by the magic of human cooperation. With enough of that magic, we could survive even the death of our Sun, but only if a powerful enough magician can make us cooperate.
Science and technology are needed to measure the reality of these changes, but only magic will make the “better angels of our nature” reach for the stars.
From the Tor/Forge February 3rd newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the February 3rd Tor/Forge newsletter:
- On Building a Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen
- Quotes from the End of the World by David Edison
- YA Grab Bag Sweepstakes