Third and last in the series of posts outlining the world-building elements and fantasy/science fiction elements in my fiction series, I’ll deal today with The Star Mages, which is the oldest of the three series, the first book (The Stairway to Nowhere) having been published in 2010.
The Star Mages is contemporary or near-future fantasy. The story covers the time from about the 2050s through a hundred years later. It isn’t really science fiction, however, because the developments in technology and the societal changes resulting from them are peripheral to the story rather than central. The story follows the lives and conflicts of the Star Mages, Crystal Mages, and Sword Mages, and of the Star, Crystal, and Sword themselves, involving a lot of magic, spiritual evolution and musings, and moral questions and those of personal development. It’s got a futuristic setting, but The Star Mages is decidedly fantasy, not SF.
On top of the real-world base, the series erects an involved fantasy structure with really awesome magical powers, non-human intelligences, travel to fantasy universes, and just about anything my imagination could concoct and make consistent and intelligible. I pulled out more stops with this series than I did with the other two.
The magic in The Star Mages starts with real-world occult magic, based on alteration of probability. Normally, magic users can affect probabilities only at the macroscopic level, but if it were possible to impact probability at the level of molecular motion or quantum indeterminacy, much more impressive effects could be produced. This is “deep tier magic.” One of the main characters theorizes that deep tier magic isn’t normally possible because it’s not safe, as a human being with a death wish or other unconscious destructive tendencies could destroy the world with it. My Star Mages, Crystal Mages, and Sword Mages are able to do that, assisted and empowered by one of the three deep-tier talismans, sentient magical objects that give them limited use of the power while preventing annihilation. The talismans also deny the mages any use of deep-tier power which would be noticed by the general world — the powers can only be used secretly.
Deep-tier mages can do magic from fairy tales. They can change shape, heal injuries instantly, make themselves invisible, summon and channel great creative and destructive energies, move things with their minds, and generally act like demigods. The power keeps them from aging as well, so they are immortal in the sense of not growing old and dying a natural death, although they can still be slain.
The Background Realm
One of the important aspects of deep-tier magic is the ability to enter the “Astral Plane” or world of imagination in the flesh. A deep-tier mage can open a portal into this alternate world and step through it, moving into a fantasy realm. The deep-tier mages call this entering the “background realm.” A lot of the action in The Star Mages takes place in the background realm rather than in physical reality.
Deep-tier mages can practice a kind of teleportation using the background realm. Entry into the background realm always starts in a replica of the physical location where the entry takes place. Then the mage can instantly transport himself to a different background location, and if that location exactly resembles another physical-world location the mage can then step from background to the corresponding part of the physical world. So a deep-tier mage could enter background in New York, jump to a replica in background of a location in Paris, and then step out into the real-world Paris, all in about a second of travel time. That entry into or exit from the background realm must take place in a background location resembling a corresponding part of the real world is the only real limitation on the process, and provides a plot device in The Stairway to Nowhere.
The background realm isn’t just a replica of the physical world, though. From that starting point, mages can transport themselves to wildly imaginative worlds of fantasy, and do.
Two deep-tier talismans exist at the beginning of the story, and a third comes into being at the end of volume one. The oldest of the three is the Star, made from a meteorite some 6000 years in the past. Next is the Crystal, made from a large piece of blood-red quartz, created about 1000 years after the Star. The third is the Sword, which is created by the main antagonists over the course of the first book in the trilogy, and becomes itself the main antagonist of the second and third volumes.
Each of the talismans operates in the same way in terms of magical mechanics, but has a distinct personality. The Star is idealistic and progressive and has shaped human history over the centuries, aiming to create a utopia. The Crystal is ruthless and amoral, its adepts acting in pure selfishness. The conflict between them seems intractable, but proves to be an illusion, and the two are actually working together to achieve the Star’s goals — which may not be quite what it has told the Star Mages.
The third talisman, the Sword, was created by the antagonists in Stairway to get around the secrecy restrictions imposed by the Star and the Crystal. The power of the Sword could be used openly, or so the antagonists intended. In personality, the Sword emerged much like the Crystal, but without the Crystal’s hidden Star-friendly agenda; it is a genuine antagonist for the Star and the Star Mages.
The Golden Game
Running through the trilogy is the concept of the Golden Game, which is also the title of the third volume. The Golden Game is a struggle between love and power, played out on an interstellar scale. Spirits like the ones inhabiting the Star and the Sword take over the evolution of worlds, and a conflict happens between worlds oriented to the Star’s path or the Sword’s. But the Golden Game is itself a mask for a deeper cosmic conflict between creation and ending, represented by the Big Bang and the final heat death of the cosmos. The immensity of the conflict and its layers and layers of hidden aspects and meanings impact much of the action in The Star Mages and the struggles of the characters.