The Magic of Speculative Fiction
Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Fear drives people to do stupid things. I’d love to say we as a species have learned from our bloody history, but every time I glance at a news article I find strife—discrimination, political division, school shootings, social discontent—and I just want to scream, “Haven’t we gotten past this yet? Why can’t we all just get along?”
But of course, screaming at my monitor doesn’t accomplish anything.
Not only that, but talking about issues like religion, politics, sexual preference, or race is liable to alienate half my audience before I even get to the heart of the matter. So I created a world that was a mirror of our own but different enough that I could explore social issues and express my opinions without people immediately throwing up their comfort-bubble walls. That’s the magic of speculative fiction.
In my books, I made the primary divisive factor about species. Namely, humans vs. fae. Within these two major groups are smaller factions that bicker and scheme just like the people of Earth. A fae could belong to any one of the magical courts that train in particular skills, and could live in any of dozens of inter-connected realms, each ruled over by a different fae lord. A person who was born human might discover they have the rare practitioner gene that allows them to do magic, or might be turned into a werewolf or a vampire.
Each group has history with the others, and that history colors their interactions. Humans see werewolves as monsters. Werewolves see fae as evil. Fae see vampires as abominations. Vampires see humans as food. It’s these biased preconceptions that bring the Magicsmith world to the brink of tearing itself apart as every faction vies for power. To steer the world away from war, a balance must be found. But how can these groups ever interact as equals?
Enter my main character, Alex Blackwood. On the surface, Alex is about as average as a person can get. She’s a middle-class, moderately educated, fairly independent, white woman. The only ways in which she stands out at the beginning of the series are that she’s single and she has a predominantly masculine career—she’s a metalsmith. However, dig a little deeper and we find out she’s anything but average. Part fae, part sorcerer, but raised to believe she was entirely human, the Magicsmith series follows Alex as she grows through each revelation and struggles to understand what all these new labels mean.
For me, Alex embodies the idea of a global community, in which every aspect of her complex lineage plays a role and makes her a stronger person overall. Alex also acts as the focal point for bringing individuals from different groups together, causing them to interact and grow to understand one another. Without meaning to, Alex creates what she calls “a fundamental change on an individual level” among her friends and supporters. A feat she then tries to duplicate on a larger scale.
Throughout the book, Alex attempts to bring people together by sharing her vision for the future, but she meets resistance from every quarter as people set in their ways refuse to bend—because, let’s face it, changing minds and hearts is hard.
The big idea of this book is that all people are integral to the balance of our world, our society, and our species. The things that make us different are the things that make us strong. Like Alex, I hope to see a day when we can all just get along.
This post was originally published as a Big Idea feature on John Scalzi's Whatever blog.