Arthur C. Clarke once said that when technology becomes advanced enough, it’s no different from magic. This is certainly the case in my new science fiction romance, Ladder to the Red Star, a retelling of Jack and the beanstalk set three hundred years in the future. The hero, Jacques, must climb a space elevator to a space station floating high above planet Earth to find his fortune, and his otherworldly bride.
Space elevators have a long and illustrious history in science fiction, not least because they have a basis in science fact. A cable stretching between Earth and an orbiting space station is theoretically possible to build using technologies that exist today. A few centuries from now, such structures might actually exist. Interestingly, space elevators are often called ‘beanstalks’, even in scientific articles. Many people over the years have seen the parallels between this stunning futuristic concept of the elevator and the fable of the beanstalk inherited from the deep past.
And the space elevator is one of many symmetries of magic and science in my book, though the laws of physics that govern Jacques’ world are the same as the laws that govern our world. My characters have to deal with realistic changes of gravity between Earth and space, they can’t ‘beam’ here and there, and they don’t have light sabers. But there is a ‘golden egg’ datasphere containing the most valuable medical technology in the Solar system, and a ‘magic bean’ identification device to gain access to the elevator. Each of these artifacts is compatible with real life technology, which gives their mythic resonance a solid anchor in reality. In three hundred years, magic beans and golden eggs just might be ordinary objects, taken for granted like cars are today.
But giving magical items scientific pedigrees isn’t the primary thing that helps a reader believe in the world of the book. Readers suspend their disbelief as long as the emotions and motivations of the characters are authentic, and nothing is more authentic than a fairy tale. It reveals our fears and desires distilled down to their most elemental form. What makes my hero and heroine Jacques and Devi believable isn’t just the realistic scifi gadgets they use, but their timeless human drama of courage and love in the face of ruthless power. This is why classic fairy tales are still with us today and will be in the future—because no matter what fantastical objects may appear in the narrative, when it comes to human nature, the tales are always true.