Blake Charlton Performs Magic and Medicine on Episode 8 of The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

Illustration for article titled Blake Charlton Performs Magic and Medicine on Episode 8 of The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy

Blake Charlton, author of Spellwright, joins us to talk about fantasy, dyslexia, and medical school. Plus, Dave and John discuss magic and medicine in fiction.

The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy is hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley.

You can download the MP3 for this episode here, subscribe to The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast feed here, and browse other episodes here.


Read on for this episode's fabulous SHOW NOTES! (Note: Show note time signatures may be slightly off, as the show was re-edited prior to this rebroadcast—it's the director's cut! This episode originally aired on February 22, 2010, on


00:00 Introduction by

0:42 Dave and John introduce the show

Interview: Blake Charlton, author of Spellwright

01:35 Interview begins

01:47 Growing up dyslexic, and how SFF saved his education

05:53 On discovering writing while at Yale, a.k.a "Hogwart's with more beer."

08:17 About Blake's debut novel Spellwright

10:10 How the idea for Spellwright emerged from a rivalry in Biochemistry

14:08 The language of Blake's magic: constructs, textual extensions, and subtexts

16:57 Podcasts and audio books as legitimate forms of "reading"

18:18 The journey from medicine to noveling and back again

23:04 How medical school has influenced his writing, including his short story "Endosymbiont" (which you can find in John's Seeds of Change anthology


23:44 No, it's not a pseudonym

26:04 On asking a stranger who fouled him on the court exactly who he thinks he is and being told "Tad Williams"


28:42 Blake's other literary influences

29:33 End of interview

Dave and John geek out on the rules of magic and medical thrillers

29:43 Text-based games as learning tools

35:41 The Great Debate: should magic follow rules?

45:01 Dave poses a question that those burning Harry Potter books really should ask themselves


46:37 Interesting portrayals of magic in fiction: Illusion by Paula Volsky; Robert Asprin's Myth series; Star Wars; The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny; Jeremiah Tolbert's short story "Captain Blood's B00ty"; The Magicians by Lev Grossman

56:27 Medicine in science fiction and medical thrillers: Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook; The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer; the Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell; James White's The Sector General series; S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series


01:00:18 The problem of the "big twist' in mystery and science fiction: Jack McDevitt's Omega series

01:02:26 Storytelling as a tribal social endeavor vs. a solitary pursuit, and why you should get out to readings more!


01:06:40 Show wrap-up: have you posted a comment on yet? Tell us what you think!
Next week: Carrie Vaughn, author of the best-selling Kitty Norville series

Thanks for listening!

Illustration for article titled Blake Charlton Performs Magic and Medicine on Episode 8 of The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy

John Joseph Adams is an anthologist, a writer, and a geek. He is the bestselling editor of the anthologies Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Way of the Wizard, and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Forthcoming anthologies include Armored (Baen, 2012) and The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination (Tor, 2012). He is a 2011 Hugo Award-nominee for Best Editor (Short Form), his books have been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and he has been called "the reigning king of the anthology world" by Barnes & He is also the editor of Lightspeed Magazine and Fantasy Magazine. Find him on Twitter @johnjosephadams.

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

David Barr Kirtley has published fiction in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Lightspeed,Intergalactic Medicine Show, On Spec, and Cicada, and in anthologies such as New Voices in Science Fiction,Fantasy: The Best of the Year, and The Dragon Done It. Recently he's contributed stories to several of John's anthologies, including The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, and The Way of the Wizard. He's attended numerous writing workshops, including Clarion, Odyssey, Viable Paradise, James Gunn's Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and Orson Scott Card's Writers Bootcamp, and he holds an MFA in screenwriting and fiction from the University of Southern California. He also teaches regularly at Alpha, a Pittsburgh-area science fiction workshop for young writers. He lives in New York.

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Purple Dave

Regarding unusual magic systems, here are a few that I've found interesting over the years:

David Farland's Runelords series, where there are two types of magic. There's elemental magic, but each element works very differently. Fire mages are literally consumed by the use of their magic until they are more forces of nature than people. Earthwardens, on the other hand, don't just choose to be mages, but are born to the task of protecting some specific thing. The other type of magic is rune magic, where a special ore can be used to forge magic branding irons. These are single-use devices that can be used to transfer some form of vitality from one person to another. So, you can donate your strength to another person, or take someone else's intelligence. The limitations are that any one person can only donate one "virtue" this way, and once that has happened they are unable to do so ever again. The only way to undue this is for either the donor or recipient to die, so powerful Runelords have very clear incentive to safeguard their hordes of donors so they can't be killed en masse. And some virtues, like metabolism, can actually be harmful. While taking on lots of metabolism can make you rival The Flash in terms of speed, you are essentially living your life in fast forward. Take one person's metabolism and you'll cut the remainder of your life in half. Take seven, and the dog you've had since you were a child might outlive you.

C.S. Friedman also has a few rather interesting magic systems. The first one comes from the Coldfire trilogy, where humans colonized an alien world filled with a psionic sentience that enabled their every thought to come true. Over time, through the acts of various people, limitations have been imposed upon access to magic, such as requiring some sort of personal sacrifice to cast powerful spells. There's a sort of inflation involved with these sacrifices as well. If I burn one dollar to cast a spell, that could work indefinitely. But if you start burning five dollars every time you cast the same spell, eventually five dollars could be the minimum required.

Her second magic system is from the as-yet-unfinished Magister trilogy, where the only way to fuel magic is to burn off part of your own soul. The more you do this, the earlier you will die. However, a group of mages figured out that if when your soul is burnt to embers, you can latch onto another random soul and siphon off part of that to serve as your own. Burn that one to nothing, and while that person will die prematurely, you can just grab another soul to fuel your life and magic. In this way, the Magisters become not only very powerful, but extremely casual in their use of magic in a way that hedgewizards simply cannot afford to. They also become very conscious of their eventual mortality. As a result, they've imposed a strict set of rules on themselves. Chief among them are that you do not reveal the nature of a Magister to anyone who is not a Magister (if anyone knew how they power their spells, they would be hunted down and killed), but also high on the list is that Magisters do not combat each other directly. Having potentially unlimited lifespan, they do have to deal with boredom, so what they've used to fill that boredom is manipulating the mundane populace against each other, like pawns on a world-spanning chess board.

Another great magic system is from Dave Duncan's Great Game trilogy. In this, parallel worlds exist that can be entered by using rituals on certain nodes. On your home plane you are just a normal person, but as long as you are in any parallel plane you have access to magic. Simply being there means you will soak up a tiny amount each day, but to get large amounts you need a way to harvest it from the native populace. The easiest way to do this is to set yourself up as a god or spirit and get the natives to worship you as such. Combat between two non-natives would not be waged with spells, but would be reduced to whichever has the most mana saved up sucking the other person's mana store dry, leaving them unable to defend themself against even a simply spell. Since there is no way to tell if which of any two people has more mana without actively challenging each other, nobody wants to actually fight each other directly, and everyone tries to hoard their mana as much as possible (spend it too freely and others may think you're a weak enough target that they can harvest your remaining supply with impunity). So non-natives generally devote their time to trying to gathering as much mana as efficiently as possible (one individual points out that if you are a god of healing and you heal every tiny ailment that's presented to you, your followers will treat it as a guaranteed right instead of a divine gift, so you'll spend far more mana than you'll collect in response, but if you only heal one hard-case ailment in a very showy manner once each year, you'll reap huge rewards for only expending a comparably small amount of mana), and manipulating the political landscape against each other...largely with the intent of gathering as much mana as efficiently as possible (cause one god to be disgraced, and you may be able to convert some of their followers, allowing you to harvest mana from them).