The Limits of Control: On Magic, Mystery, and Human Ambition
What to expect from Issue Four: Arcana
Around the time that I started Soft Star Magazine back in August of last year, I decided that if I wanted to be the editor of a speculative fiction magazine, I should probably read more speculative fiction. I was an avid reader in childhood, but my fiction-reading habits dropped off when I entered higher education and I’ve been working on rebuilding them ever since. Over the last few months I’ve enjoyed speculative titles such as The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara. I also wanted to familiarize myself with the works of spec fic giant Ursula K. LeGuin, whose books I’d heard so much about but never read before. So, a few months ago, I visited my local used book store and picked up a paperback copy of A Wizard of Earthsea.
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Many Soft Star readers are likely already familiar with LeGuin’s body of work, but for those of you who aren’t, a quick summary: A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in LeGuin’s Earthsea series. It’s a fantasy novel which follows the coming-of-age of a young wizard named Ged and his travels across the archipelago where he makes his home. From the beginning of the book, LeGuin introduces wizardry in this world as an ability that is not always easy to control. A young Ged, serving as an apprentice to a mage on his home island of Gont, goes rifling through his master’s spellbooks and accidentally summons a dark, shadowy creature. Years later, while studying at a school of wizardry, Ged once again attempts magic outside of his abilities and releases another shadow creature from the land of the dead, which nearly kills him in a brutal attack. Throughout the remainder of the book, Ged must reckon with the existence of the creature he released, traveling Earthsea in an attempt to outpace it.
Ged is a powerful spellcaster, and he endures many years of arduous study in order to earn his staff and the title of wizard. Still, he is frequently reminded of the limits to his power, and his attempts to push those limits often result in dire consequences. This tension between ambition and limitation is at the heart of Issue Four: Arcana.
Magic is, in a general sense, what sets fantasy apart from other subgenres of speculative fiction. While the unknown forces and strange phenomena in science fiction can be, theoretically, explained by the laws of science, magic represents an even greater unknown. It is beyond science, beyond full human understanding. And just as humans can attempt to control and manipulate their environments through an understanding of technology or scientific principles, characters in fantasy stories often pursue this same motivation through the use of magic.
An important part of Soft Star’s ethos is curiosity about and reverence for the unknowns of the universe, and magic is a powerful symbol for these unknowns. The stories presented in this issue will explore the amazing will of humanity to understand our universe, as well as the limitations of that understanding. There will be stories of witchcraft and sorcery, poems about magical technology, reimagined fairy tales, and more.
I hope that this fantastical lens will help you, the readers, to consider your universe in a new light.
Until next time,
Soft Star Magazine is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I love these notes. The Sparrow is a long-time favorite. I've never read A Wizard of EarthSea. Maybe I will/should now. :)