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Of course, my question isn't about the existence of magic. It's about coherence of the story.

Imagine two neighbouring countries. One of them resembles our society – it's science based, no magic, people have what we would consider 'rational' thinking. The society priors education, but they also have developed art, economy, military defense mechanisms, etc.

The second bordering country is completely different. It is a feudal society, with technology set back decades. And in that world, 'magic' exists. The magic ranges in a wide domain. Some people are very powerful, they can use telekinesis on long distance, control weather, control chemical reactions in their bodies, etc. Others are much weaker, they can only manipulate things in a very short radius. Most cannot use magic, but that a minority can is accepted and is seen rather than a virtue than as a fault – so no witch burnings. The majority of the population, even though they cannot perform magic, is in any case passively adapted to its existence – for example, if air temperature drops drastically they would survive for longer than biologically possible, or they can tell whether the water is contaminated by the sight, etc. (I am actually trying to find some sort of sci-fi explanation for this magic, but that is off topic. The actual nature of magic is irrelevant to the question).

My question is, would this scenario be possible? This separation of societies. The two countries are separated by a mountain barrier, so there is no – or close to none – interaction between the folk. Would it be possible for two close countries to have evolved this way, completely isolated from each other and having completely different laws of nature? Would the two populations be considered the same species? They obviously had a common ancestor, so would it be possible for one people to develop the 'magic' ability without the other one doing so?

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This sounds a lot like Piers Anthony's Xanth universe. You might want to check it out to see how he handles similar things. – Jonathan van Clute Jan 31 at 20:55
Also, check the movie Stardust... this makes me think of it: – WernerCD Feb 1 at 0:53
Or see Mercedes Lackey's 'Valdemar' books, in which a powerful magician centuries ago blocked the use of magic within the country. – jamesqf Feb 1 at 0:57
To add to the list, Zelazny's "Jack of Shadows" – fjarri Feb 1 at 3:32
Is magical ability a matter of bloodlines, training, or location? – Beta Feb 1 at 8:27

18 Answers 18

Garth Nix's Abhorsen series is set in such a world and it is very believable. I'm sure you don't want yours to be too similar, but here's the gist:

The two countries are separated by a large wall, not a mountain range. South of the wall, magic gets less effective, and it is entirely ineffective in most of the civilized regions of the southern nation unless there is some sort of incursion by a powerful magical being. Most of the machines of the south are not as effective where magic is effective.

The magic is powered by the 'Charter' which is a joint effort by a group of godlike free magic spirits, and the power is stored in various artifacts in the northern region including the wall itself. This is why the magic is in the north and not the south, basically.

The southern nation views the northern one as a third world country, not as a different species. The common citizen of the south does not believe in magic, having never seen it themselves, and thinks the northern kingdom is full of superstitious bumpkins. They are more concerned with other mundane nations. The north does not allow southerners through the wall, and both populations generally prefer to stay on their own sides.

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If I remember correctly, the southern nation does not even officially recognize the existence of the northern kingdom. So yeah, completely separated societies. – Oriol Jan 31 at 23:39
+1 was going to post about this book exactly. It's a very good read. It's relevant to note though that Magic still worked in the south but it was much weaker. As opposed to OP's suggestion that sounds like Magic is 100% non existent in "ScienceLand" – Muuski Feb 1 at 14:53
I also wrote a story for a video game I was planning on making several decades ago that had a similar design (without having read Garth Nix, either). I think the theme is a more or less common idea in many fantasy settings, actually. – phyrfox Feb 1 at 17:12
What if the northern nation was the only neighbour, that was impossible to ignore? In my case it would be a very reckless move not to recognise a powerful nation, that for all you know has the capacity to destroy you. – L.R. Feb 1 at 21:09

Actually nature of magic is very relevant to the question.

Your setting corresponds to the "rational" realm not having useable magic, while in the "fantasy" realm the ability of the social elite to use magic has retarded technological and social progress. Which is realistic, by the way. Innovations are adopted because they are needed, if the social elite has magic boosting its abilities many innovations in our world would have been unnecessary. And this does apply to changes to government. Nobility with telepathy and communication magic would govern a lot more efficiently than their counterparts in our world or in the "rational" realm.

As for possible reasons for one realm not having useable magic while other realms do:

No power

Magical and even psionic effects are generally powered by external power, either a specific source or ambient magic, often called mana. If an area has no specific power sources and has a level of ambient magic low enough that only the most powerful magic user can do anything, that will give the general effect you want. In stories this typically is a result of some magical disaster or war consuming the local magic to the point where it will take centuries or even millennia to recover. It can also be an ongoing drain effect by some external power or a blockage in the natural flow of mana caused by causes natural or artificial. You mention mountains, maybe mountains block the flow of magic?

No activation

It is impossible or nearly so to bring the magical power in a form that can be used. This could be an interdiction by a god or powerful spell or a strong and persistent turbulence in the flow of magic. In this scenario magicians trained elsewhere could carry talismans that stabilize the magic or exempt them from the interdiction and cause a rude surprise to the locals. A powerful enough magician might have a personal aura powerful enough to exempt him.

No control

Similar to the above, but the issue is in controlling the effect not in making it happen. This would still make magic impossible to learn, but a skilled mage trained elsewhere might have enough control to use magic. This could make potential mages dangerous to be around and cause natural selection away from magical talent.

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Most of the answers seem to focus on giving some mechanism by which magic doesn't work in the technological country. No such mechanism is needed: culture is enough.

Just consider guns in our own world. Every country has the ability to obtain guns, either by making or buying them. Yet, in some countries, many people have guns but, in other countries, essentially nobody except the military and police have guns. Quite often, in the countries where many civilians own guns, many people have an unshakable belief that owning guns is absolutely necessary to having a functional society and they cannot comprehend how a society could possibly function without them. In the countries where few civilians own guns, many people have an unshakable belief that banning guns is absolutely necessary to having a functional society and they cannot comprehend how a society could possibly function with them.

Now, replace guns with magic. There's a slight difference in that societies with few guns still have armed police, militaries and some civilian use of guns (e.g., sport, rural pest control, perhaps hunting), whereas you're talking about a society with no magic at all. One way to explain that is to argue that the police and military simply don't need to use magic – shooting firebolts at somebody isn't so useful if you can just shoot bullets. Another possibility would be that the government security services and maybe special forces use magic but this is largely hidden from the population or accepted by them in the same way that people in societies with few guns accept that the police and military need guns.

By the way, what does seem infeasible about your set-up is not that one of these countries uses magic and the other one doesn't, but that they have such huge disparity of economic, social and technological development, despite being so close together.

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It is true that such a scenario seems counter-intuitive. This is why I am searching for a reason for them to be so hostile to each other, which would probably take root in their fundamental, physical differences. – L.R. Feb 1 at 21:16
@L.R. One possibility is that people from the magical country don't want to visit the no-magic country because suppressing magic is suppressing personal freedom. People from the no-magic country don't want to visit the magical country because they've heard it's full of people shooting firebolts at each other, which isn't safe. (Again, similar arguments to pro-gun, anti-gun.) – David Richerby Feb 1 at 22:15

Yes. The most rational way is if raw magic is a substance associated with certain rare minerals and exploitable by people with certain rare inherited traits after careful training.

The magical country sits atop rich seams of raw magic and has a magically inclined population. The other one doesn't. The population thing may be Darwinian: if someone lacking the genetic traits ( and/or training) is tempted to experiment in a high magical field, it is usually fatal to him.

I'm tempted by the "cannot use magic on iron" trope. Maybe the non magical country sits atop ironstone which protects it from magical attack and means that it's found its way to an industrial revolution. The magical country has no good iron ore. Hence trade not war. And of course, mages make appallingly bad technologists. They expect to magically impose their will on matter, not to carefully observe matter to see how it would like to be of assistance. Put like that, maybe the non magical country is actually home to a different, subtle sort of magic.

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Actually, the point is that there is no trade, no war either but certainly a very hostile silence. This is what worries the 'normal' land, that regardless of the technological setback the 'fantasy' land it is completely autonomous, and there is nothing holding it back from attacking on will. The fantasy land on the other hand has its own magic defenses. But the idea of raw material is interesting. – L.R. Jan 31 at 20:17
Ok so there's some reason preventing trade. If magic won't work on Iron and the non-magic country is skilled at using it, then that can be sufficient defense against magical attack if you write the rules that way. – nigel222 Jan 31 at 20:24

From a sociopolitical point of view, it is possible - look at pre-Perry Japan, being for 2 centuries in almost complete isolation (surrounded by sea, which is quite more amenable to trade than a mountain range). At the beginning of their seclusion, they were technologically quite comparable to "the west", only very slightly behind. Then they lagged behind, one can say by rejecting western influence, science, technology and contacts.

To some extent, this also applies to 19th century China, but they were not as isolated and western powers kept meddling.

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This is actually a good analogy. Both Japan and the fantasy country are separated by natural barriers, and are (were) passively hostile towards their neighbours. I'll be keeping this in mind, thanks. – L.R. Jan 31 at 20:07

Depending on where you want to go with this story, I would try a divine-intervention angle.

In a time long before anyone can remember, one people blessed by the Gods, another cursed. One ruled by the rational, the other by the arcane...

From your descriptions, it is entirely ambiguous which is blessed and which is cursed. If you leave it that way deliberately, it can make an interesting twist for your readers to contemplate.

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Actually, I am trying to keep God out of this as much as possible. That universe is very different from ours, but it still has its own laws. If God does exist in that universe, he is no more present in it as he is in ours. – L.R. Jan 31 at 20:04
The God doesn't have to exist. The legend can be just a story in a story but it is a nice twist either way. – nigel222 Jan 31 at 20:30

The problem with magic and technology coexisting is that technology is so painfully fragile. Any gas tank is a fire ball waiting to happen. Any fast spinning engine can be easily destroyed by a very small and undetectable spell. And so on.

In one county, incidents like this has lead to a witch hunt and any mages has either been killed or fled to the other country.

In the other country mages hold power and have suppressed any technological development since they see where that sort of thing leads.

The two countries are not likely to be on good terms. A war between them could turn very ugly.

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This answer was inspired by the Windrose trilogy by Barbra Hambly. In those books there are not separate countries, but wizards are treading very very carefully to avoid the witch hunt. – Stig Hemmer Feb 1 at 10:41

I figure you have two broad options: one country gains magic or one loses it. They don't have to start with either magic or technology, perhaps they develop side by side.

Anyway, here are some ideas....

Gaining Magic

Given that you have expressed a desire for magic to be explained scientifically, having one side of an age-old conflict develop a technology that appears the same as magic would perhaps explain why both sides don't possess it. Only those inducted into the control mechanism of the magic can leverage it in any way. Perhaps there is an implant or imprinting that is required before they can access the magic.

Depending on how high tech you want the world to be at the time of your story you could have the advent of magic result in a near-apocalyptic war between the two nations, resulting in both being essentially beaten back to the stone age. The technology behind the 'magic' survives an enough people who know how to use it maintain the ability for the country as a whole.

Or perhaps the ability to use magic is gained as a mutation in a single genetic lineage. Genetic markers are another mainstay of magic use in a variety of SF&F, from the Comyn of Darkover to the Scions of Shannara. Specific genetics could translate to physical structures allowing one group to access magical energies and perform feats of magic that others cannot duplicate, with an obvious survival advantage making the gene more likely to spread. Users of magic might be ostracized and driven out, eventually forcing them to flee to their own country where they can practice their magic in peace.

Losing Magic

This one gives you lots of room to play with. Assume that everyone has the ability to use magic at some point, now all you need is for one group to be somehow cut off from that ability.

For a technological magic there could be any number of ways that one group could be cut off, from the institution of security controls to the destruction of interfaces, perhaps even some sort of genetic key that someone must possess before they will be accepted by the technology (such as the Ancient gene in Stargate).

The use of magic might be restricted to a small segment of society - reserved for royalty or a priest class for instance - which is eventually corrupted to the point that they are overthrown by the peasant class. Everyone would potentially retain the ability to do some small magic, but none would have the training or ability to perform great feats of magic after potentially many generations of being forced not to.

Or perhaps the church decides that all magic is wicked and actively suppresses it wherever it is found, resulting in all magic use being stamped out in the area controlled by the church. Given enough time and strict enough suppression of magic, the whole area would be essentially devoid of anyone able to use magic.

Some (not particularly original) ideas on Tech Magery

Whether you're the Ship Who Won finding a world full of mentally-controlled alien machinery (and the humans who have stolen it from the rightful owners), a shaman in ADF's Cyber Way or a resident of the Well World technology as magic is far from a new idea.

Here are a few concepts that I've seen done with varying degrees of success:

  1. Magic is a byproduct of alien technology that was intended for some other purpose but hijacked by humanity for selfish use, or subtly altered from its original purpose to serve as a font of power for certain people. (The aforementioned Ship who Won for instance.)

  2. Science discovers that the universe is simply information and that it is possible to directly modify that information, sometimes only briefly, to produce some interesting effects. (The Ship of the Law from Anvil of Stars uses this.)

  3. The world that the story portrays is a computer simulation running on some super computer, and all the people are simply unaware of this. Magic is what you get when you manage to get some control over the simulation. (You know, like the Matrix.)

  4. A super-powerful computer (possibly the entire world) that is able to manifest physical-seeming fields of force (Holodeck-style) that are used to simulate the effects of magic. (Markovian ruins in the Well World saga, or the computer in Cyber Way.)

  5. The universe is actually a projection maintained by a computer. Rather than being a simulation the computer is warping reality with its power. Interfacing in some way with the universe's control center gives you anything up to god-like power. (Especially if you're Nathan Brazil)

  6. Engineered nano-machines allow anyone with the right mental keys to order them to do things, but nobody remembers that it's tech based or that the nano-machines even exist. The nano-machines have limited power but there are a lot of them, in everything, and they are quite happy to use your mitochondria as a power source, so don't draw too heavily. (Read Spell of Catastrophe for this one.)

  7. Magic is simply latent human psi amplified by some suitable device, be it a Darkovan star-stone or some other technological psi amplifier. I'd say that the Tower and the Hive stories qualify here, although the amplification is actually done by the psi users themselves by drawing on electrical power, and they don't call it magic, but let's not quibble. (The device in The Forbidden Planet perhaps?)

  8. Probability mechanics allows humans to manipulate reality in magical ways by changing the odds of things happening. By altering the odds of really bizarre things happening in a very small area and with just the right impetus you could cause any magical effect you can think of to become 100% likely to happen. Of course you'd need a computer the size of Jupiter to get all the calculations down just right. (Watch out for spontaneous Sperm Whales.)

  9. Finally, the catch-all: It's science, but it's so advanced that I can't even begin to describe how it works. Just take my word for it, it's science, not magic. Honest. (If you can't find an example of this, you're not looking hard enough. Try Rama, or the Xeelee Sequence, or pretty much all of Known Space.)

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Magic works the way the author wants it to. So I am just going to answer the non-magical question. I understand it to be is it possible to have two culture that is geographically very close but does not interact.

I give you the Anglo community of Gibraltar they live at the tip of Spain and get most of their food from England. They have one road that goes to Spain and you have to cross the airstrip to use that.

So my answer is no problem.

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Are you sure Gibraltar gets most of its food from England? I mean, sure, it's inconvenient to have to use that one road and cross the airstrip and all that. But England's a thousand miles away and that sounds way more inconvenient, to me. – David Richerby Jan 31 at 22:52

To maintain separate countries even with a barrier, you'd need the magic to be militarily equivalent to the technology. This isn't traditionally the case, against a low tech society magic is normally dominant. The wider distribution of technology would later make the high tech society dominant.

Don't forget armies with elephants have been marched over mountain barriers, people will cross back and forth, no matter how hard. Add magical supply lines and crossing the mountains isn't so hard, two thousand years later and the bombers make light work of the same mountains.

You could say that the magic interferes with the technology and vice versa. Too much magic and your experiments come out wrong, technology can't develop. Too much electromagnetic noise from technology and you can't focus on the magic. Since the two cultures went in different directions from the start they now can't switch over. High availability of magic tends to make technological development redundant anyway, why develop a machine when you can wave a hand. Technology for us is also driven by the needs and wants of the middle classes, a feudal society wouldn't have that drive. Why develop the microwave when you have serfs and servants?

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In my case, the defenses of the magic kingdom are actually stronger that the technological one. It is the magic folk that is imposing isolation on its neighbour, those ones would be willing to come into contact. But they cannot, because even though their technology is so developped the same laws of nature do not apply across the mountain border (electromagnetic waves are diffused differently, etc.). The magic people could probably attack by their own means, but for time being they are neutral as long, as they are left alone. – L.R. Feb 1 at 21:24
@L.R. You'd have to give a solid reason for them to remain neutral, historically it's almost unheard of for the stronger power to not invade the weaker one. Remembering that one of the greatest resources in feudal cultures was simply farmland. – Separatrix Feb 2 at 10:54
Yes, that is true. On this thread there are some historical examples, for instance Japan up until the 19th century. In my case, i guess that even if magic beats non-magic, they still wouldn't want to experiment with a nuclear war. So it's more of a cold war situation. – L.R. Feb 3 at 9:22
Maybe by attacking, they would consume so much magic power that despite winning the war, in the long run they'd lose. – celtschk Jun 18 at 11:18

First, in order to answer your question, I'll have to assume out the most generic differences between magic and technology:

  1. Unlike technology, magic contains an unavoidable personal component. This means that you can never guarantee obtaining exactly the same results. If that were untrue, there wouldn't be any real distinction from magic and technology. In generic settings, that personal component is significant.
  2. Even well-developed magic is more dangerous than developed technology. Using magic is akin to using a raw tool with most safeties stripped off. Because you can't have pre-engineered, tested and fool-proof magic safeties for the aforementioned personal component.
  3. Magic is inherently unequal. In your case, this is stated outright.

What if the matter of using magic is not one of ability, but that of morality?

Magic has a price Suppose that the magic requires some sort of sacrifice, or simply can go out of control and harm others. In a feudal society, where inequality is great and life expectancy is low, magic can be seen simply yet another tool with unfortunate but acceptable side effects, like alchemy was in our Middle Ages. On the other hand, in a society with more modern views on personal rights, and where people tend to live to old-old age, something so reckless as using magic can be seen as the most amoral and asocial behaviour, akin to suicide bombing and drone strikes. Any safety inspector that catches a slightest whiff of magic arrests the one responsible at once.

Magic requires indoctrination On the other hand, what if to be successfully used, magic required immense training from the childhood and unwavering control? A feudal society has no trouble with imposing pre-determined roles from the first years of life, and people would have no qualms about making a child train 16 hours a day and turning into a drone whose only purpose is to cast magic. On the other hand, an ideal modern society would stop a child from overexerting herself, and maybe if you don't train hard enough in first 5-6 years of life, you lose your magic abilities and can't return them with no amount of practice later.

Magic is seen as unfair What if the first country had its magic users in the past, but lost them? Maybe a revolution that led to the current society was organised by the not-haves, and now that they are in control they can ensure that everyone plays fair and with no weird focuses, say, by dispersing an anti-magic reagent in water supplies.

Since there seem to be a miscommunication about what is 'magic' and what is 'science', I'll elaborate a bit on that.

In the above answer I've assumed (I guess wrongly) that you are opposing magic and science. That is, that your magic is not subject to scientific method. If that is untrue, then 'magic' isn't really magic, it is simply a yet unknown law of nature, that can be studied. Societies do not possess "different laws of nature", but you can make one area subject to some phenomena that is unobservable in the first country. It can be some sort of Unobtainium radiation, or whatever you want, it can even modify living tissues giving 'magic' abilities and adaptation (like Mass Effect biotics).

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I wouldn't be so sure about the personal component. The use of magic would be the ability to perform actions that connot be described by science, even seemingly contradictory to science - teleportation, for example. But that does not necessarily mean that same actions won't lead to the same results. In the Harry Potter universe, the use of magic follows a code, the spells they learn. Now yes, in that universe there exists a personal factor, but it's not obligatory. – L.R. Feb 3 at 9:18
I've read Harry Potter long time ago, but I seem to recall a great number of occasions, when characters would frantically repeat same words and gestures time and time again, yet failing until they reached a right state of mind, imagined the right thing or whatever. For example, the Patronicus spell, IIRC, wasn't working right till he actually needed it. Because as soon as actions can be repeated by repeating only the words or whatever else, those actions become an object of science. If current science doesn't have the proper theory yet, it doesn't mean that hot superconductors are magic. – Alice Feb 4 at 15:17
Yes, definitely, there is a personal factor in Harry Potter. And I see what you mean. This was why I put the 'magic' in quotation marks in the title. What I actually meant was that actions performed by magicians seem completely counter-intuitive to the scientists. Then again, who is to say there is no reasonable explanation to Harry Potter? After all, though it is based on emotions, there is a clear correlation: The happier you are, the better your Patronus. Depends on your dopamine level. This way any magical universe can be explained with scientific notions. – L.R. Feb 4 at 17:50
Okay, I guess I misunderstood, sorry for that, edited answer to incorporate that. However, the three moral reasons provided could still work. – Alice Feb 5 at 15:56

Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series makes magical ability mostly a matter of genetics, then adds a religious proscription in one country (but not its neighbors) which drives the magic-capable population out or underground.

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The questions are then: Would an anti-magic theocracy develop technology? Why would the magic embracing countries proscribe it? – Graham Kemp Feb 1 at 8:02
In Kurtz's world both magic and non-magic cultures are developing technology at about the same rate. Not everyone can use magic; anyone can use a mechanical or chemical tool. – keshlam Feb 1 at 14:24

In a french cross-media universe (with books, series and films: search Neogicia) there is that kind of separation. Here is how it has been done :

  • Magic is available to everyone with inequalities (some are gifted, other are not, you re not always taught to use magic)
  • Magic is extremely powerful and the users not always clever (likely to blow things up while fighting each other)
  • One day some magic users "accidentally" blow up someone's family, this someone happens to be upset about that and willing to spend his near unlimited-inherited resources and his whole life to exterminate what made him an orphan
  • "wait but MAGIC is responsible for my beloved death so I shall destroy magic!"
  • "but how do I destroy something that can turns me into a human torch from a 1 mile range?" technology was born
  • the guy start to build a lab and push science forward, more and more people get interested in this utopia of world without magic, after some generations technology has evolved at an exponential rate, ultimately leaving it able to compete with magic. A city is built around the lab, one you can see in sci-fi novels. At the same time the guy's great great great grandson finally find a "cure to magic" able to remove someone's bonds to the spiritual plane (if this person wants to). While giving them some psy power and ability to use advanced tech
  • at the same time magic still works but people deliberately chose to ignore it while other just didn't care about this "technology" at all, why would they care about something that bring nothing that magic can't do? (moreover the leader is creepy) Well they started to care at some point (remember the guy wants to destroy magic?) but way to late since no one ever thought that destroying magic was possible (just like if I told you "I hate electromagnetism because I hate it so much, now I shall destroy electromagnetism in the whole universe because I'm mad and I hate mwahahahah")

Could be a good start for you. Since the technology has been built with some knowledge of magic it's rather magic-proof and not likely to blow up at the first fireball. They created anti-magic shell, magic-free fields and other magic altering things. Everything that alter the physical is therefore part of the physical world so it is subject to science. Even if they deliberately decided to not USE magic (they even removed their ability to do so) they ended up understanding magic better than magic users.

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This is a cool story, but I could hardly use it. That would be plagiarism. – L.R. Feb 1 at 21:26
That's true and that's also why I give the reference. People created worlds with this magic/tech separation before. Since this approach (of tech pushed forward to counter magic) has not been posted yet I felt like it would be relevant to post it. Maybe it'll inspire other people to explore on how tech would comes to existence in a world where magic makes it useless – Alexandre THOUVENIN Feb 2 at 2:08

Ok here one scenario The knowledge of know to use magic is reserved for the ruling class. Thousands of years ago during a magic World War war between light and dark magic. During the war group of peasants fed up with the death and destruction the war had brought blame their magic music leaders. Because of this they leave cross the mountains to establish a new nation.

In this new nation the use of magic is playing for causing the war and since the population of peasants most of them don't know how to use magic anyways. Because of this he began trying to build tools that will help them compensate for the lack of magic. This eventually leads to and industrial revolution. The eventually become advanced enough can we contact the other side of the mountains.

When the nations come into contact with each other again. Magic users are suspicious of the other sides technology. There are also resentful that their ancestors abandon them in the middle of their war against evil. Because of this they strongly discourage their people from interacting with the people from the other side of the mountain or using thier technology. Some technology still manage to cross over but those that uses it on shunned by rest of society, because of this most people that use technology is associated with criminal activity.

Meanwhile on the other side the people blame magic for the cause war. In history class magic users are portrayed as monsters. The fear of magic deters people from crossing the mountains.

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David Weber and Linda Evans wrote a 3-book series (Hell's Gate) with two societies, one magical and one technological, brought into contact and subsequent conflict that explores this juxtaposition.

Two worlds developed completely independently, one with the same scientific and technological orientation as ours, the other with no science as such, but instead a well-developed magic using ability (including telepathic use of dragons.) The two worlds are thrown into juxtaposition by the opening of gates that permit immediate transport from each world to a third. The two societies each begin to explore the new world from their respective gates. Through accidental contact the initial parties startle each other so badly that they each use their respective powers in defense that badly frightens each other. Each society throws more resources (magic, technology) into the mix and the confrontation escalates because neither side has the wherewithal to understand the reactions of the other. It was the use of the gates which allowed the two fully developed societies to encounter each other unexpectedly.

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Can you explain in more detail how these books relate to the question? Thanks! – HDE 226868 Jan 31 at 23:11

Magic requires some resource hoarded by the cultural elite (mana, intensive education [although a physical resource makes more sense], etc) and is an intensely guarded national treasure. Their City-State is built by providing for their citizens, but not allowing them social mobility. Meanwhile, other civilizations maintained normal progress outside the borders; the magic country has presumably reached it's maximum capacity for warmongering or size.

From here you can probably just treat them as two separate technological paths with different characteristics or rates of growth. Is magic 'stuck' as the same or does it keep progressing alongside technology?

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Two close countries that are in different stages of development are very possible. Africa would be a good place to look into. Inciting hostilities between two very different nations wouldn't be all that difficult.

Work off of xenophobia.

Both cultures are in very different stages of development. The magically gifted society wouldn't understand the non-magic society's technology and you could introduce someone or many people in a position of power so frightened of this seemingly alien race that he/she/it/they encourage their nation to reject the non-magicals.

Or you could set it up so that one culture has something the other wants, and for whatever reason won't trade. Currently we're getting to a point where we will be unable to produce enough food for everyone, so why not set it up so that, say, the magical nation has a way of artificially increasing a crops yield two or threefold and storing that extra food indefinitely, but for whatever reason cannot or will not share it. If you play on the cultural differences between them you could set up a situation to incite hostilities between the two countries.

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Yes, it can be done - and if the answers to this question are any indication, there's lots of ways to do it!

My favorite (and personal head-canon) of the ways magic and science can be both possible and incompatible comes from "Stranglehold" by Christopher Anvil - where the problem comes from fundamentally incompatible worldviews. So despite a setup where anyone from either city is the same species with the same capabilities, capable of creating generally the same kinds of effects, and so (technically) capable of using either approach - in practice each can't understand the other's worldview, and considers each other dangerously insane.

Magic almost always requires some personal component, they have to want it, will it, to happen. What they can do with that depends on talent, strength, and various other limiting factors depending on how magic works and what it does in that universe... but they always have to want it, and can't do things they believe they cannot. Science depends on dispassionate observation, where doing the same thing always (or even nearly always) produces the same results. Without that assumption, there's no way for the scientific method to catch on. If currents can flow either way, or objects fall faster or slower based on what someone wants or believes, there's scientific experimentation that will work. If whether a spell works or not depends on the will or belief of the person casting it, an experiment can fool around with visible components and chants without ever realizing the missing factor.

And as a bonus... each society would consider the consequences of each other's worldview to be immoral. Scientific society would consider the magic-users' backwards, superstitious, lazy, willing to accept all kinds of inequalities, since magic talent is unequal, access to magical training might be restricted, and the society is more hierarchical. Magical society would consider science-users crazy, superstitious, and cruel - they might consider scientific education responsible for the inability of science people to do magic (crippling their own children!) or maybe trying to rewrite reality (do they think if they can get enough people to believe these 'science laws', would that act like a spell to rewrite the universe?! Crazy science-people!)

So science-users and magic-users are going to want to stay separate, once they find each other. The mountain ranges, or whatever physical barrier that lies between them only has to last long enough for each to get a head start on their respective worldviews - then the 'technological' incompatibility (that their respective strategies both didn't make sense to, and didn't work with the other's people) would keep the cultural incompatibility pretty high. The occasional traveler would have unbelievable stories, and depending on the history might have been considered insane, or to have visited a people who were all insane. And then both societies progress far enough (in their own ways) to transverse the mountains...and find each other on the other side. Probably with a "boom!".

So if you set up something like this, you can have protagonist peoples who are really similar to each other, and even have the same theoretical capabilities, and still have that absolute social divide. As a bonus, you can have conflict on lots and lots of levels - even those trying to work with each other in good faith are going to find the cultural divide enormous and with all kinds of shocking surprises and moving goalposts. And if one side wants to find the unobtainium to harness both powers, there's lots of room for conflict, setbacks, or outright impossibility without losing authorial wiggleroom to make the powers work together in other ways.

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