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The magic in question operates on a magical language of runes that give off a constant heat. When the runes are "at rest" (as in, nobody is reading them) the heat is very mild but warms up when observed. When a magician reads them aloud to actually cast the spell the heat rapidly escalates. Exactly how hot it gets varies on the complexity & length of the spell but once you get beyond basic beginner spells it becomes very easy for spells to burn through paper.

The world is at the tail-end of an industrial revolution (so >/=1900 tech-wise) and an enterprising magician wants to make a new medium for storing spells. Paper scrolls are light, relatively easy to make, and portable but can't stand the heat & so only good for limited-use disposables. Clay tablets are much more durable & can withstand long-term use but it can get heavy and so isn't convenient for frequent traveling.

They want to make a spell book that can be reasonably portable for individual magicians (either traveling on the road or bustling about their local city), easy enough to make that they could be mass-produced, and durable enough that they don't have to be constantly replaced (emphasis on constantly, as they assume that the frequent heat damage would render the book unusable eventually). What are their best bets for materials, both for the medium spells are written on and what they're written with?

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    $\begingroup$ You're in for funny stories of spontaneous combustions stories if people visualizing and reading runes in their mind can suffer the same effects as the books :p. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ It's certainly possible but the runes need to be written very exactly in order to count. Thankfully the errors of human memory means that it's very difficult for a magician to visualize the exact runes all in their heads and so as far as the mysterious powers behind magic are concerned they're just imagining random scribbles. Probs a more real danger to the scibes that've been writing spells for a long time though. $\endgroup$
    – NBBTCS
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ Given that this world contains magic, Why not use dragon skin parchment? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 15:09

9 Answers 9

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Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a thermal insulator, it has high melting point (> 1000 °C, 1800 °F) it is durable, lighter than metals, and not very expensive. It can be made into relatively thin sheets, too.

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    $\begingroup$ This checks out for the time period/tech level. Per wikipedia, the earliest patent on fiberglass is in 1880. $\endgroup$
    – Atog
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 6:29
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    $\begingroup$ Similar to asbestos which was used as early as 300 BC. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ Are paper-thin sheets of fiberglass flexible or brittle? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @SarahMesser it can be woven into fabric, and the fabric is quite flexible. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 17:33
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Asbestos. It was known in medieval times, including its fire resistance.

Health issues and ink may have to be dealt with separately and probably magically.

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    $\begingroup$ Ink would be the problem. Can spells be encoded in asbestos fabric, like lacework or quipu? $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ Mineral-based pigments would work such as iron oxides (brown or black). The fun part would be finding non-organic binders. $\endgroup$
    – user53931
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ If health issues are like in the real world, they won't be noticeable. Except a significant fraction of mages contracts a chronic cough (well, what do you expect if they deal with weird ingredients for their potions) and nasty cases of cancer (well, what do you expect if they deal with demons a.k.a. supernatural beings a.k.a. unnatural beings). A cure may be available or not at the author's discretion :-) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @nigel222 , asbestos comes in several colors, and would have to be woven very painstakingly to make into sheets. Knit or lace them together in order to create the pages , instead of inscribing existing pages with ink $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ChristopherHostage On the bright side, that would keep the runes very clear. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 1:57
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Engraved on to stainless steel plates. Melting point is around 2500 degrees F (1400 C). Tungsten would be better at over 6000 degrees F (3300 C), but the technology might not be up to it.

Ceramics would also work, melting above 2000 degrees F (1100 C), but would be heavier and take longer to cool down

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  • $\begingroup$ If they can make Tungsten plates, they can engrave them by etching. But hot Tungsten burns in air at a much lower temperature than it melts. Which is why we fill light bulbs with Argon. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ Ceramics would shatter, since the lines would be hotter than the free space between them. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger , I bet little holes drilled at the vertex points of all letters before chipping out the letters would help. Little expansion joints $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger You could use something like a borosilicate glass or various lithium aluminosilicates (e.g. Corningware). $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor borosilicate glass was invented 1886 so that would fit "tail end of industrial revolution", but glasses of that time still weren't shatter-proof. So an inventor doing glass books would be at an economic disadvantage vs. an asbestos-based invention (which in itself could be an interesting storyline). $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 11:59
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Hate to tell you but people have had this for centuries already... Fabric. The trick is that you get it wet before you start reading. If it's a complicated spell, your apprentice pours extra water on it while you read. Maximum temperature will be 100C as long as it stays wet.

The really complicated spells (like, moving a mountain range to a more convenient location) are actually read using purpose-built cooling tables which use ice, but if you're planning on moving a whole mountain it's not that much extra planning to bring a wagon with the special cooling table and the ice.

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    $\begingroup$ Neat idea. This will work up to a point. That point is when the amount of local heating exceeds the rate at which water needs to arrive to dissipate that heat. Local hot-spots develop. Single glyphs of the spell suddenly vaporise although the rest of the fabric stays cool? How uniform is this magical heating effect? (It's not entirely dissimilar to making sure that a CPU doesn't locally overheat :-) $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 17:32
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Mica.

This is a mineral which comes in large flat sheets which can be teased apart into thin flexible ones. It used to be used to support resistive heater wires in devices like hairdryers and kettles. I think it's largely been replaced because it has chemical similarities to asbestos, and can disintegrate into very small inhalable flakes. It was also used in thermionic valve construction, and may still be. (I haven't ever seen a thermionic valve manufactured since transistors came into widespread use).

Anyway, it can certainly be made into pages, and I'm pretty sure it could be etched to put writing onto it (probably using a strong caustic).

Since it's more or less transparent, it might also be possible to use the magic to make its rendition permanent. Write on the mica using ink that contains an appropriate element that will diffuse into and stain the mica when it gets hot. Then invoke the spell, which will generate the heat! Or more prosaically, fire it in a pottery kiln.

Interesting thought. One might put a spell on an everyday glass slide and project it onto something. Does the something burst into flames when the spell is invoked, and the glass slide survive undamaged? If so, this is also a pretty nasty weapon. Who needs napalm?

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    $\begingroup$ Heh. Similar to asbestos but much, much smaller health hazard. And it's already in sheets. The only downside is that it's less flexible (make it thinner and it bends better but becomes less stable; no idea where the sweet spot for a spellbook would be and whether you'd still need to use a ring binder). $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 12:35
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LIGHT

Have the spells written on a material that when light shines through it, it will project the spell on a consumable material. therefore the original is not destroyed.

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  • $\begingroup$ pretty slick! I like the idea of the spells written backwards. You must use a mirror to correctly align and invoke the spell. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk backwardness would be easily circumvented: Just turn the page over, translucency works both ways ;-) (usually; some tricks with optics might create material that's asymmetric in its interaction with light, but that's not available tail-of-industria-revolution) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 12:20
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Laminated gold for the pages, laminated copper for the writing, or more in general a noble metal for the pages, a different one for the writing.

Gold and copper both melt a tad above 1000°C, while silver shortly before that temperature, and all of them are very easily laminated.

Yes, the thing will be a tad expensive, but you don't want the runes to be placed on any roll of toilet paper going around the city, considering their effect when watched or read. So better give the mage an incentive to keep it under good guard.

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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't they get hot enough to soften and get damaged that way, even if they're not hot enough to melt? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ Gold-plated copper would be a good choice (especially if they haven't yet invented high-temperature stainless steel). Much cheaper than gold, probably cheaper than silver, but much more resistant to oxidation than copper. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 11:11
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Pumice

Volcanic rock. It melts at 1700C. I'm not sure how easy it is to manipulate but search for "pumice building materials" -- people do make bricks and such out of it, and it's used in some housing construction. It's lightweight and a nice insulator. (Pumice is 0.641 grams per cubic cm, versus 7.873 grams per cubic cm for iron.)

Basically I was reading the other answers and thinking "it would be funny to see wizards casting spells while wearing oven mitts because their tablet is going to be red hot", so I got to thinking about lightweight stone as a place to carve runes instead. It can take the heat, while not conducting nearly so much of it, so quickly.

There's other types of stone to think about: perlite (volcanic), vermiculite ("similar to mica"), gabbro (hey I think I used this in Dwarf Fortress), basalt... didn't really research these others but they came up in a search for lightweight stone types. But I think pumice has a real chance.

Even if it's hard to manipulate, I think you could consider this sort of thing as a potential advancement to the pottery business. A granite tablet would be heavy (2.691g per cm3) but a tablet that's some mixture of mostly pumice and a bit of cement to hold it together? I'm no potteryologist, but I think something could be worked out.

Wool

No, really. Wool is fire resistant. I seem to get different figures from different sites but the lowest says the flash point of wool is about 700F (Discover Magazine says 1382F). Pretty surprising! Leather actually fares a lot better than I would have guessed too -- about 1000F. (Here's one source). I think you could literally weave wool books or leather parchment books with the runes pigmented in and you'd have something more comparable to paper but with at least double the burn temperature.

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    $\begingroup$ Pumice is a horrible material to try to write on -- it's mostly holes. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark I pictured them as being chiseled. Same with metal. I wouldn't write them on the metal, like with ink. I'd simply cast them into the metal as either raised or lowered letters. Though with pumice as the base, some sort of pigmentation might work. The important part is heat management, though. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ The same holes that make it a pain to write on also cause problems with engraving. A pumice "spellbook" is probably going to be tablets about a centimeter thick with lines of text two to three centimeters tall -- considerably larger than the clay tablets we're trying to avoid, and probably not much lighter. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ Pumice is also very crumbly, and would fall apart from daily usage. Wool and leather will dry out and crumble at mild heat , scorch at medium heat , and burn at high heat. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ChristopherHostage The Romans used pumice in their concrete, for a durable and lightweight building material. Apparently you grind up the pumice into a powder and mix it with hydrated lime. The dome of the Pantheon was built with this in the upper sections, to reduce weight. It's still standing, about 1900 years later! (I'm tellin ya, pumice is underrated, not necessarily as a raw stone, but as a material, for low weight and high longevity.) $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 2:25
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Clay cylinder.

clay cylinder

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylinders_of_Nabonidus

I mixed its mortar with beer, wine, oil and honey and anointed its excavation ramps with it. More than the kings -my fathers- had done, I strengthened its building and perfected its work. That temple from its foundation to its parapet I built anew and I completed its work. Beams of lofty cedar trees, a product of Lebanon, I set above it. Doors of cedar wood, whose scent is pleasing, I affixed at its gates. With gold and silver glaze I coated its wall and made it shine like the sun. I set up in its chapel a 'wild bull' of shining silver alloy, fiercely attacking my foes. At the Gate of Sunrise I set up two 'long haired heroes' coated with silver, destroyers of enemies, one to the left, one to the right. I led Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna -my lords- in procession from Babylon, my royal city, and in joy and gladness I caused them to dwell in its midst, a dwelling of enjoyment. I performed in their presence a pure sacrifice of glorification, presented my gifts, and filled Ehulhul with the finest products, and I made the city of Harran, in its totality, as brilliant as moonlight.

So wonderful! Your spells are on clay cylinders like the Cylinders of Nabonidus. Each is 2500 years old. The above text is how the spells sound. This particular one summons the two long haired heroes, coated with silver, destroyers of enemies, one to the left and one to the right. If you do it right the bull comes with them and things become as brilliant as moonlight.

The cylinders get hot. If they get hot enough they will glow. They can be broken only with magic.

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