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Science Fiction and Fantasy

Excerpt and Essay from The Necromancer's House, by Chris Buehlman

Sorcery in the Internet Age

He often muses that if he were to walk into a room full of those who actually run the world, the invisibles that heads of state and oil barons take their marching orders from, it would look like the audition room for a TV soap opera; they would all be lovely; they would all look twenty-five to forty, and whether this were accomplished by the witchcraft of science or the science of witchcraft would be even money.

-The Necromancer's House

I have a magic wand sitting on the table next to me as I write this. You could also call it a smart phone. Whatever the nomenclature, I can use it to talk on video to my friend in England. I can ask it to locate the closest Indian restaurant and to survey that restaurant's popularity with recent diners. I can conjure moving images of clouds to find out where the rain is and how long until it hits. I can show you a video of a guy in a squirrel suit jumping off a cliff and flying. Flying.

I'm pretty sure the squirrel guy isn't a wizard and, if I am, I'm not telling. But imagine if we were. What would happen if the world of technological miracles we take more and more for granted could be made to interface with witchcraft?

When I started writing my third novel, The Necromancer's House,

I challenged myself to invent a community of modern sorcerers who not only used ancient magic but found ways to splice that magic with technology, amplifying it. I imagined warlocks using the Internet to connect and barter with each other, to cast spells at distance, and sometimes to do violence. In The Necromancer's House, a Hand of Glory transmits its energy through video to open a locked window across town; an assassin in New Orleans uses hacked military satellites to locate a woman in the Ukraine, whose throat he then cuts with an enchanted blade; a sorcerous spammer in Kiev engages a witch in Chicago in a brutal fight to the death using horse-headed GIF monsters that crawl through the screen.

The Necromancer's House is a bit of a genre-bender, more horror than urban fantasy; the antagonist is Baba Yaga, an exotic creature for those of us who grew up in the shadow of Disneyworld, but as familiar as the devil to children of Slavic households; it is Baba Yaga, not the bogeyman, who deals with naughty Russian and Ukrainian kids, capturing too-adventurous boys and enslaving credulous girls. She appears variously as a crone moving through the forest in an iron pot, sweeping her tracks away with a birch-broom; as a fearsome general at the head of an army of dolls; and as an ogress crammed into a teetering hut that moves on hen's feet. Her myth has deep roots indeed. My research suggested that her famous chicken-foot home, surrounded by its round, skull-topped fence, may have origins in the iron-age cremation huts of the Slavs. Thence, perhaps, comes the witch that captured Hansel and Gretel, and thence her oven.

Animating this ancient crone and arming her for twenty-first century mischief was the central challenge of the novel, a challenge I relished. The world of The Necromancer's House, with its blend of old and new perils, is the first world I have created that doesn't feel finite; I suspect the warlocks of Dog Neck Harbor and beyond will find their way into further novels, and I'm curious to see what adventures they'll get up to.

In the meantime, I wait with anticipation and dread to see what science will conjure next. The three-D printer can manufacture everything from a kidney to a firearm, and, just last month, a man used the power of thought to move a second man's finger. Not so long ago, possession and teleportation were the exclusive properties of fiction. Technology is sprinting. As a novelist, I see and gladly accept my mission, daunting though it is—whether I raid the vaults of myth or summon wholly new creations, I will strive to supply the evocative what a half-step ahead of science and its implacable how.

Christopher Buehlman is a writer and comedian. His first book, Those Across the River, was a World Fantasy Award finalist for best novel in 2012. The Necromancer's House is his third release from Penguin's Ace division.

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The Necromancer
The Necromancer's House

Christopher Buehlman

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