The Big Idea: A.M. Dellamonica
Magic has been variously described and quantified, and we hear about white magic, black magic, good magic, bad magic — but how often is it compared to toxic waste? In Blue Magic, author A.M. Dellamonica makes that comparison, and expands on what that unusual approach to magic means for the world (our world, or one very close to it) and the people who live in it.
The idea of magic as a pollutant, a form of spiritual waste whose container has broken, came to me in bits and pieces at the very end of the Nineties. I took a few runs at it before writing the book I eventually finished in 2003, which was Indigo Springs.
In my first attempts, the idea wasn’t fully formed. I couldn’t quite bring a story together around that initial image of liquid magic, an oil-dense fluid with mutagenic qualities that was oozing into the world from a nearby dimension where it had essentially been dumped. I wrote other things instead, but the image kept nagging at me.
The missing piece of this puzzle came when I took a second look at a short story of mine, “Nevada,” which was set at my grandparents’ ranch in the Mason Valley near Reno. That story brought together everything but the mystical fluid, vitagua. At the core of that piece was the idea of magical objects, little trinkets called chantments, each with their own charm or power. “Nevada” is about a person who makes chantments, but it doesn’t get into how. When I reread the story, I could see that these objects fit in with the mystical fluid. So I took another run at Indigo Springs, and ended up with a novel about a woman, Astrid Lethewood, who turns vitagua into chantments. . . or does, until she causes a massive magical spill that necessitates the evacuation of a third of Oregon.
This year’s follow-up, Blue Magic, is the sequel to Indigo Springs. If the first book tells the story of the magical spill, this one is about the fallout from the initial disaster.
It wasn’t until my first novel came out that I heard anyone refer to my writing, or anyone’s, as ecofantasy. It’s a great term: the books are set in the here and now, and the magic in them, though it’s a force for good, is in its raw form something of a cross between an oil spill and radioactive waste. As the existence of magic becomes the lead story on CNN and Fox News, people split into camps. There are those who want to destroy it, others who hope to establish a monopoly over enchantment, some who think the government should regulate it all and a fair number who just want it the hell out of their backyard. There are people who think magic can save the world and people who think they can put the genie back in the bottle–banish it, and somehow get the old world back.
But even establishing the old status quo would hurt someone. The magic in Indigo Springs had been contained in a realm variously known as the unreal or fairyland, for centuries. There were people there, too, the spill woke them up, and now they want their spiritual real estate back. In Blue Magic, Astrid Lethewood sets about trying to do just that–to reintroduce magic to something like its old place in our ecosystem, and to do so without destroying two worlds.
That’s a big job, needless to say, and one of the things I like best about Astrid as a human being is that though she has this unique, off-the-scale power, she never mistakes herself for a god. Instead, she asks for help. As a result, the cast of Blue Magic is much, much bigger than in Indigo Springs. Astrid goes looking for everyone who might possibly help her. And as she brings in these various stakeholders, all with opinions and agendas and needs and ideas of their own as to how it should be done, the whole process starts to become unbelievably complex.
None of this is something I came up with, obviously. To me, it feels as though these ideas are just lying around, everywhere I look. It’s a basic reality that when you do some damage to the environment, it takes immense effort and a lot of consultation to restore the ecosystem. Even then, you never get things back to the way they were. I was especially lucky as I was writing these books to have had a chance to peer behind the scenes at the work of a lot of environmental scientists, people who are actively involved in Cascadia-area fisheries, in forest industries, and in river repatriation.
The upshot is that it’s easy to screw things up–whether it’s a relationship or a pristine stand of old-growth trees–and comparatively hard to set them right. I think we all wish, at times, for magical solutions to our problems. In Indigo Springs Astrid Lethewood inherits and then worsens a huge, beautiful, dangerous, enchantment-laden shambles of a situation. In Blue Magic the people of the Western United States–and, to a lesser extent, all of Earth–race to do something about it before everything blows up in their faces.
I suppose you could say I write about mess. But that makes it all sound awfully preachy, doesn’t it? So, to close, I want to add that these books have sex, violence, witch-burnings, extremely bizarre magic, a televised show trial and that by the end of it all, there’s a really big crater in the Pacific Northwest. Sorry about that, Oregon.