7 Tips to Putting Robots in Fantasy: Put Down the Pitchforks!

This can be a little controversial at times because many people don’t want robots to be anywhere near fantasy.  A big difference between science fiction and fantasy is that one has high tech and the other has magic.  Not exclusively, but that’s how people look at it and robots are seen as a sign of high advancement.  This breaks the medieval sense of a fantasy world, which some people think is necessary.  My point here is that you’re going to get some complaints if you add a genuine robot, so here are some tips.  They won’t protect you entirely, but maybe they’ll help.

  1. Screw the criticism and put the robot in the story.  If it’s part of your world and makes sense then it belongs there.  People who say otherwise are wrong because it’s your world to work with.
  2. Put thought into how the robot was created.  Are they a lost technology that shows the world was hi-tech before a cataclysm?  Maybe someone built it for a purpose that involves going against magic.  The more depth that you put into the robot and its origins, the better it will appear to the audience.  This way, it isn’t shoehorned in to simply have a robot, which has been known to happen.
  3. If you’re so worried about criticism then go the Magi-Tech route.  Having modern technology fueled by magic is an established trend in fantasy, so you won’t be original.  Yet, you won’t be called out for mixing genres.  There still might be some complainers who don’t like the concept in general, but this does the same as #2 and establishes that the robot belongs in the world.
  4. You don’t have to use the term robot.  Call it something else and see what happens.  It may be obvious that you added one, but you can create a cushion of denial.  Say it’s a super weapon or an ancient race that is only similar to robots.  As long as nobody sees any wires, circuit boards, or the 5 year warranty, it’ll be all good.  By the way, only the first 2 years of that warranty are from the manufacturer and you know it’ll turn on humanity right after the time is up.
  5. Using golem creation and lore, you can establish a magical, non-technology version of robots.  This can be seen as a faux robot since it is typically described as a machine that imitates human actions thanks to programming.  Still, a golem is an artificial construct that is magically commanded to perform actions that are typically done by humans.  It is only a difference in origin here.
  6. If you really need a genuine and true robot then you can have one appear from outside of the world.  One possibility is that it comes from outer space, which is easier to fit in than many would believe.  If we have aliens visiting Earth then why wouldn’t they turn up on any world that’s part of a universe.  Could be easier to explain than time travel, which is always messy even when it’s only to introduce a robot.
  7. Have one area of your magical world that has gone the high tech route.  Maybe they are unable to use magic, so this is how they level the playing field.  Perhaps they are the remnants of an older civilization like the one mentioned in #2.  This means they are now a natural part of the world and you have a bigger tech presence.  In here, those who use magic are the minority while the robot would be that when it is outside of its homeland.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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50 Responses to 7 Tips to Putting Robots in Fantasy: Put Down the Pitchforks!

  1. I’m a big believer in #1. We see them in steampunk tales, and there isn’t a lot of explanation to them. In the era of self publishing, mashups are pretty common. This should get easier to do over time and as more mashups get published.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Glad you mentioned the golem, because I was thinking of going that route. I love Terry Pratchett’s use of them in his series. I also can’t help thinking of this novel: https://www.amazon.com/Golem-Jinni-Novel-P-S/dp/0062110845

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  3. Great tips. Number 1 makes sense because a book doesn’t have to please every reader, but it does have to please the author!

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  4. Your Windemere Sword Dragons, made by gnomes, are magical robots aren’t they, Charles?

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  5. I do have a robot in my current WIP. He is the product of AI and looks like Bob Newheart.

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  6. I kept thinking “Breath of the Wild” with many of your tips. 🙂

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  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz’s blog with 7 Tips to Putting Robots in Fantasy: Put Down the Pitchforks!

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  8. Nothing says “Fantasy” more than an enchanted suit of armor. Right?

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  9. I can think of a way that’s not on this list. Something we know existed in ancient times. I won’t say it, though. But, it’s been used before in fantasy, probably one of the first and most well received ever created.

    Though, Warhammer has fantasy and science fiction. So does Star Wars. It’s a whole sub-genre of literature, which is probably the most popular in the world. Marvel does it, Star Wars, DC, Magic the Gathering, Warhammer 40K. I think what you’re dealing with is branding. Someone created the stigma to protect the more valuable franchises.

    That, you will find, is probably where most of this snarky nay-saying comes from.

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  10. Well, if you split hairs it might be considered a Golem. But I don’t. I consider a Golem a creature shaped from the earth, and brought to life. Like a clay man, that sort of deal. This is something else. It was in one of the most famous fantasy pieces ever created in history. 🙂

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    • I’m at a loss. Good chance I either never read it or forgot. Keep thinking through Hobbit and LOTR, but I got nothing.

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      • No. You’ve seen it. You had to. One day you’ll see it again, and know. It’s so obvious, but consider it a riddle. 🙂 You might consider it a golem, but don’t. It is what it is. There’s some ancient technologies, too, that showed it existed predating Rome.

        Men are very good innovators. We like to forget this, and think ourselves incapable of doing anything in the past, but a lot of really neat stuff was accomplished. Egyptians might have had electricity. The Greeks could levitate statues with magnets. The stuff was not really used for wholesome purposes probably, but it’s still some neat stuff for fantasy.

        God bless. Thank you.

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      • The big metal guy in Labyrinth? This is going to drive me nuts all day.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll give you one more clue. It was sublime. 🙂 One of my favorite stories. You’ll have to think outside of the box, though. Way outside of the box.

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      • Sorry. Sublime on makes me think of the band.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Great advice, Remember when you create a world you can justify anything. The thing is like dragons use them wisely don’t just throw them in for lack of something else Keep smiling

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