It's no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings with an eye towards the potential evils of technology, populating Middle-earth with villains who focus on "external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents," as he put it, and whose goal is "sheer Domination." Since then, Professor Alan Jacobs argues, a central tenet of fantasy (loosely defined) has been the notion that "the Machine" is the enemy of good. But what, he asks, would a fantasy novel that embraces technology look like?

Jacobs brings up China Miéville, whose novel Perdido Street Station included both beautiful and monstrous uses of technology, which was often interchangeable with magic. Likewise, he points to The Last Ring-bearer, a revisionist take on Tolkien's work. But these, he says, are "too dependent on Tolkien, even if in opposition to him, and they require a rejection of the whole apparatus of fantasy." He would likely say the same thing about similar modern fantasy or New Weird authors, who often treat technology as neutral but create dark worlds with little relation to Tolkien's work.

One of the biggest unspoken questions, however, is where to draw a line around fantasy. Is fantasy considered hostile to technology because books that aren't are being defined as something else? The Dragonriders of Pern series, for example, includes elements of traditional fantasy, but it's often seen as science fiction. Likewise, Jacobs discusses The Stand, a near-future post-apocalyptic book he describes as fantasy based on its Tolkienesque themes. Tolkien's shadow is long, and fantasy has yet to fully emerge from under it. But when we talk about worlds where "magic rules but is not the only game in town" — a theme many authors have explored — it's hard to say where one category ends and another begins.