Melissa Scott’s novel makes use of a number of science-fiction conventions that describe future galactic empires as being similar to past empires on Earth. She also employs conventions of faster-than-light (FTL) space travel. In The Roads of Heaven, Scott postulates an empire, the Hegemony, that is attempting to conquer known star systems. A few planets in the Fringe retain their independence. Scott adds two unconventional elements to her novel: the use of magic rather than technology to create FTL space travel and a female protagonist who tries to escape the restrictions of Hegemonic culture.
Scott uses astrological and alchemical concepts to create a system of magic that serves the same purpose as science. Other novels have presented magic as a systematic discipline that can be learned and practiced, rather than being some intuitive or fantastic talent. Such writers as Fritz Leiber (Conjure Wife, 1953) and L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (the Incomplete Enchanter series) explored the possibilities of casting magic as an academic discipline. Writers such as Poul Anderson, Christopher Stasheff, Patricia McKillip, and Barbara Hambly also make use of the idea of magic as a system of laws, analogous to the natural laws of science. Most of these writers set their novels in pre-Industrial Revolution, nontechnological cultures. Scott’s choice to construct a future in which space travel can be achieved through magic may be unusual,...
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