Friday, December 16, 2011

Bad Parents

While working on my project (Axl Rose as Vampire) I came across that common trope of a childhood mired in abuse (which Axl had). We had discussed reasons in class why many, or all, protagonists in UF have sordid childhoods, and one reason that came to mind was that maybe it's just easier for the author. When you place a character in a fantastic world, maybe more so than other environments, the reader wants to know as much about them as possible. In a real-world drama, we assume what we don't know about characters, but in fantasy, nothing can be assumed, so as readres we strive to know all. So therein lies the need to explain a protagonist's parents in the first place. As for them being dead or scoundrels, it seems like the quick and easy way to cut them out of the narrative. If we say "So and So had a lovely childhood and still goes home from goblin fighting to spend xmas with her family" the reader expects to see interactions with these parents at some point. Do they know what their daughter is out there doing? They must be worried and constantly checking up on her? So just kill em. Or make them bad people she never wants to see again. Then you don't have to write about them anymore and the reader gets an answer as to the background of So and So.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fantastic and Magic Realism

This seemed very relevant to our class. I came across it on twitter (I follow the author of this).


Friday, December 9, 2011

Urban legends and urban fantasy

So after hearing about all these urban fantasy stories people are writing, I've been questioning one of my original assumptions about urban fantasy: must urban fantasy derive from urban legends? I use "urban legends" as a rhetorical device (I mean, urban), but what I mean by it is mythologies created prior to the author writing. I think that a large part of this particular body of literature would suggest that urban fantasy usually draws on mythologies that are part of our cultural knowledge. Vampires, werewolves, witches; all of these are preconceived, and deeply rooted in our understanding of the fantastic and mythological. When I think "What's a fantastic being?" I think "ghosts" or "vampires", not something that I've never heard of. And often urban fantasy will redefine the conventional understanding of these mythologies, but it draws on them nonetheless.
But is that a necessary part of the urban fantasy? I thought previously that it was. I mean, cities are essentially and unique to human civilization, and so it makes sense that these stories would focus on them. And I think that these mythologies are also unique and essential to human culture. Perhaps not the myths in specific, but the idea of an old mythology being pervasive throughout a culture. Almost every culture has myths about gods or higher beings, the afterlife, and creation of the world, usually unifying all these thigns into one. And as far as I know, mythologies about creatures is incredibly pervasive throughout human culture. So surely it would make sense, in the creation of a story that involves essentially human structures like cities to also include our inherited mythologies when creating creatures that live within those cities.
However, the one big stick in the mud for me, besides perhaps one or two of the class stories, is Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. There is no mythology that I know of that includes beings who can open doors to anywhere. There is no mythology including a fox and a wolf mercenaries who like torture. There is no Marquis de Carabas or Rat People or Market or most of what makes Neverwhere Neverwhere. The only things in Neverwhere that have pre-established roots in mythology are a) Islington the angel, b) Atlantis, which he destroys, c) that London has lots of underground layers that are believed to give it mystical or special properties, and d) monks. And these are either not central to the story's mythology or are stretching the definition of mythology pretty thin.
So can we really consider Neverwhere an urban fantasy? Grawr. It really really bugs me, and I don't have an answer.

final definition

Now that the semester is coming to a close I want to take some time to blast open the definition of "urban fantasy." It appears that the class definition has morphed over the course of the term and it is rather interesting that our definition seems to stretch and distend with each passing week. After reading City of Glass we appeared to remove Todorov's idea of the "marvelous" as an absolute necessity. Master and Margarita removed urban fantasy from only being applied to the last few decades. I think that Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union would greatly open up our definition even further. Although Chabon's work has elements of the archetypal noir novel, his creation of a parallel history in a space that is both familiar and new incorporates many of the elements of class definition and discussion. The fantastic for Chabon is the historical manipulation (there are no vampires, demons, etc. within the text) in which Israel collapses and an independent Jewish state is established along the coast of Alaska. I think that by extending the definition outward the term urban fantasy is not ultimately meaningless but instead, it gives urban fantasy greater weight and depth. This is seemingly important in scholarship as it is also delimiting in terms of the genre. What do we think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sci-Fi Fantasy via Norse mythology

So since Andrew was talking about futuristic sci-fi fantasy cross overs, that made me think about what I am currently working on. It's interesting how that kind of thing can go in VERY different directions. I mean, the future holds endless possibilities, so it kind of makes sense.
Maybe because sci-fi fantasy hasn't been explored a whole lot, there aren't any tropes associated with it yet. I mean, for urban fantasy, we have certain tropes which have cropped up (vampires and werewolves for starters), and for high fantasy there are also certain tropes (elves, dwarves and wizards). As for futuristic stuff, well, there's futuristic sci-fi tropes (space travel), but not so much the futuristic fantasy tropes. I mean, I don't think I've ever actually encountered a thing that's set thousands of years in the future and is fantasy.
As for what I'm working on, it's literally 40,000 years in the future (OH Warhammer 40k! That's futuristic fantasy. Also Starcraft is more or less futuristic fantasy.) So the premise is that humans colonized the planets in our solar system, and evolved into different species with MAGICAL POWERS. Magic through evolution = sci-fi fantasy cross over like a boss.
Anyways, the races that evolve are based on the races in Norse mythology: light elves from Saturn, dark elves (aka dwarves) from Neptune and Uranus, fire "giants" from Mercury (they're actually just humans with pyromancy), Vanir from Venus, Aesir from Mars, Jotuns (aka giants/shapeshifters) from Jupiter, and Humans from Earth. And then there's HEL who chills out on Pluto. The races that are sun-ward of the asteroid belt are humanoid, and the ones outside it are less so because they were more isolated.
The Vanir have "magic" which is more like transmutation (FMA, anyone?), and the Aesir have the power to live forever (although no one knows it) as well as the ability to absorb any power, very similar to Rogue from X-Men.
So yeah, there's space travel in spaceships that look like galleons and schooners that run on dark matter, and terraforming, and magic! It's a good time.
And completely different than Andrew's futuristic sci-fi fantasy world. Which is awesome.
The biggest difference is that I'm not so sure that my story could be considered an urban fantasy. Could it? I dunno. Does Urban Fantasy really just mean a little sci-fi and a little fantasy? I mean, Kate Daniels has got me all thinking about tech vs magic. If urban fantasy is fantasy in our modern world, and we're all about the tech, then really, urban fantasy is just combining magic and tech. And in a futuristic setting, tech = sci-fi, so therefore, a sci-fi fantasy blend is like an urban fantasy set in the future. QED.
But of course not all urban fantasy has to have technology in it. It's just likely to.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Urban Fantasy?

I was talking today with some of my friends about fantasy, mostly urban fantasy, and one of my friends mentioned "dark urban fantasy." He said it was the darker stuff that dealt with more of the violence of fantasy. I thought about all the books we've read, and, for the most part, I wouldn't say they were gentle. In fact, a lot of them were rather violent and dark. However, I thought this to just be the norm of urban fantasy, and kind of fantasies today in general. So what exactly separates "dark urban fantasy" from 'regular' urban fantasy? Is there really a difference between the two or is it just the same name for the same thing?

The more I think about it, the more I think I understand what is meant by "dark urban fantasy." There could easily be an urban fantasy book where all the creatures are kind, happy fairies and only one evil guy that needs to be defeated. Though there is a dark element involved with the evil guy, I wouldn't exactly call such a story a "dark urban fantasy." However, a story like Already Dead and perhaps even Street Magic, though a bit iffy on that one, I could see as being "dark urban fantasy" simply due to the darker nature of the humor and the sense of anger and violence throughout the story. Still, I feel like such elements are just becoming common of urban fantasy today, so it is almost unnecessary to have "dark urban fantasy" and "urban fantasy." I guess it is like a concentration of a major--usually unnecessary but done just to make it different.
This is a thought that I had a million years ago, way back when we were talking about neverwhere, and it just now reoccurred to me. We were talking about religion in neverwhere and how it plays a role in the form of a fallen angel. It wasn't until after class that I was considering the topic and I realized that the Marquis de Carabas was crucified on a cross and dies, and then he comes back to life. It is such a huge christian reference, and yet no one in class seemed to mention it.
So how does Gaimen make such obvious religious references, but then they are so easily overlooked? Is it because Carabas seems so unlike a christ figure? Or because Islington behaves so little like a angel? Maybe it has to do with Gaimen's writing style that our attention is focused away from these details, but then why does he include them at all? This is really just a list of questions that I have no answers to, but I thought they would be worth considering.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Something that piqued my interest was today's discussion of the romance element and its varying levels of importance. I'm currently reading a book called "A Discovery of Witches," a new urban fantasy novel set in Oxford. The protagonist is a witch in her mid-20s, and the principle love interest is (surprise surprise) a vampire. The plot of the book involves an ancient conspiracy, evil witches, all that good, solid epic stuff. BUT. So much of the book (the first half, anyway; I haven't suckerpunched my way through the rest yet) is caught up in this romantic subplot that it turns into the main plot. All the focus is on when the characters will get together, and whether it's destiny, and if Matthew will manage to curb his hunger for Diana's extra-tasty witch blood, blah, blah, blah. This is within the first 100 pages of the novel, mind you, and that just strikes me as ridiculously unnecessary for anyone but Nora Roberts. I picked up this book for the magical elements and the nifty ambiance of the setting, not for a painfully predictable romance that plays out with practically zero tension after the initial meeting.

But, had I read this book when I was in my early teens, I probably would have been all over it. As a thirteen-year-old girl, I loved that starcrossed lover bullshit. I loved the predictable impossibility of the vampire/mortal relationship; I loved the equally predictable tension as the plucky heroine struggled not to fall for the smoldering, edged-with-danger hero; I loved it all. Now, as a college student in my early 20s, it bores me and I'm having trouble finding motivation to finish the novel. I don't really have a final point in all this. Just found it interesting how much that element of romance means to different age groups, and how much it can really affect the success of a novel.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

one order of magical cities with a side of grits, coming up?

There seems to be this increasing sense in fiction that grittier is better. The anti-hero is rising in popularity, death rates for a protagonist's nearest and dearest are shooting up exponentially, kids travel to a magical world and save it only to wake up to their own world in a gutter. Comic books even have a name for this era--"The Dark Age", which started in 1993 when Superman died and a whole depressing host of trauma was unleashed on the Marvelverse. (It's worth noting that Alan Moore takes partial credit for this movement by attributing it to his famous comic Watchmen, which kickstarted the Dark Age. "The apocalyptic bleakness of comics over the past 15 years sometimes seems odd to me," he's reminisced in interviews, "because... I tend to think that I've seen a lot of things over the past 15 years that have been a bizarre echo of somebody else's bad mood. It's not even their bad mood, it's mine, but they're still working out the ramifications of me being a bit grumpy 15 years ago.")

The importance of this lies, of course, in how it ties to fantasy--urban fantasy, in fact, and its sudden rise in popularity in the last decade. Reading through the genre, it's easy to notice a steady pattern: namely that, nine times out of ten, the supernatural hasn't drawn the human world into its grasp. Humans aren't being forced into alien servitude. It's always the other way around. Vampires order coffee at Starbucks; werewolves go back to the grocery to return fourteen bottles of ineffective conditioner; elves stand in line at the DMV and curse slow bureaucrats in beautiful and eldritch tongues. I'd go so far as to argue that this is part of an overarching Dark Age that has infected comics and other literary genres. That writers have dragged the fantastic into the human world because this is the easiest way of debasing the wonder: by tangling it in the mundane. It's a technique not dissimilar to the old horror favorite--turning the familiar into something strange. Bloody torture scenes in an ugly dungeon far and elsewhere are often only gross: a man with a knife, a rope and the alarm codes for your house is much more alarming on the personal level.

And yet, for the most part, urban fantasy remains fairly tame in terms of darkness. Not to say that murders and bloodloss aren't worth a grimace--but at the end of the day, the protagonist retains all the core beliefs needed to keep them as the protagonist. The monsters are reclaimed--a pattern especially likely in young adult fiction, which tends to preserve a sense of hope that adult fiction would usually rather impale with stiletto heels. Fairies may have been forced out of their illusory wonderlands and into leather biker jackets, but they're still, in twisted forms, the gorgeous and alien creatures of myth. The workings of the genre ultimately preserve a stasis of affairs.

This is likely less a statement about the way people react to writing about the fantastic than the fact that authors tend to want to leave things open to more stories. It isn't in their interests to hit "self-destruct"--yet. Still, slowly but surely, the anti-heroes are getting darker. Reboots of popular franchises are getting grittier. Without actual research, it's impossible to do anything but speculate as to whether this is a chance wave in the sea of popular fiction or if an actual tide is turning for the dark. Still, one can't help but wonder if audiences will actually lose interest in the steeping of fantasy in darkness. Urban fantasy's set its patterns, but where is the genre going?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kick-assitude and Magic Bites

I've been thinking about the interesting trope of strong female characters in Urban Fantasy, especially Kate Daniels. I think it can be said that in general, stubborn female characters often surface as protagonists in detective-esque novels, and in Urban Fantasy, you need your characters to be able to take on supernatural enemies, so a certain badassitude must arise.
Sometimes I'm fine with Kate Daniels being kick-ass and generally coming out on top in a fight. I mean, she does get injured and lose friends. I mean, obviously she's not gonna die, so whenever she gets hurt she has to make a miraculous recovery. And she's gotta take down the ever escalating evil dudes, so she's gotta pack a punch.
I think that at first, before you see that she takes losses, it can be a little much. As Rita pointed out, the first we see of her is flinging a knife into a vampire with would-be deadly accuracy. I think, looking back, my initial attitude was "This girl's gonna get her shit rocked." I was sort of waiting for her to be smacked off her pedestal. Which came, in due time.
Maybe part of what helped me not be turned off by Kate is her similarity to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. They're actually startlingly similar; both aren't the prettiest girls, but they still have lots of men on them, both are stubborn with a capital S, they both hunt down people who break the law, but they aren't law-enforcers, and both have serious commitment issues. And bad-ass boyfriends.
The main difference is that Stephanie Plum is very obviously incompetent, but she pulls through miraculously (usually with the help of others). And she's a great lover of donuts.
So I guess, seeing the similarities between Kate and Stephanie, I could forgive Kate for being a bit Mary Sue. I enjoy her stubborn attitude the same way I enjoy Stephanie's, and once you get a little later into the book/series, you see that Kate isn't all powerful, and the playing field balances out. I mean, of course she's always going to survive against the insane odds, but she does come out injured, physically and psychologically. I'm repeating myself.
Blah blah blah! I like Kate Daniels.
I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with a good plot-line for the short story I'm writing for the final project. I've got the main characters, the setting, and the basic idea but I'm not sure exactly how I want the main idea to actually play out. I hope it turns out well when I finally get it done. On another note, I was browsing around the internet yesterday to see if I could find any other blogs about urban fantasy. I found one that is called All Things Urban Fantasy on blogspot. It's pretty good and the thing I like best is that they have a DNF list. A "did not finish" list of books that were so terrible the writers of the blog couldn't get through them. I was wondering if anyone was interested in compiling our own DNF List? I think it's too bad that the first book on their list, Darkness Descending, got such a bad review. It actually sounds kind of interesting if you ask me. I've read part of Monster's Corner and I have to agree with whoever wrote that review. It was just a bit too unsettling for me and usually I like reading weird stuff that's supposed to creep you out. Oh and someone please tell me that this IS meant to be a parody...I just found this, here's the link. Scroll down and you can't miss it. It's the 20th book down the list...

Monday, November 28, 2011


As I was reading The Master and Margarita, I could not help but notice something about the character of Woland. On our sheet of discussion questions for the novel, there is one to the effect of "Is Woland evil?" I'd like to chip in my two cents on this interesting question. At first I thought that of course Woland is evil! He's Satan! I mean, how can Satan not be evil? I think that Bulgakov did a great job making Woland's questionable activities seem hilarious. At turns I didn't know whether I felt like laughing at his antics or screaming from horror at the possibility of these things actually happening. It was a confusing reading experience! As the story got further along and we were introduced to Margarita, I began to think that Woland might not be as evil as his title makes him seem. I don't think that he could truly be evil if he helped the Master and Margarita stage their own deaths and run away together with him. It can be argued that Woland did this only as payment for Margarita agreeing to act as his hostess at his party. To this I say that Woland could easily have just killed Margarita when he was done using her or told her to sod off. I think that this points to the fact that Woland and his cohorts really aren't as evil as they may seem. In addition to this is the fact that people benefited in a roundabout way from Woland's intervention in their lives. Take Ivan Homeless for example: it was by being put in the psychiatric hospital after his encounter with Woland that he realized that his poems were not very good after all. Nearly everyone Woland or his associates come into contact with are what could be considered low people. They are greedy, selfish, arrogant, or any number of other undesirable things. In my mind, some of them got their just reward. So maybe Woland isn't so evil after all, eh?

The Master and Margarita

I've finished reading The Master and Margarita and I have to say that it's quickly earned a place on my favorite books list. That being said I can't help but wonder about something. It's certainly clear that this is an Urban Fantasy novel but I've been wondering what place the story of Pontius Pilate has in the overall novel. I absolutely loved reading about Woland and all the crazy things that he caused to happen in Moscow. When the story shifted back to the story of Pontius Pilate, I felt like the book had been interrupted. To me, it doesn't seem like the story of Pilate fits into the Urban Fantasy genre. Of course we could say that without the side story, the Master would not have ended up in the psychiatric hospital and perhaps nor would Ivan Homeless. Still, it seemed like an interruption.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Urban Fantasy VS Romance Novels

So the other day i read a book called "One Foot in the Grave", and it billed itself as an urban fantasy novel. Allegedly it takes place somewhere near Cleveland, though I didn't recognized any places mentioned...Well anyway, it read more like a trashy romance novel than UF. Sure the main character (Cat) is a half vampire...and sure, she works with a vampire to kill OTHER vampires...But for the most part it felt like a romance with 'oh yeah, and he sucks blood' tacked on.

I'm not sure how i feel about UF novels crossing into romances. On the one hand, i love a trashy romance. On the other, i like UH. Putting them together should be a great idea...But it doesn't usually work out for some reason. Perhaps they don't put enough about the supernatural in it for me? Perhaps they neglect fleshing out the characters? I don't know, but there is something about them i just don't like.

Some novels mix it well (or did originally). Anita Blake. Sookie Stackhouse. Bella...Swan? (Nevermind the last one!). But eventually they fall off the ladder one way or the other and should either stop writing or claim a genre switch. "One Foot in the Grave" is apparently part of a nine book series, and if the first book was this bad, i shudder to think about the other eight.

But that's just my opinion.

Monday, November 21, 2011

People love a good urban fantasy. Suddenly, books about the fantastic are everywhere--it'd be really hard not to notice the sudden kick in popularity. (See, for example: Twilight. But look away before you go blind.) What's also noticeable, however, is that people mostly like urban fantasies when they're packaged as urban fantasies.

Take Liar by Justine Larbalestier, a story about a young girl in the city dealing with the death of a boy in her class through several filters of narrative unreliability. Larbalestier's a rising YA author who's made her mark through fantasy stories. Taking it by pattern alone, it should have been no surprise that she'd write another. But when Liar was released, despite a strong narrative voice and an intriguing story, reviews poured in that were lukewarm at best. There was even a little bit of an outcry. I read it myself and felt annoyed rather than impressed by the twist.

In a similar vein, Jennifer Crusie--typecast as a witty and remarkable beach read romance writer--wrote a novel called Maybe, This Time: a retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Prior to its publication, she was terribly popular, and for good reason. Maybe, This Time might even have been a strong entry into her list of works. But, once again, readers made unsure faces at the content. They loved the romance; they loved the characters; they loved the creepy old house. But... and there it was. But.


Neither had been marketed as urban fantasy.

Liar was classed as general young adult and Maybe, This Time as romance. In both cases, the supernatural elements aren't casual, subtle little asides in the story--they slam into the plot and carry it away into definite fantasy territory: the transformed land for which there is no ignorance. And their results actually did feel a little bit cheap. Not because the magic had been badly shoehorned in, but because the inherent reader expectation in a non-genre book is for the book to stick to the rules laid down by the beginning of the book--the rules of normalcy, the rules of reality. Readers felt betrayed because the answer had come to them, and it wasn't one they could have ever deduced.

Authors don't often break genres for the same reason that mystery writers don't often end their books with, "oh, by the way, the culprit was this guy nobody ever mentioned who just happened to spot an opportunity and wandered in to commit the crime because he could." Readers like a fighting chance at solving the narrative and, frankly, nobody expects the unexpected. (That's what being unexpected means.)

The problem here is, of course, obvious: nobody complains when a surprise mystery slides into their literature. It's a rare book nowadays that goes entirely without mention of romance. Even science fiction gets away with a little bit of plausible deniability now and then if people slip the tech in discreetly enough. Speculative fiction is very likely the only genre that has to experience this bit of exclusion from the mainstream. And how do you get around that without betraying the reader's expectations?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Urban Cartoon Fantasy

Urban Fantasy in recent cartoons:

Beavis and Butt-Head has returned with all new episodes. Praise be to whoever! The first episode, (which you can watch here: ) has a segment called "Werewolves of Highland." Go ahead and watch it or read on for a plot synopsis, which isn't really a spoiler since the same description is on MTV's website.

Our two heroes go to see a Twilight movie and realize that "chicks dig monsters." So they decide to roam around their town of Highland looking for a vampire or werewolf to bite them so they can "score." They find an old homeless man who they mistake for a werewolf and pay him to bite them. They end up getting infected with hepatitis as well as other diseases and as their health deteriorates they figure they are undergoing a "transformation," and seek out women who they expect to now be attracted to them. It's hilarious.

Then, on The Simpsons this Sunday (tomorrow), none other than Neil Gaiman will guest star as Homer sets out to write a YA novel. Homer thinks he knows what the next character fad will be in YA fiction after vampires and zombies: ...TROLLS!
If you don't catch it on Sunday it will be up a day or two later at:

Here is an article where Neil Gaiman talks about his Simpsons appearance and other junk:


P.S. I did in fact see Breaking Dawn. There is plenty I could say against it, but ultimately I was entertained, which is why my wife and I have gone to see all the Twilight movies.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Social Commentary

In response to Mike's most recent post about historical context: I very much agree that the definition of Urban Fantasy needs to be changed. As Mike nicely pointed out, several of the books we've read do in fact contain intersting social and historical issues. When I first started reading Urban Fantasy, and I'll admit I haven't read too many, I thought that the books were simply entertaining. The idea that their purpose might be anything other than entertainment did not cross my mind. Reading over the posts on here has enabled me to see that the genre is more than that. I especially find the anti-capitalism in Neverwhere to be interesting. I have long thought that this country needs to focus a bit more on what really matters than on capitalism. Values have really deteriorated in this country, if you ask me. I feel like I'm rambling a bit here so let me come full circle. My point here is that social commentary is an important point in Urban Fantasy and the genre ought to be given more credit for that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I'm wondering how the reading of some novels for this class would change with greater emphasis on historical context. Gaiman's work is a polemic against capitalism, and to a large degree the elements of normative society that are part of capitalism's mythology. Both Kim Harrison and Charlie Huston invoke HIV/AIDS within their works. Harrison creates an HIV/AIDS allegory that decimates those who reproduce within the human population; Huston parallels the existence of HIV/AIDS with a second virus that leads to vampirism. Although this parallel exists, the moment of infection for Joe is aligned more with the narratives of Samuel Delany, et. al. who discuss cruising and anonymous sex in theaters, bathrooms, and other areas of New York. These three works, and to some degree Mike Carey's sensitivity to human trafficking and the plight of Eastern European women, reshape what Urban Fantasy may actually be doing. Much like their close genre cousins (sci-fi and dystopia) these works appear to be both explicating a rather troublesome historical moment while also subverting the history that informs the texts. This will be no more evident than in Bulgakov's Master and Margarita where Stalinism influences every facet of existence. Perhaps the definition of urban fantasy should be amended to include political and social discussion on the level of seriousness as other, more "traditional" works of fiction.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Let's talk about the use of archetypal characters in urban fantasy. This is on my mind because of Already Dead, but you can see it in Dead Witch Walking and Street Magic and so on. It feels like there is a sort of set, a template, of main characters for urban fantasies: the snarky, charming-yet-clumsy lead female; the gruff, sexually-appealing-but-mysterious lead male, the seductive-yet-untrustworthy vampire love interest, etc. This is because these characters work, especially as most urban fantasy tends to involve some kind of mystery solving and therefore the snarky lead female and the noir-esque lead male lend themselves to an enjoyable, if slightly predictable, ride.

However, I find myself a bit tired of characters who feel right out of *insert dozens of other urban fantasy novels here*. I want authors to try a little harder to give their characters more identity, more quirks that I couldn't guess they'd have just by reading the first few pages about them. I think Rachel Morgan is an excellent lead character because, at first, she does fulfill an archetype. However, as you continue throughout the series, her character becomes more filled out, more morally ambiguous, and she avoids the long-lasting romantic entanglements that are so predictable in these kinds of books.

Monday, October 31, 2011

UF definition

My definition of urban fantasy, as a genre, goes something like this: Urban Fantasy is contemporary fiction in a well-populated city setting, featuring elements of the supernatural or mythological interacting with an otherwise recognizable world, often thematically gritty or at least somewhat noir.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fathers in Urban Fantasy

In partial response to Mike’s most recent post, I find the underlying question of familial relationships, especially the relationship between a character and their parents, and the role of those types of relationships in urban fantasy very interesting. I definitely think that these relationships often (though not always) play an emphasized role in urban fantasy. As Mike points out, both Pete from Street Magic and Rachel from Dead Witch Walking attempt to forge an identity while often referring back to their relationship with their father. We will definitely see this in Magic Bites, and I think it is almost a (sub)genre-wide trend. While I definitely connect the correlation between identity discovery and parental relationships to identity discovery (or perhaps, re-discovery) and “the city,” I wonder if the father plays an especially unique role (over that of the mother) as a result of “the city.” Thoughts?

Also, as a side note, I came across this article, “Should Vampires Sparkle? A brief look at the history of vampires in literature.” It is a short article about the evolution of the vampire in literature that reminded me of Wei’s post not too long ago.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Urban Fantasy and the Orphan

I am curious as to what can be said about the necessity to remove familial ties from protagonists within the novels we have read thus far. Is the "orphan" a trope that extends back to Victorian writing in which we see a literature interested in the future as it relates to the development of the Child?

The following passage is an excerpt from an article I am working on at the moment. The article relates to George Orwell's 1984 which I see as reaffirming the place of the Child in literature and society (a reaction to the isolation and familial death that is common to Modernist fiction).

Much of Victorian fiction relies on the introduction and development of the orphan—this statement is not meant to over stereotype or diminish the scope of Victorian fiction, but rather, it reflects on a common plot theme and choice of protagonist—Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and George Eliot’s Middlemarch are examples of this tradition. The opening to Dickens’ Great Expectations sets the stage for the further development of the novel around the Child: “I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister—Mrs Joey Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them . . . my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones” (Dickens 35). Through this passage Dickens establishes the scenario whereby the development of the novel and, by extension, the development of society and the nation depends on the rearing of Pip. Dickens first connects Pip to his parents through naming and imaginary exploration. Pip is then provided a home, care and a benefactor, Magwitch, who calls himself “[his] second father” (337), which will allow him to grow and develop.

In this manner, Dickens establishes a template for English society. Pip is simultaneously no one’s child and every child. His childish mispronunciation of his last name is both an effort to stake claim to a familial line as it is a means of forging an individual identity. Dickens’ use of Pip as a main protagonist serves as a means to evoke sympathy in his audience such that his social advice is more easily accepted. Pip’s story becomes an affirmation of what a responsible society can do to ensure the future of the nation state, for Britain was plagued by “thousands of orphans and other unparented children [who] existed on the fringes of society, where they were at once more pathetic and more of a threat to social stability than children in even the poorest of families” (Banerjee). Great Expectations, borrowing from Banerjee’s formulation, functions as a conservative political piece, in which “guiding them [the Child] safely into the social fold was a brilliant way to reaffirm Christian, family and national values.” Thus the implicit value system of Dickens’ novel reaffirms the responsibility and duty inherent in a society with designs toward the future. The future is placed in the hands of the Child. Those that attempt to thwart the Child—Miss Havisham’s desire to separate Pip from Estella and therefore the biological implications of their union—threaten the stability of future meaning. Dickens craftily demonstrates what should become of those that interfere with the Child when Miss Havisham sorrowfully atones for her actions, and in doing so he cautiously warns others who choose to similarly interfere.

The orphan theme in urban fantasy appears to both follow, extend, and subvert the aesthetic that pervades Victorian and Orwellian fiction. We see Richard interested in destroying signification by reentering London Below; both Rachel and Pete possess a desire to forge an identity that is simultaneously drawn through a social lens that compares these figures to their fathers. Should we read urban fantasy as hodge-podge, willing to cull from literary archetypes all the while bending these types to make statements about the nature of identity and futurity? Are the removal of parents and society from working as a parent conditions that are in turn desirable within the scope of these works? Or are these works, in showing what happens to the orphan, expressing a more conservative value system?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Definition (not really)

Rather than a definition for Urban Fantasy, I’ve been thinking about a different term which, though it may broaden the criteria, would help encapsulate all of the odds and ends that exist between books like Neverwhere and The Devil You Know, and even City of Glass. It seems that Fantasy to Urban Fantasy is too great of a leap, and that in between, there needs to be some sort of bridge, such as Real World Fantasy. Here you can have Dead Witch Walking right along side Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Street Magic next to Twilight, and Beetlejuice beside Spider-man. When you want to be more specific about locale, you can move into the distinctions such as Urban Fantasy. But it seems like a lot of different elements get thrown under the UF title because there is nowhere else for them to go. The importance of this, of course, is dependent upon your value of labels and titles. I just call them all Nonsense Stories ;)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An Argument for Love Interests in Urban Fantasy

So, urban fantasy has seen the rise of the vampire boyfriend (Angel of Buffy fame). It has seen some werewolf action (Jacob Black in Twilight). The fairy boyfriend? Well, he'll want you to spell it faerie, but Rath Roiben Rye (from Holly Black's Tithe) has got you covered. Gods of ancient civilizations (Hades in The Goddess Test) are coming out of their temples to accept mortal love. Even demon boyfriends are rolling into the romance business (from Anne Bishop's titular Sebastian to the monotone Hnikarr in The Demon's Lexicon), along with their demon-hunting opposites. But publishers are always going to be on the lookout for something fresh and new. Sooner or later, they're going to need a new creature. Someone darker and edgier.

Someone like Cthulhu.

Many complaints have been put forth at the idea of a love story with a Lovecraftian monster. Overall, I've found they boil into three primary objections to the character:

(1) It is a being of immeasurable malevolence: feared intrinsically at the level of the human subconscious, the subject of worship to cults across the globe, and operating on a cosmic scale by which human works are ultimately insignificant.
(2) It is trapped at the bottom of the ocean.
(3) It has tentacles for a face.

Points 2 and 3 are hard to view as anything but an attempt to dodge addressing the proposal in any serious capacity. 2 is merely a matter of location--it isn't an obstacle so much as the opening for a plot device. True love has survived a long drop into the sea before. (SEE: Titanic.) By comparison, 3 is even more easily dealt with. If a love interest can't grow to look past a little thing like physical appearance--well, there's always manifestation via an attractive human vessel. This has its precedents in urban fantasy as well. ("The Demon's Surrender" and "The Devil Inside", though by different authors, are both popular urban fantasy novels featuring love interests who have taken spiritual possession of bodies not their own and successfully engage in emotional connections nonetheless.) It even presents the opportunity to discuss another reigning theme in urban fantasy as well as paranormal romance--one's presentation versus one's true nature.

Of course, there is the natural concern that, by entangling Cthulhu in a romance, one would go against the central theme in Lovecraft's work, which is generally interpreted as one of cosmic indifference to humanity and encompassing a mystery beyond mortal knowledge. But this in itself isn't far from a central theme in urban fantasy: that the world is greater and its dangers sharper than mundane life might suggest. The idea that eldritch beings are waging war beyond human sensing would hardly be a new theme in the genre. Slotting in an existentialist philosophy to fit this perspective seems even less out of the question.

Humanising Cthulhu is understandably more difficult to swallow, particularly for older fans. Much of the impact of its character, after all, exists in its ability to provoke fear. It's worth noting, however, that urban fantasy has a long-term ongoing cycle for the reclaimation and redemption of monsters, ranging--as seen in the introductory lists--from half-human monsters to divine ones. With darkness gradually coming to steep the genre--courtesy in part of mainstream publishing's constant desire to up the stakes--Ctlhulhu as a significant figure with a built-in fanbase must stand very much in line as a possibility for consideration regardless of its origins. Its nature is scarcely any more a deterrent--much of its malevolence reflects on its incomprehensibility rather than directed malice. Unlike vampires, Cthulhu doesn't possess the tension of regarding humans as actual prey. Frankly, it comes down to a very simple logical process. If it has desires and intellect, it has a mind. If it has a mind, it has a personality. If it has a personality, it may be understood--and loved, however slender its chance. Isn't that gamble the pinnacle of romance?

Let nothing stand in the way of true love. It's what the genre conventions would want, after all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My experience of UF before this class

I am one of the kids in the class that doesn't have as much experience with this genre before I joined the class. My favorite reading as a child included authors and books that were precursors to the urban fantasy. I read and fell in love with all of Tamora Pierce's novels, which fall into the category of high fantasy. I also really enjoyed Garth Nix (Abhorsen series, and the seventh tower series), J.K. Rowling (harry potter), and Stephanie Meyers (Yes, I read twilight and enjoyed it. feel free to judge me). I dipped a bit into books like Melissa Marr's wicked lovely books. Unlike other people in the class, I really like the fairies and fae. The fact that they are small people doesn't bother me, and I think they are less creepy than ghosts, vampires, and other more monstrous creatures. I like the idea that there are magical creatures that might coexist with our society without preying on it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NYCC and Urban Fantasy

This past weekend I drove to the Big Apple for the New York Comic-Con.

I went there to work, and (no surprise) I found a lot of urban fantasy there.

I think it's amazing how urban fantasy has slowly taken over these conventions, because i've been going to popular culture conventions since i was 9 years old. It used to be strictly comics, a little anime, maybe a dash of movies...urban fantasy and it's authors only started getting presence in the last 5 years or so, and all of a sudden i can't get away from it!

Authors, premieres, movies, name it, an urban fantasy series is probably involved now. Neil Gaiman has a huge presence at these conventions, if not in person then by his novels.

To bring my family's publishing company into this...Hermes Press is publishing an "urban fantasy" (and i stretch it to fit that) series of comics based on the TV show Dark Shadows. We spent so much effort promoting this over our other titles, and it's an example of how urban fantasy has permeated the convention world.

Kim Harrison was there, so that ties into our class...Signing her newest book. The crowd for that was huge. Same for Patricia Briggs, Gaiman, and basically any novelist in the vampire/werewolf/urban fantasy genre.

For further information on my opinion of the NYCC, check out my article in The Observer's on the con that will be out this Friday!

The Otherworld Clique

There's this ongoing argument about how, in order for the Hero's Journey to be effective, the Hero has to come back in the end. No matter how good a time s/he's having, it doesn't mean a thing if they don't deliver the goods back to their own world.

This runs exactly at odds with urban fantasy's usual core theme: our secret world brings all the champions to the yard, and damn right, it's better than yours.

We saw it with Richard, who at the end of his journey returned to his own world only to walk through a door to Elsewhere. We've seen it with Rachel "More Magic Is Okay Magic As Long As I Pay It All Back Eventually, Right, Guys? ... Guys...?" Morgan. In a lot of ways, the offer the fantasy world makes is a pretty convincing one. It can provide intrigue, novelty, danger cloaked in beautiful guises. More often than not, the protagonist is needed there--special in ways that they, perhaps, aren't in their own lives. It's a gorgeous temptation. No surprise that protagonist after protagonist sinks deeper into the magic until they eventually find their lives populated with elves and werewolves and not a single human or brick house in sight. It's an understandable answer to a temptation no small chunk of the population would probably jump if they had the chance.

But a better question is: why must they choose at all?

In regular fantasies, the answer would be pretty obvious: nobody can live with one foot in Narnia and one foot in the real world. (They have names for people trapped in closets. Possibly medical terms, too.) But we're talking about urban fantasy. The point of the genre is the mingling of worlds--the blurring of the real with the fantastic. So why not invite the adults into Narnia? They're halfway there as it is. Why does the secret world have to stay secret?


Urban Fantasy is a subset of Fantasy that juxtaposes mythical creatures, fantastic elements and a very non-fantastic, normal, familiar setting, and contains protagonists that possess an unnatural curiosity or special, albeit not necessarily supernatural, talent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Definition of urban fantasy

Urban fantasy: a genre that takes place in a setting (past, present, future, or alternative) that manifests modern or urban social or technological advances and ideals, but contains mythological, supernatural, or fantastic elements and characters as well. It usually has a protagonist, who demonstrates the urban ideals but also dips in varying degrees into the realm of the fantastic, and a antagonist, who is corrupted to some extent by their association with the fantastic. The plot is usually based in a detective mystery or a rocky romance, but is not limited to these two tropes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Definition of Urban Fantasy


This is in all capital letters because of how i formatted it in Word. Sorry.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Case urban fantasy brainstorm

So this is a brainstorm that I typed up a while ago, but didn't post. Hopefully you can kind of see my thought process:

Squirrels: messengers? Conspiracy? Akin to the rats of Neverwhere? That seems a little cliché... SPIES: they’re spies for someone. Yeah. An EVIL someone.

- Underground tunnels

- The medical block

- Humans vs. Zombies

“What started out as just a game...”

- Rooftops?

- The windmill?

Geography: the Campus, plus an underground tunnel system and the rooftops

Mythos: zombies (the brainless, cannibalistic kind, I think), with an HvZ twist (you can actually kill them with nerf guns, à la Bad Monkeys)

History: This has never happened before... but why now? Maybe something to do with Halloween? Experiments in the medical buildings! Frankenstein-esque experiments.

Toxin’s in the food, perhaps? Leutner food is where the virus originated, perhaps, in some bad meat. Or a recycled dessert (those things are so sad once you see them for what they are...)

This seems a little more sci fi than fantasy...

Maybe one of the English professors is actually a vampire.

Or a demon.

A squirrel-controlling demon.

Maybe a prof is getting revenge on slackers in intro classes...

Random idea: magical crosswords in the Observer! Maybe a clue or secret message is passed through the Observer.

The Spartan/Denny’s is actually a portal to Hell (à la Reaper)

Zombie hunters and vampire hunters join forces?

The statues are actually magical relics, and their energy can be channeled.

All right, that's all for now. Not very cohesive, but whatever.

Liminal urban fantasy?

So a while ago I was thinking about posting on this. Just reading through the introductory descriptions of the different forms of fantasy, and then when I came across Liminal Fantasy, I immediately thought of Scott Pilgrim.
I know it's not really urban fantasy like the other things we've read, but it does techincally take place in an urban environment, and there are elements of the fantastic (well, or something... not normal). And now I'm convinced that it is an urban fantasy, but just a liminal fantasy, unlike the intrusion and immerseive fantasies we've read thus far. Liminal meaning that the fantastic isn't really explored. It's present, but it's not a central part of the story, nor is it questioned by the characters. It's really difficult to explain, actually.

"When the fantastic appears, it should be intrusive, disruptive of expectation, but instead while the events themselves might be noteworthy and they may cause chaos, their magical origins barely raise an eyebrow. We are disoriented. The enclosed nature of the immersive fantasy is absent: the hints and cues are missing, but as in immersive fantasy, the protagonist demonstrates no surprise." - Mendelsohn

This very accurately describes Scott Pilgrim, I think. I mean, the evil exes are never questioned (or at least, the fact that Scott has to fight them isn't really), nor is the fact that they explode into change when they die, or the subspace highway through Scott's dreams. These things just happen, are unexplained, throw you off, and then we move on. As Mendelsohn says, it's probably the weirdest, most difficult kind of fantasy to pull off.

As far as it being urban fantasy or not, the book takes a really different kind of fantasy, which I could generically describe as arcade-game style fantasy. Which we probably don't think of as a fantasy, but what else could it be? Science fiction? I think not.
This kind of fantasy actually really reminds me of Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff, which is like a... I don't even know. A fantasy that takes mundane things and makes them fantastic: toy guns that can stun or kill people, hallucinogenic drugs that give you superpowers, payphones that you use to communicate with secret organizations. That particular book isn't liminal fantasy, but it is this weird ultra-modern fantasy. Some people would just call it sci fi, but they lack the kind of scientific explanation that scifi has. Or really any kind of scientific inventions or anything.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scott Pilgrim, it's really difficult to describe. I would suggest just going out and reading it, because a) you'll actually understand, and b) it's SUCH a great work, and really novel and groundbreaking in so many ways. Seriously, I could write a book about it. READ IT.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Urban fantasy without urban?

So my definition in class was actually purposely avoiding having to say a fantasy that's contemporary or necessarily in a (real) city, because I think that sometimes you don't have one or the other, and I just wrote my paper on why Terry Pratchett (which does not take place on earth) should be included under urban fantasy. And the way I could include it is to expand the definition to this:

A fantasy where there is some sort of “urban mentality” (i.e., there is some kind of community with an inward drawing force, a central hub that draws lots of attention), with creatures or elements drawn from folklore and mythology that we have some familiarity with, and most importantly a combination of the fantastic and the mundane. Generally urban fantasy makes the fantastic mundane, although in some cases the mundane is made fantastic.

But really, I think it would be completely legitimate to call something an urban fantasy even if it took place in a completely different world. As long as it was recognizable as this "urban mentality", then we can accept it as urban fantasy. I mean, Blade Runner is on an Earth so distorted and different that I wouldn't consider it "modern" or "contemporary" or a "real city", but if it had had fantastic elements instead of sci fi, I would consider that an urban fantasy.

So yeah, I think it's just important that the fantasy have that kind of mindset. Of course defining the "mindset" is much more difficult than defining a "real city". But I think that Mendelsohn starts to get the idea, with her description of it being a kind of "inward force". I think someone in discussion also was right in saying it has to do with advanced society (technology is one such manifestation, but I think that any kind of advanced tools/problem solving), and some kind of internal system of rules or hierarchy that only exists inside the city-like area (whether it's The Hollows, the mining town, or The Market).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Urban fantasy on case campus

Since we had our conversation in class about things to include in an Urban Fantasy about Case, I have been imposing urban fantasy scenes on everything I see as I walk through campus. The presence of a human a zombie war is helping my imagination, so that is the main plot. During one of the more dangerous missions, a human or zombie accidentally released a dangerous experiment that was brewing in the depths of a graduate chemistry student's lab. No one knows what goes on in there so really anything is possible. The loosed disease turned everyone within a certain radius into a flesh eating zombie. If that isn't bad enough, the cleveland unicloud descends in apocalyptic proportions and freezes the city over. The humans, in an attempt to survive have to flee to the tunnels under ground where there is safety and warmth. Then the Zombies, in an attempt to find easy prey, come up with a great idea to lure the alumni here for and "Alumni Weekend". The old people come and a re slowly being picked off to be served as dinner in the Case art studio, restored to all of its restaurant glory. The Alumni don't know what is going on and keep wondering if this is what college was like when they went here.
The humans of course have to save the day somehow, but I haven't thought of how to do that just yet. Maybe the thugs who live just outside of campus will turn out to be the heroes. who knows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Definition of Urban Fantasy

Set in the modern world, or an offshoot of such, urban fantasy is a genre that incorporates the fantastic, either as a plot driving force or otherwise; romance can, but is not required to be, a major component of the work.

another definition of urban fantasy

It's about the city transformed: how the fantastical reinforces the mundane underpinnings and vice versa--

--and it's a story where everybody behaves like they're in an action movie.

Defining urban fantasy

Urban fantasies are modern myths or a re-presentation of myths and or monsters taking place in an urban setting that elicits a specific effect as a result of taking place in an urban setting, and which (intentionally or unintentionally) uses the fantastic to inform the reader of some underlying moral, social, political, or cultural issue(s).