Thursday, September 29, 2011

the moral issues in The Devil You Know

After chatting yesterday in class about justice and morality in Carey's novel, I had a discussion with our professor after class about what I believe to be the more pressing issues of ethics. The back stories of Carey's novel: Lukacs' time as a rogue informant in the former Yugoslavia, issues of human trafficking, forced prostitution, women's rights, etc. seem to inform the changes that Felix undergoes as much as, if not more than, the ethics of ghost dispersal and the afterlife. Perhaps it is just hypothetical to estimate that Felix could not arrive at his decision to free Snezhna from her fetters without the knowledge of how she arrived in England, how she was imprisoned, raped and then murdered. Felix certainly does appear interested in social justice. His humanity for the situation and his need to understand and know facts and details belies whatever he manages to say about exorcism in the opening chapters. We touched upon the idea of ghosts as humans, whether they truly resemble humans or whether we simply anthropomorphize a spiritual leftover is irrelevant, but the humanity of the ghost and the other characters' loss of humanity drives this novel. Carey's work becomes not just a commentary on Felix Castor, the occupation of an exorcist, and the afterlife, but more so it polemicizes the relationship of the West to the crumbling Eastern Bloc and to the West's often predatory view of cheap and/or free labor. Caster exorcises not simply Snezhna, but Rosa too, as she is capable of achieving a degree of closure and freedom.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Cleveland Story...

I hate "A Christmas Story", so I'm always hesitant to place any fantasy world or fictional world into the Cleveland area. However this time I shall make an exception. For the general prompt: What sort of urban fantasy would take place on/around CWRU?

"Place: Case Western Reserve University
Time: Summer, late July, 2011
Police Reports: Inconclusive

The suspect has reported seeing what appeared to be an African-American man, aged 20-25, wearing a white hoodie and sweatpants. The suspect claimed to be carrying a weapon (not seen), and stole the students backpack and cell phone. The suspect then ran before disappearing from sight. The victim could not remember any distinguishing marks, and claims that the suspect vanished into midair. The only other notable detail, as the suspect is still at large, is that a large number of squirrels congregated at the area of the crime. Perhaps they hold a clue as to the sudden jump in crime on campus. Those guys are everywhere."

The above is supposed to sound like one of the many "Security Alerts" that students get via email, and I suppose more characters and squirrels would pop up. Who knows?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Adam West - Antihero

Now that I've finally figured out how to use this site, I feel compelled to address an idea that was brought up in Friday’s class, but was not realative enough to discuss further at the time. That is the idea that Batman as an “antihero.”

After a lifetime of reading Batman stories I see no actions of the character’s that would lead to this conclusion. Batman is not a loose cannon. He has the strictest of moral codes; a definitive line, which he never crosses, never even comes close, doesn’t even think about it. While it may be enticing to think of Bruce Wayne as on the edge of sanity, ready to snap and take criminals with him, that is simply not the case. Bruce Wayne is as sane as a Super Hero can get. He takes a horrible tragedy and, instead of spending the rest of his life using his fortune to basely cope with that tragedy, he becomes something incredible: a Super Hero, the only one amongst hundreds who beneath the surface is only a man. Making Batman an antihero would have been too easy. It is his discipline and his solidified conscience that make him so amazing.

Throughout many incarnations of the Justice League, boasting heroes such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, etc. Batman has been the watchdog; the strict parent who everyone, whether admittedly or not, tries not to disappoint. He is the Bob Dylan of Super Heroes, the one all others look up to for wisdom, guts and inspiration. No hero can be inspired by an antihero, they may be able to accept them, but they would not look up to them.

Look at it this way, an antihero would have shot The Joker in the face a loooong time ago. An antihero like, say, The Punisher: someone who is willing, and happy, to kill anyone who gets in the way of his fight against “crime.”

Batman stands as Superman’s most esteemed peer and friend, a title that would never be bestowed upon an antihero. Sure they are opposite sides of a coin, but that coin is not heads for hero and tails for antihero. It is a one hundred percent gold plated superhero coin depicting The World’s Finest on either side.

What is it that makes people see Batman as a “dark and gritty” antihero? The fact that he works at night; that he instills fear in criminals, that his adversaries are often demented and insane, movie trailers? OK. But what has he actually done to get an “anti” thrown in front of his indisputable title of Hero when all that should precede that title is the word Super?

Yes, he scurries around in the dark. That’s his shtick. That’s what makes him cool and makes it ok for “grown people” to like him. But it doesn’t create any moral ambiguity.

Yes, he scares and sometimes injures criminals. So does Superman, and no one would call him an antihero. Superman, the hero who came before all others, was introduced to the world as a bully, throwing criminals through brick walls and out windows. As much as I would hate to be a criminal who turns around to see Batman standing in my wake, I would equally dread to find Superman at my door. Instilling fear does not make one an antihero. If anything, when it comes to facing off against villains, it makes them a damn good hero.

So let’s all repeat: “Superhero. Not Anti.” Let us shed the allure of claiming that Batman tows the line between good and evil perpetuated by the general public’s faint character analysis based on a few blockbusters and one or two breakthrough stand-alone Frank Miller stories. I wouldn’t even say the Nolan films portray Batman as any kind of antihero, they just play up his badass side and throw some extra shadows around to lure the rabble away from Call of Duty for a couple of hours. And don’t get me wrong, Batman IS a badass, but he’s a good guy badass, tried and true.

Yikes, that went on longer than I intended. There’s plenty more to say but I doubt anyone cared to read that much. To end on a more “relative to the class” note, I’d raise the question of Batman as an Urban Fantasy. Yes, Gotham is thinly based on NYC, but it exists in the DC Universe, a Universe different from our own, where Gotham, Metropolis, Coast City (all fictional), are mixed with actual New York, Kansas, Afghanistan, etc. It’s a lot harder to define in Urban Fantasy standards than, say, Spider-Man or other Marvel characters who are based in real U.S. locations within our reality.


Monday, September 19, 2011

A helpful extract

Just in case you don't have Rhetorics of Fantasy with you, I found this very helpful:

It's enough to at least be able to discuss the ideas, if you don't have the full text.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Case UF

In the dead of night, creatures emerge from the inky blackness of Lake Erie and lay siege to the city. A hundred thousand coelacanthian humanoids (think Shadow over Innsmouth maybe?) descend upon Cleveland, wreaking watery vengeance on everyone in their path. A large group of students manage to survive, taking refuge in the tunnels, dorms, and underground labs of the Case campus. What will they do to survive, and what dark secrets might those laboratories hold to fight back against the icthyic hoards?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Urban fantasy and the normative other

I apologize to our professor now for this may repeat some of what we have discussed before class; however, as I do not wish to overtake the class with a discussion on queerness in the novels we have read thus far (whether it be aesthetic, temporal or embodiment of the term) I will use this blog as a sounding board for my research.

Going into this class I had some background in fantasy; although, much of my foray came early in life or, in recent years, had related primarily to dystopian/utopian and speculative fiction. I expected that the depiction of "otherness" in fantastic literature would attempt to break free from normativizing discourse. I was apparently incorrect in my estimation. Gaiman's Neverwhere and Kittredge's Street Magic have moments that approach a discussion of queer spaces and times, but often the inclusion of queer figures and worlds serves as a source of friction and for the development of antagonism than as a haven for those who are non-normative. Certainly, Gaiman's "London below" allows for non-normative beings to continue to exist (in some form or another) but London below runs parallel to London above more than it tries to distinguish or position itself as phenomenologically askew. This parallelism means that the normative ideology of London above translates to London below (we see this in the development of hierarchies, the role of gender--even though Door and Hunter have some stereotypical masculine traits, their feminine gender is never in question--and the use of a genderless angel as the main villain). The possibilities that a London below allows for in the development of a queer space is stultified by this rigid structure transferred from a well recognizable London. Thus, those that embody queerness in London above remain so in the discourses of London below.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Things in UF Books That Turn Me Off of a Series/Book

So as noted in my prior post, I love urban fantasy. I love fantasy. I can pretty much keep reading through thick and thin, and am a great fan to have (in my opinion). However, there are some things that can turn my favorite series sour, and things that I just can’t stand. Below I will elaborate on these issues that ruin my favorite series.

The first thing I’m going to talk about is sex. Sex is fine and dandy in an urban fantasy novel. It can be hilarious, it can be well-written. But at a certain point an author may make a deadly decision and change from an urban fantasy novel to a pornographic novel. One fine example of a series that went from urban fantasy to fantastical sexuality is the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. What started as a murder/mystery urban fantasy slowly turned into an orgy. In the book Micah I played a game. I would turn to a random page and read the first thing I saw. In that book, like all of the later books, every time was a discussion of genital sizes, orifices being penetrated by said genitals, and varying degrees of bestiality. It was not the series I had grown to love. It was grotesque, and lacked any sort of the subtly present in the earlier novels. So in conclusion, there is such a thing as too much sex.

Secondly, bad writing. A series could have an amazing premise, a great set of lead character, or a great reputation, but terrible writing is a major turn-off. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but Twilight by Stephanie Meyer is a major injustice to the urban fantasy genre. She had a good idea: Vampire loves human girl, struggles with himself, other characters try to seduce her away…Classic good urban fantasy elements. However Meyer wrote like an obsessive fan-girl putting herself in as a Mary Sue. It’s badly written, and the worst part is that it’s totally possible to see the great things it could have done. But because of how she wrote it, it’s terrible. I could write a whole ‘nother article just on Twilight, but that would be cruel.

Another thing (and final, to continue my list of three-per-article) that burned me in an urban fantasy series is a general problem. I’m a big fan, and I also like it when authors let their fans produce fan works based on their characters. When an author sues her fans because they write a fan-fiction, or draw fan-art, it really bugs me. Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Rice are two really big writers guilty of this, and it makes me not want to read their stuff because they are such jerks about it. Why they don’t want to support their fans really baffles me, beyond the legal aspect of it. So if they read this…give your fans some love and stop suing us!

Monday, September 12, 2011

not the first...

Not surprisingly, I'm not the first to see Neverwhere as a critique and commentary on the policies of the Thatcher era: when I googled "neverwhere thatcherite britain" it was everywhere on the internet. So I guess I will have to give up any thoughts of original brilliance and settle for the pleasure of a commonly held insight.
This did make me think about cultural context though - seeing fictional works against the backdrop of history and society. High fantasy sometimes seems quite removed from what's going on in the world (although I don't think that's true), but urban fantasy, by virtue of having contemporary settings is harder to view in isolation.

Authors That Introduced Me to Urban Fantasy

I've been reading fantasy novels my entire life. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, the Immortals...they all explored the fantastic. And I loved every minute of them.

Then came urban fantasy. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts...all in a modern, identifiable setting. I could relate to the people populating these worlds, and they may as well have been my neighbors. Some books took place in areas I had traveled to!

When asked to choose a favorite, I was at a loss. I liked them all equally, for different reasons. So instead of cherry-picking a 'favorite', I decided instead to list (in no particular order) my favorite urban fantasy novels, and why I love them.

To begin with, I am an admirer of the Anita Blake series written by Laurell K. Hamilton. I began reading the novels some 6 years ago, starting with the first novel, the Laughing Corpse. Hamilton originally titled her works by a place or theme in the novel, a hint of sorts as to what to watch out for. Over time (and 15+ books later) this trend has waned, and I am one of many displaced fans who feels that she has lost what made the first 10 books a good read. It started as a murder/mystery urban fantasy with a dash of romantic intent. I learned a lot about guns and an equal amount about the occult, and it was all very interesting to me. Anita was an extraordinary woman in an otherwise very ordinary St. Louis, minus the vampires, werewolves, and other assorted creatures, all whom lived very casually in American society. Hamilton made what could have been fantasy into mundane in her fictional world, and stepping into the pages always made my day.

From there, another author I have liked (and unlike Hamilton, has stayed true to her style, no matter how many novels she has written) is Charlaine Harris, author of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, commonly called the Sookie Stackhouse series. It is most popular today as the TV show Trueblood, however I started with the novels, and they are my first true love. Like Hamilton, each has a theme title, but they only extend as far as the word dead. Starting with Dead Until Dark in 2001, her most recent novel continues the surreal life of barmaid Sookie Stackhouse, who besides serving a tasty burger can also read the minds of everyone around her (bar the supernatural...most of the time). She is another ordinary person (for the most part) who has extraordinary things happen to them. Sookie definitely realizes this, and as more and more crazy things happen to her (I won't ruin the series, but it's pretty weird) she reacts how any average person would to extreme stress, and that's one of the reasons I like the series so much.

And finally (for this entry), Joss Whedon. Now technically it was a television show, but I am going to count the books written as well. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is and was another of my favorite 'ordinary girl in an unordinary situation' books/shows. She is from the fictional town of Sunnydale, CA, and burned down her high school gymnasium, thus starting off the long-running TV series. Buffy was cool, not only because of the vampires/werewolves/other, but because of all the fun slang that slowly crept into the public consciousness from the show. I have many times found myself saying phrases (none come to mind at the moment, however everyone seems to know them) that I first heard as a child watching Buffy. It's just an all-around fun show to watch, and the book series only continued the trend. My personal favorite book focuses on Spike (a vampire character) titled Pretty Maids all in a Row.

These are just three book series that introduced me to Urban Fantasy. There are many, many more, but it would take forever to talk about all of them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What does Toy Story have to do with Urban Fantasy anyway?

So, in a much needed break from studying, I decided to have some fun blogging.

In urban fantasy, and certainly other fantasy and science fiction novels (and novels in general), I always find myself searching not for a particular character's motivation, but the author's motivation for a character. I am especially interested in ways that particular characters reflect on society and human psychology.

In one of my classes, each week we had an had an exercise in ekphrasis, which we posted to a collaborative blog along with the image we were using that week. A classmate referenced Toy Story in one of her blog posts, and how "the objects humans use are only inanimate [and personified according to the present human desire] in the presence of a human, but have these dialogues and complex lives and scenarios when they are not being viewed and/or used by people." In a lot of ways, I feel that fantasy novels operate in a similar fashion. Where inanimate objects are personified based on present human desires and are involved in elaborate plots hidden outside (or below?) human interaction, in fantasy novels, humans and non-human's are imbued with exaggerated human characteristics and operate (typically) "below" normal human perception (e.g. London Below).

What truly resonates for me, however, as I mentioned before, is how these humans (e.g. Door, Richard, etc.) and non-humans (e.g. vampires, werewolves, etc.) represents that desire for humans. That these feelings and thoughts we endow our characters with actually have lives of their own, and that then lends some credibility to the ways in which we need them to have value so we can also. Simply, I find that the ways in which we represent our characters in novels an interesting mechanism to validate some of our own thought processes.

And rather than back this up with any examples, I'll leave that to your imagination (fantastic!), or save that for another post.

Good night!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

UF 101

According to Wikipedia, urban fantasy "describes a work that is set primarily in a city and contains aspects of fantasy. These matters may involve the arrivals of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence between humans and paranormal beings, conflicts between humans and malicious paranormals, and subsequent changes in city management."
The most interesting part of this definition, to me, is the phrase "subsequent changes in city management," as if a UF book might focus on a mayoral election, or corruption on the school board. Of course, maybe that is a UF book waiting to be written (maybe by someone in this class).

I thought I'd give a list of prompts for posts, to get you going. But please don't feel obliged to use one of the prompts if you've got a better idea.
List of optional prompts:
--your introduction to urban fantasy: what and when?
--favorite book, character, series, and why.
--what makes for good UF worldbuilding?
--UF names: is it annoying when they're weird or hard to pronounce?
--if you wrote a UF story, what would it be about?
--what are your feelings about genre? if something is genre, can it be literature?
--things in a UF book that turn you off
--comment on Twilight or Buffy or  Harry Potter as progenitors or influences on current UF.
--vampires vs. werewolves? who wins?
--do you prefer your settings real or imagined?