The Blog and Winding Road

My latest post at the Blog Gate is up. It’s about urban fantasy which has been a frequent topic in the blogosphere of late and which I had about half an idea about.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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10 Responses to The Blog and Winding Road

  1. burger_eater says:

    I’m not sure what to say about that post. My Twenty Palaces books are urban fantasy, but with a male protagonist. In fact, I understand the publishers were looking for UF with a male lead.

    I fit the genre def, but not the zeitgeist, I guess.

    • JE says:

      Well, candidly, one of the reasons UF reminds me of S&P is that it’s due for some expansion. Maybe you can do for UF what Brackett did for S&P.

      But we may be using the same term for things that are actually different, too. As recently as last year, I would have called something like Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness an urban fantasy– after all, it’s a fantasy set in a modern city, in fact a fantasy about the magic peculiar to modern cities. But now it seems to me that the genre term has been irretrievably associated with a certain class of book (chicks in leather etc.–paranormal romance–whatever one calls it) and that Leiber’s modern fantasies fall into a different class. (Modern fantasy: that might be a good name for the genre or subgenre.)

      • burger_eater says:

        Well, Brackett was ten times the writer I’ll ever be in versatility alone, but I wouldn’t mind being well remembered.

        I’m also leary of the idea that we would define UF by its tropes in the way you suggest. We don’t define fantasy as stories with a mismatched band of travelers on a quest for a magical whatsis.

        I probably shouldn’t have used the faux-LOTR example above, since that form(ula) was supplanted long ago by Young Woman with Secret Powers Saves Everyone plots. People still talk about Tolkienism as the generic fantasy story, but really that was two or three generics ago. I wonder about the transition the readership made from YWwSP in second-world settings to YWwSP in our world. Something interesting happened there, but I’m not sure how to go about investigating it beyond the usual internet method (which would be: post something unsubstantiated in my blog and see who screams).

        Our Lady Of Darkness is most definitely still UF, even if it doesn’t show a tattooed woman with a samurai sword on her back. The tattooed women will fade and something new will take their place, but the genre will continue.

        That said, the label is problematic. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have adventures that take place in a city, but they’re not urban fantasy. My book is set in a smallish town (I called it “contemporary fantasy” in my query) but the publisher called it an urban paranormal in the press release to publisher’s lunch.

        • JE says:

          “I’m also leary of the idea that we would define UF by its tropes in the way you suggest. We don’t define fantasy as stories with a mismatched band of travelers on a quest for a magical whatsis.”

          Not fantasy in general, maybe, but I think that’s not so bad way to define “quest fantasy”.

          I’m okay with genre-definition being sloppy and not rigorous because I think the idea of genre itself is born out of a sorting process which is not neat and where different people will have different results. “This is a peanut-butter candy with a chocolate coating.” “No! It’s a chocolate candy with a peanut butter filling!”

          • burger_eater says:

            But “quest fantasy” is what we call it now. Back in the day, when people said “I bought a fantasy novel at the drug store,” or “All fantasy novels are formula crap,” that’s what they were referring to.

          • JE says:

            Well, now is when we’re talking. But I don’t think there was ever a time when I would have accepted “fantasy” as a perfect synonym for “Tolkien and his imitators/models.” By the time I was haunting bookstores there was C.S. Lewis, and T.H. White, and A Wizard of Earthsea and Blish’s Black Easter, and buckets of Ace S&S paperbacks and all the old and new stuff printed in the Ballantine fantasy series. Some of that was quest fantasy (I think Worm Ouroboros and The Last Unicorn qualify) and some of it wasn’t (e.g. lots of Cabell, Dunsany, C.A. Smith etc.). Someone who would dismiss this material as a.) all the same, and b.) formula crap, shouldn’t be allowed to define the genre, but should instead be gently corrected with blunt instruments.

  2. le_trombone says:

    I have to admit that I raised an eyebrow when I saw the “leather-clad chicks kicking ass” line. I’m a minimalist. To me, “urban fantasy” says one thing: fantasy, in an urban environment (as opposed to pseudo-medieval castles).

    I suspect that between the rise of fantasy and the realization that, why yes, male readers will read stories with female protagonists, there’s an assumption of a connection instead of a coincidence.

    • JE says:

      I can see this, but there is definitely something which people are calling urban fantasy which has narrower boundaries than that.

      “I suspect that between the rise of fantasy and the realization that, why yes, male readers will read stories with female protagonists, there’s an assumption of a connection instead of a coincidence.”

      This sounds interesting, but I’m not quite sure what you mean.

      • le_trombone says:

        Sorry for the late reply. I’m just saying that the a) rise in popularity of fantasy, and b) the fact that male readers will read stories with female protagonists (previously thought to be unlikely) are separate phenomenon rather than a unified Trend To Watch. Stories like Anita Blake are simply taking advantage of the two.

        I had forgot all about Anita Blake, by the way. I don’t read her (I read the first one, didn’t need to read anymore) and tend to forget that my tastes are not universal.

        • JE says:

          Can’t stand Anita Blake either–except via Chris’s Invincible Superblog‘s annotated version of the comic adaptation. But I’m liking Robson’s “Quantum Gravity” series, and Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty books come highly recommended; I may look at them sometime this year.

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