Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Isn't It Just Contemporary Fantasy?

In my local library, the SF and fantasy are in a section far away from the regular fiction section, and in fact are in the same area as teen fiction. I am not in love with what this connotes but, you know, oh well. I was browsing along the shelves a few weeks ago and came upon The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Beagle and Lansdale and with a few top-notch authors in it, and picked it up. I've heard an awful lot about urban fantasy in the last five years, and seen increasing numbers of these terrible covers at Barnes & Noble, but if you asked me to define it I could only guess lamely. (Related to that link and well worth reading: this. Also this, funnier still.) I thought it would help to read a whole anthology of the actual genre.

There are no fewer than four introductions in this book, and three of them mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I saw that, I went [oh.] So that's what urban fantasy is. It would be nice if they'd just said that.

As I work my way through the stories, a lot of what I read reminds me of Charlaine Harris's Sookie books, which I read voraciously whenever they're released (every year on the dot - actually, it's May, isn't it? Yessss!) and which I love for their transparency and speed and sex scenes. I would never call them great literature, and some of them I wouldn't even call good writing. They are, however, extremely fun. But there's a sort of studied casualness to the fantasy aspects of both those books and these stories that I find hampering. I remember, when reading Neverwhere, how effortlessly Gaiman introduced London Below, and how he didn't linger or waste words on supernatural stuff when it wasn't necessary. This is hard to do while building a genuine world, really really hard, and some of the authors in this anthology don't seem to have mastered it.

The thing that bothers me, though, is how ho-hum the stuff that comprises "urban fantasy" seems to me. In the anthology, I've read a pretty good but more or less standard ghost story; a lovely Gaiman story, wistful and imaginative and really very unfantastic (and not at all encouraging to someone moving to Los Angeles in a few weeks); a story by Lansdale that I truly hated, a dudeish post-apocalyptic zombie/sex bloodbath without a single pleasant sentence; and a few others in the realm of fantasy that I enjoyed, but that I wouldn't call urban. I guess I pictured that those ubiquitous kickass book-cover chicks would be parkouring all over a sooty Gotham with explosively powerful crossbows. In fact, yes, that's exactly what I pictured when I thought of "urban fantasy". Is there a book like that, one that's actually decent? Because I'd read that.

In other news, I have another story idea. This one might keep me from having to write the old old idea that I fear fucking up, or from having to iron out the Marilyn book until I get my nerve up.

In the last week, I've completely gorged on Twilight Rifftrax, watching all four released movies with their accompanying riffs. It's really helped. While I'm not exactly embarrassed about the thoughtfulness with which I've (perhaps needlessly) approached the series in the past and the complete sucker that the romance bits made of me, I did want to have a more objective view of the whole thing. Rifftrax has helped with that a lot, although I still find myself being a sucker for certain aspects of the movies.

That suckerism, along with some gender reading I've done in the past couple of weeks, made me ache desperately to write...something. Some kind of thing that would explore idealism and yearning in relationships, that would get down to real words all the vaguenesses I feel when I read romance novels and watch Edward and Bella getting it on. An essay wouldn't do it, wouldn't give me the freedom I needed. So I was really grateful when I came up with this idea. It's sci-fucking-fi, AGAIN. Digging myself in deeper. I suppose I could mutate it to more present-moment fantasy, make it fae instead of techy, but that's not how I picture it right now.

Of course, writing will have to wait until I get some actual frickin' sleep. Or have my house packed and ready to move. Or find a renter. Or...daaaaaaah.

In this post I've copped to devouring Sookie Stackhouse books and getting roped in by Twilight. If you're just joining me for the first time, I promise I'm not always such an airhead. It's just, y'know, you have to read everything. High, low, creamy middle. Stick only to uppercrust stuff and you become Harold Bloom: soulless, snobby, relentlessly confused about why the world doesn't agree with you. I'LL GET YOU ONE DAY, BLOOM! BLOOOOOOOM!!


Maleesha said...


Catherine said...

I'd like to "like" Maleesha's "like."

FYI, I don't read only uppercrust stuff but I am indeed soulless, snobby, and relentlessly confused about why the world doesn't agree with me. Advice? ;)

Katharine Coldiron said...

Like you guys.

Catherine, you are a) not soulless, b) not snobby, and c) one of the least confused people I know. My suggestions are that everyone should agree with you, and you should read more trashy romance novels.

Denise said...

Ha ha, Kat, I like your comment! I think everyone should read more trashy romance novels. =) My sister actually wrote about 3/4 of one (she's a good writer), and it's one of my favorite stories except that it's been years and she hasn't finished it! I keep harassing her to finish it, let me read it, then sell the damn thing and make some money. She studied English lit and, like me, also enjoys all different kinds of stories.

I've been thinking myself about this genre issue. I think you know better than I do how genres are being labeled in stores right now, but sometimes it just seems so strange what things are grouped together, not to mention what things have prestige and what don't. I still remember my high school English teacher calling Stephen King's work "beach books" and totally disagreeing with that. And now that I made my obligatory Stephen King reference, I guess my post is complete. =)

Oh, except to say that I enjoy certain things that I feel are guilty pleasures too, and I think that's good because I enjoy different things for different reasons. Good writing is one thing, but topics and themes are also important criteria and if I feel like just having a good cry or reading something hot or whatever then why should I deny myself that? I think it just gets complicated when other people see or hear it and it becomes value-laden.

Katharine Coldiron said...

I don't actually have much to add to this. I agree that automatic value of the type that Bloom espouses is pretty stupid, and that calling King's books "beach books" is incorrect - to me, beach books are STRICTLY chick-lit or Tom Clancy, but that's probably just me - and I don't understand much about genre in bookstores either. I wish it was simpler.

catherine said...

Somehow I am just seeing your reply now? It made my day. *Like*