Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Urban Fantasy

Recently, I have been reading (and writing) works of urban fantasy (UF) in preference to all others.From time to time, I still read my first love, science fiction, and will also stray into other fantastical realms, but I find myself looking for UF first.  When I say urban fantasy, I mean books that put the magical into our mundane world or books that have an alternate earth that is recognizably ours, where magic, werewolves, fey, and vampires frolic with us mundanes and promises are binding.  There are a lot of them about these days.

There are lots of great examples of UF that most people have at least heard of: Anne Rice's vampire books made a huge splash and flung vampires into the public eye. Laurel Hamilton's Anita Blake series is the definitive work of Dangerous/magical Chick Plays with Vampires and Werewolves ( until it turns to porn). The Southern Vampire series, by Charlaine Harris,  is a great read which is also of that sub-genre.  My favorite, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, continues to be a delight as it riffs off of (and IMHO exceeds) venerable Micky Spillane type detective-noir.

Before I had read these works, among many others, I turned my nose up at books which mixed fantasy with reality.   I preferred science fiction to fantasy because GOOD science fiction describes a world which COULD happen. It was based upon reality, science, human nature and speculation.and had the added bonus of access to our current life - our traditions, our beliefs, our in-jokes, our problems. One of the cool things about science fiction is that it frequently explored some niche of life that I knew nothing about.  I learned something.  I also liked pure fantasy, but, unless it was part of a series, each fantasy novel has to spend a lot of time building up the world which holds the story.

I couldn't really give you a good reason why I didn't like mixing worlds, but it was pretty ingrained, until I watched, an HBO movie called To Cast A Deadly Spell. It was an eye opener to me. It was the intellectual godfather of The Dresden Files (whether or not Jim Butcher knows it :) ):  Hard-bitten detective gets in over his head with the elder gods.  I would recommend the film with a caveat:  I haven't seen it for 20 years or so, so I couldn't say I would still like it.  Anyway, years after that I read Anita Blake and then The Dresden Files and I saw the true potential of the genre.

One of the thing that recommends this genre to me is that it is more closely related to scifi than I would ever have thought and it shares a lot of scifi's strengths. Reading an UF is inherently less work for the reader than high fantasy.  To understand the settings, the only thing you have to understand is the story world's differences from our reality. This lets me get into the story quicker and be far more comfortable with the world.  It also lets the author play with all the events, culture and history of our world. The story can take any one of those aspects of our world and twist them to make them more interesting and more mysterious. I also find it easier to relate to the characters since they tend to be people I run into every day.

When I undertook writing The Chronicles of Mighty Finn - my UF series, I also had this idea that UF would be easier to write as well since you already had the world defined.  Turns out - not so much.  You may not have to spend as much time developing your world and history, but, for the most interesting UF stories, you have to spend way more time researching THIS world and its history.  On top of that, people are always eager to help you out - after your book is written - by telling you what you got WRONG.  That is a bit intimidating.

So, these days I am reading a lot of UF and I am always looking for more good series.  I'd like to hear what series floats other peoples boats and what you like, or dislike about UF.  Leave me a comment.

Later I'll be discussing other aspects of UF.