So, I was going to write and post this over the weekend, but wow is connectivity bad in Joplin, Missouri. I sure thought the town would be big enough to support decent cell phone connections, but no. At least not where I was.
And then Kenya only placed third in her class. Which was a big class of nice girls — I think eight were in the class — so third is okay, but you know, only Winners Bitch gets the points. Four point major, nice for whomever won.
My friend Laura won Winner’s Dog with her boy, though, so that was nice. I think she needs two more single points to finish him.
Next week another show, then I’m just about done for the year. It’d be nice to finish Kenya this year, but I’m not holding my breath.
So, anyway! On to the actual real topic of the post. I got a kick out of the VERY DIFFERENT definitions of Urban Fantasy which were used by Liz Bourke, Jared Shurin, Justin Landon, and Tansy Rayner Roberts to generate their respective lists of “essential UF.”
Here’s Liz: What is most prominent in the fantasy of the urban, to me, is the combination of anonymity and the need for systems and compromises – a way of operating in the world that doesn’t rely on implicit reciprocity and mutuality – that arises when people live together in numbers exceeding the hundred-odd of the isolate village or the thousand-odd of the tiny towns of the past. Urban fantasy shares DNA with ghost stories, noir crime and the police procedural, as well as fairytale, folklore, and fable. … Although UF and PR are distinct, for the most part, as marketing categories, my definition of urban fantasy as the fantasy of the town doesn’t really allow that distinction.
I like this focus. It’s thoughtful, it does not disregard the actual name of the subgenre, it’s academic in tone — I like academic definitions — and when I read it, I basically found myself going, Sure, Liz, sounds right to me! Plus, and I think this is important, all the books which I’ve read that are on Liz’ list seem like they belong to the UF subgenre.
Then I read Jared’s definition: a) The story is set in our world;
b) The fantastic element is integrated into our world – it hasn’t come from elsewhere; it has always been there. It can be revealed, but it isn’t elsewhere; c) The story is contemporary to the author.
Ah! I said. Interesting! It is interesting and I think it is basically true of what we think of as UF (and Paranormal). But look how the quality “urban” has been entirely removed from this definition. THIS is what I would call Contemporary Fantasy. And I’m not sure it matters whether magic has suddenly appeared or has always been there. But the real problem with Jared’s definition, it seems to me, is that it goes off totally sideways to the books which are sold as UF and thought of as UF, so that his list includes heaps of books which would be thought of as horror. Cthulhu, anyone?
To me, a Venn diagram of fantasy would have all, or nearly all, of UF subsumed within a significantly larger circle that meets Jared’s definition. But if you try to market books as UF and they do not fall within the actual-no-kidding UF subgenre, you are going to have a lot of confused (and annoyed) readers. And including horror in UF would be a big turnoff to readers like me who basically do not like horror.
Now, here’s Justin’s definition: To me “urban fantasy” is all about structure and narrative. It has nothing — I repeat, nothing — to do with milieu. Urban Fantasy has a snarky narrator, almost always first person. It requires a thriller structure.
Wow, I said. Really? Because a) police procedural is not the same as thriller. b) I can think of classic UF that are not first person (WAR FOR THE OAKS leaps to mind.) And c) Then why the blazes call it Urban Fantasy? Even less helpful, this pulls us out of contemporary or contemporary-ish settings altogether. Justin says that if you don’t draw the line where I do, “urban fantasy” becomes a catch all for anything that doesn’t have elves in it. But I think that drawing the line as he does opens up the genre A LOT MORE than any definition that includes milieu. Especially as, when you actually look at his list, he includes SF titles. This is once again a list that a) leaves off most of what actual readers think of as UF, and b) includes a lot of stuff that would leave those readers blinking in astonishment. Naomi Novik’s TEMERAIRE is a great book, but UF?
OKAY. One more. Tansy’s definition: But let’s get back to what urban fantasy actually is. Alternative history with magic. That’s it. That’s why the Charles De Lint books and the Charlaine Harris books and the elves on motorcycles and the Norse gods in suburbia and the sexy angry leather trousers kicking butt are all part of the same thing.
And again I have to disagree, because that would put again put TEMERAIRE into the UF category, where I don’t think it belongs. And JONATHON STRANGE AND MR NORRIL, which I admit I haven’t read (I have it on audio but haven’t listened to it yet — do you KNOW how long it is?) but don’t think is UF (right?)
Tansy goes on to add, “Sometimes, urban fantasy utilises tropes from other genres – especially from the paranormal end of the horror genre, and also from crime. Even the format of the books tends towards the series rather than serial, closer to crime than fantasy. But some urban fantasy doesn’t have crime plots OR horror tropes. Some of it is about the collision of the magical with the mundane, in a world that looks a lot like ours, but has a few key differences.”
And while this is true, I think it still allows far too many titles to be included that really ought to be something else. FIRE AND HEMLOCK is on Tansy’s list. UF? Not to me. BUT most of Tansy’s titles look like they would in fact fall pretty much into what is actually understood, read, and marketed as UF. (I haven’t read most of them, but that’s my impression.) So her definition works better for me than Jared’s or Justin’s.
OKAY. A final, definitive definition of UF. Because if everybody else can do it, so can I, right?
Urban fantasy must be set in an urban setting, usually but not exclusively a contemporary setting, but never in a secondary world or far enough in the past that the setting might as well be a secondary world. Magic has probably been present in the world for a long time and has influenced history to a greater or lesser extent. And the tropes utilized must include those of crime novels or police procedurals.
Does that “must” in the last sentence exclude too many clearly UF titles? I think maybe *I* just threw WAR FOR THE OAKS out of the subgenre. Oops. Back to the drawing board . . .