The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 2

03 Jan

Continuing where I left off, my thoughts on Lilith Saintcrow’s post. Her first words are a question, what is Urban Fantasy. Not a bad start, but right off we have this as her answer. “That’s simple, you might say. Chicks kicking ass. Well, leather-clad chicks kicking ass. Leather-clad chicks kicking ass in an urban environment where some form of “magic” is part of the world. There. That’s about it.” I can not begin to state how disappointing this is, coming from a published author. Obviously, this is not at all the definition of UF, not by a long shot.

It is interesting to note that “chicks kicking ass” does seem to fit with the majority of the UF out there. And there are some truths to the points she brings up, but I think she focuses a little too much on what are her pet issues. She mentions in passing male authors of the genre, but only the once, even as she promises to get back to them in due course. I’m going to digress for a bit here and note something I found both interesting and alarming. In the second part of this blog by Carrie Vaughn, Vaughn laments the lack of strong female characters, other than the main character. It’s a pet peeve of hers in UF, and one I myself share. And reading Saintcrow’s article, you’d think the majority of strongly caste female in UF would be from female authors. Not so much. Of the UF I have read, Jim Butcher’s Dresden files has far and away, the most strong female characters of any UF I’ve read. In fact, pretty much every female in Harry’s world is a strong woman with the very few weak ones being notable for that trait. Even one of the females that looked weak turned out to be strong. I can name off the top of my head 13 strong female characters from the Dresden files. (I just now counted them on my fingers as I thought about it for a whole 15 seconds.) I can not think of another UF with even 5 female characters that pop out to my like that. So at least Jim Butcher has no problem with strong women. If anything, he has more respect and love for women than most of us have for ourselves.

Saintcrow goes on to say “What truly defines UF, and why the genre has exploded recently, is the moral and ethical ambiguity of its protagonists.” Once again, I think this a flawed idea. I can think of several High Fantasy and Sci-Fi Protags that fit this bill quite well. In fact a lot of them do. I don’t think this has anything at all to do with it and is not at all a new thing. Her point that the gender for this has changed may have some merit, but then why are the Dresden files and the Nightside books so well loved? From what Saintcrow is saying, this is old hat and shouldn’t be new or interesting.

At this point the article does cover some interesting ground on the nature of the relationship between women, power and violence. But I’m not sure what that has to do with UF in particular. I think it’s coming into a lot of genres, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and most notably, Mystery. Nora Roberts under the pen name J.D. Robb has birthed Eve Dallas, one of the foremost ass kicking women in fiction with over 30 stories dedicated to Eve’s foot kicking said ass. It’s not UF, it’s not romance, so how does that fit with the idea that UF is about this issue? It doesn’t and it isn’t. That is not what defines the genre.

I think there is still some merit to the argument that women and female fiction is second class, both in the reading and publishing world. And this is were we get to the meat of my issue with this whole debate, which I touched on in the first part. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance should not be so closely tied. I don’t like that fact that it is and it concerns me that it is looked as almost the same thing.

Why? How did this happen? Why would Twilight ever be even remotely considered UF? And yes, I’ve seen it put in that bracket. Twilight is barely Paranormal Romance, it’s Young Adult PR if anything. It doesn’t take place in a city, it’s primary plot focus is on romantic relationships. The age of the characters involved put it firmly in the YA category. So how did it ever end up being lumped in with UF? Here’s were Saintcrow and I will agree. It’s not that PR is being lumped in with UF, it’s that UF is being lumped in with PR…if it has Vampires in it and is written by a women. I hate to say it, because it just makes me look like a frothing feminist fanatic, but the publishing world in many ways looks on women readers as bored house wives. Think about it. Titanic anyone? Why did it do so well? Because there was a certain set of women and teen girls who went and saw the movie over and over again in the theater. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, look at Star Wars. (the original trilogy, not the new crap which has no business being in the mythos whatsoever) But here’s what makes it different? It was a good story! If Titanic had been a good story, it wouldn’t be seen as silly as much as it is, but it’s not a good story. Women, whom men do and will always see as being silly and emotional, get caught up in the love story and men don’t get it. What makes it worse, is that there are women out there who think Titanic is bad and roll our eyes at the ones who see it over and over again. It’s a tangled problem.

It also doesn’t help that the market is being flooded with books by authors who themselves don’t understand the difference between UF and PR or don’t care because let’s face it, it’s what’s new and hot. Which brings me to the third big culprit in this debate that should not be. But another time. This one has grown too long as it is.

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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in All About Writing


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