Friday, December 30, 2011

I suddenly realized I was in the wrong aisle...

"You will find that vampires are not nearly as frightening as they used to be. Where they once haunted forbidding castles atop distant mountains, these days they hang out at high schools, trying to pick up impressionable teenagers. They rarely turn into bats anymore, and sunlight just brings out their inner glam rocker."
If, as a reader, you were told twenty years ago that a book was "fantasy", you knew that it would contain elves and dragons and made-up place names that sounded vaguely Welsh. There would be a magic sword, a dungeon, and a scary Dark Lord whose shadow over the land had to be eliminated by means of a quest, often involving tossing something small into someplace inaccessible, because 90% of genre fiction (like 90% of everything) is derivative, unoriginal dreck.

Nowadays, if someone tells you that a book is "fantasy", it is best to ask if it is "urban fantasy", because the latter, despite the similar-sounding genre name, is not at all the same thing. Sure, it may contain an elf, but if it does, she's a bisexual wiccan detective elf who owns an occult bookstore in Miami and only increases her psychic powers through knockin' the boots. People who would rightly be ill at the thought of necrophilia suddenly find it a turn-on if the corpse is still walking around, has fangs, and looks like Robert Pattinson.

Why this is called "urban fantasy" is not entirely clear to me. I mean, kindly old professor Tolkien's work contained quite a few scenes set in the large city of Minas Tirith, and we don't call it "urban", perhaps because he resisted the urge to have a werewolf jump out and hump Eowyn's leg. And the settings of the books in the "urban fantasy" section don't seem to be, on average, any more urban than any other genre. And they're certainly read and enjoyed in the country and the 'burbs as much as the city.

Anyhow, if you want to know if you're in the part of the bookstore that has elves and dragons or the part with supernatural soft-core Mary Sue, just look around at the covers of the books. Do they all feature a goth-y chick with her back turned, a tramp stamp, and an athame (for you squares, that's an elaborate dagger found mostly at head shops and wymyn's book stores) clenched in one hand? Then here be no dragons.


Living in Babylon said...

Heh heh heh.

I read a couple of the later Anita Blake series where she can gain shapeshifter powers by sleeping with a shapeshifter.

Damned if the series didn't degenerate into a furry gangbang right quick.

My wife read the Chicagoland Vampire series and said that the protagonist runs into the entire world of darkness before the tenth chapter.

That said, I love trash fiction. But I really hate the pussification of vampires.

Anonymous said...

At least they have a special genre name for this stuff so it can stay in its own ghetto, instead of getting all mixed up with the readable stuff.

Carmel in

Bubblehead Les. said...

I blame Anne Rice. And George Bush, of course.

Commander_Zero said...

People who would rightly be ill at the thought of necrophilia suddenly find it a turn-on if the corpse is still walking around, has fangs, and looks like Robert Pattinson.

More disturbing is that these same people think that a 35-year-old man lusting after (and with) a 13-year-old girl is a disgusting lapse into perversion but think its okay when the man is 140 years old instead of 35.

Midwest Chick said...

I'm hard pressed to find any book in the former sci-fi/fantasy section that does not contain a vampire, a werewolf, or as you mentioned a nymphomaniac detective.

Gone are the days of Saberhagen and the Dracula Files where there was at least an interesting story--all has been replaced with 'paranormal romance'.

I've been making the jump to sci-fi because at least there are good stories that generally don't contain any vampires.

Woodman said...

As with any trash heap there are good pickings to be found on the edges. And frankly, sometimes I enjoy reading even the absolute trash, though I can't say I liked Twilight, I mostly read it because both of my daughters devoured it and they don't really like to read. It was way too predictable for me, but for people who don't read all the twists seemed new.

I happen to like Butcher's take on it, and MHI is the anti-trope. I like Patricia Briggs too. And the covers of her Mercedes Thompson books set the standard. Plus her character is a hot Indian mechanic who digs guns and domineering men.

I suppose they couldn't call it "Modern Fantasy", that really sounds lame. Calling it Urban makes it sound gritty and "real". Romantic Fantasy just brings up an entirely different class of book.

I suppose if Narnia was written today they might shove it into the same category.

Dirt Sailor said...

At our local bookstore, they filter the redheaded nymphomaniac detective books into their own shelves, labeled externally as "paranormal romance,"and internally as "woo-woo" Urban fantasy like that written by Simon Green, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Larry Correia is right where it belongs- next to the rest of the fantasy.

Tam said...

I had no idea that this iceberg had calved again. :o

Ruth said...

"urban" fantasy is fantasy that is set in the recognizably "real" world (though occasionally a fictional town). Why they picked the word "urban" to describe it I have no idea as it does not have to be a big city setting. I do have to say that more and more bookstores are catagorizing "paranormal romance" seperately from the fantasy/urban fantasy which is nice to say the least. If I want to read romance I'll read romance, if I'm browsing the fantasy section I want a book where the romance/sex isn't the point of the story.

Butcher and Briggs do an awesome urban fantasy, Ilona Andrews is usually classified as urban fantasy though I'm not sure its the right fit, but they're good books without romance being the whole point of the story.

Ross said...

What happened to trigger this particular snark, Tam - did you pick up a Laurell Hamilton book?

Ruth said...

And yes, the later Anita Blake stuff is romance/porn all the way, though the earlier stuff (the first 6 books or so) is reasonably fantasy without to much sex to get in the way.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me perfectly right to call this sort of thing "fantasy". What else WOULD one call it when:

--- Two hunky guys are obsessively, totally, slavishly devoted to an average looking girl with the personality of a two by four, or;

--- A supermodel with super powers and an all-leather wardrobe runs around slaying monsters when she's not having pornstar sex with every hot guy or girl she meets?

Compared to these things, "Dracula", "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" are realistic enough to be in the "how to" section.

Tam said...


Your internets is in the mail.

breda said...

They're attempting to market the fantasy to women. Just think of them as the pink guns of the literary world.

breda said...

The word "genre" should have been in there somewhere. Stupid autocorrect.

Woodman said...

"--- Two hunky guys are obsessively, totally, slavishly devoted to an average looking girl with the personality of a two by four, or;"

This was the smartest thing she could have ever done in the whole series. Whatshername does not have a single identifying trait in the entire series from what I can tell. Leaving a gaping hole in the story that the pre-teen/tween/grandmother reading the story can fill the details with from their own life.

The main character is a blank slate, if you notice that then the book is not for you. A 13 year old girl can read this and the main character starts looking and acting like her in her mind. She's a One Size Fits Most Mary Sue.

Tam said...

Yes, but in no thesaurus I can find is "urban" a synonym for "woman", either, which leaves me just as puzzled as to the naming of the subgenre. :s

Tam said...

"She's a One Size Fits Most Mary Sue."

docjim505, please send the internets back so that I can forward it to Woodman.

BryanP said...

Yeah, I just go by author name instead of genre anymore. I enjoy the already mentioned Jim Butcher, Simon Green, Larry Correia and a few others of that nature. In trying to find more authors like that I've occasionally read a book by one of the type you're describing. Blech.

I try to remind myself that finding the 10% worth reading requires a bit of slogging around in the 90%.

Anonymous said...

Midwest Chick:

Vampires are invading SF as well. David Weber's "Out of the Dark" started out as a fair alien invasion story (though heavily borrowed from Niven's Footfall), and ended with vampires as the Earth's saviors.

Nowhere is safe, these days.


RL said...

Don't we have enough of the blood-sucking undead in DC up-twinkling the hell out of us already?

Someone call MHI...Please!

Woodman said...

"docjim505, please send the internets back so that I can forward it to Woodman."

I've never won an internets before.

Isn't it a series of tubes; can I use it as a fountain in my backyard?

David Weber seems to be an interesting person. I haven't read the book in question but I imagine that it made sense at the time.

These stories, Paranormal Romance that is, are all about "dangerous" romance, but what I've seen very carefully removes any danger from the equation. Like older books where the white woman met the only "tame" injun, or freed the "safe" slave, or the small boy raises the sewer dwelling alligator.

The dangerous thing is only dangerous to others. Maybe these stories would make more sense if you replace the Vampire with a gun. It's something that can kill with just a thought, but if you handle it carefully and thoughtfully it will protect you. I guess for the romance portion you could replace the Vampire with a (wo)man with a gun.

ExurbanKevin said...

Pish-posh. Vampires (and two-headed vultures also, for that matter...) haven't been scary since 1963.

breda said...

I kind of think of it like this: Libraries buy graphic novels for teenage boys and fantasy romances for suburban housewives. At least the poor dears are reading, right?

TJIC said...

> she's a bisexual wiccan detective elf who owns an occult bookstore in Miami

Tam, now you're just making shit up out of whole cloth.

Let the record show that what urban fantasy REALLY means is ", she's a bisexual wiccan detective elf who owns an motorcycle repair shop in Detroit"

Jac said...

I have read 'Out of the Dark', Woodman... there's no way it made sense even at the time.

Anonymous said...

Internet is in the (e-)mail...

Breda - They're attempting to market the fantasy to women.

I have read and agree with the idea that "Twilight" and similar stories really are pr0n for women. The classic male sexual fantasy involves women who are hot, dirty, and above all EAGER: satisfying the man is their raison d'etre. Is this not what happens in Twilight but from the woman's perspective? The two guys are physically attractive - they could have any woman they want - and THEIR raison d'etre is pleasing the girl. The only difference is in what type of acts constitute "pleasing".

Woodman - A 13 year old girl can read this and the main character starts looking and acting like her in her mind. She's a One Size Fits Most Mary Sue.

Exactly. I seem to recall reading that the author did this purposely: the two guys are described in great detail, but the girl is hardly described at all.

Very clever, if you ask me.

Stuart van Zee said...


When I was a kid, my best friend got caught reading a playboy. He tried to sell the "but at least I'm reading" line to his Mom. It totally didn't work, but whenever I hear the "at least they're reading" line I get a little chuckle.


Broken Andy said...

Why is it that when I finished reading this post I lost focus of the topic because I kept puzzling, "People still shop at bookstores?" More sign of the times.

Just My 2¢ said...

Ya know...
This whole genre is getting on my nerve. I started reading an "urban horror" series that featured some old fashioned werewolves and other critters. It had a female main character that I enjoyed.
Then she got romantically involved.
Then they reclassified the series from horror to romance.
Then the librarian looked at the cover and asked me why I was reading a "bodice ripper".

HTRN said...

Sparkly whiner vamps are, as mentioned, irritating as hell.

Snarky bastard vamps however...

Old Grouch said...

"Because I like CARNAGE with my SMUT."

Cargosquid said...

The youtube vid where Buffy kills the Twilight glittery thing (I refuse to call it a vampire.) is great.

I want a story where a vamp "wakes up" from a 100 year snooze, sees the status of vampires, and goes on a killing spree, to salvage the honor of vampires everywhere.

That said, the Grey Walker series that I've just discovered seems promising. I started in the middle of the series. The latest Anita Blake seems to be returning to the earlier style. Apparently the author as worked out her "issues."

BobG said...

If I want fantasy, I'll stick with Wilson's Repairman Jack and Simon's Nightside novels, thanks.

TinCan Assassin said...

Picture Grandpa Munster saying, "Hmmph. In my day, Vampires sucked blood, not d**k."

The Suburban Ninja said...

I read through the comments...I was slightly disappointed that Larry Correia or MHI was only mentioned four times. I am glad, however, that each time it was mentioned as a great alternative to "trash fiction." I'd definitely steer someone to the Monster Hunter series if I wanted to introduce them to the fantasy genre.

azmountaintroll said...

Re: Out Of The Dark. I wonder how much he made writing that, and if we took up a collection could we pay him enough to not write another like it?

Shefyt said...

I used to associate "urban fantasy" with fantasy books by Charles de Lint, the various Borderlands authors, etc. Imagine my dismay when I was reading some reviews of one of these "vampire queen ass-kicker with hot dude" books and the reviewers were all complaining because there wasn't enough romance in this particular urban fantasy novel. When did "paranormal romance" take over the label "urban fantasy"? And who do I have to kill for this?

Midwest Chick said...

Samsam, I generally love Weber (his Safehold series rocks) so I was pretty disappointed when I saw that vampires played a part in Out of the Dark. That said, it actually wasn't a bad read and there was a lot of tongue in cheek joking about vampire lore.

That said, I agree with other folks who read Butcher (Dresden and Alera), Simon Green, Correia, and Briggs. I read for the author now and not the genre.

I gave up on L. Hamilton and Kim Harrison when I realized I couldn't read their books in public without blushing.

Sabra said...

I started reading Urban Fantasy back before the term existed. Anita Blake, once upon a time, covered some pretty heavy themes. I read them even now because I find the author's writing style compelling, though I will be the first to admit things got ridiculous when Ms Hamilton switched husbands.

And like Ruth said, Urban Fantasy =/= Paranormal Romance, & I am beyond sick of finding the latter shelved with the former.

Jeffro said...

for you squares

That would be me. Your post and all the comments have educamated me about a literary offshoot I'd been studiously ignoring.

Thank you, I think. ;)

Brad K. said...

"she's a bisexual wiccan detective elf who owns an occult bookstore in Miami"

It sounds like a mashup of Kelley Armstrong's books.

I like Kelley Armstrong and Patricia Briggs for my urban fantasy. Hastings sticks Armstrong in Horror, and Briggs in Sci-Fi.

@ Tam,

I think the "urban" is a signal that the story is modern-day. Also, the boogies and vamps and werewolves, etc., all tend to live in cities to hide in the crowds (or find thrown-away victims). Just a guess.

And I cherish my Robert Frezza, putting Vampires to space with McLendon's Syndrome. It might be silly, but it has a sequel, VMR Theory.

There weren't any vampires, but in years past Leslie Fish gave us the Filk Song, "Carmen Miranda's Ghost is Haunting Space Station Three". And then Ester Friesner edited a collection of short stories based on the song.

And let us not forget Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lichtenburg with their Sime/Gen universe. Talk about vampires by another name.

Larry said...

Owen Z. Pitt knows how to handle sparkly vampires.

thornharp said...

I'm surprised no one mentioned Kim Harrison's series set in 'The Hollows', an alternate history where the timeline diverged because of killer tomatoes. Seriously, though, these stories have appealing, well-crafted human and paranormal characters (including vampires), a coherent alternate universe, and none of the self-indulgent wallowing in erotica that evicted Anita Blake from my reading list.

Manga and anime also have some bizarre takes on the vampire genre, including cute loli heroines, at least one of whom is wealthy enough to pay off Japan's national debt.

ravenshrike said...

I'm pretty much convinced that the killer tomatoes were part of a demon plot with help from a cabal of vampires. Given the effects of the crisis and who immediately rose to power that's the only thing that makes sense.

Kristophr said...

OK, HTRN. That was just awesome.

Justthisguy said...

I go to the SF section at the local bookstore, looking for good mind-expanding stuff to read, and what do I see? It is all ate up with fantastic chick books.

Dang, Kathy Jackson, when she was a moderator at the old High Road, dang near banned me for making fun of somebody dressed up in some kind of Star Wars costume.

In my defense, I must say that I was right upset at the then-recent death of Hal Clement, AKA Colonel Harry Clement Stubbs, USAF Reserve.

Hal did real SF. Star Wars was, and is, silly, almost as silly as Star Trek.

Sorry, folks, I grew up on Doc Smith, DeCamp, Heinlein, Anderson, and such like guys in the fifties. My Mom bought me subscriptions to Galaxy and Analog when I was but a kid.

I despise all Trekkies, and all Star Wars fans.

Tam said...

I'm sure they're all broken up about that, too.

Brad K. said...

@ Justthisguy,

I read Planet Big Zero, Juanita Coulson. I read Skylark of Space and Skylark DuQuesne, and loved them. Subspace Explorers was great.

This week I am reading Between Planets (Robert Heinlein) and The Wood Nymph and the Cranky Saint (C. Dale Brittain). I just finished Mouse and Dragon (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller), and Mastiff (Tamora Pierce).

My current favorites are Tinker, and A Brother's Price (Wen Spencer), Pride of Chanur series and Chanur's Legacy (C.J. Cherryh), Balance of Trade, Ghost Ship, and Scout's Progress (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller), With the Lightnings (David Drake), the Vatta's War series and Deed of Paksennarian (Elizabeth Moon), Moon Called and the short Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs.

I have read and enjoyed most of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Underworld books, and liked them enough to re-read almost all of them. Some several times.

As for Star Trek, that was a TV series meant to be taken as a metaphor for racial integration and tolerance, and otherwise about as serious as the Monkees. I like Leah Rewolinski's Star Wreck books, that start with "Boldly going where no one wanted to go before." I enjoyed Frankowski's Cross Time Engineer, and the lamentable McLendon's Syndrome. Christopher Stasheff's Star Troupers books are fun, if you don't mind the light touch of SF into a world of stage.

And I haven't enjoyed anything Heinlein wrote after "Stranger in a Strange Land". I have a couple of Hal Clement's novels on my shelf. Surprisingly, nothing comes to mind about them.

Campbell wrote in the late 1950s that 90% of science fiction is drekh; but then, 90% of everything is drekh. That 10% of worthwhile stuff is still being written today, for those willing to look.

Blessed be.

Anonymous said...

Shefylt, that was my thought too. Charles de Lint is "urban fantasy." I will admit that I have not read any of the Twilight or other paranormal romances. I have read MHI. I just get too impatient with most romance plots and wussed-down vampires/werewolves/ghosts/whatever.


Justthisguy said...

Brad, that is Sturgeon's Law.

The story as I read it was like this:
There was an hospitality suite, with flowing bowl, at a con, and Ted Sturgeon was in there. A very drunk person came up to him and backed him around the room, pointing finger in his chest etc.

Said drunkard said, "You're a Science Fiction writer, aren't you?"

Sturgeon admitted to being such, whereupon the other guy said, "90% of Science Fiction is shit!"

Sturgeon came right back at him with:

"Sir, 90% of _everything_ is shit!"

Oh, Tam? I care even less for them, and the horses they rode in on.

Mikael said...

You're definitely forgetting Neil Gaiman on the good alternatives listing. I heartily endorse the Butcher and Correia on there though. Oh and a shout out for Greg van Eekhout(Norse Code).

Wraith said...

There weren't any vampires, but in years past Leslie Fish gave us the Filk Song, "Carmen Miranda's Ghost is Haunting Space Station Three".

Not that we're complaining, since the fresh fruit all comes free. ;)