The new urban fantasy. Same as the old urban fantasy?

N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author whose first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is coming out from Orbit Books in February. It’s fantasy, but she doesn’t like calling herself a fantasist, because she thinks it makes her sound like some kind of hipster bigot.

Let’s start with the premise that there are two kinds of urban fantasy. I’ll call them stylistic urban fantasy and contextual urban fantasy. You’ve read the stylistic kind — or if you haven’t, WTH are you doing here on Jeff’s blog? Neil Gaiman (e.g., Neverwhere) and China Mieville (e.g., The City and the City) fall into this category as well. This was the first stuff to be overtly called “urban fantasy” as a literary movement, as far as I can tell (though fantasies set in cities have been written for literally centuries).

You might’ve read the contextual kind too, which is generally called urban fantasy because it takes place in a city or its exurbs, and involves fantasy creatures like werewolves and demons. But this kind of UF, as exemplified by Laurell K. Hamilton (e.g., the Anita Blake vampire hunter series), Patricia Briggs (e.g., the Mercy Thompson series), and Marjorie Liu (e.g., the Dirk & Steele series), bears about as much resemblance to the earlier form of urban fantasy as apples do to… well, no, oranges are both fruit.  Let’s range a bit further afield.  Bean pies?  Yeah, that’ll do.  Apples and fucking bean pies.  (I love me some bean pies, by the way.)

Just from the two sets of examples I’ve provided, if you’ve read any one of each set, you can guess at some of the differences textwise — but let’s skip the text for a moment, and focus on something else. The three stylistic UF authors I’ve mentioned are white guys. Pretty diverse in other ways, but that part’s fairly explicit. The three contextual UF authors are women. Hamilton and Briggs are white, as far as I know, and Liu is biracial (white and Asian). Most, if not all, of the stylistic UF protagonists are also white men, but the characters of the contextual UF I mentioned vary more widely. Briggs’ is Native American. Liu’s go all over the place — white women, black women and men, Latino shapeshifting dolphin boys — but in general, tend to place women in strong central roles.

Then there are the textual differences. I’ll get this right out in the open: I see better writing on the stylistic side of the coin. But that’s to be expected; it’s stylistic, after all, and craft matters, sometimes to the detriment of the story. The core of stylistic UF seems to be that the city or society is the focus of the story, as much a character as the protagonists themselves — which sometimes serves to reduce the protagonists to ciphers, there just to guide us through the strange, strange world of the story. Contextual UF takes a different tack, putting the city in the background and positioning the character squarely in front (as shown on most contextual UF cover art). Style matters here too, but in a very different way, with a solid emphasis on characterization. Without a vivid, identifiable, frankly lovable character, all the artful prose and scenery in the world becomes meaningless in contextual UF.

All of the authors mentioned, note, are New York Times bestsellers or winners of major awards — or both — which I’m taking as evidence that both forms of UF are popular and viable. The contextual stuff is probably more popular at the moment. Not surprising, really — it’s aimed at a larger audience. But bottom line, neither subgenre is hurting for readers.

So now I want to lay out a very non-scientific hypothesis. Two, actually.

Hypothesis 1: I believe steampunk is the bastard child of stylistic and contextual UF. Given its industrial roots, nearly all steampunk is at least rooted in city culture, if not actually set in cities. The steampunk milieu I’ve seen present haves and have-nots, ready access to skilled craftspeople and precision instruments, and concerns which are probably of greater importance to city dwellers than rural farmer-types (e.g., philosophical/ideological conflicts). And of course the setting and style matters, since steampunk is basically alternate history; effectively capturing the mood and feel of earlier times is essential. But most steampunk stories take as given that the individual is the center of the story, not the society or city in which the individual lives — suggesting a heritage drawn from contextual UF. In fact, I would argue that steampunk makes an archetype of Rugged Individualism, a quintessentially masculine (and white male American) ideology, and lays about with it, subverting the archetype in ways that make it appealing across lines of gender and culture and nation. In steampunk the hero is not the closemouthed cowboy wandering the Midwestern American plain. Steampunk’s heroes are effete British gentlemen wandering a landscape of intellectual adventure. Or never mind the effete part; steampunk goes right for the chicks as protags, in a way the actual progenitors of the Rugged Individualist ideal would’ve found inconceivable. So we get stylistic SF’s absorption with setting and art, and contextual SF’s accessibility and character-centeredness. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Hypothesis #2: As you may have guessed from Hypothesis #1, I think there is not as much difference between these two forms of UF as everybody keeps saying there is. (Where “everybody” = some value of “random people on the internet” [see also the io9 link above, especially the comments] + “random people at SF cons” like + “people I know”, some of whom actually know what they’re talking about.) Oh, sure, contextual UF’s reputation suffers from formulaic marketing (I’m really sick of the tattooed women’s body parts, personally) and the inexplicable success of some very poor writers within the fold. And sure, stylistic SF suffers by its elitism — both textual and by-association. But there’s more overlap than separation here. And lately I’ve been seeing more and more successful combinations of style and context* that make me think a subgenre fusion (or reunification) may be in the offing.

So, in the absence of experimental methodologies which could possibly test and/or refine these hypotheses, I turn to you, gentle Ecstatic Days readers. What are your thoughts on the division, differences, and possible reformation of the two forms of UF? Discuss.

I don’t have a horse in this race, note. My book’s epic fantasy. Just sayin’.

* (My favorite example of this is Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels, contextual UF with Big Fucking stylistic Guns; seriously, Griffin’s prose is hypnotic and addictive. I would also recommend Steven Boyett’s Ariel and Elegy Beach if they weren’t so many other things in addition to Urban Fantasy — quest fantasy, postapocalyptic fantasy, fantasy dystopia with a whiff of magic cyberpunk — so they’re not pure enough to be a good example. But good writing, regardless of classification.)

26 comments on “The new urban fantasy. Same as the old urban fantasy?

  1. Seems to me like the second kind of urban fantasy, called “contextual” here, is much farther afield from the first kind than the writer suggest. The core of the urban fantasy tradition is not just a bunch of texts set in cities but a bunch of texts in which *the experience of the urban is the thing that is made fantastic*. The disaffected-hot-chick-with-a-weapon kind of “contextual urban fantasy” is enough of a different literary mode that calling it urban fantasy stretches the term to the point of meaninglessness.

    And I suggest that steampunk has nothing to do with “contextual urban fantasy” in the way suggested, since there is an identifiable steampunk tradition existing well before an identifiable “contextual UF”.

  2. I would tend to disagree with your whole premise about ‘contextual’ and ‘stylistic’ urban fantasy. Unfortunately I’m grumpy this morning and not feeling myself. After some Tullamore Dew and some Black Label perhaps I’ll be ready for a true rebuttal.

    Nonetheless I look forward to checking out your novel THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS.

    Have a great day all!

  3. While I really like your drawing the distinction between stylistic and contextual sorts of UF, I’m puzzled by your aligning them along race/gender lines — the action as well as the alignment itself. When I think “stylistic UF” the first thing that comes to mind is Cat Valente, KJ Bishop, or Ekaterina Sedia’s writing, whereas when I think of “contextual UF” the first thing that comes to mind is Charles de Lint’s. Also I don’t really follow Neil Gaiman writing the same kind of UF as Jeff Vandermeer — I’d tend to place him squarely in the contextual category.

    Much food for thought all the same.

  4. Dylan Fox says:

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve posted a little exert from the paragraph on Steampunk on the Gaslamp Bazaar, which is the forum for Steampunk Magazine. I’ve included a link back to here and urged people to come read.

    As Amal said, much food for thought.

  5. jeff vandermeer says:

    yeah, there’re not any real points of alignment between me and gaiman. also I have used POC and female and homosexual characters in my Ambergris books. Progressive politics are key to China’s work and in a different way my own–the consequences of colonialism are key to mine . and as alex says steampunk lit has its own history separate from all of this. I also don’t think nw focuses on city while new urban focuses on character–the characters are often types in new urban. also steph swainston and kj bishop, both women, are very important to any new weird discussion, among others.

    luckily for steampunk the next gen is more culturally diverse but I do find it worrisome when the bad parts of the victorian period are glossed over.

    so I think the post is a great start for a discussion but I question the factual basis for the generalizations in it.

  6. Hi Alex, (and Amal)

    Well, I would argue that contextual UF often does position the city as a central magical trope of the story, and there’s more to it than just “disaffected hot chicks” — but I could do an article on that premise alone, and this was already getting long. I cited the current “big names” of both subgenres, but if we step away from the bestsellers, etc., we see a lot more variety in each field, and diversity. (Amal, this would be why I didn’t mention Cat Valente, etc. — partly because a) the only Valente works I’ve read [the Orphan’s Tale books] weren’t urban — Palimpsest is in my to-read pile — and b) I wanted to present the best-known examples of the field, and all three of your examples are relatively new authors, not yet well-known IMO. Gaiman’s Neverwhere has been a TV series and the book version is still in print 13 years after its release; it’s hard to top that. Haven’t read de Lint either. I know, I’m a bad fantasy fan. ::hangs head::)

    Amid the variety of contextual UF I can think of many examples which use the urban experience as magic. Keep in mind that contextual UF often apes the “noir” pulp genre, in which the city is very much central and has a figurative magic, if not always literal. An example of this Andrew Fox’s Fat White Vampire Blues, set in New Orleans; a central premise of the plot is that the protagonist loves drinking blood from people high on the richness of the city, particularly its creole food. I didn’t elaborate on my “fits in both” example, Griffin’s book, but I think it also fits here — the protagonist quite literally uses the city as the source of his magic (he’s an “urban sorcerer”), weaving spells out of subway ticket fine print and relying on the mythology of London itself, including urban legends, rather than that of Olde England in general. And this isn’t just in the periphery of the subgenre — many of the bestsellers rely on the city’s magic as well. Offhand, Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry is a rare member of the sidhe who isn’t bothered by iron, so she’s safer amid the “steel towers” of Los Angeles than anywhere else — this becomes an important plot point (in the early books, before they segue off into being all sex, all the time). I could think of more examples.

    But really the difference is centrality IMO. Is “the city as fantastic” central to the plot, or peripheral? I think stylistic UF centralizes it; contextual UF does not. But “the city as fantastic” is definitely present in both.

    Oh — and if you’re defining contextual UF as disaffected hot chicks, then I can see your point about steampunk preceding it. But that’s not totality of the contextual subgenre, just its current center, and IMO it ranges as widely as steampunk does.

  7. Jeff,

    The points you raise are fair critiques; that’s the whole reason I wanted to throw this out for discussion. =) Though I will point out that progressivism and colonialism are fairly central to the new/contextual UF too, just not in as big-picturish a way as is seen in Mieville et al. If you look at the core of the “disaffected hot chick” type of UF (to borrow Alex’s phrase), much of it focuses on issues of Othering — usually from the PoV of the persecuted or peripheral members of society, whether literal (e.g., Briggs’ female, poor, and/or Native American protagonists) or symbolic (e.g., Briggs’ werewolves, who have their own society that operates much like the tribal government of a reservation). The subgenre is riddled with metaphors for oppression — for example, a lot of the vampire books evoke AIDS or GLBTQI issues, or the difficulty of assimilation for a minority into mainstream society (e.g. the Sookie Stackhouse novels that are the basis of the “True Blood” TV series). It’s a more intimate, sometimes more metaphorical look at colonialism and its present-day effects, but I would argue that it’s the same subject matter — just viewed bottom-up rather than top-down.

  8. Dylan,

    Have at it, though is there a link we can follow to see the discussion there? Or is it a closed community?

  9. Atsiko says:

    I agree with many previous commenters that the steampunk hypothesis doesn’t work. Not at all. Steampunk springs more from the “scientific romances” such as the Time Machine or Frankenstein, and not really at all from UF.

    But I don’t agree that the distinction between contextual and stylistic UF is completely off. From a reader’s perspective, I identify Mieville, Vandermeer, and Gaiman as closer to each other than to Hamilton or Briggs. One issue may be that the “contextual” part of the genre is much more popular right now, so others get shoved into a “not-contextual” category. There are certainly books in between, such as say, Child of Fire.

    I can’t argue objectively on the issue of race and gender in these different books. Not my area or interest.

    But an interesting discussion nonetheless.

  10. John C says:

    NK, good post, and excellent way to get a discussion going.

    Your comment on steampunk being “the bastard child of stylistic and contextual UF” got me thinking about origins. I usually associate steampunk with the work of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, whose novels in this vein go back to at least the early ’80’s. Of course, this little corner of the genre has mutated much since that time, but at least among these earlier works that I’ve read, the urban setting does not exert that strong of a gravitational pull on the story. In general, I think steampunk came out if the alt. history/gearhead tradition of sf/f.

    On the UF side, I see what you call “stylistic” UF going back at least at least 100 years (probably further) to the city of Pearl in Kubin’s “The Other Side”, published in 1908, and in Dunsany’s “The Madness of Andelsprutz,” from the same year. I think of cities in fantasy being something like houses in horror – a stage perfectly suited to the strengths of the genre and the imaginative goals of the authors drawn to those genres.

    I haven’t read much of what you refer to as “contextual” UF, but judging from your description these works seem borrow something of the flavor of the more weird, city-centric works to season what are otherwise conventional, contemporary (and possibly quite excellent) stories. Does this sound right?

  11. I’m still mulling this over – really interesting ideas!

  12. @Amal I’m in the same camp as you. First to mind (aside from Mieville, VanderMeer) are unequivocally Valente, Sedia, though perhaps not Bishop. Her character-centric stories fall somewhere between the two folds, imo. The overwhelming (to my mind) cross-gender-boundaryism of UF is one of its appeals. There’s so many good female writers with good female protags and likewise a cadre of very skilled male writers. And I see the characters as written by one gender often being written by the opposite gender just as well. See: “Shriek”, or Mieville’s “The Scar”.

    And de Lint is the second concert’s first viola, to me. Though Hamilton fits squarely there in the orchestra, too. I wouldn’t even know there WAS a genre named “Urban Fantasy” without CDL’s Newford books, though admittedly I’m a little late to the game, I think. De Lint favors female protags, so I don’t know that a gender divide could be discussed in that context.

  13. D’oh. I just saw there were many follow up comments to when I initially opened this. Reading those, I see where the stepping between “bestseller” and “middling names” might come in.

    Jeff’s got great points, though, and I too am worried on the glossing over of colonialism by Steampunk. Hopefully the new crop of stories brings that to light in some way.

    I wish all the marketing for CUF wasn’t “disaffected chick with tattoos”, and that some of the genre field was given to more early deLintian (though he’s gone the Tattooed Girl route recently with the desert books) characters. Ass-kicking tough girl protags ring as overused as the same, but male, to me. Hamiltonian specifically.

  14. Gwenda says:

    Really excellent post–I wish more people in our field would engage with what contextual UF really is and what it’s doing, rather than just focusing on the covers and the flap copy view of it.

  15. Hal Duncan says:

    I have to disagree with the lineage. Way I see it, steampunk’s love affair with Victoriana can be traced back at least as far as Tim Powers’s awesome THE ANUBIS GATES (1982) and K.W. Jeter’s… not-so-awesome MORLOCK NIGHT (1979), and probably as far back as Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright comics (mid-70s) and Michael Moorcock’s THE WARLORD OF THE AIR (1971). And that’s without even mentioning Blaylock. HOMUNCULUS? THE LAND OF DREAMS?

    But it’s not hard to see roots going even further back, I think, through Bradbury and the pulps (not just the SF/F mags but stuff like Nick Carter, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Tarzan) to the proto-Modern fiction of Strand-era popular literary journals that it often directly pastiches — Wells, Conan Doyle, Haggard, Poe. “Boy’s Own” adventure, American Gothic, Scientific Romance and Noir — these got slammed together in the pulp boom of the 30s, and the result was ultimately a Modern(ist) Fantasy that is, I’d say, the true face of the 20th century fantasy genre. It’s essentially dealing with the Modern era, so seams of industrial, colonial and post-colonial imagery and themes run rich in all this stuff. Consider the “nostalgia” of Bradbury in the context of the frontier myth and the end of idyll. Steampunk has a particular way of focusing right in on the crucial cusp of Modernity, the Industrial Reolution, to exploit the mythological power that worldscape of locomotives and airships is imbued with, critically or uncritically, but to me it seems only a logical outgrowth of what had been going on for decades — the fantasy of Bradbury and co rather than Tolkien & Lewis. Though it has, of course, been formulated, genrefied, as cyberpunk was, conceits cemented into tropes in the recycling.

    Lay the Tolkienesque epic — i.e. Romantic(ist) Fantasy — aside for a moment. Forget about the schisming off of Fantasy as a marketing category in the 70s, and how the boom in Tolkien style stuff (re)set its definition as secondary world epic. Forget that it was *this* that forced us to distinguish out *non*-epic quest Fantasy with labels like “Dark” or “Urban”. What you have is a foundation of Modern(ist) Fantasy from which all these spring (with any number of non-generic fantasists from Kafka to Borges and beyond feeding in on the “literary” side.) Hell, if I was to pick an origin point for steampunk I’d be sorely tempted to point to the arrival of Tom Furey, the lightning rod salesmen, at the start of Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1962). Mechanised but magical, the carnival binds medieval fete to consumerist spectacle; can’t recall the details in the book, but in the movie that carnival arrives most dramatically by steam train. Dark fantasy? Urban Fantasy? Meh. It’s just fantasy. Gaiman is a very good example, I’d say, of someone writing squarely in that core tradition. But Powers has to be the biggest benchmark after Bradbury to my mind.

    There’s certainly been a strand of that fantasy in which the city becomes a character in its own right; when you’re tackling Modernity, the City is a core trope, but I don’t think there’s a coherent “stylistic” UF the way you posit it. Gaiman’s NEVERWHERE and MIEVILLE’s UN LUN DUN come out of “urban fantasy” like de Larrabeiti’s THE BORRIBLES that’s very much about story. (Mieville’s on record as being a huge fan, and if Gaiman hasn’t read the Borribles books I’ll eat me hat.) Things like the PAPER CITIES antho show the more poncy, literary extremes this can stretch to where writers get all artsy. And I’d say me own story in that anthology fits the characters-as-ciphers idea, But generally it’s… a lot more messy. Multiple agendas. Multiple aesthetics. Ambergris, New Crobuzon and Viriconium are all characters, sure, but I don’t think they all inhabit the same aesthetic territory by a long shot. There’s just too much of a range here. Some New Weird / “stylistic urban fantasy” is barely distinguishable from a steampunk (or clockpunk or dieselpunk or enoughalreadypunk) adventure story; some is much more… realist-novelistic in its narrative structure (THE PHYSIOGNOMY versus SHRIEK?).

    Now, the Adventure/Mystery/Noir idiom’s been part of this for ages. A movie like CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991) might well have its roots in things like Heinlein’s novella “Magic, Inc” (1940!). And Clive Barker’s been turning the moral framework of Horror inside out from way back. Again, Bradbury’s vampire stories really shouldn’t be overlooked; I’d hazard that from the earliest days of those old black-and-white movies of Dracula and Frankenstein, outsider kids were empathising with the monsters a la Tim Burton. And this is where Anita Blake comes from — and arrives much later in the day than steampunk. That “contextual UF”, it seems to me, is just a final codification and genrefication of various approaches that have been flirting with each other for decades. Rather than steampunk being the bastard child of stylistic and contextual UF, I’d say contextual UF is the bastard child of Tim Powers and… maybe Anne Rice?

    Those “vivid, identifiable, frankly lovable character[s]” are, I’d say, actually a marker of the pulpier approach here. They’re more vivid and identifiable because they’re less realistic. This is not to dismiss them as less rounded or less subtle; but as heroes & heroines rather than realist-novelisitic protagonists, they’re there to be heroic rather than have mid-life crises. They’re drawn bolder, and written for the reader to identify with — hence more lovable. Indiana Jones versus… I dunno… Humbert Humbert. And this is most especially not a bad thing, to my mind, where there’s a sort of… anti-abjection agenda, where the point is to dethrone the straight WASP male protag and give the Other a shot at the spotlight. I would have to say there’s a whiff of fetishisation of the Other given off by some of this stuff, particularly where it shades into Paranormal Romance territory — Native American werewolf boyfriends feeling perilously like some dreadful fusion of a Mary Sue love interest and a Magic Negro — but I’m not the type to dismiss a genre on the basis of preconceptions.

    But the point is, I guess, that this “contextual” Urban Fantasy is, if anything, a younger sibling to steampunk, both of them spawned out of an interplay of “dark” and “urban” fantasies that goes back a good long way.

  16. Hal Duncan says:

    I’m not the type to dismiss a genre on the basis of preconceptions.

    Hmmm, reading that back it sounds like I’m doing just that. I was aiming to say just that the whole “Native American werewolf boyfriend” is the vibe I often pick up from covers, copy, in-genre discussions of race issues & cultural appropriation, authorial meltdowns vis-a-vis Hamilton, and so on. Rather than imply that this was a valid shorthand.

  17. Cora says:

    Great post, N.K., and lots of food for thought.

    I agree with your assertion that what you term contextual urban fantasy is more open towards a wider variety of protagonists and that it seems to attract more writers who are not straight white men. And of course, contextual urban fantasy frequently uses the supernatural as a metaphor for the experience of being othered in a variety of ways. Though I’d argue that what you term stylistic urban fantasy also offers a wider range of protagonists than the stereotypical straight white “can-do” male. Writers like Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Charles de Lint, Elizabeth Bear and our own gracious host definitely move beyond straight white male characters. Though I agree with you that the extreme artistic fringes of stylistic urban fantasy (Ekaterina Sedia, Catheryne Valente, etc…) place less emphasis on individual characters and more on “the city itself” as a character. Other than that, I’d agree that the two types of urban fantasy are closer to each other than many think.

    IMO the fact that urban fantasy offers a broader range of both characters and writers than straight white men is a large part of the appeal of the genre/subgenre. And even though many will argue with me, I strongly suspect that the very fact that urban fantasy in general has a lot of writers and protagonists who are not straight white men is one of the main reasons for the ridicule and outright scorn heaped on the genre (“It’s basically just female wishfulfillment fantasy and supernatural porn”). After all, it’s very telling that in any internet discussion of the topic whenever someone lists the “good” urban fantasy writers, those “good” writers are inevitably male with maybe a few token women, usually those of the highly stylistic variety. Bonus points if the poster actually states that the reason those writers are good is because they are men and do not bother themselves with such girly stuff as love, sex and emotions. Even more bonus points if a poster accidentally lists a female author with an ambiguous name (e.g. the fabulous Rob Thurman) as one of the “good” authors.

    The idea of viewing Steampunk as a bastard child of both types of urban fantasy is certainly interesting, though I don’t really agree. As Hal Duncan said above, I’d trace Steampunk back to the retro alternate histories of the 1970s and early 1980s, as written by Michael Moorcock, Tim Powers, James Blaylock, K.W. Jeter and others, which in turn were inspired by the various scientific romances of the late 19th and early 20th century. As for urban fantasy, I’d trace urban fantasy in its current form back to the 1960s. There were contemporary set fantasies before, e.g. Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness or Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, but those still treated “the other” as something evil and wrong (and all too often that “evil” other was female). Whereas the first works which treated the other as sympathetic appeared in the 1960s and surprisingly a lot of those early urban fantasy works were not books but films, TV shows and the like. The new subgenre received its first push with the works of Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in the 1970s, began to consolidate as a genre in the 1980s, received yet more push with the popularity of Anita Blake and Buffy (who contrary to popular opinion did not begin the genre) in the 1990s and finally exploded at the turn of the millennium.

    I’d argue that what is termed urban fantasy today is actually a blend of many genres. Urban fantasy mixes traditional fantasy, SF, romance, crime fiction – particularly noir, chick lit, spy fiction, the gothic romance of the 1960s/1970s and probably more to varying degrees. Of course, if you go back far enough, all of today’s popular genre fiction can trace its roots back to the gothic novel of the late 18th and early 19th century, which was (and continues to be) derided and criticised because a lot of it was written by women. So maybe the rise of mixed and blended genres such as urban fantasy marks actually a return to an old status quo.

  18. James says:

    What Hal said.

  19. jeff vandermeer says:

    Nice comments thread! Thanks for starting such an interesting discussion, NKJ!!

    Caitlin Kiernan’s Red Tree btw is an awesome book done a disservice by a UF cover that simply did a horrible job of actually matching the text inside. And as a reader, I will admit that crap covers or cliche covers sometimes dissuade me from picking up UF as currently defined.

    What I would say is that any book, UF or not, stands or falls on its merits. Just because a writer writes a non-white, non-trad character doesn’t automatically mean we have real diversity–not if the characterization is simplistic or the gender/relationship roles are still cliches. At the same time, though, just having more of such characters does help regardless of quality in terms of kids and teens coming to expect multi-cultural etc reps in fiction as a norm.

  20. Rick Bowes says:

    The first use of Urban Fantasy that I was aware of was in the mid/late 1980’s with works such as Charles de Lint’s “Newford” novels, Emma Bull’s “War For The Oaks” Terri Windling’s “Border Town” shared world series, Crowley’s “Little Big” was claimed by some as Utban Fantasy. Some of my early stuff was classified as Urban Fantasy which really on some level just meant traditional fantasy themes in a modern setting. That doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but twenty-five years ago it was new and more than a bit controversial. Once it became a viable marketing strategy some very dreary stuff got called Urban Fantasy. But I am happy to see that the term still evokes a certain cutting edge aura.

  21. Totally a fun experience if done with the right attitude.

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  23. Curious Fellow says:

    There is no “new urban”, what we’ve got right now is a one dimensional “porn-paranormal romance” for bloodsucking american lesbians or teenage hooker-wannabies. Different category, explicitly.
    …Probably it’s easier to see this from the european distance.

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