Sigh. Sigh, sigh, sigh.
So, lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and comments and discussions online relating to the idea that ALL urban fantasy has become samey and dull. That it’s all circling the were-vamp drain, full of designer labels, with the same worlds and characters and plot devices.
And it puts me in a little bit of an awkward position, in a way. Because I totally, totally, TOTALLY disagree, but saying so makes me feel a little…weird. Like I’m putting readers down–which I never, ever want to do, ever, because readers are awesome–or jumping up and down in front of them screaming, “But, ME!! And ME! Look at ME!!” Which I also do not really want to do.
But, um, look at me.
No, no. I’m going to talk about my books a little bit, yes. But really I want to talk about other writers’ books. And I want to talk about how my opinion and image of urban fantasy is exactly the opposite: I believe the genre is about to make a huge, expansive leap, that the days of urban fantasy automatically equalling hot chicks in leather weilding guns and fucking vampires or weres are done with.
And here’s where it might sound like I’m scolding or yelling at readers, but that is not the case at ALL. Not one bit, never. But guys…the stuff is out there. The books are OUT THERE. They are. They’re coming. They’re in stores now. They’re in pre-release. They’re being signed by agents and they’re being bought by editors and they are in the works, and this genre is about to explode and I honestly believe that’s the case.
But you have to look for them, and you have to know where to look.
It’s not your fault, darling reader. It isn’t. You buy books based on a recommendation, or you see a cool-looking cover or read a review or whatever. And that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You don’t have time to play book detective and spend hours running around the internet looking for unfamiliar authors. And nobody expects you to, least of all me.
But here’s where I think the problem lies. You, as a reader, know what sorts of things you like, and I think in a way the system itself is geared to make sure you stay in your little reader box, if you know what I mean. Say you buy Caitlin Kittredge’s excellent Second Skin, which was just released and you totally should be buying immediately because we all know Caitlin is the awesomest. Anyway, you make this very sensible purchase. Say you make it from Amazon. Now, what does Amazon do? Amazon shows you more books about weres, because Amazon assumes you like books about weres.
This would be the case with any book you buy. But given that, yes, there are a lot of were & vamp books out there, and given that they sell well if they’re good (like Caitlin’s are)…it can seem as though that’s ALL that’s out there. Because it’s all you’re being shown.
I think the crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is an issue as well. There are people out there who dislike UF because it doesn’t have that HEA (Happily Ever After, for the uninitiated) ending which is so necessary to genre romance. And you know, if genre romance is what you’re after then I totally understand that. You want a HEA ending. If that’s what you want it’s what you should get; it’s what you as a reader deserve. Why should you have to read something that isn’t what you want or are looking for? You shouldn’t.
But I can’t help thinking…maybe if you tried a non-HEA UF or two…you might find you don’t mind the missing HEA so much. You might be happy to wait for it, to get involved in a long and complex emotional relationship (not that genre romances don’t have complex emotional relationships, that’s not what I’m saying) that spans several books. Why not give it a try? Because if you’re looking for paranormal books outside the vamp/were area, UF has them in spades, and you might be surprised by the emotional depth of the stories.
And that goes for the fantasy fans who are unhappy that UF has too much emphasis on romance, that they are somehow a “girl’s genre” because the heroines have sex and look for love. Well, you know what? UFs have romance in them because whether you personally feel that way or not, the vast majority of people want romance in their lives. They want to find someone to share their lives with. They want to find love. Hell, they want to get laid. I’m always stunned when I see or hear people comment that they don’t like romance in books; to me it’s like saying you don’t want romance in life either (and by romance I simply mean love and passion, not flowers and soft music, neither of which I particularly like). These are basic human needs, people; why should UF heroines be any different? Most books, in any genre, have some sort of romantic subplot. What’s wrong with that?
And, why is it that books written by women are judged by the amount of romance or sex in them, but books by men aren’t? Harry Dresden’s looking for love; I don’t see anyone putting those books down. In fact, it sometimes seems as though UF written by men doesn’t even figure into the equation when people talk about samey UFs. The Dresden books are nothing like Mark Henry’s fantastic zombies; Mark del Franco’s Connor Grey books aren’t like Anton Strout’s Simon Canderous books; Charles de Lint isn’t John Levitt. And none of those books are like my UNHOLY GHOSTS, or Jackie Kessler’s HELL’S BELLES, or Richelle Mead’s SUCCUBUS BLUES. They’re just not. At all.
It just frustrates me a little, I admit, to see the genre I love so much reduced to “They’re all alike; they’re all just rich vampires who own nightclubs and sleep on designer sheets,” or whatever. While I don’t deny those books do exist, they’re not the only books that do. There are so many stories and world and characters out there, and so many more coming. When I personally feel like we’re on the cusp of something so much bigger. In June Caitlin’s STREET MAGIC comes out; a fantastic, fantastic urban fantasy about mages and magic and a hidden London. In May 2010 (yes, we get to me now) my UNHOLY GHOSTS will be released, and I’m sure you can all recite with me what the book is about: punk rock, greasers, ghosts, black magic, blood rituals, witchcraft, drug dealers, ghettos…and not a were or vamp in either of them. My cast is all-human, baby, with a few ghosts thrown in for spooky good measure. So is Caitlin’s. And don’t forget Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM, or Kari Stewart’s A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS.
And I know there are more. Tons more that I’m just not thinking of at the moment.
Remember my “Heroes” series? The simple fact is, books about dull people doing nothing out of the ordinary don’t sell. They just don’t. Do you want to read a book wherein your neighbor sits around watching TV all day? Do you want to read a novel about a complicated tax question? No, probably not.
And I firmly believe there is not another genre out there where the characters are as unique and exciting, the world as intricate, and the stakes as high as urban fantasy. And I firmly believe that in the next year or so we’re going to see the fruits of all those books that came before; they way they fired our imaginations and made us think of possibilities. Sure, there will always be a place for vampires and weres, because there are readers to buy them. I love vampires.
But weres and vampires are not the only characters in UF. Not at all. You just have to look for others. Visit the League of Reluctant Adults. Check out the Fangs Fur & Fey community on livejournal. Visit the fantasy section at the bookstore if you usually just buy romances, or pick up an urban fantasy if you usually read only trad fantasy or science fiction, and vice versa. Branch out. Ask people. Ask booksellers. Tell them what you want, like, for example, that they should order twenty or thirty copies each of STREET MAGIC and UNHOLY GHOSTS for all of their stores, because you’re going to get all your friends to rush in and buy them the day they’re released.
The books are out there. They *are* out there. You just have to look for them.