Urban Fantasy Examined Part 3 – The Future of Contemporary Fantasy

I’m not going to lie. If I knew exactly where contemporary fantasy was going to be in a few months or a few years, I would jealously hoard my knowledge…. like a brain dragon. But, I don’t, so I’m going to make a few wild speculations with less combined accuracy than a typical magic 8-ball.

We’ll start with the easy one:

There Will Be More Vampires and Werewolves

This feels like a safe bet. I’m not complaining. Repurposed Eastern European folklore isn’t really my cup of tea, but I can’t imagine it going away any time soon. People like blood suckers and shape-shifters. These stories go back all the way to when contemporary fantasy was something like “Throck see Crong drink Cruwa blood. Crong baaaaad!”

This isn’t a bad thing, either. Although the market might seem potentially played out, the fact that bloodsuckers and shape-shifters have existed in folklore all over the world shows a lot of potential. My sincere hope is writers will begin to move beyond the Eurocentric… Transylcentric? view. The market will demand it.

We need more diversity in our undead, and I don’t just mean equal opportunity blood sucking.

(Note to self: Undead Civil Rights Movement is worth researching. Get on that)

Speaking of equal opportunity monsters and the fighting thereof:

Diversity of All Kinds

One of the greatest things about the “indie revolution” and the globalization of the publishing market is the creation of opportunity. Voices from all walks of life and every corner of the world will rise up. It is only a matter of time before they break away from the “niche” markets and hit the mainstream.

A couple of years ago now, I found the Knights of Breton Court by Maurice Broaddus. The series is a modern-day retelling of Arthurian legends played out by inner-city gangs. The writing was reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance poets. The characters were absolutely wonderful. The combination of the hard rules of the Arthurian cycle put into a unique frame of reference was top notch.

And yet, I never see it mentioned as one of the pillars of Urban Fantasy, despite being the very definition of the genre.

I blame its publisher.

I happened to stumble on it by pure chance. How many more stories am I missing because I’m too busy spending my time on the bestsellers? Let’s face it, other than very few exceptions, the Urban Fantasy bestseller list is pretty monochromatic.

And that’s only one aspect of the type of diversity I’m hoping to see. I want stories from all points of view. This is as important to me as a writer as it is to me as a reader. The genre needs more voices.

After all, we live in the future. Which brings me to my next point…

Fray — Vampires vs Robots

If you’re not familiar with Joss Whedon’s Fray, it is basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a dystopian megacity of the future. It’s a blend of SciFi and Contemporary Fantasy. The genre has existed before, but as technology advances, I think we’re going to see some really great “Technology vs Magic” stories. Sure, our kids and grandkids might think they’re as quaint as we do, looking back on the “science” in Lovecraft’s stories, but for me, it’ll be a real treat.

I’ve recently been brainstorming some possibilities.

There is a particular scene in the Dresden files involving paintball makers and vampires. After many books of me wondering aloud why none of these people carry a collapsible baton when they are going up against fairies, they eventually do.

And of course, who can forget when Buffy takes out the Judge with a rocket launcher?

As a general rule, technology is usually considered inferior to magic. Even in my own work, I handwave modern technology as society’s attempts to replicate the abilities Order Mage’s have always kept secret from them.

Maybe it’s just me, but I like the concept of magic and tech coming together in new and interesting ways and really look forward to seeing what other writers can do with the idea.

Of course, it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, which is my final point for the week:

Everything Old Will Become New

The Incarnations of Immortality was probably my first glimpse into Urban Fantasy and the world exists at the pinnacle of both magic and technology (for the 1980s). Everything is mixed together because that is just what humans do.

I’m already beginning to notice a trend towards third-person narration again. In the 80s and 90s, most contemporary fantasies were written third-person, but along came the Dresden Files and everything went into first-person. Now we’re cycling back.

The trending monster of the moment runs in cycles, too. All the way back to the gothic writers. It might be Fey one moment and vampires the next. Angels and demons will be hot for a bit only to be knocked back to the bottom of the pile by witches.

If there is one prediction I can make I am certain will come true… it’s the vampires thing above… if there is a second, it’s the cycle of popularity.

With such a broad and diverse market, everything will eventually get its day in the sun as the flavor of the day. It will shine for a moment, then fade away, ready to pop back up when it’s needed.

Like a truly great fantasy hero… or villain.