Urban Fantasy Examined Part One: My Personal History with the Genre

When I was in fourth grade, I read Peirs Anthony’s On A Pale Horse. For those of you not familiar, On A Pale Horse is the first book in the Incarnations of Immortality series, a book series about the anthropomorphic manifestations of mystical forces and their lives as they navigate their way through the politics of the universe. The setting is a combination of a supernatural world and a version of Earth with modern (for 1983) trappings mixed with magic. Most of Pale Horse takes place in a dirty city.

It was different from the fantasy I’d been introduced to as a child. Both of my parents are geeks in their own right and my father has exposed me to Tolkien since the womb. “Traditional” fantasy was the norm for me. Sword and Sorcery. Epic Adventure.
Zane was none of those things… and I was intrigued.

I read the other six books in the series (available to me at an irresponsibly young age because my older brother) and never really thought about it again.

I loved it.

I knew it was something special, but I also thought it was unique. It was too easy to find books with dragons and knights. I didn’t want to spend too much time digging up mages and computers.

Time passed. I grew up. I moved deeper into the realm of epic fantasy, consuming the works of Jordan and Sanderson. Every so often, I might through in a book about vampires, just to feed that longing deep in my soul. It was close to what I wanted, but not perfect.

Then, a few years ago, a friend introduced me to a wizard named Harry Dresden.

I had heard of Butcher. He was in the whispered periphery of my geeky social circle. Talked about by those in the know and generally ignored by the ignorant. I was not among the enlightened.

But, at the insistence of one friend, I picked up Storm Front with one of my audible credits and the veil lifted from my eyes.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve never actually read any of the Dresden Files books in the traditional sense of reading (I don’t do too much “reading” these days at all), and it is entirely possible that the Dresden Files implanted themselves in me the way they did because of the amazing performance of James “Spike” Marsters. But, that little part of me that always longed for another Incarnations of Immortality feast came back to life.
I had found a new series and with it a new word: Urban Fantasy.

I dove into the Dresden clones, series with a snarky, male, first-person protagonist and his rag-tag band of misfit friends solving magical mysteries and fighting monsters. There are a few good ones, and they are a gateway drug.

From there, I dipped my toes into the Buffy clones. Glib, female, first-person protagonist “chosen ones” who worked with her rag-tag band of misfit friends to solve magical mysteries and fight monsters. That pool, my friend, is filled with enough good content to never surface from if you’re not careful.

And… those lead me to the border zone between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, the land where the mystery rules the plot, but the love story is a close second. Of course, that eventually led me over the line into full PR Territory. No, I haven’t read Twilight (yet), but I’ve ready plenty of good books that have been called Twilight Clones.

And I enjoyed them.

Then, I decided to write one.

When I sat down to scribe out the Seven Keys Saga, I thought I was tossing genre conventions straight out the window. I wrote in third-person. Something I thought was completely unheard of at the time. The closest thing to a romance for my protagonist in the first book is a bitter ex. I placed the story in Springfield, Missouri–a city, I assure you, is on the list of “places to never put an urban fantasy novel.”

I thought I was being clever and original. Turns out, I just hadn’t dug deep enough into the genre. I blame myself for that, but also, I blame the genre.

Somewhere along the lines of the last few years, Urban Fantasy has become synonymous with Contemporary Fantasy. It lost its meaning as “fantasy in an urban setting.” I blame Amazon, mostly, for this crime. If you slide over the Amazon.com and dig into the genre listings.

There is no Contemporary Fantasy genre. Worse, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance are treated as one genre. I admit, there is cross-over between readers, but they are not the same genre, Amazon.

It’s a shame, too. Contemporary Fantasy as a genre can be split into so many different sub-genres. I mean, I’ve even read a few books best described as “Suburban” fantasy.

I would also point out the term “Urban Fantasy” doesn’t even imply contemporary, only “urban.” I read a great UF short story anthology that happened to include some medieval urban fantasy.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to spend some time diving into the genre from all angles. I want to learn it inside and out. Master its secrets.

And then, when I have learned everything there is to know, I will TURN THE POWER BACK UPON THE MASSES AND DOMINATE THE GLOBE! MWA HA HA HA!

*cough*

Sorry… I mean… I’ll totally be a better writer… or something.

See you next week when I discuss my views on the history of the genre and how I’m 95% sure it was invented by Shakespeare.

Healing Buried Scars

I was going to write an open letter to a guy I knew in high school. It was going to be all about how I’ve stalked watched him over the years as he descended farther and farther into a life or horrendous mediocrity. There were vague references to possible felonies planned. It was going to be great.

Except, as I began writing it, I realized I’ve let go of most of my adolescent angst. I no longer harbour ill will or exceptionally high levels of anxiety for my pubescent tormentors. I can’t even really remember their names completely anymore. I think… I think that means I’ve matured?

Or maybe it means I’m developing senility.

I’m not sure I care, either way.

A few years ago, it was fashionable to encourage teenagers to plug their way through because “it gets better.” I never bought it. People generally suck giant saggies. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 50. Most of your peers are horrible human beings and the world would be better off if they were transported to an alternate dimension controlled by vampire hamsters.

But, as I sat down to drudge up all of those long-buried personal scars, I realized… they’re all gone. That isn’t me saying I’m suddenly an enlightened and spiritual perfect being. I wouldn’t make that claim because of how enlightened and spiritually perfect I am. I’ve still got plenty of brain-cargo mucking around in my mental transport ship.

The oldest stuff, though. It’s either buried so far down I can’t really grab it anymore, or healed. I’m not a shrink, so I’m not going to guess which one it is.

On one hand, it’s nice knowing I’ve gone long enough without dwelling on gym class embarrassments to have shoved them behind me. On the other, it makes me a little sad, too.

I used to have an endless supply of crazy to work with. It was comforting, in its own way.

So, goodbye fifteen-year-old psychological damage. We were close once, but we’ve drifted apart. I’ll miss you, but not, you know, a lot.

A Kansas City Chief in King Peyton’s Court

Other than a short period of insanity in the 1990’s when I was swept up in fan mania for both the Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team) and the Tazmanian Devil, I have always had the purely objective understanding that my hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, had the greatest football team in the NFL. This is a matter of science and logic. 

Kansas City is the best, therefore, things from Kansas City are the best. The Chefs are from Kansas City. Therefore, the Chiefs are the best.

See, irrefutable logic.

Now, this was all well and good when I was living in Kansas City. Even during my years in Springfield, where most people are loyal to the evil municipality of St Louis, life was easy for a Chiefs fan. You could watch the games on television, every Sunday.

But now, I live in Montana.

Montana doesn’t have a professional football team. Montana doesn’t have professional sports of any kind. Well, that’s not true… there are several minor league hockey and baseball teams. But, there are definitely no professional football teams. Not even a minor league team. (Does the NFL have a minor league?)

This leaves Montanans with a choice between the incorrect but, ultimately, acceptable Seattle Seahawks and the dangerously misguided decision to show support for the Denver Broncos.

You’d be surprised at how often Montanans make the wrong decision here. It happens often enough to put this firmly in Broncos Country. You can probably imagine how much worse it was when Brock Osweiler was at the helm. At least then, I understood. The tribal association is difficult to overcome. Osweiler is a Montanan. Montanans are programmed to support each other.

So, now, this is definitely Broncos country.

Everywhere I go, blue and orange horses. BLUE AND ORANGE! I’m not really a horse person, but I don’t think blue and orange horses actually exist. It’s annoying.

The worst part, despite my obvious superiority (see logic above regarding things from Kansas City being inherently the best), they absolutely refuse to accept their lifestyle choices as being invalid.

Being a Denver fan is unnatural and wrong… like eating carob chip cookies.

So, much like Twain’s Yankee, I find myself in a backward land of superstition and Papa John’s pizza franchises, surrounded by barbarians who still worship their backwards football deities. And, like Twain’s Yankee, it is my duty to use my superior knowledge and skill to lead them to a golden age and introduce them to soap.

It won’t be easy, but I’m up to the challenge. After all, six months ago, I had a hard time convincing them of the superiority of the Royals, too.

(Mark Twain was also from Missouri, even if it was the wrong side)

My Obligatory Star Wars Post

So, yeah. I went and saw Star Wars.

I’m not going to spend too much time regaling you with my thoughts on the entire movie. I’ll just say, it was good. Very good. In my professional opinion, any negative reviews you may read (and I’ve read several) come entirely from a place of contrariness. Since they all make the same meaningless points, I won’t spend any time elaborating on why they are wrong. Simply know that anyone who tells you there is anything wrong with The Force Awakens is wrong and not to be trusted.

In fact, if anyone tells you anything other than, “I can’t wait to see the next movie,” punch them in the stomach and call a responsible adult. You are in stranger danger.

Now, I can probably spend fifty or sixty thousand words describing why I enjoyed this movie. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who do. I imagine there will be thousands of dissertations dedicated entirely to comparisons between The Force Awakens and A New Hope. I know I would like to tackle that particular subject with more depth than “It sucks that the both follow the Hero’s Journey model–also the lead is a girl.”

Sorry, I didn’t mean to have that judgemental statement in there… It just slipped out after reading so many poorly written negative reviews of the movie.

The fact that A New Hope and Force Awakens are similar (though not as similar as some people would have you believe) is actually a strength. Both follow a proven storytelling model used by all the best action/adventure films (and books and stories and myths) ever. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Joseph Campbell scholars have only been talking about it for fifty years.

What do I know?

Of course, that is not to say that The Force Awakens is by any means perfect. I have some issues. Mostly with beholders and John Boyega accuracy with firearms.

Sorry, I suppose those were both spoilers in a fashion.

My biggest problem might turn out to not be a problem at all. It might be a theory.

Rey’s accent.

Ignoring for a moment that we do not see her interacting with anyone who speaks English Basic for the majority of her life and yet she stills speaks exclusively in that language, She is also clearly the only person around with a non-American accent.

Accents are funny things in the Star Wars universe.

As a general rule, I believe accent is used to determine social status. The more British you sound, the higher social background you are assumed to have. This is why Moffs are all from England, but Storm Troopers (and whiney blondes from the desert) are all Americans.

Now, I might be reading too much into this. The exception to the rule in the original trilogy was Leah, who despite being a Princess lacks the magic royalty accent.

You don’t have to take my word for it:

Accents

Dialects in English correspond to different in-universe accents in the movies. Ewan McGregor’s and Ian McDiarmid’s faint upper-class Scottish accents are, for example, Coruscanti accents in the movies. As a general rule, Imperial characters speak with RP-like British accents while Rebels usually have American accents. However, it would seem that this is perhaps a representation of social class, as stormtroopers and other low-ranking Imperials are heard to speak with American accents, while some Rebels speak with British accents (Mon Mothma, for instance). There are several exceptions to the rule: several high-ranking Imperial officers clearly have American accents, such as Admiral Motti and Siward Cass. (Indeed, in A New Hope a slight majority of Imperial officer accents heard are American.)

Source: Galactic Basic Standard – Wookieepedia – Wikia

But, now we have Rey.

I don’t think it is a spoiler that Rey is poor. As in, “does dangerous work for small amounts of food” poor. And yet… accent.

This isn’t simply a matter of “The actress is English.” If it were, why wouldn’t John Boyega’s Finn have an accent?

This means something. My first inclination was to believe Rey must actually be evil. Most of the accents in Star Wars are evil characters. Then, I remembered Obi-Wan was also British.

This does give some credit to the theory my gas station attendant put forth– Rey is the reincarnation of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

I’m not willing to go down any rabbit hole that gives that particular theory any credibility at this time, but I can’t help but feel like Rey’s accent has a meaning. There’s a conscious decision there.

I might have to go and see the movie, two, three, eight more times before I can figure it out.