Love the site. In fact, I try and use a Word of the Day as often as possible.
Which brings me to my topic: most Urban Fantasy writing does not challenge me. In fact, most fantasy leaves me wondering if I just spent three days reading a 40 minute episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I have a dirty secret: even though I write it, I don’t read much UF. Even reading the greats like de Lint (Modern Fantasy, I know) and Gaiman leaves me wanting. Both of my brothers are the same way. I’ll chalk it up to upbringing: My dad’s an engineer, my mom’s a CPA. Neither read anything but Science News and CPA Quarterly. I was raised on logic, debate, and science. We are Catholic (my family and I), so we got a healthy dose of religious dogma and ritual, but the majority of our teachings came from scientific studies.
Needless to say, I almost require a fantasy to be self-aware, or at least explain itself to an extent where it has roots in the Real. I love realized fantasy worlds. I love realized fantasy contraptions/systems. I can’t stand some emotional parade about failed relationships.
Yet most Modern/Urban fantasy sticks to simple words, simple plot, simple characterization, simple conflict. I could go into all the themes, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Writers that use an aggressive vocabulary to quantify (or qualify) a fantasy come few and far between. Why?
I’m drawing my examples from several stellar writers I’ve recently read:
Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (not fantasy, I know), Dan Simmons’ Drood, Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil (…incredible piece of writing. Perhaps even her omnibus), and of course some of the classics: Ender’s Game (also not fantasy, I know), de Lint’s Moonheart (incredible magic system), and Pratchett/Gaiman’s Good Omens (comedy, yes, but perfectly executed).
Quick disclaimer: I can’t stand most scifi. Last book I read was Ian Banks’ Remember Plebias, and it was such a stellar letdown that I almost burned the book. On the other hand, when I was in high school, I read almost nothing but Scifi: Greg Bear’s Legacy, Arthur C Clarke’s… anything, some of LeGuin’s work, etc. Needless to say, I’m much more apt to read World War Z over Autumn.
Don’t get me wrong. I love fluff writing. I love the Jim Butchers of the world. The Peter Watts-es. I don’t read them for inspiration, though. I read them because I’m not near a computer or other Netflix ready device. I read them because I want to read a 40 minute Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode over three days.
When I look for a new writer, though, I don’t look for fluff. A book with a sexy Warriatrix or a brooding chisel-face on the cover won’t strike my interest. I might be an exception. I might be a true critic. I don’t know: I wasn’t raised in a Soap Opera bubble. I was raised where the werewolves and vampires and zombies are simply exaggerated Jungian archetypes denoting an externalization of an individual’s personality without having to actually think the character through. “I’m a werewolf. I’m, burly, loyal, and aggressive by nature.” “I’m a vampire. I’m vain, selfish, and sexy by nature.” “I’m a zombie/ghost/insert random supernatural reference here. I’m tenacious and headstrong/sleek and unassuming/insert random personality trait here by nature.” (Not that zombies play central roles in most books)
I want flaws. Maybe it all boils down to this. Realized flaws. Screwed up in the head, or perhaps have a defense mechanism that truly damages, or separates, or scares. I recently watched Holmes, where Sherlock was some “highly functioning sociopath” (his words) grew bored with normal cases. I love the show because he’s flawed. His flaws truly get in the way and not in a “my last boyfriend died a horrible death so I can’t see myself dating you right now” kind of way.
I guess this is a continuation of the previous post. Most UF is too simple for my taste: too many sparkling ocean-blue eyes and too few shaved heads. I thirst for complexity.
Back to the “why” question I asked earlier. I believe it’s because people write fantasy because it’s cool. In the 70’s and 80’s it wasn’t. Early 90’s even. Now, though, a generation of WoW players are maturing, the people raised on Buffy and the like are getting jobs as professionals (or not) and finally making their own income. Generation Y, my generation, is a fantasy generation. And not in some Unobtainium kind of way (Avatar), but in a real, here, kind of way.
I live in a town where every six months, 40,000 college students leave and just as many come back. To rent an apartment in this town is a joke. 650.00 for a four-bedroom apartment? No. 650.00 for one of those bedrooms. 2,600/mo for a four-bedroom apartment. Half of the landlords don’t keep their properties up, most of the apartments have “tubthumping” into the night due to them being filled with college kids, and finding an apartment that’s right for me is a fierce fight.
Just like finding the right apartment for me, a 28 year old who wants nothing to do with the college life, finding a book that’s the right “fit” for me is rough. I wonder if the market is too saturated to write at all, let alone writing UF that isn’t the norm. Maybe I should move to another town, so to speak, where the property values aren’t so inflated and the company isn’t so different.
Just a thought.