Thursday, February 01, 2007

More Urban Fantasy Thoughts

As I was replying to Molly Moloney's comment on my Harry Potter post, and looking again at The Tensor's replies to the SF Book Meme, I realized that there's a third kind of thing that could be called Urban Fantasy. And, since I love pointless taxonomy, I'll share it with you.

To review:

Type 1 Urban Fantasy was first -- it's in the tradition of Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and much of the stuff Terri Windling edits. Those stories tend to mix marginal human characters (runaways, street people) with folkloric characters (fairies in particular).

Type 2 Urban Fantasy is more recent, the stuff called "vampire shaggers" in the UK. It descends from Buffy and Laurell Hamilton, with more than a little chick-lit in its DNA, and has a strong cross-over with the romance field in general.

And now we come to...

Type 3 Urban Fantasy isn't as clearly defined, and much of it might be just part of "the New Weird." But there is a strain of secondary-world fantasy set in cities, and concerned with life in those cities. You can trace it back to at least Mervyn Peake and to Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, bring it forward through things like Pratchett's Discworld books (in particular the Night Watch sub-series) and Brust's Vald Taltos series, and come up to the current day with Perdido Street Station, Scar Night, and The Lies of Locke Lamora.

That's clearly not the same thing as either of the other types of urban fantasy. It's not as clear whether this is a school or sub-genre in any meaningful sense, but I do think "secondary-world urban fantasy" is an interesting category, and brings together stories that are creating (generally) more technologically advanced, and less generic, secondary worlds. There's an element of reaction to the pastorality of Tolkien in many of these stories (especially people like Mieville), which is a dynamic worth considering.

(I'm not making any final judgments, here, just ruminating in preparation for my Boskone panel.)


Johan Larson said...

Do you need a forth category for books like METROPOLITAN, which includes magic, but it doesn't really feel eerie and supernatural -- it's just a different kind of technology?

Andrew Wheeler said...

Johan: Books like that have traditionally fallen under the "science fantasy" umbrella (which is a big and lumpy category). They might need a different name, but it would be less confusing if they didn't become yet another kind of "urban fantasy."

Dunno what we should call them, though.

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