TT: Modern Twist to Urban Fantasy

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one.  Maybe you can tell me what’s growing in my garden.  You’ll also learn why, no matter how busy I am, I never skip page proofs.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we take a look at the newest evolution in urban fantasy: Buffy Fic!

Buffy Fic: It's Not All Like This...

Buffy Fic: It’s Not All Like This…

JANE: As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the term urban fantasy has recently expanded to incorporate what used to be the monsters of horror, presented in a less monstrous, often romantic, context.  Since it seemed to me that this sort of urban fantasy blossomed forth as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series grew in popularity, I’ve tended to term it “Buffy Fic.”

ALAN: And that’s a name that seemed so appropriate the first time I heard you use it, that I’ve been using it ever since. But “Buffy” was a TV show. I suspect that the huge popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novels has also had a lot of influence on the growth of this kind of thing as a literary genre.

JANE: Now, I’ll admit, as a reader I have an aversion to fiction focused around vampires— although I have read all the “Twilight” books, mostly so I could find out what the fuss was about.  Anyhow, to me, it doesn’t matter if the vampires are the good guys or the villains or both.  It’s just not my flavor.  Therefore, I’m hardly an expert on this particular variation of urban fantasy.  Perhaps you could mention some authors or titles you have enjoyed.

ALAN: I rather like vampires. Can I tangent off our tangent for a moment so that I can talk about vampires?

JANE: Go for it…  I’m always hoping to figure out what possible appeal vampires could have.

ALAN: The archetypal example of the genre would be Anne Rice’s work – Interview With The Vampire et al, but I must confess I always found them rather turgid.

JANE: Whoa!  I remember when Anne Rice’s work was omnipresent.  Wasn’t it considered horror?

ALAN: I think that’s the slot that many readers and reviewers put it in, but I was never completely convinced.  Anne Rice always presented the vampire Lestat in a very romantic light. He was handsome and sexy as well as dangerous. I’m sure you could make a very good case that Buffy Fic draws at least as much inspiration from Anne Rice’s work as it does from anything else. After all, the prevailing characteristic of Buffy Fic is that feeling of slightly dangerous romance.

JANE:  I really think that one of the biggest differences between Buffy Fic and Horror is that in Buffy Fic romance is crucial.  It also lacks the “darkness” that prominent horror editor, Ellen Datlow, mentioned is key.

It’s worth re-quoting her: “To me, horror is less a distinct genre than a tone that develops from the approach writers take to their material.  It’s the darkness, always the darkness that prevails.  Even when the protagonist survives, the darkness is never left entirely behind.  Things are not ‘ok’ in the world (which is why most of what is today called ‘urban fantasy’ is not horror).”

ALAN: That’s quite true.

But, sticking just to vampires for the moment, I’ve greatly enjoyed Mike Resnick’s approach in Stalking The Vampire which is a sort of hard-boiled private detective novel with vampires and jokes. He’s written several books in this series and they are all a lot of light-hearted fun, played strictly for laughs.

Christopher Moore has also written a trilogy of vampire novels which I think are some of the funniest books I’ve ever read – I was literally crying with laughter when I was reading them. The novels are: Blood Sucking Fiends, You Suck and Bite Me. I think the puns are obvious…

Then there’s Kim Newman and his Anno Dracula series. The premise here is that Dracula triumphed over his enemies – Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing were soundly defeated. Dracula wooed, won and married Queen Victoria, as a result of which vampirism became very fashionable and it wasn’t long before everybody who was anybody at all in high society was turned into a vampire…

Newman’s stories are not precisely played for laughs; there’s a grim subtext. But nevertheless there is a lightness of tone which makes them really rather a lot of fun.

Books like these straddle the line between horror and Buffy Fic.

And, to be more serious for a moment, Octavia Butler’s last novel Fledgling uses the vampire as a metaphor for the outsider and her novel, while it’s a brilliant straightforward vampire story on the surface, is also an examination of racial and sexual prejudice underneath the surface. Vampires definitely have their literary uses!

JANE: Well…  Let’s just say that I don’t feel any desire to add these to my reading list.

You know, you still really haven’t given an example of Buffy Fic…  How about one?

ALAN: OK – back to Buffy Fic. I’ve really enjoyed the Rachel Morgan novels by Kim Harrison. The premise is that most of the human race has been destroyed in a world wide pandemic caused by genetically modified tomatoes and now the supernatural entities (who weren’t affected by the pandemic) can slot themselves neatly into the organisational structure of society. There’s still an uneasy relationship between the humans and the supernaturals but nevertheless there is a relationship.

Rachel Morgan herself is a witch and a detective. Her cases involve both the mundane and the supernatural and much of the strength of the series comes from the impact of her relationships, both romantic and otherwise, with her clients and partners. The titles of the novels are wonderfully clever puns on Hollywood movies – for example Dead Witch Walking, and The Good, the Bad, and the Undead.

JANE: Oh!  I’m giggling madly!  Genetically modified tomatoes?  Funny!  But, actually, it’s also a nice reference to the rising fear of genetically engineered crops.

Now It’s my turn.

My husband, Jim, is usually my gateway into any book with vampires.  He really likes Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty” books.  Kitty is a radio talk show host who is assaulted by a werewolf and becomes one herself.  Initially, she is a very convincing wreck.  However, she finds her strength in becoming a voice for the voiceless.  I’ve only read a few of the books, but I’ve liked what I’ve read.  Jim is positively hooked.

One thing that makes the Kitty books work for me is that – although there is a fair dose of hidden politics –  there are real world issues, too.  Kitty’s mother gets breast cancer and Kitty needs to figure out how to visit her mother with dangerous enemies on her tail.  In Kitty Goes to Washington, Kitty has to testify before Congress regarding the reality of supernatural entities.

Best if all, not all the vampires are powerbrokers.  One of my favorite scenes is the one where a young man calls into Kitty’s show.  He was “turned” and now the only work he can get is in a late night stop and shop.  He’s not cool.  He’s not powerful.  And he’s trapped this way for all eternity.  It’s a bit of nice balance.

ALAN: I’m not familiar with those books. Perhaps we should take a break here while both of us go and do some reading…

JANE: And I go do some writing!  Spoiler warning for our readers…  We’re not done yet!  Hurry back next week for more of the best of Buffy Fic.


6 Responses to “TT: Modern Twist to Urban Fantasy”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    It’s gently amusing that someone who’s averse to vampire novels has read more of them than I have, but that’s okay. I’m glad to find out that more writers are having fun with the trope.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Why? How can you judge whether or not you like something without giving it a fair try. I was honest when I said I am always trying to figure out the appeal.

      In addition to the vampire novels I mentioned having read this week (and next!) I’ve read several of the ones Alan mentioned and, hmm… Off the cuff, Fred Saberhagen’s _Old Friend of the Family_, Robin McKinley’s _Sunshine_, Pati Nagle’s Aelven novels (which feature elven vampires), and, of course, the original novel by Bram Stoker. I’ve tried many others but found them too dull and predictable to even finish.

  2. Peter Says:

    Another thumbs-up for Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty novels, which are a lot of fun (I, too, loved the poor, uncool, vampire who’s stuck working the night shift at Qwik-Mart). They’re smart, well-written, and I delight in the way they turn some of the sub-genres expected tropes on their head.

    I’ve always dated the “Porn with Fangs” version of urban fantasy to the rising popularity of Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, the first few of which are quite good fun (the series quickly turns into, well, BDSM porn with fangs and fur, and seem to have been a formative influence on 50 Shades of Grey, which I seem to recall started life as a piece of Twilight fanfic).

    • janelindskold Says:

      Interesting connection — although I do think there has always been an erotic element to vampires, at least as portrayed in film. Those early Dracula films look bland to us, but to their intended audience, they were anything but.

      • Peter Says:

        Per Wikipedia (and we all know Wikipedia is always and entirely accurate in all things): “The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction series originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”. The piece featured characters named after Stephenie Meyer’s characters in Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. After comments concerning the sexual nature of the material, James removed the story from the fan-fiction websites and published it on her own website, Later she rewrote Master of the Universe as an original piece, with the principal characters renamed Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele and removed it from her website prior to publication.”

        I think the erotic element of vampires goes back to Polidori and Stoker. There’s a strong subtext of the vampire as purveyor of the forbidden pleasure – homosexuality, premarital sex, adjust as culturally appropriate – running through the genre.

    • Heteromeles Says:

      Peter, I was thinking the same thing, and I’m glad you posted it. I’ll admit I only read a few of Laurell Hamilton’s books, because they left me feeling like I’d just gotten over a hangover (kind of fuzzy headed, with the vague sense that I’d just gotten something yucky out of my system). Not my idea of fun.

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