Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Just page back to where I discuss the values of Reverse Outlining. Then join me and Alan as we continue our examination of the latest variation on urban fantasy.
JANE: Okay, Alan. I know you have another Buffy Fic author you’re eager to talk about. (For those of you who weren’t with us last week, take a quick look at last week’s Tangent if you want to know exactly how we define “Buffy Fic.”) Come to think of it, I have a couple to mention, too!
ALAN: I think Buffy Fic really came into its own for me with Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’ve admired her work for a long time. She’s a very prolific writer in a lot of genres, but these novels are the ones that brought her fame and fortune.
JANE: I fear I haven’t read the books, so I can’t respond except to say that you’re not the only one who seems to have enjoyed them. I sat next to Ms. Harris at a World Fantasy mass signing just as her star was rising and got to listen to her readers gush. What made the Sookie Stackhouse novels work for you?
ALAN: Sookie was a very appealing character – I admired her feistiness – and the premise that there are vampires among us was introduced very well with, initially at least, a very sympathetic vampire character. However, you can have too much of a good thing. The early novels are engrossing but, as the series progressed, I found myself becoming quite disenchanted with it.
One of the strengths of urban fantasy is the contrast between the mundane world and the magic world and the influences creatures of faerie have on the way that our world works. The Sookie Stackhouse novels certainly started out like that but, as the series progressed, more and more supernatural entities were introduced (werewolves and the like) and the stories moved away from their contemporary setting and turned into dull and unconvincing discourses on vampire politics and the like. In my opinion, she over-salted her stew. We got less and less reality and more and more fantasy, and I lost patience with it. I suspect she might have realised this herself because she recently announced that her next novel will be the last in the series; a decision I applaud.
JANE: Yes, I agree that focusing on the politics of the hidden world, rather than our world with supernatural world revealed (as in de Lint, Bull, Windling etc.), can lead to a sense of a world completely cut off from our own.
In my Changer, for example, there are hidden politics, yes, but they’re tied to the real world. One plot thread deals with sasquatches and fauns wanting to have some say in environmental policy and resenting that the “humanform” supernaturals want the non-humanform kept hidden because if humanity learns that monsters are real…
ALAN: Well, it seems that we agree about structures that work and structures that don’t. Do you have any authors who you think have managed to do this kind of thing convincingly?
JANE: Well, let’s see. Jim got me to read the first couple novels in was Andrew Fox’s “Fat White Vampire” series. (The first book is Fat White Vampire Blues.) They’re set in New Orleans and the gimmick is that this time the person turned isn’t cool, handsome, or even particularly socially ept. In fact, Jules Duchon is a loser. Being turned into a vampire doesn’t make him any better. The only bright idea he has is that now he can be a superhero. The books have some clever touches – including the contrast with Anne Rice’s elegantly vampire-haunted New Orleans and the fact that Jules has not lost his taste for New Orlean’s style cooking. When he drinks someone’s blood, he seeks traces of the food he loves and will never again be able to eat.
ALAN: I’ve not heard of them before. They sound like enormous fun – obviously I need to add them to my reading list.
JANE: Moving back to Buffy Fic, something that concerns me about this particular variation on urban fantasy is that, in addition to the disconnect from our own world, there is a certain formulaic nature. I’ve come across more than one series that starts with vampires, moves to vampires and werewolves, then includes mages, then includes the fairy folk (often in a “fey light” mode), then moves to include ghosts.
I can’t help but be reminded of the sequencing of a certain series of gaming books put out by White Wolf in the 1980’s: Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, etc. There seems to be a lack of imagination here.
ALAN: Indeed so – it’s all too easy to fall into cliché when imagination fails and I suspect that’s what we’re seeing here.
JANE: When I tried Jim Butcher’s wildly popular “Harry Dresden” series, part of what turned me off was the sense of that I’d seen this all before. Another was that Harry seemed too dumb to have survived to this point in his life. Have you read any of these novels?
ALAN: Oh goodness me! You are so right, they are completely unreadable! Harry is such a moron. I just want to reach into the page and shake some sense into him. I gave up after about three books. I couldn’t stand his stupidity any more
JANE: You got further than I did – and this despite the fact that there were times Butcher really impressed me with his descriptive ability. Unlike many of the “follow the trend” writers of Buffy Fic, he has skill. I just couldn’t find myself caring about what he chose to do with it.
A variation you sometimes get in Buffy Fic is angels and demons in addition to all the movie monsters. I’ve also found this presented as a separate subset, where demons replace vampires and angels take the roll of the fairy folk. It’s as if, instead of the basic inspiration being movie monsters (since most of the vampires etc. owe more to film than to folklore), it’s a watered-downed Judeo-Christian myth.
ALAN: Well, we’re all familiar, to some extent, with the Judeo-Christian myths so there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t form the basis of novels like these. Indeed, there’s a New Zealand writer who makes a very successful living out of writing exactly these kinds of books. Her name is Nalini Singh (she’s of Indian descent). I’ve met her several times and spoken to her about her books. For a long time she just wrote straight romance novels – the Mills and Boon kind of thing.
JANE: Alan? What’s a Mills and Boon?
ALAN: Aha! We’ve stumbled over another one of those cultural differences that caused us to start writing these tangents in the first place! Let me go off on yet another brief tangent…
Mills and Boon are British publishers of romantic fiction. I think they are similar to Harlequin in America. Because they only publish romance their name has become synonymous with romance, and British people tend to talk about Mills and Boon books rather than romance books. Mills and Boon publish a huge number of novels and they have a huge stable of writers, all of whom have female names. I use that phrase advisedly – I know someone who writes for Mills and Boon as a hobby. He is about six feet tall and six feet broad with enormous muscles. In his day job, he is a policeman. Nevertheless, as far as his readers are concerned, he is a delicate female with a very romantic view of the world…
JANE: Lovely! I hope he carries this over into his personal life. His partner would be very lucky indeed.
ALAN: Meanwhile, back to Nalini Singh – she found that she couldn’t make a living by writing just pure romance.
Then one day she had a brainwave; why not combine a romance novel with a fantasy plot? And she’s never looked back. She’s a regular on the New York Times Bestseller lists and she makes quite a comfortable living from her writing.
She has two major series on the go: “Psy-Changeling” (which is vaguely science fictional) and the “Guild Hunter” series which is the kind of thing we’ve just been discussing: stories that are full of sexy angels, archangels and the like. The stories get quite raunchy at times as well, which is an added bonus!
They’re not really my cup of tea (I’m not all that fond of romance as a genre), but I’ve read several of Nalini’s books and there’s no question about it, they are beautifully written page turners. She’s a skilful writer and, if you like that kind of thing, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
JANE: A similar but different take on the use of Judeo Christian tropes in Buffy Fic are Darynda Jones’ “Charley Davidson” books. (The first book is First Grave on the Right.)
Charley is the Grim Reaper – what this means is defined in the series and it’s too complex to go into here. Her mundane life is as a private investigator – a profession in which it can be very useful to be able to talk to people who have died but have unfinished business.
The books are light and breezy, full of sexual allusions and the occasional hot sex scene. There’s an on-going romance, too, although a very odd one. Charlie is a likeable character, who genuinely cares about the people – living and dead – with whom her life becomes intertwined. I save the books for times when I want a light read that isn’t shallow. That’s often hard to find.
And, as a plus, no vampires!
ALAN: Big plus!
JANE: I’m sure our readers will want to fill us in on the good Buffy Fic we’ve missed. I hope they’ll feel invited to do so!