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March 25th, 2003, 02:00 PM
How do you all feel about urban fantasy/horror. By this I'm referring to Buffy (a good example) or the books by Laurell K. Hamilton (not so good, IMO). My WIP is along these lines (although I avoided the whole vampire thing), and I'm wondering if I can pull it off.

The problem I'm fixated on is explaining how the fantasy elements can exist in a modern world, without radically altering the history/technology/society. A lot of times this is explained that the fantasy parts are 'hidden' from the population, but it wouldn't seem like this could stay hidden for very long. In the Buffy universe, they don't really try to address this- so I guess stories of monsters and vampires are pretty common in the papers. And magic is regularily performed, with direct, physical effects, yet its still not common. I'll accept that in Buffy, but I can't accept that in my world.
Any suggestions, books in which this was well done and such?
Do you think the whole genre is rubbish?


March 25th, 2003, 03:38 PM
Hi, I'm new to the forum!

Most horror takes place in a contemporary modern setting, a la Stephen King, so it's not really unusual there. "Urban" fantasy was a tag applied to fantasy set in contemporary times and settings because "modern" and "contemporary" were already being applied to the fantasy genre as a whole to distinguish it from traditional fantasy -- fantasy written before the 1970's and 60's. A lot of "urban" fantasy isn't very urban necessarily -- the label just differentiates fantasy set in contemporary settings from other sub-genres.

Urban fantasy has a long tradition and while not as prevalent in the fantasy genre as high and epic fantasy, it is an established sub-genre. Laurell K. Hamilton's works are considered to be urban fantasy, although since she's writing about vampires and other beasties, she gets to sit in the horror section too. Other urban fantasists you might want to check out are Tim Powers and Canadian writer Charles de Lint. Terry Brooks is best known for his high fantasy but he also did a very popular urban fantasy trilogy set out in the American western region. (The exact title escapes me at the moment -- A Knight of the World maybe?) Neil Gaiman, a British writer known in a lot of mediums -- radio, t.v., comics, etc., also writes bestselling urban fantasy, most recently "American Gods." Not all urban fantasy is dark in tone -- there's a lot of comic urban fantasy with Esther Friesner and James Blaylock being examples.

Hamilton uses an alternative universe approach for her books, and some urban fantasists go that way but probably the majority of the fantasies and most of the horror stories have the fantastic elements hidden from the general populace and it is often the discovery of these fantastic undercurrents by the protagonist that form the plot of the stories.

"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," being a t.v. show, can be sloppy and inconsistent about this issue in ways that wouldn't work so well in a written novel. However, they do address the issue in the shows -- most of the population doesn't know about vampires and demons and freak occurrences are logicked away by people and the media as other, more swallowable things. (It's not a UFO, it's a weather balloon!) The people of Sunnydale have had information hidden from them in numerous coverups, but with its high death rate and several apocolyptic emergencies, most of the villagers know that weird things go on in their town. Other people may have also encountered the supernatural -- a visiting muscian in one recent episode muttered "I hate playing vampire towns," for instance. In the Buffy spin-off "Angel," there is a demonic subculture that has its own bars and such, which a lot of humans know about but most don't, and so on.

Most "underground" fantastic communities have some sort of interaction with select humans while the rest of the world is oblivious. This is pretty much in keeping with the old ideas of fairies, druids, spirits, the Loch Ness monster, etc. And it also fits with our modern times in which many people believe in the healing power of crystals, astral travel, witchcraft, guardian angels, ghosts or other things that the majority believes to be fantasy and not a part of the real world. There's a guy with his own show about talking to the dead on the SciFi Channel and he has thousands of people who believe he can do this, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the world believes that he can.

If in your WIP, things erupt and cause considerable damage, then you're maybe looking at whether that damage will be explained away as a gas leak explosion or whether you are going the Ghostbusters route. In "Ghostbusters," a comic film, the ghostbusters are at first laughed at, then people start hiring them to catch ghosts, and when a demon threatens to destroy New York, the city, now believing in ghosts, hopes the ghostbusters can save them. So maybe in your world, the fantastic things are hidden but then are discovered by the general populace. Or maybe they go on and the general populace considers them to be normal (alternative universe.) Or maybe the fantastic elements are hidden and they stay hidden except to a chosen few. There's no one way to do it that's believable. You have to look at, maybe, what you find credible, what makes you comfortable and that you can work with. I'd suggest cruising the library and bookstore racks for urban fantasies to see how other authors have handled the issue.

March 26th, 2003, 12:49 AM
I guess the closest to Urban fantasy I've read is "It" and it was great, using a real setting (Maine of course) and adding a chilling fantasy character.

Lucky Joe
March 26th, 2003, 01:40 AM
Terry Brooks' Word and the Void series was very good and explained the fantasy elements away (As far as i can remember) by making only certain people aware of them.

I thought the series was very good, much more so than his Shannara books which i didn't enjoy all that much.