My name is Justin, and I don't like urban fantasy. This is where everyone says, "Hi Justin" and then I regale you with the stories about how the genre has burned me so often that I can longer stand to be in the same room with it. I might finish my little speech by saying, "And I've been urban fantasy free for 98 days." Someone might even give me a pin to commemorate my unreliance. Of course, that isn't really true. . . I do read urban fantasy. I'm just scared of wasting my life every time I do.
I think it's important to take a minute to discuss what I mean by urban fantasy. It's a horrifyingly easy term that means something different to every one who hears it. As a marketing subgenre, urban fantasy means a story set in contemporary times which contains supernatural elements (examples: Dresden Files, Anita Blake, et al.) and contains some element of romance (from a little to a ton). For the purposes of this article, that's the definition I'm working with because the actual definition, fantasy set in a city, is so benign as to be useless. Based on those assumptions, I find the subgenre predictable, hackneyed, and all together boring.
Rabble, Rabble, you're reading the wrong urban fantasy, Rabble Rabble.
No, I'm not. There are several urban fantasies from this year alone that I really enjoyed. Jim C. Hines's Libriomancer, Tom H. Pollock's The City's Son, and Jennifer Safrey's Tooth & Nail are all 2012 urban fantasies I can recommend. They do their genre proud. And yet, each of them are entirely predictable. They follow a linear plot structure, they have a romance, they're faced with a supernatural problem, and they solve it. Don't get me wrong, they're special in other ways. In the case of Libriomancer, it's literally inundated with author's joy for fantasy. The City's Son is a beautiful composition of fiction, bursting with allegory. Tooth & Nail is about Washington DC. What can I say, I'm a sucker for books about where I live. But, all of their plots are essentially boring. And so few urban fantasies excel enough elsewhere to overcome that deficiency.
The more likely outcome is my reaction to Alex Hughes's novel, Clean. I'm nodding off just writing the title. First person narrator who's a drug addict detective who happens to be smitten with his grouchy, but sexy, partner. Murders abound and a mystery much be solved! This is the urban fantasy I rail against; the cookie cutter sameness. It's not poorly written. It has a good pace and I can understand why someone might love it. What I can't understand, and what I refuse to accept, is that publishers and readers continue to want to read Clean and the fifteen other novels published this year just like it. Had Clean been the first novel of its kind, I might smile and nod. As it stands now, I roll my eyes and wonder why bother?
That's why I'm writing this post today and announcing a new organization. Urban Fantasy Anonymous, an organization dedicated to eradicating the reliance on homogeneous fiction. These are the rules under which the organization is formed:
- Our common mental faculty should come first; personal recovery depends upon our unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—an experienced blogger who's read enough to never recommend a sardonic heroine down on her luck, but ready to kick ass and take names.
- The only requirement for membership is no receipts from Pocket Books for six days.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting publishing house marketing strategies. In that case, organized guerrilla warfare is entirely acceptable.
- Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the poor readers suffering under the thumb of lazy writing and wooden characters.
- A UFA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the UFA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest those endeavors lead to further lining the pockets of publishers and editors who seek to control us with sparkling vampires.
- Every UFA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions—urban fantasy in sheep's clothing is too risky!
- UFA should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers, which does not imply sex workers, who have suffered enough as murder victims in urban fantasy.
- UFA, as such, ought never be organized; to be organized is to be modular, which is to behave in the image of that we are trying to reject.
- UFA has no opinion on outside issues; our only public affairs concern is ensuring that the 2012 Presidential Election has nothing to do with Edward or Jacob. It's a public service.
- Our public relations policy is based on keeping a low profile. Readers empowered by urban fantasy can often be dangerous, in roving packs armed with katanas and lower back tattoos.
- Finally, we must be ever mindful to place stimulation before comfort.
Who's with me?
Justin can be found on his blog Staffer's Book Reviews (formerly known as Staffer's Musings) or on Twitter @jdiddyesquire. Some great SFF content there, so don't miss out. He's also recently joined the SF Signal group.
This marks the end of the guest posts on Urban Fantasy from bloggers and reviewers who for some reason the subgenre hasn't worked for them. There'll be a few more on-topic posts coming up though.