Saturday, November 8, 2008

Urban fantasy as noir? Discuss.

Over at Genreville, John Levitt makes an argument for true urban fantasy being an offshoot not of the fantasy tradition but of the Sam Spade/hardboiled P.I. tradition. In essence: crime noir. It's an interesting argument, albeit one with which I don't entirely agree.

So I'm throwing this out there to y'all: what do you consider urban fantasy and why?


j.lee said...

I see his point, and I have to agree with it from my own perspective. When I've spoken with LKH or Jim Butcher, they both set out to write detective novels with magic. They didn't set out to write high fantasy in the real world. It certainly hits on what I'm doing in my own work.

I've even considered shipping my queries to mystery/thriller category agents instead of just those that represent fantasy. Because in all fairness my characters wouldn't know what to do with a dragon, and don't want to rescue the elf princess.

Anna the Piper said...

I can buy this argument, at least up to a point. As the commenter above me says, Jim Butcher comes immediately to mind here as someone who's clearly writing detective novels with magic and/or supernatural creatures. So do Tanya Huff and Kat Richardson. Stylistically, certainly, the hardboiled PI tradition does have an obvious influence on modern UF.

However, I would hesitate to limit "true urban fantasy" to just that particular bloodline of descent. I have quite a few great novels on my shelves that fit into the UF slot as far as I'm concerned: War for the Oaks, Esther Friesner's New York by Knight and Elf Defense, Tanya Huff's Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light, Doranna Durgin's A Feral Darkness as well as Dun Lady's Jess and its sequels, and practically anything brought to the table by Charles deLint.

(Of course, all this means that I've been using "urban fantasy" to mean "fantasy novels set in the 'real' world".)

green_knight said...

I think he has a partial point - many UF books seem to have a hard-boiled detective (male or female) at their centre, but I don't think disqualifying everything that disagrees with your ideosynchratic definition is the way to go.

On the other hand, I see a lot of UF that appears to follow romance protocols rather than SF ones in the characters, their interactions, and the general shape of the stories, and as someone who dislikes Romance, that means I've more or less given up trying to find UF I enjoy, because I've waded through too many books that just don't do it for me.

K.S. Clay said...

I'd say a lot of the modern crop of urban fantasy falls in that category, but not some of the stuff that came before like novels by Charles de Lint. It seems to me that urban fantasy started out with authors like Charles de Lint who are obviously coming at it from a fantasy direction. Then authors like Jim Butcher and Laurel K. Hamilton came on the scene and their work leaned toward mystery. Right now the mystery centered and the romance centered urban fantasy seems to be in the forefront or "hot" but they are certainly not the be all end all of urban fantasy and I don't know if you can say they're the "true" urban fantasy since, from what I understand, de lint was writing his kind of urban fantasy before they started writing theirs.

Catherine said...

To me UF is the fantastical in a city setting that is recognisably 'modern'. It need not be present-day LA or NY, why not Victorian Sheffield?

It needn't even be a real city.

I dunno, the narrowing of definitions in UF is for me the things that is going to destroy the genre - turn it into nothing more than a parody of itself (if it isn't pretty much there already) - and that makes me sad when I think about the stories that might get shunted into a literary limbo because of it.

Sure there's a place for the detective noir feel in UF, but why narrow it down to just that?

fwiw I like to think that I wrote an urban fantasy with Black Wings but by Mr Levitt's definition I guess I haven't. *grins*

ChristaCarol said...

Mine is going to be short, but like a previous poster mentioned, I always considered urban fantasy as fantasy that takes place in the real world.