We remember when urban fantasy first arrived on our shelves, but the genre has changed significantly since then. Are these stories still popular? If so, why? We asked some of Orbit’s authors for their take on the genre’s past, present and future.
Where does urban or contemporary fantasy come from?
JIM BUTCHER, author of the bestselling Dresden Files, as well as recent adventure fantasy THE AERONAUT’S WINDLASS
‘Urban fantasy is nothing more or less than the resurgence of fairy tales. We’ve changed what our big bad wolves look and act like, and our forests appear somewhat different than they used to, and Little Red Riding Hood is generally much more heavily armed than she has traditionally been, but we’re telling the same stories, in the same ways, with the same emphasis on the fantastic and the terror and delight of its clash with our everyday world.
It’s the everyday reality that so many of us find terrifying – to such a degree that we flee to tales of vampires and werewolves and dark sorcerers just to lighten the mood.’
‘People have always created stories to try and make sense of stuff they could neither see nor understand. ‘Urban’ fantasy is just a logical step since as society has become less rural and more metropolitan so the old dark woods of the old fairy-stories have been replaced by a sodium-lit concrete jungle. And of course we may have moved to the cities, but we brought our darkness with us.
There’s a lot of product jammed in under the urban fantasy label that doesn’t do it for me, but the books that do mean something to me are the ones that engage creatively with the inevitable transition from the old to the new world and deal with its consequences as a central part of the story (AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman is a particularly fine and definitive example of this).’
What does the future of urban fantasy look like?
LILITH SAINTCROW, author of the Bannon and Clare Affairs and BLOOD CALL, as well as many other urban fantasy series
‘I think the last five years, as with any shiny new trend, have brought a certain amount of reader fatigue. Urban fantasy isn’t going away, but it’s not so much of a Wild West ‘let’s throw a vampire in there and hope it sticks!’ anymore. Which is very good, if sometimes frustrating when paranormal or urban fantasy is what you want to write.
After working in publishing for so long, I see “urban fantasy” as a genre title, nothing less, nothing more. There’s always a market for tales well told, and urban fantasy, like any genre, offers a set of tools and toys for a writer to play with.’
‘I’d have trouble pinning down exactly how urban fantasy’s changed over the last five years, but I’m pretty sure that it’ll stay popular for the foreseeable future. The mash-up nature of urban fantasy lets it evolve easily, and the sources it draws on (comic books, games, epic fantasy) still have a lot of resonance for city-dwellers. So while I’d expect the type of urban fantasy stories to shift over time, I think the genre will stick around for a good while yet.’
PATRICIA BRIGGS, author of the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series
‘There isn’t a reader appetite for urban fantasy the way there used to be. Five years ago, any book that was urban fantasy was guaranteed a certain number of readers. I think, and it is not a bad thing, that readers are pickier now. For me as a reader, right now, what I love about urban fantasy is that there are so many good storytellers working in this field. Good stories still work and can still find an audience, though it might take longer to find a readership than before.
One of the things that I actually like about this is that we are seeing more diversity in books that are published again. I love, love, urban fantasy. But I also love space opera, traditional fantasy, and contemporary fantasy – and those genres were getting drowned.’
‘I like to read stories where the extra-ordinary and the ordinary mingle. Some people sneer at escapist literature, but “escape” implies relief, release, and freedom, none of which are bad things. Escape also inevitably holds a mirror up to the thing being escaped from.
Urban fantasy often gives ordinary characters a chance to demonstrate extraordinary qualities. It encourages readers to examine what it means to be human through contrast or by eliminating a lot of the obvious assumptions.
There have always been stories that introduced fantastical otherworldly elements into the everyday knockabout world that we humans optimistically call reality, and I expect there always will be.’
The day that Dresden fans have been waiting for is finally here: SKIN GAME, the latest thrilling adventure starring Harry Dresden, comes out in hardback, ebook and audiobook today!
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. As Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. This time, it’s worse than that. Mab’s involved Harry in a smash-and-grab heist run by one of his most despised enemies to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure horde in the world – which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the Freaking Underworld. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess – assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance . . .
The second round of voting for the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards is officially open! Thanks to you, ANCILLARY JUSTICE, AMERICAN ELSEWHERE, and THE INFERNAL DEVICES: CLOCKWORK PRINCE have been added to the list of nominees via write-in decision. Below are the Orbit books up for a Readers Choice Award.
Fantasy – VOTE NOW!
A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (UK | AUS)
THE CROWN TOWER by Michael J Sullivan (US | UK | AUS)
PROMISE OF BLOOD by Brian McClellan (US | UK | AUS)
Paranormal Fantasy – VOTE NOW!
COLD DAYS by Jim Butcher (UK | AUS)
FROST BURNED by Patricia Briggs (UK | AUS)
HUNTED by Kevin Hearne (UK | AUS)
Science Fiction – VOTE NOW!
EARTH AFIRE by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnson (UK | AUS)
ABADDON’S GATE by James S.A Corey (US | UK | AUS)
ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie (US | UK | AUS)
Horror – VOTE NOW!
PARASITE by Mira Grant – Parasite (US | UK | AUS)
THE REMAINING: FRACTURED by DJ Molles (US | UK)
AMERICAN ELSEWHERE by Robert Jackson Bennett (US | UK | AUS)
Happy publication day to Benedict Jacka! The latest Alex Verus novel, CHOSEN (UK|ANZ), is released today, after much anticipation from the fans!
Alex Verus, the Camden-based mage who just can’t stay out of trouble despite his ability to see the future, returns in CHOSEN, when someone comes looking for revenge for deeds Alex commited in his past, as an apprentice to the Dark mage Richard Drakh . . .
See Benedict talk about CHOSEN’s moral abiguity here in John Scalzi’s The Big Idea: ‘In FATED, CURSED and TAKEN, Alex had gotten into quite a few fights, but not because he wanted to – it had usually been a case of self-defence. But what would he do if someone was coming after him for a justified reason? What if they wanted him dead for something that really was his fault?’
Alex Verus has a considerable number of readers rooting for him, including Harry Dresden author Jim Butcher and Laundry Files author Charles Stross, so let’s hope he survives the experience!
Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendously – and be a little nervous around him. I just added Benedict Jacka to my must-read list.”
– Jim Butcher
Whoop-ass excitement from the new master of magical London”
This week sees the release of THE COLDEST WAR (UK | ANZ) , the second novel in Ian Tregillis’s landmark series, the Milkweed Triptych. The trilogy began with BITTER SEEDS (UK | ANZ) and concludes with the forthcoming NECESSARY EVIL (UK | ANZ).
These novels feature a secret history of Twentieth Century conflicts in which scientifically-enhanced superhumans and dark magic collide. The result is described by Fantasy Faction as ‘oh-so compelling, fascinating and frighteningly convincing’ and by Cory Doctorow as, ‘some of the best – and most exciting – alternate history I’ve read. Bravo.’
It’s possible to draw a few parallels between the themes in the Milkweed novels and Charles Stross’s highly popular Laundry Files (including the recent THE APOCALYPSE CODEX – UK | ANZ) – a series of science fiction spy thrillers featuring Bob Howard, once an IT geek, now a field agent working for a British government agency dealing with occult threats. They’re what SFX calls ‘beautifully handled, believable and well envisioned – a highly enjoyable bit of spy-fi.’
For that reason we were really interested to hear these two exceptionally clever Orbit authors in conversation about their series. The results are below!
Ian: In an afterword to THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (“Inside the Fear Factory”) you mention that while writing the first Laundry novel you were advised to avoidTim Powers’s novel DECLARE. And that later you were made aware of the Delta Green supplement to The Call of Cthulhu RPG, which again resides in a similar neighborhood.
(After BITTER SEEDS debuted, people assumed I had been influenced by DECLARE, Delta Green, *and* the Laundry novels! But, like you with DECLARE, I wanted to avoid cross-contamination. So I didn’t dive into THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES until after I turned in THE COLDEST WAR, at which point I was 2/3 through the Milkweed trilogy and the story was on a ballistic trajectory.)
But of course even Powers wasn’t the first to marry espionage and the occult –Dennis Wheatley’s novel THEY USED DARK FORCES first appeared in 1964, and Katherine Kurtz‘s LAMMAS NIGHT was published in 1983, as just two examples.
In the above-mentioned afterword, you make a strong case for why it’s natural to blend horror, the occult, and espionage. So is this an idea that’s continually bubbling into the aether to be rediscovered by other writers? Or have we reached the point where we’re having a conversation within an actual subgenre?
Charlie: It is indeed an actual subgenre! Or maybe a sub-subgenre: a corner of that section of urban fantasy that is preoccupied with the interaction between agents of the state and the occult. Read the rest of this entry »