Friday, February 17, 2023

Fantasy Genres - the Creepier, the Better

This is going to read rough. I'm coming down off a weird viral thing (not Covid, believe me, I tested more than once) that had me asleep for 36 hours straight. Today is the first day I've been upright without tipping over. No warranty express or implied, I'm afraid. I have the mental acuity of a lettuce.

Genre Love

How am I supposed to pick my favorite fantasy genres? I like them all. I grew up consuming mostly epic, other worldly fantasy. You know the kind. Knights, horses, swords, vast spooky forests to cross before the evil on the other side can be conquered. Sprinkled into that were the contemporary world colliding with inexplicable bits of magic. These were usually YA books.

Interestingly, there was no urban fantasy when I was reading in my youth. If a fictional world spoke of the future near or far at all, it was in terms of science. I don't know where the switch in the zeitgeist came about but I know that urban fantasy hit my radar while I was still in high school in the early 80s. Charles de Lint introduced me to the bare edges of the urban fantasy map. Then through an odd confluence of events, strange brain chemistry, and neurodivergence, I slid from my intended life path into working in technology. And I slid more firmly across the threshold into urban fantasy.

I don't know what it is about those of us who were born into a world well before personal computers and cells phones. I find a startling number of us still harbor this sneaking suspicion that our world is held aloft by  tenuous threads woven by a cabal of technowizards somewhere. More than half of us admit to talking to our technology - and I don't mean Siri. We speak to our machines as if they held some sentience. Some of us of pagan persuasion insist that all objects, animate or inanimate, contain a kind of spirit even if we wouldn't entirely call it a soul. I say this not so much so you can worry after my sanity (far too late, y'all) as to say that perhaps you can see how the world of technology melded with the fantasy world of curious magics and curiouser sprites, Fae, and spirits.

Urban fantasy seems to happen at the point where humanity risks being subsumed by everything humanity has wrought - whether it's technology or an unfeeling city that's threatening to swallow up the main character. Magic in an urban fantasy context seems to either act as a flicker of hope, or yet another dehumanizing obstacle to be overcome. I think, though, that I like urban fantasy for the experience of marking out the people who can see what lies underneath and those who can only see what's presented on the surface. There's a story Charles de Lint did called Crow Girls. One of his characters can see the young human sisters in the crows who come to the yard every day. Everyone else just sees ragged crows. Eventually, the girls shapeshift for the POV character and everyone helps solve everyone else's issues where they can. There's a story about perception being told there and it feels familiar to me.

Not to mention that I get the chance to play with creepy imagery. I might not have the chops for horror and that's fine. But I do love a good skin crawling creep out and it's in fantasy - especially urban fantasy - that I get the chance to play with giving myself the heebie jeebies.

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