There are a lot of books published every year, in a ton of genres. Lately I’ve been considering just why I gravitate to Urban Fantasy so strongly. I’m not dissing any of the other genres. I’m a big fan of everything from Lester Del Rey’s Runaway Robot, to Harry Potter and most everything across the wide spectrum of fantasy, science fiction, young adult and mainstream.
I became a reader in the nineteen-seventies, and the fears and dreams of that era color my tastes. First and foremost, I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, but that in itself covers a fairly wide-spread list of authors and social commentary.
When Urban Fantasy began to emerge as a separate genre I found myself drawn to those stories, in the same way I was drawn to Algis Budry’s Greybeard, Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall, Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky, and King’s The Stand.
It wasn’t because some marketing wonk or ad campaign told me that’s what I should be reading. It was because I found the stories compelling, and the authors singing the songs that fit in my head. Here was something familiar, but different enough to catch my attention.
The thing that both post-apocalyptic literature and Urban Fantasy have in common is the intrinsic understanding that the world we are living in right now may really suck, but it isn’t the whole truth. We all love secrets, find ourselves wishing for a fantasy life that changes the mundane in some way.
That’s what fascinates me the most. We live in volatile times, filled with war, famine, plague and cultural shifts so dramatic, that many people no longer recognize their world. Urban Fantasy sets all that on its proverbial ear. You job may suck, or you may be unemployed. You don’t feel appreciated, or loved. The political agenda of those in power may or may not meet your own vision and ambitions, and you feel trapped. But, what if you found out one morning that there was something else, something beyond all that? Then, if that wasn’t enough, you are among an elite group of individuals who are aware of the secret, and have an opportunity, nay an obligation, to do something great.
It is not uncommon to feel that one individual has very little power to affect their world. There is frequently a sense of despondency in many of the conversations we have, whether individually or on the larger, public stage.
But when you pick up an Urban Fantasy story, you learn that things can change. The world may appear to be one way, but underneath, in the bowels of our subconscious, or the side-ways between moments, the OTHER truly exists.
We find dragons or vampires, werewolves or ghosts — suddenly everything shifts and one person, or a small group, can suddenly affect change in the world that rises beyond our dreams and nightmares.
Here the individual has power to affect the world, and frequently, must be that lynchpin that keeps everything normal and good that they love from succumbing to the truly vile and evil of the under current.
In post-apocalyptic stories, it is the brave, lucky, driven individuals who must pick up where the world we know failed, and piece together a better future. Rise from the ashes in a way that resets civilization in a far better light.
Urban Fantasy does the same thing without knocking down the walls. We can remake the world — from the belly — slide in from the corners where the common folk turn a blind eye. Urban Fantasy heroines (and heroes) become agents of change, for not only their lives, but for the world they love.
Whether dealing with demons or dragons, wielding magic, or a 9mm pistol, they go forth into the new/old unknown, face their deepest fears, and prevail. Who doesn’t want to be the hero? Who wouldn’t love to see their actions spin the world a little to right wrongs, prevent atrocities. Who doesn’t want to grow into the person they’ve always had the potential to be?
That’s the other spectacular thing I love about Urban Fantasy — the personal growth of the main characters, and the way the world changes as they find their footing, make their mark, or sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
It’s a time-out from the real silliness we perpetrate on one another. We can’t hold back a tsunami, nor stop an earthquake. We have no power to prevent civil war in Africa, or impose regime change in the Middle East (or closer to home, as some may wish).
But, in Urban Fantasy, you are safe in the world you know, able to get your mocha latte and deep dish pizza, while also delving into the mysteries of the secret society that is holding back the tides of darkness.
What’s not to love?
J.A. Pitts is the author of the Compton Crook Award nominated Black Blade Blues (2010) and Honeyed Words (July, 2011), the urban fantasy series from Tor Books featuring berserker blacksmith Sarah Jane Beauhall. Follow all the news at www.japitts.net.