November 6th, 2007

wood cat

World Fantasy Con: Joseph Bruchac performance

Very quick notes on the Joseph Bruchac performance. Much of this will be in reference to the Native American Spirits panel report.

He told five stories, about two different cannibal skeletons, Toad Woman, a wendigo, and a snake. The first cannibal skeleton story was about a man who got eaten by said cannibal skeleton as a direct result of his treating his wife poorly; the wife and baby escaped by being aware and clever and going to a local village for help. The second was about a lazy uncle who was so lazy that he ate his own flesh rather than go out to find food, and then ate his sister and brother-in-law. The two children escaped and destroyed the skeleton with the help of an elder who they were polite to—"Oh, one of those, we get a lot of those around here," which was very funny. And then their parents were brought back to life by the tree-on-house method. However, the skeleton is just smashed at the bottom of a falls, and they say that whenever someone is lazy and greedy, there are noises at the bottom like a little more of the skeleton coming back together . . .

(These sound really didactic, but I'm stripping them way, way down, because I'm trying to get this written while Chad is in the shower.)

Toad Woman is a tale that parents tell their children to keep them out of the swamp, and he told it in the way that parents would do so—basically, as I recall, a "bad things are in the swamp" story. The wendigo story was again more of an educational discussion rather than a pure tale, about the variants of the tale. He said his favorite was one where the wendigo burst into a house where a woman, thinking quickly, embraced it, called it grandfather, and gave it a big pot of soup; the wendigo, being greedy and not knowing how to react properly, gulped the soup all down, choked, and died—turning back into an old man, who coughed up an ice-heart in the shape of the monster. The woman threw the heart on the fire and the man was saved.

The snake story was about a narcisstic woman who saw only beauty in a man who approached her and then discovered that he was a snake who lived at the bottom of the river. It was about that long, though, because we were out of time.

And now I am too.

wood cat

World Fantasy Con: Urban Fantasy--Beyond the Usual Suspects


World Fantasy Con: Urban Fantasy—Beyond the Usual Suspects
It seems as if most urban fantasy uses the familiar European myths. What other possibilities are there? Which authors have successfully exploited them?
Ekaterina Sedia, Ernest Lilley (m), Marie Brennan, Melanie Fletcher, Jenna Black

(In post-panel conversation, Sedia and Brennan noted the problems with using "exploited" in that description.)

The vast majority of this panel was not about existing or possible non-European urban fantasies, but about cultural appropriation. The responsibility for this rests with the moderator. Not only did he seem to want to talk a lot about cultural appropriation, his comments—well, my most charitable interpretation was that his phrasing and manner were deliberately exaggerated to provoke discussion and, possibly, as an attempt at humor. (He specifically introduced his most offensive remark as a joke.) And they were certainly provoking.

This report is not about that part of the panel, because I do not want to host a discussion of cultural appropriation at this time. If the topic interests you, there's much to read already (try starting with International Blog Against Racism Week's posts), and of course you can always start a discussion in your own space. However, after the writing-and-cultural-defaults discussions this summer, well, I'd say I have PTSD on writing and race discussions except that it would trivialize actual trauma. Regardless: discussion of cultural appropriation: DO NOT WANT.

Here's what my notes boil down to, then:

Urban fantasies using non-European myths:

  • Lilith Saintcrow, Dante Valentine series (Anubis features prominently)
  • Neil Gaiman, American Gods ("mythology fanfic"—Brennan) and Anansi Boys
  • Liz Williams, Detective Chen series (Chinese Heaven and Hell as two other locations that characters move between routinely)
  • Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch trilogy (translated from the Russian and set in Russia; Brennan commented that the mythology felt much more generic than the mundane aspects)
  • Paper Cities, an anthology edited by Sedia
  • Jenn Reese, Jade Tiger (Chinese-American protagonist)
  • C.E. Murphy, the Walker Papers, starting with Urban Shaman (American Indian themes, maybe protagonist? (first is on the to-read bookcase))
  • Tim Powers, Last Call, Expiration Date (American fantasy; though Last Call is the Fisher King in Las Vegas)
  • Sean Stewart's non-secondary-world fantasy [with varying degrees of urbanity, I think]

General comments:

  • Brennan: there are two extreme poles of approach: on one hand, there's the American Gods diaspora, and on the other, why can't I do urban fantasy set in India?
  • Sedia: re: filing serial numbers off cultures: that's probably easier in secondary worlds, since urban fantasy takes place in urban, contemporary, real places.
  • Brennan maintains an extensive list of multi-cultural fantasy.

After the panel:

  • K.J. Bishop, The Etched City
  • Catherynne M. Valente, The Orphan's Tales
  • Ian McDonald, River of Gods (set in India)

So: let's do the panel here. Comments on the books listed above? Recommendations of other books? Really cool things that haven't been written yet but should be? And if people want to give their definitions of urban fantasy, go ahead—though I'm not particularly interested in picking a definition as long as I know what you're using.

[Edited to promote a link from the comments: swan_tower has broader questions over in panel, take two.]