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]
- 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.