Monday, October 29, 2007

Urban Fantasy: She and He



I just finished reading Unshapely Things, Mark Del Franco's debut Urban Fantasy novel, and it got me thinking about the gender disparity in UF.

Mark's main character (a magic-crippled druid) is male, which among UF titles, is very rare. Off the top of my head, the only other books I can think of with male protagonists are the Nightside novels by Simon R. Green, the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and Night Life by Rob Thurman. I know there are a couple more UF novels by males currently being released, but still, there doesn't seem to be many out there.

Mostly, urban fantasy is the home to a lot of sharp-attitude(d), kick-ass female protagonists. The girls run the show in this emerging sub-genre, but there is no denying the huge popularity of the few male series out there. This being true, why aren't there more men writing UF series? Granted, there are less men reading it, and most series have a strong romance sub-plot--not exactly a guy genre. From my time in the bookstore, I can guess the number of male readers of the genre is less than half of the total readers, but even if only a quarter of UF readers are male, that is still a lot of fans. (The funny thing about most of these guys? They are fans, they love the books, but DO NOT recommend any book with romance printed on the spine. With the sometimes blurry line between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, the UF books the guy happens to love might have more romance/sex than the PR you try to recommend, but that 'romance' word stuck on the spine will scare him away. This is actually true for lots of female readers as well. In my bookstore days, and I've heard it other places since, I found romance readers were much more willing to step across the genre line and read UF than UF readers were to read a PR. But, I digress. )

What is it about UF that lends itself more to female protags? Is it because the sub-genre has its roots in fantasy, home of the damsel in distress and the support-role healer, so these kick-ass women didn't fit in the vaguely medieval societies of high-fantasy? Does it break the suspension of belief to have strong and sexually liberated women in any time period except modern/post-modern/or alternate-modern? Is it a trend that will eventually fade?

Recently, I've heard complaints that all the sarcastic women are beginning to sound alike, and another commenter mentioned they were sick of the "man with boobs" character (which I'll be honest and admit I don't quite understand because you don't need exterior genitalia to be obstinate or violent.) Are guys the answer to these 'issues'?
Guys aren't exactly new to the sub-genre, after all, Butcher could probably be considered one of the forerunners, but as mentioned, the titles with guy protags are scarce. Recently though, there seems to be more guys entering the scene. John Levett just released a book and Anton Stout has a book coming out soon. I'm drawing a blank on more, but I know I've seen a couple. (We won't count Mark Henry because his book has a female protagonist.)

Five years ago this sub-genre barely existed. Two years ago Butcher and Green were basically the only male writers. In the last couple months, a half dozen male UFs have been released or are on the docket to be released soon. Why the sudden influx of guys when there weren't many before? Is it the growing popularity of the sub-genre or a natural balancing to round it out? (Have you ever listened to mostly female choir sing? The handful of bass voices are a relief to the ear.)

If Urban Fantasy remains on its growing path and doesn't fade as a trend, it will be interesting to hear how it is described in a couple years. Currently, one of the most common descriptions I hear runs along the lines of "First person, kick-ass female with lots of attitude, with a suspenseful story set in modern times, typically a city, involving elements of fantasy/horror, mystery, and romance."
The first problem with this description is that, hey, we like our kick-ass guys too. The next being that lots of the guy's stories have little to no romance (and a few--very few--female stories don't have much either.) Then we also have a rising amount of 'rural' fantasies, as in those set, not in a city, but in the country side. Then of course there is the whole first person bit, which also doesn't always hold true. So, while this description probably describes a bulk of the genre, it doesn't cover the whole thing.

How would you describe the sub-genre? If you could rename it, what would you call it?

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