Monday, March 5, 2012

Sorting out the subgenre- Street Level Fantasy

I'm still dissatisfied with subgenre definitions in the Fantasy genre.  Specifically, where work like Thorn of Dentonhill, Holver Alley Crew and Maradaine Constabulary fit in the grand scheme.

Take, for example, the Genre Map they use over at Book Country.  The Fantasy section has nine subgenres, though three of them (Horror, Weird Fiction and Slipstream/Interstices) are really separate from Fantasy, and are jammed in there for convenience.  This leaves six: Traditional, High/Epic, Urban, Contemporary, Historical and Comic. Though the distinctions are vague, if you ask me. I'm not entirely sure where the lines between "Traditional" and "High/Epic" are, for example, or between "Urban" and "Contemporary".  ("Comic" and "Historical", though, are somewhat easier to suss out.) 

Now, I think my books, in terms of subgenre, fit in to the same sort of niches as Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves*, Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora or Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace.  Of these, only one is used as a "landmark" on the map, that being Lies, which falls under "Traditional".  So that's where I placed my three books when I was using Book Country for critique.  (They are still there, if you hunt for them, though now only the first three chapters.  And said chapters for Maradaine Constabulary are out of date.)  I wasn't crazy about it, but that was the best fit.

I think "traditional" is a misnomer, for myself and for books like Hulick's, Lynch's and Downum's.  But what would be right?

In my gut, "urban" is more correct, since all those books deal with the confines of an urban environment.  But "urban fantasy" is not about fantasy in a city setting-- it's about fantasy tropes set in the "real" world, even if your setting isn't remotely urban. (I'm looking at you, Sookie Stackhouse.) And if that's "urban", what's "contemporary"?

I've heard "low fantasy", as an opposite of "high fantasy", but I don't like it.  It sounds vaguely insulting. 

So here's my suggestions, and I'd love it if people out there helped brand it: Street Level Fantasy.  Fantastic, secondary-world fiction, where the stakes are defined as personal and local. 

Who's with me?

*- As far as Hulick goes, I'm making some assumptions of how the whole book goes, as I didn't finish the book.  Yes, I suck.  I had other things I needed to read. But for all I know it ends with gods walking the earth and huge armies clashing across continents.  So I could be wrong placing it in with the other books.

1 comment:

Daniel Fawcett said...

Here is my one and only problem with this: the syllable count. Genres and sub-genres tend to have low counts... The New Weird (3), Steampunk (2), Slipstream (2). Heck, Urban Fantasy is the workhorse, with five! (I know, Street-Level Fantasy is only one more. But that one makes a difference.)

On top of that, the stress pattern is a bit odd. It's a monosyllable, a trochee and a dactyl; okay, non-poetic stress doesn't REALLY work that way, but you see my point: it is unusual prosody for English.

What about "Street Fantasy?" I think that captures the essence. I agree that "Street-Level" is more descriptive, but "Street Fantasy" might be more catchy.

Of course, the kind of thing you are talking about sometimes gets called "Elfpunk," but you don't have any elves (thank God).