World Fantasy Convention 2012, Part 2

Last week, I blogged about this year’s World Fantasy Convention. I promised to share more about the panels, so here are some tidbits from one panel on urban fantasy and another on maps in fantasy literature.

Urban Fantasy panel

This panel was interesting because it included Tim Powers, Charles De Lint, and Tanya Huff, three people who have been writing more-or-less urban fantasy since before its recent reincarnation as “the subgenre formerly known as paranormal romance”. Also on the panel were David Hartwell, Ann VanderMeer, and Farah Mendlesohn (moderator), all editors who have their own familiarity with urban fantasy.

A few highlights:

  • Hartwell: The shift in terminology arose when publishers from both the romance and the fantasy sides decided to shift into a new cross-genre area in the early 2000s. It was a deliberate marketing push.
  • question: what do the writers on the panel call the stuff they write? Huff and Powers prefer “contemporary fantasy” so non-urban settings can be included. De Lint prefers “mythic fiction” because he focuses on modern myths.
  • Hartwell: The term “urban fantasy” dates from the 1930s, when it arose in opposition to pseudo-medieval and historical fantasy. So connotation is “modern” or “contemporary”.
  • Mendlesohn: “Modern” and “urban” in Europe do not have the same connotations as in North America, where the urban environment arose very recently. She argued for including writers like Ian MacLeod (The Light Ages), who writes in a nineteenth-century urban setting.

Maps panel

This panel included Jo Walton (this year’s Hugo and Nebula winner for her novel Among Others), Robert Boyczuk, Laura Goodin, Matthew Johnson, and Bill Willingham (moderator).

A few highlights:

  • Panel agreed that maps signal a particular type of fantasy book. They may also signal that all points on the map will be visited in the course of the book, which the panelists disliked. They preferred maps that (Walton:) give the illusion that the world is bigger than the book.
  • Much discussion about the accuracy of maps — disputed borders, perception of the world (Willingham: What would Sauron’s map of Middle Earth have looked like?), maps that aren’t complete or aren’t reliable.
  • Maps can function as a narrator — they may give away plot, (Goodin:) make a contract with or promise to the reader, mislead or misdirect, provide info about the world and its history that doesn’t appear in the text, provide atmosphere if stylized (as in Tolkien or in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan).
  • Maps have to make sense — both in terms of hard sciences such as geology (land formations, weather patterns) and in terms of human geography (Walton: don’t put a small country next to an expansionist empire without good reason).
  • Discussion of psychological distance — Johnson pointed out that before modern roads and cars, people didn’t travel, so even minor distances were a big deal. Walton said this is still true in Europe, partly because towns, cities, and even national borders are much closer together than in North America, so a five-hour drive feels much longer.

Over to you! Any comments about the panel topics? Any arguments to put forth?

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4 responses to “World Fantasy Convention 2012, Part 2

  1. Interesting stuff! I don’t read a lot of urban/contemporary fantasy, but it’s certainly fascinating to see how the genre has evolved in north America recently. It’s still not that big in Australia, where ‘other world’ fantasy continues to dominate.

    As for maps – I love them as a reader, and also as a writer. Regarding your points, I love the idea that maps might be wrong… Although I think they exist more for the reader than the characters…

  2. Ellen, thanks for weighing in with the Aussie perspective! It’s fascinating to compare notes. And yes, I agree that maps are often meant for the reader’s benefit…but that depends on how they’re used!

  3. Hello! Just a quick correction — Ann VanderMeer wasn’t on this particular Urban Fantasy panel.

  4. Oops! Thanks, I’ll correct the post.

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