I’m talking, of course, about True Blood, set to premiere on HBO tonight at 9 pm. I am sorta embarrassed to admit that I actually went and got HBO added to my cable package just so I could see the thing. Worse and worse, this is the first television show in about, oh, ten years that I actually am making a point of trying to watch, myself, on purpose. I feel incredibly peculiar, like I’d suddenly gone out and bought a stack of bridal magazines or something. Maybe I’m mutating! and this is, like, the first sign.
As anybody who reads fantasy knows, the urban fantasy subgenre is The Big One and has been for several years now. I can stick my nose up in the air a trifle about the phenom and say that I was an urban fantasy reader loooong before it became the “it” subgenre–I was a Sonja Blue fan in the early ’90s, which most people, even those who obsessively read urban fantasy, still don’t know about, and I knew who Laurell K. Hamilton was before the first Anita Blake book was ever written. Nowadays it’s hard to find fantasy that isn’t urban fantasy, and folks that you wouldn’t ever really imagine penning a word of the stuff, such as Robin McKinley, she of the generally quite lyrical and decidedly nonsexual fantasy prose, have cranked out at least one urban fantasy novel. For anyone who doesn’t know what urban fantasy is, it’s set in modern times, usually in the city but not always, featuring most often (though not exclusively–Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are one notable masculine exception) a strong female protagonist speaking in first person, who spends the entire book kicking ass and taking names and generally being lusted after by any number of incredibly hot dudes who are usually (but not always) supernatural in nature. Men have been pumping out this type of fantasy for themselves for decades, identical in most respects with only the genders reversed and the bulk of the protagonist’s abilities not necessarily of a magical nature as they are for the females–it’s pretty obvious from a psychological aspect why women have concentrated their own characters’ ass-kicking abilities in the paranormal rather than the sheer muscle or specialized combat training. As it turns out, which should surprise nobody but the sexist, the desire to be the toughest, coolest problem-solver on the block while being hotly desired by multiple drop-dead gorgeous members of your preferred sexual orientation is a universal human desire, not a gendered one.
So anyway, the True Blood series is based closely on one of my favorite urban fantasy offerings, a series of books called the Southern Vampire Mysteries by an author named Charlaine Harris. The protagonist is Sookie Stackhouse, a small-town Southern barmaid who is uncontrollably telepathic, in a world where vampires have “come out of the closet” just a few years before after a Japanese biotech company invented workable synthetic blood. As it turns out, Sookie can almost never hear vampires’ thoughts, which she finds madly attractive, half-nuts as she is from listening to the endless cacaphony of mindless noise and outright malice from her fellow humans’ brains day in and day out. It’s one of my favorite urban fantasy series for the following reasons: (1) Sookie is genuinely comfortable as a single adult woman. She’s also normal–she gets lonely and horny just like everyone else, but though she has multiple opportunities throughout the books to compromise her independence and personal preferences in exchange for having a reasonable specimen of manhood around full-time, she never does. Refreshing. and, (2) the characterization of small-town Southerners is just too hysterically accurate (do keep in mind I grew up in Hicksville Kansas). and, (3) the author is a good writer–great dialogue, flawless grammar, more than just surface characterizations of even secondary characters–in short, everything that author Laurell K. Hamilton, who is half responsible for the explosion of the subgenre in the first place, lacks. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, of course, responsible for the other half.)
In case anybody’s interested, either in getting his or her feet wet or as an already seasoned reader, here’s a quick list of some of the notables of the urban fantasy subgenre, with of course my opinions appended. Others’ opinions are always welcome!