Is Urban Fantasy Ruining Our Attention Spans?

It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve picked up a book in any genre except urban fantasy or YA paranormal. If you looked through my reading list for the last year or so, you wouldn’t see much traditional fantasy – except for continuing series – or very many other genres at all.

Now, I used to pick out epic fantasy series like some women pick out designer purses – compulsively, and with a Pokemon-style urge to “collect ’em all”.  I have several new (and some slightly older) fantasy series, as well as a few others in assorted genres, on my TBR shelf, so I decided recently to pick up a little something different.

The first is Rob Thurman’s Chimera. This book is a sci-fi fantasy from an author whose work I’ve previously adored. The author has compared it to the likes of Dean Koontz (whose work I enjoyed when I was younger). I’m currently a few chapters in and I believe the author isn’t far off the mark in her comparison. Stefan and his brother are on the run from some pretty scary bad guys.

And yet it hasn’t (yet, at least) grabbed me in that “must-stay-up-all-night-to-finish” kind of way.  I’m even vaguely disappointed in myself that I feel that way, but it’s the truth. Despite being full of creepy DNA-mangling and mysteriously stalker-ish bad guys, I haven’t been pulled in the way I was with Thurman’s other series.

Let’s try another example. If sci-fi thrillers aren’t my cup of tea anymore, surely my old stand by – the traditional epic fantasy – will pull me in, right?

Carol Berg’s duology that begins with Flesh and Spirit , comes highly recommended. It’s even won an award. I’m a few chapters into that one as well, and it has the timeless, slow, measured pace of the epic world-building necessary in this kind of fantasy. We’ve got a group of magic-users who are bred almost like cattle, wielding a mysterious form of sorcery that has to do with maps. Our drug-and-spell-addicted main character is a juicy bit of contradiction. We know he’s our hero, but even his own parents seem to hate him.

It sounds like an amazing start to a story, and it is. But that stately, intricate dance of world-building and story-telling hasn’t commanded my attention like some other epic fantasies have previously.

I honestly don’t believe that either of these situations stem from the authors’ lack of skill. They both seem to be excellent books. So what’s the problem?

Is it because no ogres or werewolves or vampires or other assorted mythological baddies have jumped out to create some chaos and carnage? Is it the lack of a romantic plot line that has me feeling like something’s missing? I’d like to think not, on that score, but I’m too invested in the answer. (I’d like to think I’m intellectually ‘above’ needing a romance to keep me interested. But I freely admit that could just be my genre prejudices showing.)

Is it just simply that urban fantasy as a genre is faster-paced than your typical sci-fi or fantasy novel? Or have urban fantasy novels become the literary equivalent of a chocolate chip cookie? Yummy and gooey and satisfying for a moment, but not very good for you in the long run? Remember – have too many cookies and your body starts to crave them over more filling foods.

Do you think the pacing of the urban fantasy genre has “trained” us to expect a certain pacing in our novels? And do you think this will have (or has had) an effect on our enjoyment of other genres?

12 thoughts on “Is Urban Fantasy Ruining Our Attention Spans?

  • July 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm
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    Interesting post! I admit I don't have much patience for epic fantasy or literary fiction anymore and am an avid urban fantasy reader. But I don't think UF has changed my tastes so much as that it appeals to something I'm looking for in a read. There are LOTS of epic fantasy fans who turn their noses up at urban fantasy because it isn't "serious." Really, it's just different strokes. Is UF a chocolate chip cookie fix? I don't think so–if I find series I love, I will go back to them and re-read them….don't want a regurgitated cookie!
    My recent post Help- I Cant Say No-

    • July 3, 2010 at 4:37 am
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      "Regurgitated cookie"… 😀 I think I'm thrilled that you came up with that phrase.

      So then my question would be – do you think UF just fits into today's busy/fast-paced lifestyle and epic fantasy does not? Or is it really just a matter of taste?

      Also, I never understood the genre prejudices (even though I admit to having them when it comes to romance). Literary fic readers turn their nose up at genre readers; Sci-fi fans do it to fantasy fans; Fantasy readers do it to UF & paranormal readers…. I admit to wrinkling my own nose when it comes to the romance genre but I couldn't imagine thinking less of someone just because of the genre they choose to read. But I think *that* could be another post altogether!

  • July 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm
    Permalink

    Interesting post! I admit I don't have much patience for epic fantasy or literary fiction anymore and am an avid urban fantasy reader. But I don't think UF has changed my tastes so much as that it appeals to something I'm looking for in a read. There are LOTS of epic fantasy fans who turn their noses up at urban fantasy because it isn't "serious." Really, it's just different strokes. Is UF a chocolate chip cookie fix? I don't think so–if I find series I love, I will go back to them and re-read them….don't want a regurgitated cookie!
    My recent post Help- I Cant Say No-

    • July 3, 2010 at 9:37 am
      Permalink

      "Regurgitated cookie"… 😀 I think I'm thrilled that you came up with that phrase.

      So then my question would be – do you think UF just fits into today's busy/fast-paced lifestyle and epic fantasy does not? Or is it really just a matter of taste?

      Also, I never understood the genre prejudices (even though I admit to having them when it comes to romance). Literary fic readers turn their nose up at genre readers; Sci-fi fans do it to fantasy fans; Fantasy readers do it to UF & paranormal readers…. I admit to wrinkling my own nose when it comes to the romance genre but I couldn't imagine thinking less of someone just because of the genre they choose to read. But I think *that* could be another post altogether!

  • July 4, 2010 at 1:55 am
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    I think it's just a matter of taste but, then again, I'm an author as well as a fan so I'm probably prejudiced. There is definitely a class system in writing (with romance filtering to the bottom, usually), but we're seeing a lot of cross-genre work now with paranormal romance and steampunk. I think people just like what they like!
    My recent post Help- I Cant Say No-

  • July 12, 2010 at 9:37 am
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    Interesting points. I can't say I've read much in the way of Urban Fantasy. Maybe it's because of the "speed-dating" feel of it when I have read some? I'm not sure.

    Of one thing I'm certain, I need to start committing more time to reading actual books instead of getting lost in the interwebs…

  • July 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm
    Permalink

    Interesting points. I can't say I've read much in the way of Urban Fantasy. Maybe it's because of the "speed-dating" feel of it when I have read some? I'm not sure.

    Of one thing I'm certain, I need to start committing more time to reading actual books instead of getting lost in the interwebs…

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