More urban change questions

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More interesting questions about humans and cities and nature…

“What is the relationship between humans and nature? How does this question play out in the specific micro-environments of cities?” (p.71)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

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urban change questions

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These questions are posed in the context of sustainable urban development, but I think them both interesting and relevant to fictional concerns (perhaps especially those of urban fantasy and fiction more generally?):

“Ultimately,” write, “the green city will reflect a rather different future for work. On this topic there are some very large questions: can a future of cities competing against one another in world markets be reconciled with a benign future for the environment? What are the limits of competition and how can they be enforced? Does economic growth itself have limits? How can growth be steered into environmentally benign forms of production? What forms of governance are required to regulate world markets in order to guarantee social security and environmental conservation? How do culture, place and climate influence work patterns, and consequently the physical accommodation of work?” (p.132)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

The future of cities – Batty

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In a recent editorial, Michael Batty states that “Suddenly, ‘cities’ have become the hottest topic on the planet.” (p.191). (The ‘Suddenly’ caught my eye – in surprise – but he qualifies this marker in terms of recent government activity.)

“Some of this interest [in the city] is undoubtedly due to the fact that we recently passed the point when, according to official statistics, more than 50% of the world’s population are now deemed to be living in some sort of city; in short, the point where more than 50% of global population is urbanised (UN, 2008), although it is arguable that this point was actually passed some time ago at the end of the last century. Definitional matters aside, it appears that by the end of this century most of the world’s population will be urbanised and, to all intents and purposes, will be living in ‘cities’ (Batty, 2011). But a stronger force for elevating cities to the point where they become the focus of interest is that the largest cities—world cities if you like—now appear to be acting more like city-states, driving economic development and  acting on a global stage that cuts across the nation-state in ways that are confusing, liberating,  and confounding.

Yet the most powerful force in this revival of interest in cities is undoubtedly the transition from a world based on energy to one based on information: from an industrial to a postindustrial world where the majority of pursuits are information based and where many previous occupations involving agriculture and manufacturing will be entirely automated. Most of our cities still reflect the built environment shells that were appropriate to a previous era, one wedded to the internal combustion engine, to an industrial base that in many places contained over half the workforce, and to patterns of living that tended to reinforce localities rather than more distant places. However, what takes place in our cities is now very different from the economic and social activities that defined them at the end of the 19th century. Most manufacturing employment has disappeared from more developed countries and, in any case, there has been a progressive loss of jobs due to automation in the manufacturing industries that have moved offshore in the last fifty years. Agriculture is now highly automated and it is very likely that it will be completely so by the end of this century; what will remain in terms of traditional farming lifestyles will be in small but persistent pockets of deep rural poverty amidst a much wider sea of cities where occupations will be essentially urban.” (p.191)

One of the major reasons why big cities have come back onto the agenda is because they are now regarded as the places where the future will be defined. In an increasingly competitive global world, cities are seen as the hot spots in terms of business, economic vibrancy, wealth and of course, as they have always been, the sources of economic and political power.” (p.192)

“…until quite recently, our love affair with the city was highly muted despite a longstanding recognition that cities were the keystones to the economy. In fact most of the 20th century was a reaction against the idea of the industrial city which was seen as an evil, polluted, sprawling place, out of control. Our planning then, and even now, was very much to contain the city by green belts, to disperse its functions to new towns, to regenerate activity at a regional rather than urban level.” (p.192)

“There is, however, one clear message in thinking about future cities: it is that such analysis and study should concentrate on the multiple repercussions over time and space that now characterise change in the contemporary city.” (p.194)

I can’t help wondering where urban fantasy fits in this picture.

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Michael Batty (2013) Editorial Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, volume 40, pages 191 – 194

Nationalism, urbanisation, and vampires

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There is a folklore study, titled Slayers and their Vampires, by Bruce McClelland, which shares an enormous amount of folklore around the figure of the vampire. It’s clearly written (as not all folkloric studies are!) and it’s interesting. Mostly, as I say, it focuses on folklore, but within the framework of how the vampire and its counterpart, the vampire slayer, have been adopted and changed by more recent representations of the figure.

vampires, nationalism, and Christianity

I particularly found interesting the connection shown by McClelland between the vampire tales and nationalism (which is bound into recent vampire tales in popular fiction – see much of the discussion around Dracula and Irish studies, or Martine Beugnet, for example). Here are a couple of points made by McClelland:

The systematic collection of folklore in rural Bulgaria did not begin until the overthrow of the “Ottoman yoke.” However, as a sign of the growing nationalism that had spurred Bulgaria and other Balkan nations to finally evict their Turkish overlords in the last decades of the nineteenth century, ethnographers and folklorists from the Slavic regions of the Balkans began to investigate in earnest the customs and tales of Bulgarians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, Macedonians, and other groups living in or near the Bulgaro-Macedonian region of the BalkansElicited reports of customs and beliefs were collected in the field, then written up and submitted for consideration to such encyclopedic publications as the Sbornik za bâlgarski narodni umotvorenija (SbNU), a regularly published collection of folklore and customs. There are several references to vampire slayers in SbNU, dating back to 1891.

In the earliest SbNU report of a vampire slayer, from the Demir-Haskov region, the vampire, called in this case a vrkolak, appears as a shadow (sjanka). The vampire slayer is referred to as either a sâbotnik […] or a vâperar. The vrkolak in this region was said to come into existence from the blood of someone killed with a gun or a knife: the blood that poured out from the violent wound could become a vampire after fourteen days had passed. The shadow is quite explicitly considered a double, that is, an invisible simulacrum that can only be seen by the vâperar, who is called on to kill the vampire. In this report, the existence of the shadow/vampire was evidenced by an epidemic among livestock.

Like the vâperar, the sâbotnik may also be called on to kill the vrkolak, using, according to the report, a knife or a gun. The specification that the vampire slayer use the same tools to return the violence as that which ultimately brought the vampire into existence is intriguing: [-p.98] not only do we see the vampire as a double who has been engendered (or contaminated) by violence, but the vampire’s mortal enemy—who has the capacity to become a vampire—is here also his “reverse” double, who ritually reverses the vampire’s coming into existence by reenacting the violent scene that promoted a victim to a villain. There is a kind of antisymmetrical connection that persists throughout the folklore in the relationship between the vampire and the slayer, and this quite Slavic theme of doubles and reversals, while certainly encountered frequently enough in various notions of ritual magic, appears even in the later, popular literary conception of the vampire as having no reflection (the mirror image is his enemy).” (pp.97-98)

“Because he is able to detect a vampire that otherwise is unseen or goes unnoticed, the vampire slayer is the vampire’s natural enemy. I have already hinted that this function, of seeing and eliminating demonic [-p.105] forces, is a religious one: the task of purifying the community by identifying the spiritual cause of a calamity or disease and driving it out is performed by the heroes of many religions, Christianity among them. Since the earliest vampires were linked, in the minds of Orthodox Christianizers in the Balkans, with pre-Christian beliefs, we might expect to find evidence that the vampire’s folkloric enemies emerge from that same crucible.

Of course, the vampire’s truly greatest enemy is Christianity itself, which vehemently condemned, in the image of the vampire, the pagan’s literalization of the Eucharist and Resurrection as blood drinking and reanimation or reincarnation, respectively. But at the community level, the tension between the personages embodying evil or anxiety and those embodying good or wholeness must be resolved internally. The vampire and the vampire slayer are similarly marked as “non-Christian”; they are in a sense related to each other and in all likelihood reenact a mythological struggle that pre-dates Christianity. In other words, where Christianity finds the vampire, it also finds his slayer. At the purest theological level, Christianity abhors annihilation even for the sake of expiation, Jesus having served as the ultimate scapegoat. It therefore can condone neither vengeful violence nor deliberate contact with the unholy or defiled.” (pp.104-105)

Note also that in his introduction to this book, McClelland explains these connections and his own interest in them:

Ever since the publication of Dracula, or at least since movies adopted that novel’s central characters and narrative points in 1922 (Nosferatu) and 1931 (Dracula), the nature, origin, and meaning of the vampire have been frequent subjects of inquiry by European and American scholars. Historical, literary, cultural, political, and even psychoanalytic discussions of the nature and role of the vampire have abounded since the vampire became widely known in Western Europe in the early eighteenth century. But the tradition of the vampire and, indeed, of the word vampire itself, which also had a prefolkloric meaning, goes back several centuries before Europeans living north and west of the Danube had ever heard of such things. As we ought to expect, the meaning of the Slavic term vampir changed considerably over a millennium, yet most writers on the subject have ignored both the cultural context in which the term arose and the possible changes in the nature of the thing designated by the word across time.

Among the more significant causes of this inattention to the broader development of the vampire motif is the understandable, if Orientalistic, cultural ignorance on the part of Europeans living far from those areas of Europe – in particular, the Balkans and the Carpathians – that were dominated for so long by the Ottoman Turks. Toward the end of [-p.4] the seventeenth century, as the power of the Ottoman Empire began to wane in southeatern Europe, scientists and journalists who were curious about rumors of strange vampire phenomena ventured more intrepidly into such places as Serbia, Croatia, and other areas around the borders of the Habsburg Empire. Their noble intention was first to record and then explain the exotic and perhaps supernatural goings-on at the boundaries of the civilized world. This they did with a vengeance, writing reports and learned treatises to explain away the very possibility of the ambulatory dead. To prevent a resurgence of the extreme and irrational religious persecution that characterized the Inquisition, the journalists and scientists drew on the scientific methods that were emerging during the Enlightenment.

Thus, the conception of the vampire on which virtually all subsequent vampire literature (and, by technological extension, cinema) was based derived from a handful of notorious episodes. These ‘epidemics’ occurred over the span of only a couple of decades at the fringes of Western Europe, where Balkan folklore had come into direct contact with and had thus been contaminated by contemporary ideas about witches and witchcraft. Though a few reports by seventeenth-century travelers accurately described the Greek vampire, or revenant, known by the borrowed Slavic name broukolakos, there was no understtanding at the time of the vampire’s role within a much broader demonological or lower mythological system. The phenomenology of the vampire was appropriated in its entirety into a new, Enlightenment worldview, while the semantics and cultural history of the Old Slavic term vampir were almost completely ignored.

Perhaps the most profound consequence of this appropriation was that important, structural aspects of the vampire motif went unrecognized. The significance of the vampire hunter, for example, was for a long while overshadowed by a natural fascination – which preoccupied early Western writers on the subject – with the vampire’s appearance, power, and behavior.” (pp.3-4)

Because a familiarity with such oral tales was lacking in many recent studies of ‘the figure of the vampire’, McClelland goes on to explain that: “The dynamic of the vampire report, in which the real focus is on the methods used to identify and thereby dispatch the evil vampire, is missed as a consequence. What remains misunderstood is how the appearance of evil always seems to require counteraction or expiation at the hands of someone possessing both the necessary insight to recognize a vampire and the knowledge of the necessary rituals to destroy one. The meaning of the symbols in the original folkloric system is not carried over into the new, literary adaptation of the vampire theme. [/] The present work, then, attempts to restore the balance – between the vampire and his heroic adversary – that was disturbed with the transfer of the vampire from his home within Slavic lands, especially the South Slavic cultures of the Balkans. In particular, it is important to recognize first that the vampire hunter or slayer is not at all a modern phenomenon, dreamed up by Gothic writers for dramatic or literary purposes. More likely, this character is a reflex of an ancient shamanic figure possessing the healing power to peer into the world of the dead.” (p.5)

urbanisation

I found the following statement about the drop in folkloric vampire narratives as a result of urbanisation kind of interesting, too – since urbanisation seems to be a huge feature of the vampire’s recent popularity in popular culture…

McClelland writes: “In the twentieth century, the forces of urbanization and secularization began to erode the folkloric base of the vampire, and this erosion accelerated after World War II, in part due to the imposition of Sovietstyle communism, with its antagonism toward religious expression. By the mid-twentieth century, authentic vampire lore in the Bulgarian (and Yugoslavian) village context appeared to be dying off. More and more narratives recorded in the later decades of the century are of the “fabulate” type, in which the teller speaks of vampire or vampire-killing activity as hearsay rather than personal encounter (the latter being characteristic of the “memorate” narrative). Virtually all of the informants of contemporary ethnographers that admit to having knowledge of vampires are semiliterate farmworkers in their late seventies or eighties.” (p.102)

Ref: (italics in original emphases in blue bold mine) Bruce A. McClelland (2006) Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press

Reference is to: Martine Beugnet (2007): Figures of Vampirism: French Cinema in the Era of Global Transylvania, Modern & Contemporary France, 15:1, 77-88

Strange Angels

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I finally got around to reading Lili St. Crow’s Strange Angels. It’s a fluid, easy read, with a compelling plot, a story world that makes sense and likeable characters (though there is only a small cast). … anyway, here are the things I noticed (these are notes for me, really, so don’t let me ruin the story or anything):

Parents vs. Peers

Seems to me: YA Urban Fantasy protagonists are often teamed up with their peers to fight the world’s evil… their parents and families generally exist, but are explained out of the story, too. Families tend to be secondary in some way to the power struggle the protagonists engage in; the power structure of the family is a side-line event (rather than central to how the troubles play out).

Dru’s Mom and Gran are long-gone and her Dad dies early on in Strange Angels… so Dru has to work out how to go it alone ‘in a scary-as world’. But – Strange Angels also spends quite a bit of time focusing on Dru’s loss of parents… She thinks about her Dad a lot; she wonders how she can cope without him; she ponders everything he’s taught her, etc. She wonders repeatedly how she can cope without adults, since she’s only a teenager. (A classic example: “This just kept getting more and more complex, and I wasn’t sure what was real and what was the Real World anymore. Where were the grown-ups who could handle this?” (p.228))

Is this all to explain who Dru is and how she came to be that way? …to develop a storyline around a teenager who lacks adults to Take Care Of Things? Does Dru’s connection with her Dad make her story different from other UF protagonists’? Or is there a theme in UF with regards to what parents bring to stories of good vs. evil?

Teachers feature in Strange Angels (and in Vampire Academy, and in a couple of others… what about the Mortal Instruments series?). As with families, they tend to be a sideline, but why keep these typical teenager (imbalanced power) relationships at all? What do they add to the story?

If you want to see what I mean about the adult vs. teenager theme, check out pp.146; 149; 169; 245; 252; 277?; and, last but not least, the penultimate page (p.292), when rescue comes in the form of more teenagers (“The pilot didn’t even look at us, and the hands on the controls were bigger and thicker than mine, though they looked young and smooth-skinned. / Jesus, how many teenagers are doing this sort of thing?“)

Of course, this all fits with Adolescent Fiction in general, but there’s something else here… I suppose comparing it with the ‘adult’ stuff might clear things up… dunno

Most people don’t see the world around them as it really is (your average punter is the one living in the fantasy world, because they can’t see the truth of things around them. For most people (but not our protagonists), nothing goes too wrong and the threat of world-destruction is not real):

I think this thought partly occurs to me because at work we’re studying ways of implementing sustainability more fully into our pedagogy and this absolutely is how the discourses around climate change and sustainability play out (i.e., most people just can’t see the dangers).

I wonder if part of the adult vs. teenager thing is connected to the sense that the protagonist knows things about the world that most people refuse to acknowledge and therefore cannot cope with… this generation must face what is wrong with the world (using new variations on old traditions), while the previous generation continues in its old ways… (such a statement certainly fits the characters of Clary in Mortal Instruments and Rose in Vampire Academy).

Certainly, in Strange Angels (as in other UF?) there is a distinct sense of knowing something about the world – and caring about it; and being caught up in the power of it – that your average person does not know… Dru and her Dad have been fighting things from ‘the Real World’ (zombies, chupacabras, whatnot) all her life, but most people don’t know the Real World exists… a section that leapt out in this regard: “‘This place really reeks.’
I shrugged. It was just a regular chain coffee outlet, with hordes of overpriced crap crowding the shelves and rickety tables, the kids behind the counter scrambling to keep up with the nonfat, soy chai, double shot, sugar-free, dry foam, drip please, do you have a sugar substitute? People shuffled up to the counter, got their froofy java, and shuffled out the door, usually jabbering away on cell phones about something useless or meaningless.
None of them knew about the Real World. None of them were so scared their bones felt like water.
‘They don’t have a clue.’ I scooped up my not-so-hot-anymore chocolate and scraped my chair away from the table.” (p.143)

I have to think this through some more.

Antagonists

The antagonists in this novel are not a specific race or group of politically organised folk, but an entire realm of ‘things that go bump in the night’… Accordingly, you don’t get much characterisation of the villains – they are, almost by definition, those monsters under the bed that are mostly scary cos you can’t see them. That said, there is a whole range of them (zombies, werewolves, vampires (‘suckers’), dreamstealers/revelles, etc.) and St. Crow seems to be drawing on all the cultural traditions alive to people of the USA. She just doesn’t develop their characters much here (rather she focuses on how they menace Dru).

As with Richelle Mead’s story world (they’re mates aren’t they?), the djamphir (dhampir, dhampyr, dhampire) are half-breeds (here: human/vampire offspring) who are on the side of good. In this case, the djamphir kill the full-blooded, dangerous wampyr/ nosferatu/ vampires (before the opposite happens). Werwulfen (werewolves) also battle suckers (vampires) in this story world. (Ref. pp.162; 210)

This novel seems to be setting things up for a larger battle scope in consequent novels, though, so hmmm (Dru also seems set to “Be a good girl and go back to school” (p.289), even if it is a school for Hunters, so hmmm some more).

Anyway, just a few thoughts…

Ref: Lili St. Crow (2009) Strange Angels. Razor Bill: Camberwell, Vic.

Ref also: http://backyardbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/in-times-of-change-a-few-quotes/

Fantasy

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In her discussion of genre fiction, Joyce Saricks writes: “Fantasy may be the most ubiquitous of the genres, as there are fantasy elements in most fiction, almost regardless of how realistic the story is. It is also an ancient form, the genre of myth and legend, as well as of the fairy tales and stories of our childhood. This is the world of faerie, and magic, sorcery, and enchantment all live on in Fantasy.

Like Westerns and Historical Fiction, Fantasy novels create specific landscapes. These are world-building books, and it is important that readers be able to see, hear, and feel the worlds in which the authors place them. Fantasy novels tell a wide range of stories, but the success of each is dependent upon the author’s skill in creating a believable, albeit magical, world populated by characters to whom readers relate.” (p.265)

I’m not given the impression that Saricks is a fan, but she defines Fantasy thus:

“Like Science Fiction, with which it is most frequently linked, Fantasy is not easily defined in a single phrase or two. If Science Fiction emphasizes ideas, then Fantasy delves more into relationships. The stories it tells appeal more to the emotions than to the intellect. As does Science Fiction, Fantasy deals with otherness of time or place; settings may be contemporary or historical but something is out of kilter…. Fantasy exists in a world that most people believe never could be, while Science Fiction worlds are those we accept as possible, even if improbable. Science Fiction generally offers something radically new and different, but Fantasy frequently takes a familiar story, legend, or myth and adds a twist, a new way of looking at things that brings it to life again. The key to Fantasy, [-p.266] however, is the presence of magic. If there is no magic, the story may fit in the Horror, Science Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction, or Adventure genres. When magic is integral to the story, it must be Fantasy.” (pp.265-266)

“Both Fantasy and Horror draw on everyday fears and feature realms and creatures that are larger than life and often not of this world. However, while Horror creates a nightmare situation in which characters strive to survive and temporarily defeat the evil, Fantasy is more affirming, giving protagonists a chance to win the battle against the dark and permanently end the reign of evil. Like Fantasy, Science Fiction presents a challenging unknown, but, unlike Fantasy, it offers technical explanations and ways to ‘know,’ to discover through science and empirical tests. One finds alternate realities in both Fantasy and Science Fiction, but in Fantasy these alternate universes and histories depend on magic, while in Science Fiction the roots are logical, not magical. Horror and Fantasy share an intuitive approach to the world, in contrast to the rational outlook of Science Fiction. Like Romance, Fantasy may have a romantic tone, and some stories certainly project the same emotional appeal, but magic supplants the romantic interest as the most important element. Adventure abounds in many types of Fantasy, but again it is secondary to the magical nature of the story.” (p.266)

“Fantasy is a genre that inspires lifelong fans. …These are often elegantly written stories with a haunting quality. We sense that there is something just behind the story, something bigger than the story itself which hints at a larger meaning. These are the stories of legends come to life, and the popularity of the genre attests to the continuing importance of this kind of story in our lives.” (p.287)

Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy, Saricks writes, “tends to be darker, despite the fact that it is sometimes characterized as elves on motorcycles! The emphasis is on societal issues, power or its absence, and general urban blight contributes to the bleaker nature of these stories. [-p.269] The classic Urban Fantasy author is Charles de Lint. Try Memory and Dream, part of his Newford series, as an introduction to this landscape. A young artist’s paintings release ancient spirits into the modern world with unpleasant results. Other well-regarded authors of Urban Fantasy include China Miéville (the New Crobuzon series – Perdido Street Station is the first) and Emma Bull, whose award-winning War for the Oaks recounts a war among fairies in modern-day Minneapolis. Consider also Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, beginning with Storm Front. Harry Dresden is a professional wizard and supernatural investigator who operates in an alternate Chicago in these dark though witty stories. Urban Fantasy produces haunting stories that can be appreicated on many levels.” (pp.268-269)

Characteristics of Fantasy

“1. Detailed settings depict another world, often Earth, but out-of-time or invisible to most people. Magic frames the story.

2. Story lines feature Good versus Evil, as protagonists battle and ultimately conquer the malevolent forces – although victory does not come easily or cheaply. Titles are frequently part of a series with a continuing story told over several books.

3. Mood ranges from humourous to dark, but it is ultimately optimistic. Despite this, a melancholy tone pervades much of the genre even when victory is achieved.

4. Characters, clearly defined as good or bad, often attain special magical gifts, and the story lines explore ways to discover one’s own potential, magical or otherwise. Even good characters will find themselves challenged, both physically and ethically. Characters may include mythical creatures – dragons, unicorns, elves, wizards – as well as more familiar ones.

5. In general, books start slowly as the author sets the scene, presents the challenge, and introduces the cast – frequently involving a group of diverse characters who are brought together solely to fight a new or resurging evil in an unfamiliar world. Pacing increases later as more adventure elements appear.

6. From the stylized language of High Fantasy to the jargon of Urban Fantasy, language and style run the gamut. Language creates verbal pictures of characters and landscape, and illustrations sometimes enhance both adult and children’s Fantasy.” (p.267)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago

Fantasy and SciFi inhabit dark and unknown regions

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fantasy and science fiction inhabit dark and unknown regions. Although we often think of fantasies as light, with enchanted mirrors, spaceships winging like sea gulls, and time machines shaped like flower petals, such stories speak to us, at first, of dark things. No one is more aware of the dark aspects of civilization than the storyteller; he knows our insecurities, our loneliness, and our fears. But every storyteller is also aware of the value of the human being.

In a story it is usually an ordinary boy or girl who must confront power, take risks, and stand courageous against fear. Primitive societies had two words for power: benign power was called “mana”; malign power was called “taboo.”” (107)

Ref: Madeleine L’Engle Childlike Wonder and the Truths of Science Fiction Children’s Literature, Volume 10, 1982, pp. 102-110