Since we launched in January, io9 has steadfastly covered only science fiction, futurism, and science. We've had arguments with you over what this means, and occasionally we've covered borderline-fantasy tales like Hellboy and Ekaterina Sedia's novel The Alchemy of Stone. But now we've decided to open our content coverage up to urban fantasy. Our muses are still science and the future, but we think urban fantasy is a genre where many great creators are thinking about these very subjects. We cannot ignore it any longer.
No doubt you can find many definitions of urban fantasy, just as you can find many definitions of science fiction itself. We prefer to go with the simple: Urban fantasy is a tale of magic or the supernatural set in the industrialized world of the present, the future, or on other planets. It blurs the line between what is rational and irrational, scientific and metaphysical. Just the way those lines are often blurred in real life. Moving into urban fantasy territory will let us to cover brilliant creators whose work isn't mainly focused on scientific thought-experiments, but instead speculative ideas about art and culture. Now we can cover the work of Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and Guillermo Del Toro; we can write about Pushing Daisies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hell, we can even write about how the Harry Potter franchise is making kids want to go to boarding school again.
I think what finally swayed me to this position, despite my admitted scorn for most things that aren't scientific, was finally reading the novella Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber. Written in the 1970s and often hailed as the first work of urban fantasy, the book is a great yarn about haunted cities which is also a sustained argument about where science ends and the supernatural begins. The main character, Franz, is a science fiction author who has started writing novelizations of a supernatural horror TV show called "Weird Underground." When Franz has a supernatural experience, he discusses it with his friends — two of whom are scientists and one of whom is a pianist. One of the scientists says to Franz, "I deal with matter, sure. But what is that? Invisible particles, waves, and force fields. Nothing solid at all." The musician adds, "I think the only reality is number . . . and music, which comes to the same thing. They are both real and they both have power." Finally, they settle the discussion when the scientist says, "I like [the idea that] magic — and miracles, too, like those of Jesus, say — and art, too, and history of course — simply being phenomena that cannot be repeated. Unlike science, which is all about phenomena that can be repeated." I like this idea too. It opens up a place in fiction where creators can speculate about more than the next iteration of our scientific world, more than the future of our technologies. They can speculate about where art and philosophy might lead us. Or wonder about the ineffable, irreducible forces that go into making up a distinct historical moment that changes the direction of civilization forever. There is also a good argument to be made that magic is simply a way of talking about science so advanced that we can only describe it as metaphysical. Magic is science after the singularity; or it's a system for manipulating irrational forces. These aren't exactly new ideas. Many of you have talked about them here in comment threads where we've debated this very question of whether io9 should cover fantasy. We're interested in urban fantasy because it comments on contemporary culture, and because our daily lives in cities are becoming increasingly "magical" as we integrate computers we barely understand into our homes, and biotech we can't explain into our bodies. Plus, no matter how devoted you are to science or atheism, you will nevertheless struggle every day with irrational forces that cannot be explained using the tools we currently have in our laboratory toolboxes.
What we won't be doing as we open the doors to urban fantasy is delving entirely into every aspect of the fantasy genre. For that reason we'll leave to other blogs the task of chronicling epic fantasy, the territory of ancient worlds and "wheels of time" and elves who don't carry iPhones. Our goal at io9 is to explore pop culture and science that give you a window on the future. Or a weird new way to understand how tomorrow casts its shadow back onto the present. Sometimes, tomorrow comes in the form of a ghost or monster. For all you know, that vampire who bit you in the alley is just a cyborg taking a biological sample back to her underground research facility. Neverwhere image via Mike Carey.