Soporific Plasmaphages and the Guide to Genre

Soporific Plasmaphages and the Guide to Genre

deaduntildarkAfter reading the entire Southern Vampire series and watching an episode of The Vampire Diaries, I have reached the conclusion that John O’Neill is entirely correct to cast a deeply skeptical eye upon the entire genre of the vampire story. As strange as it may seem to assert this, it appears that vampires simply aren’t very interesting in and of themselves. They appear to exist primarily as a means of expanding the appeal of the traditional romance novel to audiences that would find themselves embarrassed to be reading a traditional bodice-ripper or watching a soap opera.

For example, if one considers the structure of the Charlaine Harris novels and compares them to other urban fantasies, it becomes readily apparent that this genre is little more than a hybrid of the traditional romance novel with the mystery novel, colored by a dash of fantasy that is exotic only to young readers and older readers coming from the romance and mystery markets. This also explains why the novels hold relatively little appeal to traditional SF/F readers and their irritation at the otherwise reasonable classification of urban fantasy in the fantasy genre.

But this doesn’t justify my initial statement about the tediousness of vampires. What I found interesting about the Harris novels, The Vampire Diaries television show, and even the Underworld movies, is that it is quite clear that vampires alone are insufficient to hold the reader/viewer’s interest. The Southern Vampire series would now be more accurately described as the Southern Fairy series, as the introduction of werewolves was rapidly followed by the introduction of fairies, and unsurprisingly, demons. I don’t know how many seasons The Vampire Diaries have been on, nor have I read the books upon which they are based, but already the plot appears to be revolving around brand-new were-vampires or undead wolves, which as in the case of Underworld happen to burst suddenly upon the scene despite no one ever happening to experiment with the idea in the hundreds, (or, depending upon the author, thousands), of years in which the two types of monsters were coexisting. It is readily apparent that vampires aren’t enough, even for vampire enthusiasts.

What I find fascinating and illuminating about the urban fantasy genre is its astonishing lack of imagination, especially in comparison with both the science fiction and fantasy aspects of the genre to which it supposedly belongs. For all that I occasionally criticize fantasy authors for their customary ignorance and/or denial concerning the time period in which they usually set their stories, at least there is at least some devotion to original thought. And for all that science fiction is in decline in parallel with the end of the Space Age, it remains an idea-based literary genre. But, just to give one example of the complete absence of thought in urban fantasy, how is it possible for creatures that have lived for thousands of years to be short on cash? Have they never heard of compound interest? Or long-term dollar-cost averaging? And why do they harbor such predilection for high schools, beyond the obvious attraction of young bodies? I imagine the average vampire would stake himself rather than sit through a single day of 45-minute lectures on civics, the plight of the environment, and the supreme importance of diversity. On the other hand, given the apparent financial retardation of their kind, perhaps a class or two on economics might not be amiss. The obvious connection between the undead nature of the artificial persons known as corporations and the bloodsucking variety – or do I repeat myself – is lamentably unexplored in hundreds of vampire novels.

The only rational conclusion one can reach is that the authors of urban fantasy have little more actual interest in thinking through the conceptual implications of vampires than JK Rowling had in either magic or sports. (What did Harry Potter and company ever do at Hogwarts other than repeat one-word fake Latin phrases until something happened?) The vampires exist only insofar as they are necessary to provide a platform for the romantic entanglements and mystery plots that actually serve as the basis for the books. Whether the protagonist is as relatively chaste like Sookie Stackhouse or an epic slut of the Anita Hamilton variety, the chief appeal of the genre is female wish-fulfillment, with the protagonist serving as the prize in a struggle between two or more alpha males who find her irresistible. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but don’t kid yourself. They are all just romance novels with a mystery attached.

I can’t honestly say that I disliked the Harris novels. The characters and the setting are in fact quite good. But it is intriguing to see how every vampire series appears to follow a very similar arc in which the vampires become increasingly irrelevant. And for those who are interested in determining genre, I have produced the helpful guide. Ascertaining which question is answered in the book will tell you to which genre it belongs.

Fantasy: How will the Macguffin be recovered/destroyed?
Epic Fantasy: Who will rule the land?
Science fiction: What are the implications of this future technology?
Epic Science fiction: Who will rule the Galactic Empire?
Mystery: Who is responsible for the dead body?
Thriller: Will they run out of time?
Romance: With whom will she have sex last?
Western: What make is his revolver?
Young Adult: Does she believe in herself?
Historical: How might it have happened?
Non-fiction: What actually happened?
Porn: What is the most frequently utilized position?
Self-help: What is wrong with me?

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I imagine long-lived creatures can be short on cash for the same reason short-lived ones are: bad investments, not worrying about tomorrow, spending more than you earn. Maybe there’s a Madoff vampire two?

Jeff Stehman

Have you tried JF Lewis’s urban fantasy series, beginning with Staked?


I think you need to write a Vampire novel just to close out the genre with a bang.


Compound interest is nice, if your bank doesn’t go under, or your account doesn’t get seized as abandoned property, and. . . a number of other things.

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I like Charlene Harris’ novels, though I agree they shouldn’t be classified as Urban Fantasy. Perhaps Paranormal Romance? In fact, I think the recent trend has been to market her as such. The only example you give that could be classified as Urban Fantasy is Underworld, and it doesn’t fit well with the rest of your examples.

I think that while most people who read Science Fiction and Fantasy generally have an appetite for more original fare, the readers of Romance are, in general, looking for something a little more formulaic. One of the reasons these types of stories have caused such a stir is that they were initially misclassified by publishers and sellers who didn’t know where to put them. On the whole, I think they provide their intended audience with what they’re looking for.

How do immortals become broke? Watch any given season of Highlander. My favorite was the immortal who lost everything in the French Revolution.

I don’t agree with your assertion that vampires by themselves aren’t enough to hold a story, or rather I don’t agree with your evidence. One of the most common themes in Urban Fantasy is dropping different mythological characters together to see how the interact. I don’t think it’s done of necessity. Besides, Dracula was Urban Fantasy in its day, and it was very compelling with just vampires.

[…] in the urban fantasy or paranormal romance genres…rather less, apparently, than the author of this post. I am a firm believer in Sturgeon’s Law, but still have some sympathy for the argument that […]

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