Municipal Fantasy – a bibliography

This is a rough bibliography of the works mentioned in my essay about “Municipal Fantasy”. All enumerations of works in a given universe are as of June 2017. I also quote two posts that I made elsewhere on the subject, one to the comments section at File770, and one in the comments section at Charlie Stross’s blog.


Agent K is from the 1997 film Men in Black. It’s not fantasy at all, but it does have the ‘hidden reality’ trope.

“Sufficiently analyzed magic” is taken from Phil and Kaja Foglio’s webcomic, “Girl Genius”, about mad science.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer“, a 1997-2003 TV show, and also novels and comics. It’s about slaying vampires and fighting evil (and it does eventually make the changeover from Urban to Municipal, but that’s at the end of the last season of the show; you’d have to read the “Season Eight/Nine/Ten” comics to know more).

Anita Blake“, protagonist of 20+ novels by Laurell K. Hamilton, beginning with 1993’s “Guilty Pleasures” There’s also comics.

Harry Dresden, protagonist of 15+ novels by Jim Butcher, beginning with 2000’s Storm Front. There’s also short stories, comics, and a TV show.

Felix Castor, protagonist of five novels by Mike Carey, beginning with 2006’s The Devil You Know.

the “Rivers of London” series (also called the “Peter Grant” series) by Ben Aaronovitch, has six novels, beginning with 2011’s “Rivers of London” (published as “Midnight Riot” in North America). There’s also a comic.

the Shadow Police are the protagonists of three novels by Paul Cornell, beginning with 2012’s London Falling.

The Ministry of Magic appears in the Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling, and was first mentioned in 1997’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the USA).

Mur Lafferty tells the story of travel writer Zoe Norris, beginning in 2013’s Shambling Guide to New York City.

Technically, the novels about Sookie Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris are the “Southern Vampire Mysteries”, beginning with 2001’s Dead Until Dark; True Blood was the TV adaptation.

Mercedes Lackey began the SERRAted Edge novels with 1992’s Born to Run.

Holly Lisle wrote the “Devil’s Point” novels, beginning with 1995’s Sympathy for the Devil.

The October Daye novels by Seanan McGuire begin with 2009’s Rosemary and Rue.

The Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews begin with 2007’s Magic Bites.

Tinker, published in 2004, is the first novel in Wen Spencer’s “Elfhome” series.

Andrew Swann’s Dragons of the Cuyahoga was published in 2001.

Geoffrey Landis‘s Hugo-nominated short story “Elemental” was published in Analog in December 1984.

The Shadowrun RPG was launched in 1989 by FASA Corporation; the first novels were published in 1991.

The “Magic Ex Libris” series by Jim Hines begins with 2012’s Libriomancer.

The Laundry novels by Charlie Stross begin with 2004’s ““Concrete Jungle” (available free and legal).

The Kitty Norville novels by Carrie Vaughn begin with 2005’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone, begins with 2012’s Three Parts Dead

Robin McKinley’s Sunshine was published in 2003. There is no sequel.

Felix Gilman has written two books about the city of Ararat, beginning with 2007’s Thunderer.

China Miéville‘s books about the world of Bas-Lag, and specifically the city of New Crobuzon, begin with 2001’s Perdido Street Station.

The Commonweal novels by Graydon Saunders begin with 2014’s The March North.

Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos was published in 1971.

The Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett begin with “The Eyes Have It”, published in Analog in January 1964.

Dave van Domelen began writing the Academy of Super-Heroes stories on rec.arts.comics.creative in 1994.

The Dragaera novels by Steven Brust begin with 1983’s Jhereg.

The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett begin with 1983’s The Colour of Magic.

Five Twelfths of Heaven, by Melissa Scott, was published in 1985 and is the first in the Roads of Heaven series.

Recalled to Service“, by Alter S. Reiss, was published on in 2016.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, was published in 2004.

I made the following post to Charlie Stross’s blog on October 14, 2014:

“SF set in a world perfused by mechanised, systematized magic”

The term I use, and am trying to spread around, is “municipal fantasy”. “Urban” fantasy is just an environment, but “municipal” fantasy implies a whole array of infrastructure and dependent businesses and regulations and humans being clever and figuring out how to exploit and use and adapt things, the way we have always done. In ‘Men in Black’, Agent K said that “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” But panic doesn’t last, and when presented with new facts about the universe, people use them.

Key to the genre of municipal fantasy is that everyone knows about magic. Everyone knows about it, and it has become integrated into the stuff of modern life. There are no ‘muggles’. I was once at an urban fantasy panel at a con in Montreal, where first we discussed the ‘fantasy’ aspect’, and then the ‘urban’ aspect, and then the panelists said “wow, that’s everything, I guess we’re finished ten minutes early?”

and I realized that, no, there’s one other aspect crucial to urban fantasy and implicit in the name “urban fantasy”. There’s the urban, and there’s the fantasy, and there’s the space between them. In urban fantasy, the urban environment and the magical system are forcibly separated and held apart from each other. They have developed separately over the years (which is typically shown as leading to a certain degree of stagnation in the magic). The magic is hidden from the science and technology, and so it does not advance while they do.

If magic is real, and people know about it, then ultimately they will treat it as any other resource. Lord Darcy was municipal fantasy. So was Ghostbusters, and the Anita Blake stories, and the Southern Vampire stories, and Robin McKinley’s “Sunshine”.

All taxonomy is ultimately arbitrary, of course, and literary taxonomy more so (hard to make a dichotomous key when your subject has no particular physical existence!). That said, municipal fantasy requires more than just “everyone knows about magic”, otherwise we’d have to include stuff like Tolkien. I think another important trait is progress: that the society has had magic long enough, and/or understands it well enough, that they’ve actually made technology which uses it. Their society has gone beyond the crude imitation-medieval of the stereotypical fantasy novel. (Case in point: the later Discworld novels.)

So that’s my suggestion for what to name this subgenre. “Municipal fantasy”.


I made the following post to File 770 on May 20, 2015:

“Magic Inc.” isn’t urban fantasy per se, it’s alternate-timeline fantasy, since the magic is openly known and used and regulated

This is what I call “municipal fantasy” (a term that I’m trying to popularize). The key component is infrastructure, which ultimately requires public knowledge. Take down ‘the Veil’, stop with ‘the Masquerade’, and let things happen instead of trying to preserve the status quo. Agent K may have been right that “people are dumb panicky animals”, but panic doesn’t last. And eventually people start to figure out how things really work. That’s the other half of his quote: “a person is smart”.

You introduce a new component into the lives of seven billion humans, and they WILL adapt to it and get used to it and figure out ways to integrate it into their daily lives. And then comes legislation, and businesses, and organized crime, and public works projects. Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, Felix Castor, Rae Seddon, Peter Venkman, Adora Belle Dearheart, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, Tara Abernathy.

“Urban fantasy” has three components: the urban, the fantasy, and the space between — the forcible separation between the first two. Without that space, so much more becomes possible because we’re not just trying to maintain the status quo, and because I should really write an article about this instead of trying to squeeze it all into a single post in a thread.