October 31, 2020, 08:07:02 AM

Author Topic: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?  (Read 493 times)

Offline eclipse

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Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« on: September 21, 2020, 07:36:45 AM »
I’ve read a few grimdark books and I have to say this genre is not for me with the exception of Abercrombie.

I find grimdark over the top with unfunny Julvenile and violence just to shock you with A feel of cartoonish about it all

While with Abercrombie I don't feel this way about his books he has humour which is funny and violence which feels more realistic to  the other books labeled grimdark. There might be scenes which shock you but I don’t get the impression it’s there just for the giggles.  k.J Parker does the same and his not labelled grimdark.

Is his books labelled grimdark just because he calls himself lord grimdark?

Trying to find out why I like his books over the other grimdark authors  maybe it’s just because his writing is superior to other grimdark authors out there.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2020, 07:48:26 AM by eclipse »
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2020, 07:59:32 AM »
I'm not overly familiar with the history of the term, but I can see a lot of people associating it with edginess, i.e. crossing the line for the sake of crossing the line. Abercrombie doesn't do that; his darkness and grit and grimness all ties in deeply in with the story.

So by my personal definition is that yes, Abercrombie is grimdark, and perhaps some of those other books are just written by edgelords with a pen.  ;D

Offline Peat

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2020, 08:53:22 AM »
I was under the impression Abercrombie was one of the first - maybe the first - to be labelled as grimdark. When you're a founder, you're in.

Personally I think fantasy sub-genres are so badly bereft of any public consensus as to be more or less broken, and that grimdark is one of the more broken. However, insofar as it means anything, I'd suggest it's a bunch of characteristics and not all of the characteristics have to be there, and either a statement of belonging or incredibly obviously being part of the gang. No, I can't quite make sense of what the characteristics should be, but the list pretty much has to allow Abercrombie to be in.

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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2020, 09:21:23 AM »
I mean, of course, he's pretty much the father of the subgenre. I've had similar feelings to Eclipse, where I felt like Grimdark as a whole was not for me, but I've always loved The Broken Empire series to bits even though some people labelled it as grimdark. There were subtle nuances and differences that make it up for me, I think.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2020, 10:52:27 AM »
It's strange that you say this about grimdark, eclipse:
I find grimdark over the top with unfunny Julvenile and violence just to shock you with A feel of cartoonish about it all
I wonder what books you read to give you this impression.

One trilogy that I think is very much grimdark and not what you commented at all, is the one from Anna Stephens. Yes, dark and violent, but also hopeful and happy at times.
For a book/series to be good it can't be just one thing, so hopefully the good ones have a variety of emotions.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2020, 11:33:41 AM »
I was under the impression Abercrombie was one of the first - maybe the first - to be labelled as grimdark. When you're a founder, you're in.

I am under this impression as well, but I'll add another impression of mine, which is that when Abercrombie was first publishing (The Blade Itself coming out in 2006) he was the first to really push fantasy into a more cynical, hard-nosed, collection-of-bastards direction. (ASoIaF had started to edge things in that vein, but there's still a lot of high-fantasy noble stuff about that series, and Abercrombie wasn't having with ANY of that.) So in effect he broke new ground, but there have been a lot of people coming after him who have taken "grimdark" further or into slightly different territory.

I don't know how accurate either of these impressions are and I'm quite willing - eager, even! - to hear counterarguments.

I'm with @eclipse inasmuch as most "grimdark" is just bloody horrible to read and I don't want to do that to myself, but Abercrombie mostly is an interesting exploration of nuance in the human struggle to survive other humans. (Mostly, I say, because Best Served Cold was bloody horrible to read.) Same for Parker. Though I assume Parker doesn't get grimdark labelled because even when there's lots of violence, it tends not to be on the page?

I went hunting for Anna Smith Spark talking about grimdark, because I love her thoughts on the topic, and I quote her:
Quote
To me ‘grimdark’ is distinct from dark fantasy in that it has a very clear political dimension, a narrative cynicism that unpacks ideas like ‘leadership’, ‘power’, ‘good and evil’ and raises some uncomfortable questions about how we thinking about them. Grimdark asks questions about how power operates, uses fantasy to comment on huge issues of human morality and motivation, asks us to think a bit deeper about what we might do. It’s about cynicism, self-criticism, it’s actually very much a genre that criticises and politicises ‘righteous’ violence.
It's quotes like these that make me excited to read her work (and kick myself that I've delayed so long). But I feel like there's a lot of stuff that gets the "grimdark" label that, if it's doing this, is doing it really poorly. It says "in these horrible circumstances, isn't being horrible understandable?" and... honestly it's just all horrible?

I think... perhaps a thing about the grimdark I enjoy (chiefly Abercrombie and Parker, but not solely) is that violence is based in love and good intentions, and that makes it tragedy. Whereas a lot of the grimdark I don't enjoy, the violence just seems to be about power or revenge or other things that are a long way from love. And it's just ugliness, and there's enough of that in the real world.

Offline Peat

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2020, 01:28:44 PM »
See, to me, Grimdark is really obviously distinct from Dark Fantasy as Dark Fantasy uses a bunch of horror tropes and Grimdark doesn't, but we'll save my complaining about broken fantasy genres for another post...

Re The Foundation of Grimdark (and I really don't know as much as I like) -

Did Abercrombie really push fantasy in a more cynical hard-edged direction than Glen Cook or Michael Moorcock? Paul Kearney was publishing shortly before Abercrombie and his stuff was pretty grim? Maybe Abercrombie pushed it that one step further than everyone else but I think the main thing is right place at the right time - he sparked people's imaginations and a trend became a sub-genre with his name attached.

And while I like some of what Smith Spark is saying, I think the majority of grimdark comes across as Tarantino style entertainment. Or at least of what I've read. And tbf, you can make the argument that some later Taratino but it's not why the audience is there. And stuff that does seem to fit what she's saying - like The Traitor Baru Cormorant isn't always seen as grimdark. Or to put it another way... her definition of grimdark doesn't seem to fit with the consensus view.

But then virtually nothing does. Because fantasy genres are broken.
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Offline Neveesandeh

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2020, 05:46:50 PM »
This reminds me of how annoyed I get when everything Mark Lawrence writes is labelled as 'grimdark' just because the 'Broken Empire' books were. None of the other books he wrote were ever as dark as those first three, and even they weren't as cynical as Abercrombie's books. The central message of the story is that maybe even the most evil people can still find redemption.

I would still describe the three Jorg books as grimdark due to the bleakness and corruption of the setting and characters, but something like 'Prince of Fools'? That is probably one of the most light hearted books I have ever read.

As to whether I would describe Abercrombie's books as 'grimdark', they're pretty much the epitome of the genre for me. 'Last Argument of Kings' fir all its humour, is one of the most depressing things I have ever read.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2020, 04:19:18 AM »
Did Abercrombie really push fantasy in a more cynical hard-edged direction than Glen Cook or Michael Moorcock? Paul Kearney was publishing shortly before Abercrombie and his stuff was pretty grim? Maybe Abercrombie pushed it that one step further than everyone else but I think the main thing is right place at the right time - he sparked people's imaginations and a trend became a sub-genre with his name attached.

I have not read any Glen Cook, but I always felt that was more considered "military fantasy"? But you've also reminded me that I was talking not long ago about how JV Jones published A Cavern of Black Ice in 1999 and that was definitely grimdark-adjacent, if not "the real deal". So perhaps you are absolutely right: Abercrombie just hit the perfect note of doing it great, doing it with style, doing it when things were just coming together and he could be the one that people held up and asked for more.

Because that's the purpose of subgenre labels. For people to say "I (do not) want more like this". But everyone's going to have a slightly different view on what a book was doing in the first place, so they're always going to be subjective.

Making a narrative is a bit more complex than making a beer, and even then, I can say "I like porters and I don't like pale ales, except I don't like THAT porter and I DO like THIS pale." And people can bicker about whether those examples are "to style" and it doesn't actually matter, because it's about my taste and my experience.

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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2020, 06:35:36 AM »
I saw Joe do an in store appearance here a few years ago, and he shies away from describing his work as grimdark. I think he uses the Twitter handle as a bit of a piss take.
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2020, 09:04:11 AM »
For some reason, I thought the origin of the expression was the slogan for the Warhammer 40K universe (a dark space-fi setting for various figure games and now lots of computer games), "In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war." I may be completely off mark though. But that setting definitely leands towards edginess versus story, pretty much to the point of self-satirising, which might indeed be the point.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2020, 10:42:32 AM by Magnus Hedén »

Offline Peat

Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #11 on: September 22, 2020, 09:47:28 AM »
Did Abercrombie really push fantasy in a more cynical hard-edged direction than Glen Cook or Michael Moorcock? Paul Kearney was publishing shortly before Abercrombie and his stuff was pretty grim? Maybe Abercrombie pushed it that one step further than everyone else but I think the main thing is right place at the right time - he sparked people's imaginations and a trend became a sub-genre with his name attached.

I have not read any Glen Cook, but I always felt that was more considered "military fantasy"? But you've also reminded me that I was talking not long ago about how JV Jones published A Cavern of Black Ice in 1999 and that was definitely grimdark-adjacent, if not "the real deal". So perhaps you are absolutely right: Abercrombie just hit the perfect note of doing it great, doing it with style, doing it when things were just coming together and he could be the one that people held up and asked for more.

Because that's the purpose of subgenre labels. For people to say "I (do not) want more like this". But everyone's going to have a slightly different view on what a book was doing in the first place, so they're always going to be subjective.

Making a narrative is a bit more complex than making a beer, and even then, I can say "I like porters and I don't like pale ales, except I don't like THAT porter and I DO like THIS pale." And people can bicker about whether those examples are "to style" and it doesn't actually matter, because it's about my taste and my experience.

Cook is considered both military fantasy and a father of grimdark. I'll admit to never particularly hugely seeing the latter, but I saw enough and I was never that into The Black Company so I might have missed stuff.

And I think fantasy subgenre labels are far less well defined than beer styles. People will always bicker about what is on style, but with beer there is a common knowledge on which style is which, and with fantasy a constant argument on what the styles are to begin with.

For some reason, I thought the origin of the expression was the slogan for the Warhammer 40K universe (a dark space-fi setting for various figure games and now lots of computer games), "In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war." I may be completely off mark though. But that setting definitely leands towards edginess versus story, pretty much to the point of self-satirising, which my indeed be the point.

99% sure that's the origin, yes - and 40K was envisioned as a satire on the same lines as Judge Dredd (which may effect my views on what grimdark should be).
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Re: Would you say Joe Abercrombie is really grimdark?
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2020, 04:07:31 PM »
Joe Abercrombie is, for me, peak grimdark. What I like about the genre is not the hard-bitten edge, but the sense of humour. That's what early Warhammer had that newer versions lack. Without that wry smile, grimdark just doesn't work. It's not just the satire, but the revelry in it. That's why I have a hard time calling a lot of modern 'grimdark' books the same genre. They lack the enthusiasm and mad-eyed laughter of what brought me to the genre.
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