Back to the Inquisition, and I get the feeling I’m going to be in the chair for some time. Matt asks:
Do you read pretty much every new fantasy book that comes out and are their any current sf/f authors you regard as rivals of yours?
Ah, other writers, other books. This one may land me in a little bit of trouble, but TROUBLE is my middle name. Actually it’s Edward, but trouble would be cooler.
Do I read every new fantasy book? I think it’s safe to say that I read very few, shading towards none. I don’t actually read that much at all any more. Partly that’s because a lot of my reading was done on the tube, commuting to work in London, and these days my commute takes me from my kitchen all the way into my office. Partly it’s because after spending all day writing and reading your own work the last thing you want to do is read. Partly it’s because what I do read is often more or less research for what I’m writing or planning to write at the time, and most of that research is history, and a lot of the rest is novels outside of the fantasy arena. So for The Heroes, I read a lot of non-fiction about war, and some fiction based in the american civil war, the napoleonic wars, the vietnam war, etc. etc. For Red Country I read westerns.
I read a whole lot of fantasy in my youth, but I’ve always read a lot of other stuff, and I think that’s probably important for a writer to do. My own feeling has tended to be that original ideas and approaches are more likely to be found outside the genre you’re working in, than by exhaustively reading within it. Sometimes I hear people express an attitude of – ‘if you aren’t totally aware of the field in infinitesimal detail, how can you write something original?’ which seems to me so arse about tit I hardly know where to begin with it. For me, originality is in the authorial voice, the authorial attitude, the take on the material, rather than in the magic system or the shape of the continents or the arrangement of blobs of narrative. Originality comes from an honest look inside, and a pulling together of disparate influences from all kinds of sources, rather than an exhaustive look outside.
In general, when it comes to other writers, as a venomously ambitious sociopath without the emotions of shame or guilt, I like to live by Gore Vidal’s maxim, ‘every time a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies.’ I therefore regard any and all writers as rivals to be destroyed. But seriously *ahem*, I actually feel very lucky to be – however little it may have been planned – part of a wave, or a group, or a phalanx, or perhaps a fellowship, of writers of epic(ish) fantasy who appeared around the same time. Rivals in a sense, I guess, but a little healthy competition is definitely a good thing, and I’d say that we’ve all benefitted a little from the presence of each other, and a general sense of excitement and development in the sub-genre that’s brought everyone some extra attention. Also excellent people to get drunk with at a convention, on the whole. So Tom Lloyd and Scott Lynch’s first books were published within a couple of months of The Blade Itself by Gollancz in 2006. Pat Rothfuss, Brent Weeks and Peter Brett followed maybe the next year. Richard Morgan began to pollute fantasy with the dangerous filth he had been polluting sf with shortly after. Mark Lawrence, Doug Hulick, Brad Beaulieu after that. There have even been many and varied contributions from *gasp* not white guys like NK Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, Elspeth Cooper, Saladin Ahmed, and David Anthony Durham over the last few years. The time since I’ve been published has also seen GRRM go from very successful genre writer to spectacularly successful writer full stop with a massive TV series, and I’m sure that’s had, and will continue to have, a hugely beneficial effect for the rest of us. Of course there are many, many other writers of all kinds newly appearing and long established writing an ever-expanding range of varieties of fantasy, these are just the first names that pop into my head as being rough contemporaries in terms of publication and in a similar arena to me. My apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. I guess my point would be, if I have one, that it seems to me a fine time to be a reader, or for that matter a writer, of fantasy.
You lucky bastards.
Maybe I should even be reading some of it myself…
67 comments so far
As a constant stalker, I’d seen your answer to this on reddit(?) not too long ago. Nevertheless very interesting.
I was wondering though, having read a broad range of genres, have you ever attempted to write any others besides from fantasy?
I’ve never heard of Richard Morgan. Was the “dangerous filth” remark meant to be facetious?
After reading this answer I think I’m starting to see a bit more of why I like reading your novels so much.
I always felt they had a more “realistic” hue to them rather than “grimdark”, and hearing you read quite a bit of history as well as outside genres tells me why. As someone with a History degree, I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy the sort of flow your books tend to have.
I certainly enjoy fantasy novels of the more traditional type as well, but your books have earned their own nook on my bookshelf (you need to put out a few more tomes before they have their own shelf though)
So we won’t be seeing your “Fantasitic read, the new GRRM!” recommendation on the next newest Gollancz author’s work?
Unless they pay you a bucket load, of course . . 🙂
Talking about middle names, I want my son’s to be ‘Danger’ . . . that’s a built in chat up line right there . . “Danger’s my middle name”. He’d have to constantly wear a tux to pull it off, but it’d be a guaranteed hit with the ladies
Wife is not impressed though 🙁
Couldn’t agree more. I read a lot of fantasy until I started writing my own. Now, it’s pretty rare I bother to. You, and GRRM are pretty much to only fantasy writers I still read within the genre.
I’m kind of curious, Joe, but where did you get your inspiration for the Eaters?
Interesting reading and I agree. Competition is healthy. Especially in a genre that sees the same old drivel retold differently. Dark Lord rises, final battle, epic quest, yadda yadda repeat and refold as required.
Since stumbling across your books I have been looking for the more edgy fantasy styles that break the normal scenarios and to be fair. Its a market that could use more competition. I’ve plunged through Brent Weeks’ Nightangel books after reading about them on one of your blogs. Currently reading Peter Bretts and they are all great reads.
As I have said on your blog before. The market is changing and people are getting bored of the rehashed hero story and like myself, they are enjoying something different. I think the fact that you do not read much fantasy these days is only a good thing. It’ll mean your ideas remain your own and you do not fall into the trap that spins the same authors seem to follow.
Does it worry you that you give me a sense of normalcy?
You are so very right about us being in the best time there has ever been, for Fantasy readers. I can’t get my head around how many good writers have turned up in the last decade or so. They are just falling out of the woodwork.
Ben Aaronovitch and Justina Robson can be added to your little list too.
Actually I only work part time nowadays, and even with the added lesiure time I don’t have enough to get around all the books that are really must reads. So don’t you try, Mr Abercrombe, you just stick to writing the things, thanks. 😛
Hi Joe. Cheers for answering my question! I totally understand your point about looking outside the genre for inspiration. I started properly reading fantasy a few years back after discovering AGOT, which subsequently led to you. Problem is, once you get in to it, it’s pretty tough to give up, much like cigarettes or deal or no deal.
When I was young I read every fantasy book I could get my hands on, but by the time I hit my mid 20’s I’d been worn down by the endless rehashing.
I had pretty much given up on Fantasy, friends stopped bringing me enthusiastic reviews of the latest Raymond E Feist, Robert Jordan etc (that said, I’ve always kept a big burning love for Barbara Hambly).
Then one day I was shopping for something tome-like to bring on a long business trip and I pulled A Game of Thrones out of a bargain-bin for 2.99
I’m so feckin glad I stumbled back into this cool and gritty rebirth of Fantasy. Yourself, George Martin (he and Paris brought my wife out for coffee one morning here in Dublin, apparently he’s “lovely” – as is Paris, and no I haven’t quite forgiven the missus) and Richard Morgan have given the genre a much needed kick in the arse.
I may look up Brent Weeks and some others mentioned here.
P.S. Keep up the good work bud, I’m a third of the way through Red Country and loving it.
P.P.S Give us a shout if you’re ever in Dublin, there’ll be a Guinness, a ball of malt and some good company in it for you if you do (yes I’ll bring some friends, they’ll be the good company).
I had stopped reading fantasy some years ago, because it was the same old stuff.
Then i picked TFL on a recommendation from http://www.fantasyliterature.com/ , where TBI and BTAH were the top books for their respective years. Mind=Blown after reading.
I searched for some JoeA-ish authors, and found Brent Weeks Nightangel Trilogy. It was extremely bad.
I can see where you’re coming from. I’m trying to write a book myself at the moment (who isn’t these days?!) and I’ve noticed that on the days I get a lot of writing done, I have absolutely no motivation to read. When I do, it often isn’t fantasy.
That’s a bit of a shame because one hobby is unfortunately replacing another to a certain extent. That said, I still happily listen to a lot of audiobooks when going to the gym, so I’m keeping up with my reading list to a large extent.
It bothers me, and I’m not sure why, so see all these new, contemporary writers chumming around on Twitter like they’re part of some old boy’s club, which, I guess, they are. What really bothers me, however, is the fact that I’ve tried to read some of these new fantasy writers, like Brett, Rothfus, and Weeks and they are REALLY bad. I see five star reviews of their works by other fantasy writers in the “club” and I know that they’re bullshit. I think that Joe says he doesn’t read their books because if he admitted it, he’d have to give his opinion, which is a quick way to get kicked out of the club.
PEOPLE IN SAME PROFESSION FORM SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORK SHOCK! Come off it, man. Of course a lot of these writers know each other, and I know a lot of them myself. I played D&D with Lynch, Rothfuss, Brett, Weeks, Ahmed and others in Detroit and had a whale of a time. I’d even be tempted to call some of them friends. Writing’s a rather solitary profession so it’s good to talk with these guys, they understand what the life’s like. None of us live anywhere near each other so Twitter’s a good method for keeping up. And, er, you may think some of these guys’ books are bad, but clearly there are a shit load of people who disagree. Don’t presume to know what I think.
I quite like that there is a fellowship between writers. Considering authors are competing to sell their books (in some cases for a living) it is nice to see that they communicate, joke and appreciate one another’s work.
My only problem with social media – and I’m sure most will agree with me – is that it takes up the majority of my day.
Rivals? No, leading lights. I think for many people, they buy into one author, then look to buy from similar authors. I’ve never come across anyone who said “OMG, 3 new epic fantasy books released this year, and I can only afford to buy one!”
I’ve got a thing for OT comments, so how about we talk about the worst fantasy we’ve ever stumbled upon without actually mentioning authors and titles, let’s just give… err… little hints?
I’ll go first.
The most massive putrid load of wank I’ve ever *tried* to read happens to be the first instalment – published back in 1994 – of a series of eleven books by some American author whose writing skills are so poor that, after twenty pages or so, I felt like killing kittens. Ugh! That was much worse than Vogon poetry (which, by the way, is actually rad stuff).
I apologize for my presumption, Joe. Consider me properly and completely chastised. I would never think to begrudge you your friendships, especially with those who share your interests/occupation. Sometimes, we consumers have a difficult time realizing that our favorite, or least favorite, authors are as human and fallible as we are.
Considerably more human and fallible, in some cases. No worries.
“My own feeling has tended to be that original ideas and approaches are more likely to be found outside the genre you’re working in, than by exhaustively reading within it.” Please keep this sentence in mind, writters. Your readers will appreciate it a lot, trust me.
This is probably the funniest and most honest answer I’ve ever seen to a question like that!
I greatly admire your balls in posting it. I can certainly see why I love your books/writing style so much.
@Dave – I’ve read both books by Patrick Rothfuss and rated them five stars on goodreads. Personally I think the praise this author is getting is fully deserved. Also, I’m grateful to Pat because, through his blog, I got word about Joe’s books. But then again, as the ancient Romans used to say, “de gustibus non disputandum est”.
@Joe-have you read any k.j.parker? and if so what is your take on the books?
Already a big fan of Brent Weeks and Peter Brett as well as yourself of course but your description above makes me want to check out Richard Morgan now lol. I agree with some of the other comments however, the success you or any of your contemporaries have only serves to help all of you. I hadn’t read fantasy in YEARS, and on a whim decided to read the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks. Loving that as much as I did prompted me to read the First Law series and The Warded Man series. Had it not been for my pleasant experience reading Brent Weeks’s work I might not have sought out other similar work. Now I am like a addict. Sure, some is better than others, but I do think there are a lot of good authors out there right now if you are into this genre.
@Dave – Your taste may vary, but I just discovered Brent Weeks a few months ago, and I know I wrote a five star review for The Black Prism. I am not a published author (yet), and I’m not friends with any of these people. I thought the book was awesome. Best thing I’ve read since Red Country. And like Scassonio, I wouldn’t have discovered Abercrombie’s work if I hadn’t been reading Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. Amazon kept suggesting The Blade Itself to me, until I got tired of looking at it and caved. And I’m glad I did!
To Joe’s inevitable disgust, I have to throw in with the Weeks defenders.
I’ve read both the Night Angel Trilogy and the first two books in the in-progress Lightbringer series. The latter is by far my favorite of the two (better pacing, more humor, more interesting ancillary characters), but I enjoyed the Night Angel Trilogy as well.
A night of D&D with multiple fantasy authors? Where do I sign up? I wonder if it’s an argument over who has to DM. (I got an idea about a mad wizard and a pandora’s box, of sorts)
I could make the obvious assumption and guess Joe prefers a Logenesque barbarian, but something tells me he is more of a thinking man.
I am curious as to which civil war fiction you read for your research for the Heroes? I am always looking for good civil war fiction.
I’m keen to check out the writers in your “*gasp* not white guys” list. Don’t get me wrong, I love your stuff, and also have a little reader-ly crush on Weeks’ work (perhaps not as polished on the minute technical level, but still very clever writing), but to date I have found my favourites coming from a very limited sector of society. Thanks for nod to these guys!
@Deb, I really enjoyed the Acacia series by Durham. I’m afraid I haven’t read any of the others he listed here, but I’ll add them to my gigantic queue.
Joe (or anyone else)
I remember reading about that D&D game in Detroit, which was mentioned quite a bit afterwards. Somebody said they would upload a video of it, but I never found it. Joe’s figure was called Dark Shadeux 🙂
Does anyone have a link to that?
Ps. Can’t wait for my Subterranean Press edition of the Heroes.
” Don’t presume to know what I think” , pink fool.
Shades of Ferro here ?
The mid 2000’s were a bit of a golden age of some great talent delivering outstanding books. And of course I think Joe might have written something about then too. I wouldn’t challenge (now humble) Dave on his comments but rather on the tragedy that he has not enjoyed some great authors.
Honestly, I apologized to Joe for implying that I knew his mind concerning reviews of his peer’s work. I was put in my place, and rightly so. I stand by my assertion that many of those contemporary writers are not very good. I have read a great many books by fantasy authors that I find great and a great many that I could not force myself to complete. As Joe said, there are a shitload of people who enjoy the authors that I detest, so there is no point in comparing lists and preferences. Suffice it to say that I have found that life is short and I have so very many books to read, so I shall not waste my time on authors who cannot hold my interest. I expect that most people feel the same way (but there I go making assumptions about other people again!).
@Dave. I can only speak for myself, but I wasn’t trying to antagonize, although I was disputing your first comment about where the high ratings came from. No ill-will intended! I just enjoy these sorts of discussions. And there are some extremely popular, successful books I couldn’t force my way through either. I won’t name it because I don’t really want to start some kind of hate-fest. It does make me wonder how other people read the same thing and got something completely different out of it.
I used to be very opinionated about books, but the experience of reading reaction to my own, and seeing some people dislike them for the very same things others like them for, has made me realise that the experience of reading really is subjective to an extent that is hard to comprehend. Every book is different for every reader. Which is one reason I never really slag books off publicly any more. Feels too close to the bone. Occasionally I’ll recommend something I’ve read and really enjoyed. But if I disliked something I’d stick to thoughtful silence, I think.
– “The Fall of the Master Maker,” murmured Glokta. “That rubbish? All magic and valour, no? I couldn’t get through the first one.”
– “I Sympathise. I’m onto the third and it doesn’t get any easier. Too many damn wizards. I get them mixed up one with another. It’s all battles and enldess bloody journeys, here to there and back again. If I so much and glimpse another map I swear I’ll kill myself.”
@Angie, thanks for the link 😉
I agree with Dave on the to many books and not enough time, so one has to be “choosey”. Finding the right books is difficult, especially if you live in smallville. Recommendations are often generic. I go for covers, amazon ratings and the “Look inside”.
Joe, ever see yourself doing a co-author gig with Brent or Peter?
I have found that Goodreads is a good resource for reviews and discussion of books. There are a great many authors on Goodreads who are more than happy to friend you, but I would not put much faith in their reviews. As Joe said, most either maintain a “thoughtful silence” with regard to the works of their contemporaries, or, as I learned from Michael J. Sullivan, they rate those books higher than warrented out of respect and mutual appreciation of the craft. He told me that he would not disrespect a fellow author with a negative review, regardless of his opinion of the book. Which to me is sad, because whose opinion would you value more than an author that you respect and love?
I never used to read any fantasy – unless you count the Daily Mail – although I once worked in a place where everyone seemed to be reading it – all dragons, and wizards, I thought it was all bollocks.
The First Law was the first remotely fantastical thing I’ve read since primary school (where le Guin’s Earthsea and Colin Garner’s Brisingamen series were de riguer) and I’m stil of the opinion that it lends itself more to the historical epics of say, Cornwell, than any conventional fantasy.
I’ve tried and/or bought other fantasy since – I have Week’s Night Angel series, Rothfuss’s Kingkiller, Morgan’s A Land Fit For Heroes and Brett’s Demon Cycle.
Some of these are well written, others less so – I think Joe’s style stands out for me as being the most pleasing for my tastes. An observation – I’ve just finished Tim Willock’s ‘The Religion’ – a historical epic about the siege of Malta – and that has probably the best written battle scenes it’s possible to write, and I think the battle scenes in the First Law are right up there with that as being the best I’ve ever read.
The last ‘fantasy’ I read was K.J. Parker’s ‘Devices and Desires’ and quit it after about 100 pages, as nothing seemed to be happening and all characters seemed to have the same voice. I thought it was pretty poor.
Joe, ever see yourself doing a co-author gig with Brent or Peter?///
That’ll be good – like King/Straub in horror or Neal Stevenson’s collaborational (is that a word?) series The Mongoliad.
Joe, how about a collaboration with Brandon Sanderson ?
Griity with Epic should be good combination, no ?
That, Dave, loves, commas,.
I have found that Goodreads is a good resource for reviews and discussion of books//
Goodreads’s credibility is about to take a nosedive now that Amazon have bought it. As soon as it starts getting spammed by fake reviews, like Amazon has, you won’t know which way is up. I can usually tell if a book is going to be shit or not within about 500 words, so I just download a sample from the iBooks store and give it 5 minutes, and make a decision off the back of that.
Besides which – since most amateur reviews are predicated on personal opinion, which is so subjective as to be almost worthless, I hardly bother with review sites now.
Some Good Names there.
Good thing I’m not a writer then, isn’t it Sean? Really, what was the point of your criticism? Do you feel better about yourself? I believe that Joe awards those who make the most corrections to the grammar of others with a huge medal. You’re in the running.
To be perfectly candid, I don’t give too much of a flying squirrel’s chuff about what company owns what website, and/or why writers say what they say about their colleagues. As I stated, I got word of the FLT and its author through the blog of some yank fantasy writer whose books I insanely enjoyed. Now someone might argue that the mention was made in order to return a favor or because scratching each other’s back is the easiest way to sell more copies. Whatever, mate. I, for one, choose to remain naive. I believe the flattering remakrs were made in good faith, and I’m so glad I read that blog. Alright, you have a good one anyway.
Nice one. Will it be sent in the post or is it presented in an end of Star Wars type way?
I actually assumed you, spoke, like, William, Shatner.
No one expe,cts the punctuation, inquisition!!!! (I like exclamation points as well!!!!)
Can’t, we just, ALL, get along!!!! 😛
Dave, I was trying to show you how easy it is to be a critic after you wrote about how Weeks and Rothfuss were bad writer. But, it was underhand and wrong of me to do it in that way and to use Mr Abercrombie’s forum. For that, and more, I apologise to you and everyone else on here. Now, I’m off to make the dinner. Boiled ham, cabbage and potatoes. To avoid the ham being too salty I like to bring it to the boil then change the water, twice. Most people only change the water once but I find twice is better.
Again, sorry for wasting everyone’s time.
Joe, what are you reading for research these days for the follow-up trilogy – or have you progressed that far, yet?
Joe, what you said about the subjectivity of readers’ experiences is what I love about detailed reviews. A really thorough review, positive or negative, is extremely helpful to me, because quite often the thing that ruined the book for one person is the thing that I loved the most about it. The opposite is frequently true for me, too.
Dave, that’s disappointed to hear that Michael Sullivan said that. He actually contacted me on Goodreads, after I posted that I was reading Theft of Swords, and told me he looked forward to hearing what I thought, and not to be afraid to be critical because he finds that very helpful. Also, if you’ve been using too many commas, I’ve seen worse.
I hope my comments about Mr. Sullivan did not cast him in a bad light because that was not my intention. He is great on Goodreads and loves to interact with his readers. He’s not afraid of criticism and I hope I did not imply that. What I was trying to say was that he is such a nice guy that he does not want to in any way influence readers to avoid his fellow writers by offering negative reviews. I specifically asked him if he ever writes negative reviews and he said that he did not for the reason I’ve given. I’ve not yet read any of his books, but they are on my list. I’ve heard great things about them, both through word of mouth and online reviews, but take that with a grain of salt. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they are good, though.
Thanks for the support concerning the coma-gate incident. 🙂
Oops. Comma-gate. Punctuation errors are bad enough. I don’t need to through spelling errors in there as well.
Got to say I’d probably take a similar attitude to Mr. Sullivan. I don’t tend to review books. I might recommend something here or there that I’ve read and really liked, but I’m not particularly interested in doing take-downs of other people’s work. That’s what critics are for. Authors being harsh on other authors often comes off as petty and tasteless, doesn’t reflect well on anyone. Apart from anything else, I really don’t have time to read something I’m not liking. And panning something on the basis of a poor first few pages would be rather shallow. I give my honest thoughts on video games, films and tv because that feels far enough removed that I can be a relatively disinterested critic.
I tend to think that if you can do better yourself then you have a right to offer criticism.
It was a positive criticism that led me to the First Law.
I think I understand what both of you are saying regarding not being severely critical as authors. And no, Dave, I’m not holding anything against Michael Sullivan (or Joe). He does seem to be incredibly nice, although I felt a little bit self-conscious about reviewing his book. I assume people like Joe Abercrombie are unlikely to take notice of my reviews, and ultimately I like it that way. Not that I feel it made my review less honest, but I guess it’s just a little bit of shyness on my part.
@Deb E: I would humbly suggest you add Nnedi Okorafor to the list as well.
Joe, was there a direct reference to Blood Meridian in Red Country? One epically long paragraph (though not as long and run-on as the original) describing the approaching Ghosts stood out to me.
Yeah, little bit. That sequence in Blood Meridian is one of the most mind-blowing pieces of writing I’ve ever read.
You made a passionate but highly opinionated/presumptive point on a website where the author does notoriously does the same thing on everything from scotch to serialized television. He curmudgeonly shat on you for it, even whipping out every teenagers favorite “you don’t know me” variant – “don’t tell me what I think”.
None of that was especially remarkable but give that this is the Internet what was remarkable was that you then responded not with escalation but with a genuine and sincere me culpa.. Abercrombie then did the same, acknowledging the overblown nature of his original condemnation.
Overall it was classy as fuck behavior from both of you. Cheers.
Any suggestions on good reads outside of fantasy? I really enjoyed Blood meridian and Journal of the gun years after you mentioned them. Cheers.
I totally agree. I bring up that paragraph more than is appropriate, just because it’s such incredibly powerful writing.
And Dr. Gonzo, I just finished Journal of the Gun Years myself. It was a damn fine book.