Gonzo Fantasy

March 5th, 2008

First, some announcements. Worlds of Fantasy tonight, on BBC4, at 9pm, will include footage of me, saying stuff. About Peake, and Tolkien, and the “EPIC IMAGINATION”, apparently. Possibly. Not to be missed. Anyone who sees it, by all means come back here and tell me how much I sucked ass.

Secondly, the good people of Romania will soon have the opportunity to join the fantasy craze that is sweeping the globe. Patrick Rothfuss, you ask? Well, no, not him, he’s going there already, probably, but– Scott Lynch, cry the crowd excitedly? Well, actually, I think he went there a while ago now, but– Brandon Sanderson, Brian Ruckley, Alan Campbell, Tom Lloyd, Daniel Abraham, Felix Gilman, Robert Redick, or, or, or– No, none of them. It’s the First Law, I’m talking about. Yes, courtesy of Nemira, one of Romania’s foremost genre imprints (Martin, Robinson, Herbert etc.), The Blade Itself should be coming within six months, with the other two books following about six months apart. Magic.

Now to some reviews. Do you remember Beezer? After reading The Blade Itself, he was left in two minds about my writing skills. “Mr. Abercrombie does show a knack for writing a solid tale. I think once he hones his craft and is able to correct some of these deficiencies he will truly be a name to watch in the fantasy genre.” Well it looks like some honing went on some time last year, because of Before They are Hanged he says:

“However, in this novel, there seems to be an exponential growth in both his writing and his overall story. If this type of growth continues with the next novel (and any future stories after that) I think readers will be more than pleased … The First Law trilogy seems to be taking on the mantel of a fine painting. Taken piece by piece each book is solid. However, taken as a whole, as the entire trilogy, the true beauty of this work begins to stand out.”

It is, indeed, a positive Sistine Chapel ceiling among fantasy series. Internet humorist Elena, meanwhile, who earlier in the year was so taken with my phrase “a face as red as a slapped arse” has also checked out Before They are Hanged. She begins by voicing her amazement that I apparently know everything that is said about me on the internet, almost before it is written.

“I think he must have written a program to email him the URL of any website that speaks his name.”

Luckily, someone else has written it already, and gifted it to the world in the same way that a crazy biologist might gift the world a lethal mutated virus. It’s called Google Blog-Search, the most dangerous piece of technology since the a-bomb, and with it I waste 90% of my writing time. Elena has some interesting thoughts on the book too, though:

“I find myself wondering if this new sub-genre of fantasy–Abercrombie, Lynch, Martin et. al.–should be termed gonzo fantasy after Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism. Consider: Filthy language? Check. Copious amounts of weapons for every occasion? Check. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong–hilariously? Check. An unlikely and perhaps unaware hero who stays alive against all odds, including his own activities? Check. Drug/alcohol use/abuse? Check. Written by someone you can see hunched over a typewriter smoking a cig without bothering to ash, slogging whiskey instead of caffeine, and not bathing for days on end? Check.

Gonzo fantasy. Goddamn brilliant.”

I do wash, though, you know. Going back to where it all began, Larry, from Wotmania’s Other Fantasy board, has finally run his critical eye over The Blade Itself.

“it is due to the strength of Abercrombie’s characterizations and the rather up-close and personal approach to the storytelling that manages to keep the plot just interesting enough for readers to want more … The “action,” such as it is, is more of a set-up for the following two volumes, but with the promise that what follows after will make these oft-meandering plot threads into portents of something rather moving.”

By no means a slating, but I will hold off on my assesment of Larry’s reviewing capabilities until I have read the entire trilogy … of reviews, apparently due to culminate in a piece of something they call professional criticism on Strange Horizons. Keep your eyes peeled for that. Long established blogger of the sci-fi and fantasy scene, Joe Sherry, had a more positive first reaction to The Blade Itself:

“There is so much going on in The Blade Itself. There are fascinating characters, political maneuvering a plenty, sword-play, action, a dash of romance, class politics, a variety of cultures, more action, magic, empires and feudal warlords, still more action, foul language, inventive language, something called action – all this, and more. The Blade Itself has something for everyone all wrapped up in a violent, action packed, sometimes profane package.

And I like it.

A lot.”

However, he then goes on to refuse me my due of a perfect 10/10 score on the paltry bases that a) the book has no ending, and b) he does not give books numerical ratings. As if such feeble excuses will save him when my righteous wrath descends like a crimson tide upon the reviewing community…

To be fair to Joe, I don’t really expect any perfect scores for The Blade Itself – too many unanswered questions, too much set-up, too much that depends on how the series develops and concludes for anyone to be throwing top marks around. It’s the forthcoming Last Argument of Kings that’ll get me the big scores, if I’m ever going to get them. We’ll just have to wait to see how the mainstream print media responds to … what’s that you say? Early copy from next month’s lead review from Dave Bradley in SFX?

“You should always end with the best. Wow them in the final act, make the last chorus a belter, build to a climax and get them on their feet applauding when the curtain falls. Last Argument of Kings is the textbook example of this theory in practice.”

Oooh. That looks promising. What else?

“The third in Joe Abercrombie’s debut fantasy series, The First Law, reveals everything a finale should: conveys some answers, ties together the loose ends from various plot strands, knocks over pieces painstakingly set up in the preceding stories, and in the aftermath delivers character development that surprises as well as delights.”

Better yet. Final thoughts?

“It builds to a tense final act which fulfils every facet of the phrase, ‘leave them wanting more'”

And how did the world’s biggest selling SF magazine rate the book, I wonder?

Well, 5 stars, as it happens.

5 stars, you say? Out of?

Why, out of 5.

5 stars out of 5? You mean the maximum possible score? The best score? Top marks, as it were?

That’s right. 5 stars. Read ’em and weep. I bet Pat Rothfuss never got none of that 5 star top marks shit from SFX!

Yes, yes he did.

Bastard. Well, I bet Scott Lynch never did!

Yes, yes he did too. Both of them did. First books. Five star debuts. Right out of the blocks.

Right. Great. I’ll just go, then, shall I?

Posted in announcements, news, reviews by Joe Abercrombie on March 5th, 2008.

19 comments so far

  • THE-VLG says:

    Unfortunately I won’t be able to see you speak & see if you can do it well without the benefit of editors, proof readers etc…one thing that I am wondering though, will you be speaking in CAPITALS about the “EPIC IMAGINATION”.
    Good to see that Romania will, be getting some quality stuff to read…

    5 stars…bravo

  • “Gonzo Fantasy” – an excellent genre title! Hopefully my own stuff will fit into it. If only I could get past the planning stage (I’ve tried MANY times, but this time I’ve been planning, which is very time-consuming and probably harmful to productivity and sanity).

    How did you do it? Did you have a lot of material, before you started, or just a general idea? I’ve been throwing ideas up on one of my blogs, hoping SOMEONE will comment on it all (though, at the same time dreading the thought, as it’s so… undeveloped and hurriedly written):


  • Oh, and I continue to be entertained at work by your blog. I’m sure all those calling (I work at a call centre) believe I am making dilligent notes about their problems, but really I’m reading and commenting on either your blog, or Alan Campbell’s (he has some excellent posts about call centres, recently).

  • Bob Lock says:

    Yeah but Joe your five stars were probably supergiants compared to the minuscule protostars of Lynch and Rothfuss… *cough cough* (the things we say for a signed copy of LAOKs eh?)

  • the vlg,

    I wrote the first part of The Blade Itself with some rough ideas of where I was going, then underwent an orgy of planning and organisation for the rest. Planning is vital, but it helps to get some writing under your belt as well, so you can get a feel for your characters and style, and also the simple encouragement of seeing something exciting on the page. (Well, hopefully it’s encouraging).

    White dwarves, those guys. Barely stars at all.

  • THE-VLG says:

    I wouldn’t let anyone who comments on yer work at yer blog have an impact, otherwise you’ll be going for the lowest common element approach, stay true to yer vision & get ppl whose opion you value to give you feed back.

    Have you added up all yer ‘out of’s’ to see what yer average is…I bet it’s better then ‘that nice chap’

  • Jared says:

    My French copy just showed up on my (British) doorstop this morning (yes-I-am-a-fanboy-thank-you-very-much). I have to say, the cover is even more creepy/gorgeous in the…er…flesh. Good stuff!

  • Larry says:

    Joe, I’ll be writing the review for BTAH this weekend, I hope. When I wrote the review for TBI, I had already read all three books, so if you read something into “portents,” I think you can guess my general assessment of LAoK 😉 Of course, a re-read of that final volume shall be done shortly, as I want to be as “fair” and as “balanced” as possible…

  • Ady Hall says:

    Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) will have ‘the big G’ emailing you, fellah. No need to go searching for yourself. (umm, and dunno if TitleZ http://www.titlez.com/welcome.aspx would help your Amazon addiction).

    Congrats on the 5!

  • disrepdog says:

    ‘Peake is like Dickens on acid’

    Rather good that line 🙂

    You got some excellent product placement too, which considering all the other authors contributing, must be pleasing.

    Has Peake influenced you? If that isn’t a stupid question. It would be easy to see comparisons especially with Glokta and the Inquisition. Though your work is a whole lot more lighthearted. And who else would you say has influenced your writing?

  • taching up says:

    For what it’s worth (perhaps a 30-second break from working on Best Served Cold, or something), while I have no influence with any readers other than my brother, my own comment was this: “The Blade Itself shows a lot of promise, but tends to get bogged down. . . . [re. BTAH, which I consider an excellent read] Only someone born to be a writer could have improved so much between his first and second outings.” I noted that the early buzz on Last Argument of Kings was that it would top BTAH, and I’m glad to read confirmation of that from Larry’s comment above.

    Joe, sincere thanks from one grateful fantasy reader. (BTW, my brother is now a fan as well; and in his case, people actually pay attention to the amateur book reviews. 😉

  • Elena says:

    Humorist? I was entirely serious. Every single word. And I never said you seemed like you didn’t bathe, just not daily. But perhaps you prefer to write in the tub, a la Benicio? You would still qualify for gonzo…

    By the way, it is damn impressive that you can waste 90% of your writing time reading about yourself and still finish 200K-word books. God forbid you ever buckle down and get focused! 🙂

  • Larry,
    Never mind the fair and balanced, just off-handedly compare me to other writers and score me out of ten and we’re all happy. By the way, if you do review me in sonnet form, you know I may have no choice but to respond in kind. Don’t point that iambic pentameter at me unless you mean to use it.

    Gods man, I don’t need Google e-mailing me every time I’m mentioned. It’s bad enough checking in once a day.

    Yeah, you got to love those pack shots. An unexpected bonus. And Peake’s a little bit of an influence, I suppose. I talked a bit about my influences in that post about Martin a few back, give it a look, if you’re interested. Might talk a bit more about that at some point, I guess…

    Oh, bloody hell, not daily. That would be SICK.

  • disrepdog says:

    Oh yes, so you did. You expect me to remember that long ago….. 😉

  • Larry says:

    But I never do the offhand comparisons and/or 10-point scale! If I did, I wouldn’t be able to rate your work fairly, since that 10 would be assigned to something like The Arabian Nights or Boccaccio’s The Decameron. But as for the sonnet, that would be a challenge worthy of you. Although I suppose I could be even trickier and compose it in a medieval Castilian form, similar to what was used for El Cid

  • Ross Warren says:

    Some nice plugs for your book on the documentary. Cant wait for the new book to arrive from Amazon.

  • Congrats on the perfect score in SFX, Joe! At last!

  • Larry,
    No sonnet could ever say more than a simple rating on a ten point scale.

    Any second now…

    I hear Death Ray only gave me 4.5. It’s an outrage.

  • J.Cormier says:

    I’m not sure that a “new sub-genre” has been created so much as that a new generation of fantasy authors is finally writing epic fantasy with adults in mind.

    You know, readers who want to read the sex scenes and are looking for realism of story, violence, and language. Sometimes it seems like the majority of the fantasy mainstream has been locked in some sort of young-adult Tolkien-reverence for the last few decades, and the genre’s suffered for it.

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