Gritty Washback

March 19th, 2013

My post on the value of grit surely did sweep the intertubes, provoking many and varied(ish) responses.  Some of the pick:

A lengthy, wide-ranging and frequently interesting discussion ensued at Chronicles Network.

Fellow purveyor of grit both fantastic and science-fictional Richard Morgan is amused and bemused.

Foz Meadows has some great points to make about what some will consider the elephant in the room – the treatment of race and gender in gritty fantasy.

Sophia McDougall runs that ball into the endzone of male rape.

Liz Bourke will make you wince in that endzone.

Marie Brennan says “I don’t have a problem with stories where everything is grim and dark and horrible,” and proceeds to lay out her problems with such stories.

Finally Elizabeth Bear brings things full circle by agreeing that endlessly serving up utterly unleavened blackness and cynicism (and rape) would indeed be childish, but points out that most worthwhile gritty fantasy doesn’t actually appear to do that.

Many good and interesting points to think about, a lot of which I’d agree with.  Doubtless gritty fantasy (and I’d include my own) has not always covered itself in glory in its treatment of race and gender.  Though I don’t see any reason why grit can’t be a powerful tool to investigate those issues, if wielded with skill, thought and responsibility (not by me, in other words).

My main problem remains with the definitions, and their apparently endless mutability to suit whatever argument is being made.  I thought, for instance, I celebrated the value of grit, but Foz Meadows begins by saying I wrote a piece defending grimdark.  She then defines grimdark as having a whole set of characteristics I would never dream of defending.  There seems to be a tendency toward massive generalisation, and a defining of a large and amorphous (and generally never identified) group of books by the most extreme and egregious examples (though even those often remain unidentified).  To fashion an argument that is incontestable, but doesn’t seem to actually apply to much.  And all this after I specifically asked people not to make a straw man out of me!  You just can’t trust the internet to do what it’s told these days.  I’ll move along for now, and give the last word to Bear:

“The least self-reflective of the grimdark seems to me to be a little too busy wallowing in splatter and gratuitousness—violence, betrayal, rapine, raping, pillaging, cannibalism, torture… pick three… or four… as if those things were an end to themselves … That nihilistic view of the world is essentially a juvenile, sociopathic, self-justifying fetish, and most of us eventually grow out of it … But what some critics ignore is that the best of the current wave of gritty fantasy does not buy into this fallacy … Instead, it embraces a balance closer to reality: that the world is arbitrary and unfair, and that sometimes even well-meaning people do awful things: desperate, vicious things. But also, that complete jerks, sociopathic monsters, can and do accomplish good—sometimes purposefully, sometimes not. People are not good or bad, but people.  The best gritty fantasy reflects this, considers it, attempts not to spin a morality play but describe a complicated and ambiguous arc of people doing what they feel they have to do.”

Posted in opinion by Joe Abercrombie on March 19th, 2013.

55 comments so far

  • JamesM says:

    Awesome summary. In the end it’s pretty simple isn’t it? There will always be a place for GOOD gritty fantasy, just as there will always be a place for GOOD elves-frollicking-through-fields fantasy. Don’t like it? Bad luck.

  • JamesM says:

    And it’s hilarious when people fricken invent a word to try to conjure up an argument about someone who has used a similar sounding word.

  • wonkybowels says:

    my opinion may not count for much, but i feel you’ve written the 6 best novels in the fantasy genre. i can’t say which is my favorite. whichever i’m reading at the time, i guess? i’ve read each more than once. and listened to each, at least once on audio.

    the world you’ve created and the characters you write speak to me, with every word, in every line, page, and chapter.

    for what it’s worth…no matter what the critics say…your books have had a huge impact on my life.


  • Sidney Harbour-Bridge says:

    Whatever you choose to do today, do *not* Google “gritty washback.”

  • Simon Jones Who Is Blogless says:

    The more I read the comments on ‘Grimdark’, the more it casts into relief that personal taste has taken on a distinct moral dimension on the internet. It’s not enough to say you don’t like something or that you like something, it’s to cast your like or dislike as a moral choice, whereupon you are a brave, saintly individual for casting aside or accepting this and those who stand against you are degenerate perverts.

    A even better example of this is the recent internet shennangians over ‘Girls’. Where people who like it or dislike it are racists or misogynists or entitled or whatever to the point where thousands of words have been written about how terrible everyone is.

    My own take is we had thirty something years of Heroic Fantasy Epics as the dominant form of fantasy literature. Alysses MagicSword and his/her flying pony and the magic god powers s/he got through their destined destiny had a pretty good run. Is it so terrible that Grizzleface Scarteeth and his/her shitstained murderjerkin and powers of ultraviolence are getting a go now?

  • Alex (Brum) says:

    Seems to me, there’s a focus on rape in these blurbs. We all know literature suffers from a ‘women in refrigerators’ syndrome but I think in fantasy It’s being addressed at least partially. Joe’s books help even things out; women are just as dark & flawed as male counterparts. Martin shows people in power are generally all gits & that’s how they got to where they are. If all characters were fair & even it’d get boring quick or Mr Martin would cut their head off.

  • Gavin Smith says:

    It seems that there’s less whining about gritty SF (and next to none about gritty Crime), on the other hand SF authors always have the option of beating whiners to death with a copy of Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird stories.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Simon Jones,
    I love your comment, and have lamented in the past that it doesn’t seem to be enough to declare something bad any more, it has to be WRONG. Is it therefore wrong that I want to write a short story about Grizzleface Scarteeth and her shitstained murderjerkin now?

    Well, maybe there was a lot more whining in SF back when Neuromancer first appeared, maybe even Altered Carbon, but that shit is de rigeur now. Fantasy – at least in its commercial heartlands – seems to have maintained its moral simplicity for a great deal longer.

    I google “gritty washback” EVERY morning. Why should this morning be any different…?

  • Hi, thanks for highlighting my post. Just for clarity, while I suppose both are pieces are part of the same conversation within genre, mine isn’t a response to yours. I’ve had it in the works, waiting to be finished, for almost a year.

  • TheFourthHorseman says:

    Alex (Brum): I don’t think it’s really about female characters needing to be gritty too, at least not when it comes to the issue of rape you mention. An example of how that focus on rape applies to The First Law (one that Joe has later commented on as well) would be Princess Terez and how her character arc is limited to say the least: her sole purpose is to be a breeding machine, and when she refuses she is threatened with rape. That’s about all there is to be said about the character except for the fact that she’s lesbian, which hardly improves matters. Personally, I wasn’t really bothered by this or in fact didn’t even register that there was anything off in that scene (well, except for the rape threats, obviously). But I can certainly see how others would not be happy when the only LGBT character is mainly presented as an instrument and a victim.

    On the washback, that Liz Bourke blog post was certainly something with the descriptions of conflict zone rape victims. What the hell.

  • Gavin Smith says:

    Well there was a reason I mentioned the Deathbird stories and indeed Harlan Ellison. Alfred Bester? For that matter Michael Morrcock’s fanatasy and SF work. There have been SFF books written with adult audiences in mind for a long time.

    I suspect you’re right though, this has less to do with gritty fantasy and more to do with the: I like=good/right, I dislike=bad/wrong, a polarization which is happening on a much greater scale than in the genre trenches.

    But sometimes Joe, why can’t your character just be nice to people. Just sometimes why can’t you write about kittens (who don’t have a drug problem) riding unicorns (who’ve never tortured someone to death). Hmmm?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    What? Not everything that happens on the internet is a response to me? What transparent stuff and nonsense! Good piece, though.

  • bobbby says:

    i wonder if all this backlash is because some of Joe’s most heinous, sociopathic, villanous characters are so frikking likable ?

  • Crusher says:

    I really don’t understand what all this fuss is about.

    So much drama and so much rage over a paragraph of “disturbing” text. Seriously?

    Joe writes about violence in form of a war and a quest – War = violence aka gritty stuff – plain and simple no? I believe that is written on the back of the book too, right? It warns you plain and simple. So? What makes you read it then? Ever thought about that?

    You read it, you don’t like it, you don’t buy the next one. It’s as simple as that.

    But people are drawn towards “forbidden” things, tabu things, VIOLENT things. Either there is something they are curious about, or want to experience (in one way or the other).
    And trust me there are a lot worse things out there (on the internet) then Joe’s grimdark/fantasy books.

    What I don’t understand is why everyone (make that a handful of people) started bitching about this just now? More or less with Joe’s books and Martin’s – Game of Thrones. Does it really matter if the author is successful of not? It seems to me that it does.

    To tell you the truth Joe I didn’t have the patience to read all that wall of text and comments in your links, mainly because they all rambled about the same thing.
    They just ask for attention, and they get it by bulling you.

    I think most of the people that fancies a forum know about the expression “Don’t feed the Troll”. That’s my advice for all of you. Just ignore them and enjoy your books (you too Joe).

    In the end the thing is Joe (and his editor) had the balls to try something (more or less) new. And it worked, and it has success and I fucking LOVE IT.

    There is a saying in my country that says “Nu te poti caca in gustul omului” witch in literally translation means “You can’t s**t in a person’s taste” meaning Everyone reads/eats/watches/listens/writes WHATEVER he likes and NOBODY has the right to judge him in any way.

    Joe please continue being AWESOME and bring us more quality books like you already have.

    My two cents.

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    I do love that while others such as big ol’ George R. R. Martins – the man that brought us incestual twins – is being universally celebrated and hailed as the new king of fantasy, you are being singled out as the source of all evil.

    It must do you head in. Or at the very least make you laugh.

  • Rich Metcalf says:

    Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say his books are awesome! Some may not like your style, but I could relate more to your characters than most, and because of that your work is the most real to me, followed by Mr. Martin. I’ve tried to live my life as a good man, but I am often my own worst enemy and end up making serious mistakes that really set me back, and and I’m constantly trying to make up for these mistakes. I may not be a Named Man, but I have hurt some people I loved, and I have to live with that, but I won’t give up trying to do good as long as I live. For me its not about how “grimdark” you are, its about how real you are. And Joe, your writing is very real to me.

  • @ Gavin and Joe

    Yeah, it’s a localised dysfunction, no doubt about it. Interestingly, it ties in with another bizarre tendency I observed when I first started writing into the fantasy field. I got a number of reviews of all stripes, positive, negative and in-between, but with the recurring line this is definitely not a book for children

    To borrow some Valley-speak – well, duh.

    Never happened when I was writing SF, and would never happen (as you say Gavin) with crime fiction. For some reason, fantasy has been saddled with a persistent neoteny that other genres either never suffered from or escaped from some considerable time ago.

    The really weird thing is that this is a state of affairs that’s been eroding for at least a couple of decades now (some might argue it was always under assault, right back as far as Fritz Leiber), but there’s still a substantial portion of the readership who either somehow haven’t noticed, or are simply living in denial. Joe, I thought your Value of Grit piece was an impeccable analysis, but reading it felt a bit like watching Richard Dawkins try to argue with a roomful of Creationists. I think you;re up against a constituency that isn’t really amenable to reason.

  • Justin Lancon says:

    It seems to me that a lot of people have decided that George R.R. Martin is the arbiter of what “dark fantasy” means. Like ASOIAF has in some way given birth to the works of a host of other authors who fall into this nebulous category. Many of these people misunderstand what realism is and how it’s used in these books. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    Realism, in the context of Joe’s books at least, means realism in the context of the book. The characters are true to their particular reality, they act in a manner appropriate for their position and personality, which means that sometimes they do awful things even when they mean well. Like in the real world.

    Reality does not mean that the statistical incidence of rape (male or female) in the second northern war roughly matches that of the Rwandan genocide or even of the hundred years war or the war of the roses. Reality in that sense is in the hands of the author, who must pick and choose the interactions and events that he or she chooses to focus on.

    Abercrombie chooses not to deal with these issues head on in graphic detail. I’m not him, so I don’t know why. I also don’t really care why. If he wants to write books that replace fantasy tropes with tweaked versions of themselves in order to screw with the reader’s perception of what a “hero” or a “villain” really is, then that’s enough for me to enjoy his books. If he wants to write a story examining sexual abuse in conflict zones, I’ll probably read that too. Every book or story doesn’t have to confront (or ignore!) these issues, just because the supposed archetype for the genre does.

  • Chad says:

    I didn’t know that “Grimdark” was a genre now.

    To me, the virtue of grit was that it made the stakes real. Alysses MagicSword and his flying pony is never going to die or even suffer too much. Boring.

    When Ned Stark bit it, the stakes became real. Interesting.

    But grit for it’s own sake is as roll-your-eyes boring. See, for example, Prince of Thorns.

  • Simon says:

    Chad it always grates when something you like gets a naff label doesn’t it? I remember Brit-pop being particularly galling

    I didn’t think Prince of Thorns was grit for it’s own sake I liked the fact that the protagonist was an amoral little shite . Also the post apocalyptic Earth setting was different.

  • @ Gavin and Joe

    ….though, upon reflection, I’d have to say that SF does seem to share with Fantasy the curse of a criterati whose only interest appears to be in charting trends of decline, decay and failure in the field. When, after all, was the last time you read a critical article about either SF or Fantasy that began:

    “Good things are happening in the genre of late. A palpable sense of potential and dynamic change is in the air. Writers like X, Y and Z are pushing the boundaries/breaking new ground/revisiting and reinvigorating old tropes……..”

    Nah…… Far better to bitch and moan about how things ain’t what they used to be.

  • The Grumpy Buddha says:

    I have to say that while I don’t think it has much to do with Joe’s work, it’s disturbing/interesting that male authors seem pretty comfortable with peppering their stories with rape of females, even though male rape would hardly be rare in similar historical settings.

  • Cara(Eli) says:

    Is it terribly wrong that I want to read that short story about Grizzleface Scarteeth and her shitstained murderjerkin?

  • It’s historical fiction, not fantasy, but I think Tim Willocks’ The Religion strikes a perfect balance of tone. It is set during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, an episode that is as gruesome as you can imagine (the Christian defenders of Malta fired severed heads of Turkish prisoners into the Turkish siege lines in retaliation for the Turks floating crucified nights across the bay to the Christian fortress. One episode of atrocity of many).

    Willocks depicts the appalling level of violence in florid, graphic detail, and his hero Mattias Tannhauser is no better than he has to be.

    Yet there are moments of extraordinary beauty a certain qualified redemption and a certain Grace achieved in the midst of what moderns would define as PTSD.

    It struck me as a profoundly human, authentic and truthful book.

  • That should read “crucified knights.”

  • Liz Bourke says:

    Like Sophia McDougall, my post wasn’t made so much in response to “In Defence of Grit,” as it was to McDougall herself – though undoubtedly it’s part of the same general conversation on the form, function, and use-value of realism, grit, and/or the “grimdark” trend.

    What’s written and what’s read always has moral and/or political overtones. (As the sayings of my elders go, “The personal is political.”) That’s what makes it both important and interesting to interrogate ’em from as many different perspectives as possible…

  • AO says:

    Fallible humans are fallible.

  • AO says:

    @ The Grumpy Buddha,

    Male rape can be a very divisive topic though. There are those who argue that men “always enjoy it” so it’s not *really* rape. That it can never be as bad for men as it is for women.

    That culturally only those in the minority or without power, such as women, non-whites, non-heterosexuals, can claim to be victims. Those that would say that even if male rape is a “bad” thing then it can’t be acknowledged because they’re fighting for a cause and the need to dehumanize and demonize men, white people and straight people is more important than *anything* else.

    I believe that such views are rubbish, but that’s definitely the way that some think.

  • Liz Bourke says:

    Sorry. I meant “The Value of Grit,” not “In Defence of Grit.” My bad.

  • Kirk says:

    Surely fallible humans are acting infallibly. Also as rape has often been quoted as not being about sex but rather about aggression and dominance surely there would be more male rape in stories involving battling armies. ps agree with Jim Cornelius about “The Religion”, its a wonderful read.

  • Joris M says:

    Joe, thanks for wiring your initial piece and for collecting par of the conversation here.

    The strange thing about this whole discussion is that there are multiple camps complaining about gritty fantasy as it is published. One is indeed shocked/uncomfortable with the contents, and can in my opinion easily be ignored. Another group of arguments is based on the magnification of issues of privilege in conflict heavy gritty fantasy. And there is definitely merit there, if clouded by overly generalized arguments.

  • Dogman'sBladder says:

    Why do I constantly see people complaining about a lack of male on male rape in fantasy books, meanwhile the books are filled with castrations?

    The majority of fantasy books either have eunuchs, castration scenes or both. I’d rather be used by a man train than have that happen. Castration is the ultimate form of sexual abuse against a male.

    Not to mention I think heterosexual men raping other men just isn’t very common out of a prison setting.

  • Dogman'sBladder says:


    It’s pretty much unanimously agreed that rape is about power and dominance, but that doesn’t mean a heterosexual male would step outside of his sexuality just to exert power and dominance over another male…

    Historically men seem to dominate each other with physical violence and dominate women with sexual violence.

  • Chad says:


    I thought it was over the top. You know the scene in every cliched movie where the evil henchman reports back to his boss to report some kind of bad news and the boss kills the guy on the spot to show the movie audience how evil his is? I think that sums up Prince of Thorns (and the follow up) pretty well.

    Wouldn’t these evil organizations crumble from go? Who wants to belong to that group? Anyway, I found the main character totally unbelievable. He seemed to prevail because he was meant to. Also, look how gritty he is! Grit’s interesting, right? Agh.

    Anyway, I just saw that Joe retweeted something from Mark Lawrence, so I guess I’ve crapped on his friend. Sorry Joe. It’s seems as if I’m in the minority about Lawrence, so there’s that.

  • AntMac says:

    @Simon Jones Who Is Blogless

    Plus one and then plus one more.

    What Joe should do, rather than write books where thieves and murderers are never ALSO rapists ( wow, surprise, that nasty man who kills people with sharp lengths of metal is ALSO PREPARED TO RAPE, GOSH that is so shocking I can’t understand it . . . not. ) is have a gay female character of the same stripe as Black Dow. A murderous, cruel person like him. A rapist like him. A thug like him. Don’t doubt for a minute that cruel, using, gay females exist, they are humans just like the rest of us, and basically humans are vile.

    @ Chad.

    I don’t think you can have read the biography of Pablo Escobar.

  • Kirk says:

    It’s pretty much unanimously agreed that rape is about power and dominance, but that doesn’t mean a heterosexual male would step outside of his sexuality just to exert power and dominance over another male…

    @ dogmans bollocks
    If a heterosexual male did step outside his sexuality to prove his dominance, i rather doubt that he or his victim would want that fact to be known

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Frank F,
    I think the huge visibility of Martin of late means that he’s getting his fair share of lumps. Probably more than anyone.

    Richard Morgan,
    Well bitching and moaning has always been pretty popular, I guess. Everyone loves to focus on the negative, the dark, the doomy, even if it is really adolescent to do so without giving proper attention to the positives with which life is filled and – aaaarrghhh!

    Jim Cornelius,
    Everything should read, ‘crucified knights’. Heard a lot of good things about the religion, though.

    Liz Bourke,
    Great. How the hell can I defend myself if no one’s even attacking me?

    Totally agree. Many different criticisms of grit, which is why I tried to lay out its advantages rather than defend it from any charge specifically. The moral threat arguments I find pretty silly, the privilege related ones much more worthwhile, though with more and more generalisation. Richard Morgan, after all, has written books with male rape. I’ve written books which actually have no rape at all. I know, it was tough, but I got through it.

    Never met Mark (though he lives only a few miles away, apparently), know of him, of course. But I think you can say what you like about his books here provided you stay broadly respectful. Haven’t read him myself so I’ll stay out of it.

    Reading Liz Bourke’s article it seems pretty clear that male rape in that context has very little to do with sexuality.

  • @ Joris
    Mostly agree with you – thing is, there can be merit in any argument if it hews to specifics, but that doesn’t seem to be happening very much. Even where the privilege argument is deployed, it’s still very much a case of I don’t want to read about this stuff, therefore it is morally bad. A genuine critical sensibility would address in good faith what an author seems to be trying to achieve with these elements, and then examine how well that is or isn’t achieved – not write it off in high dudgeon as the masturbation of a rapey rapey grimdark-obsessed straight white male scumbag.

    @ Dogman’s Bladder
    Actually the argument about rape being about power not sex has come under some serious scrutiny in recent years. Try Pinker’s The Blank Slate for some pretty devastating critical questioning of the paradigm. But I side pretty solidly with Liz Bourke here, in that the kind of environments gritty fantasy tends to inhabit would be rife with rape both male and female.

    The point that seems to be getting missed by both sides is that this is a question of sequential taboo-busting. Breaking the taboo on portraying the rape of women in fiction has come and gone, breaking the same taboo on male rape is still underway, and it’s a tougher nut to crack, because, well, y’know, women matter less as human beings so who cares about their finer feelings, right? Men, on the other hand, precious men…..

  • Thile says:

    I picked up the Picture of Dorian Gray to read on my kindle since it was for free and I had never read it. And have yet to start, really, but the preface was interesting to me. A couple of quotes that kind of appeared to be apropos:

    “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
    “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.”
    “All art is quite useless.”

  • SgtPluck says:

    How can a work of art be ‘vital’, yet ‘useless’ at the same time? I’d say it is the criticism of art that is quite useless. Anyone who has ever heard Brian Sewell speak knows that.

    I actually started reading the Foz Meadows piece above and damn near fell asleep within 50 words. I think I’ll just stick to reading the books from now on and forget those who want to ‘sociologise’ everything.

  • Thile says:

    I think there is a bit of irony in the whole thing, a lot of it is beyond me personally, methinks. The prologue is very interesting, but I have yet to start on the work of art, itself.

  • Liz Bourke says:

    Joe Abercrombie:

    The guilty flee where none pursueth. 😛

    Less flippantly, I thought your post on “The Value of Grit” is a good counterpoint to criticisms of “grit” – art that contains all cute washed puppies and rainbows is as one-sided an art as art that contains all blood, filth, and despair. Which is to say that in terms of aesthetic appreciation, Bear’s conclusions also speak for me. (In terms of political engagement, I’m enjoying the fact that we can *have* this conversation, and see multiple perspectives on it.)

  • The Western went through a similar evolution, with similar backlash from those who preferred to keep “their” genre a clean environment for a straight morality play. And, similarly, there were complaints that an over-focus on the sordid distorted reality as much as the white-hats/black-hats paradigm.

    In the end, morally complex stories will stand the test of time — and so will the greatest “grim dark” novel of all time, the Great American Horror Novel “Blood Meridian.”

  • Kegogut says:

    Opinions are like,well you get it.

    Theres always going to be someone who has a problem with someone putting on there pants one leg at a time instead of both.

  • AntMac says:

    This obsession with having an equal amount of male rape is just stupid. Why would they want to do it?.

    None of the violent characters in any of the books I have read have raped every woman they have come across. Nor have they killed all the men. And vice versa of course.

    The violent characters kill the men THEY WANT TO KILL for whatever reason it is they want to kill them, and they rape the women they want to rape, again, for whatever reason. About power?. OF COURSE it is about power, that is why someone isn’t a farmer, and IS a soldier/fighter/thief etc. They want more of what they want, and less of what they do not want, they take up a sword to do it with, 100% about power.

    If it was a “realistic” story that had farmers in a peaceful farming community of almost any human society, there would be little actual rape. As a realistic story with roving bands of murderers contending, rape is part of the story, you may as well choose to cry because they burn down farms, or ride through peoples crops.

  • Jezier says:

    The funny thing is I don’t find your books gritty at all, Joe. Just look outside the genre – books about all kinds of concentration camps, or war… Look at non fiction – the news. The world is far more gritty than your books.
    (I’m from Poland. There’s a great fantasy writer here, Feliks W. Kres (I don’t think he has been translated to English). His books ARE gritty. When a woman (the protagonist) spends about 20 years of life running in some rainy mountains – she isn’t pretty. She is scarred, bulky and has the beginnings of arthritis from sleeping on wet ground. When a man runs a pack of bandits – he is merciless and cruel. When a pirate sees a nice cargo ship with goods, he commands the crew to cut the throats of the slaves they were shipping somewhere and to throw them to the sea, becouse he wants to catch that cargo ship. And these last two are the protagonists of the novels. Now that’s grimdark;)

  • Liam says:

    It must be another of those axioms of the internet that any and all discussion of gritty fantasy will eventually devolve into an argument about rape in fiction.

    Quite frankly I think that rape scenes are something that the subgenre could happily do without. Sure, the *implication* of sexual violence is sometimes a valuable addition to the tension and conflict of a story, but I struggle to think of a single rape scene where I thought “wow what a great scene, I’m glad [Author’s] editor didn’t insist on cutting that one!”

    Also it’s funny to see authors talking about the absence of male-rape in the genre, because I can think of several examples off the top of my head. Brent Weeks has several instances of male-on-male sexual violence. Peter V Brett has several as well. Robin Hobb has a male character who was raped repeatedly as a child, and who comes very close to raping a viewpoint character on numerous occasions. Patrick Rothfuss has a scene where a male is raped off-camera as well, and strongly implies that his protagonist suffered such an attack himself.

    With the notable exclusions of GRRM and yourself, Joe, that’s a very robust sample of the “Grittier” fantasy authors represented right there.

  • SwindonNick says:

    “Gritty Washback” – I do hope you don’t regret holding that back as a name for a character in your next novel…

  • Brian Turner says:

    What astonishes me is that someone will point to the character of Glokta, and only after about half a million words suddenly realise this torturer might not be an all round nice guy.

  • Sean Fear says:

    The First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold are pretty grim. No good deed goes unpunished. But, there is a lot of very dark humour in the books that makes them very readable.

    The Heroes and Red Country are a bit more upbeat.

    WRT male rape in fantasy, my random thoughts are:-

    1. Male rape is still widely seen as comic. Whereas no one would depict female rape in that way.

    2. Until very recently, NGO’s barely acknowledged the existence of male rape in warfare. The scale of male rape in the Congo changed that. Was that a one-off, or has there always been widespread male rape in warfare? Did male rape occur in Eastern Germany in 1945, for example? Were the victims simply too ashamed to talk about it?

    3. It would not occur to me to take precautions against rape, in the way
    that many women do. Nor would I assume that I was in danger of it, if I was taken prisoner. Is that just naivety?

    4. There are quite a lot of examples of sexual violence directed at men and boys in the fantasy literature I’ve read, but it’s not unrealistic, in my view, for it to be less common than against women

  • dietl says:

    ad 3.
    Would you assume it, if you were taken in Congo? As a muslim in Guantanamo? Depends where, don’t you think?

  • Kevin says:

    Joe – totally agree with your sentiment arguing the value of grit, but I wonder – do you really place yourself in the same camp as the other targets of the anti “grimdark” campaign?

    Your twitter handle would indicate that you do, or perhaps it’s a just matter of principle – the thing is, I am a huge fan of your books, but who are your “grimdark” comtemporaries?

    I’ve commented previously on this blog that I consider grrm an inferior writer – the TV series is great, but that’s down to production/actor quality not story – and I can’t say anything about Mark Lawrence ( of thorns) that Chad hasn’t already said.

    You mentioned Neuromancer and that’s exactly where you sit in my author pantheon. Indeed I consider Neuromancer, Iain M Banks culture novels, and your books of the same clade; “gritty alternate realities”.

    I see Richard Morgan has posted here a few times, so presumably he counts himself as “grimdark” although I’m not sure the anti-grimdark movement would be brave enough to target consensual gay-sex as pejorative.

    So excepting grrm, Lawrence, and Morgan, who do you consider are the other “grimdark” authors?

    I’d like to know, I’m starving for new books…

    Bakker? read and liked all of them, although like Morgan not sure if purity league is making their straw man in his likeness.

    Erikson? (xxx Malazan xxx) a great deal of ado about nothing imo, like grittified weis@hickman.

    Glen Cook/black company? tried kindle sample – couldn’t get into it. Ditto with Brent Weeks.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I think the problem is that ‘grimdark’ as a term is currently infinitely mutable depending on the argument being made. So people make sweeping statements about how awful, lightless, hopeless, extreme, sexist, rape-packed etc. it is, but tend not to actually say what books they’re talking about. Some people certainly refer to my books as grimdark, then other people will define the term in ways that I feel doesn’t really describe my work, or at any rate seems to deliberately mischaracterise it. But then it isn’t really up to me how people categorise my books, is it?

    So it’s not so much that I place myself in the same camp as other writers (a lot of them I haven’t read) so much as that other people arbitrarily place us in the same camp or not depending on their tastes and the arguments they want to support…

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