Worldbuilding and Tropes

March 19th, 2008

Official release date for Before They are Hanged in the US is tomorrow, but the book’s actually been available there for a month or more, and opinions currently abound. King of the Nerds had some interesting things to say about the worldbuilding, or lack thereof:

“I would be counted among the detractors regarding Abercrombie’s scant attention to setting but, as I thought about it, I’ve decided that his lack of attention to setting (except where necessary) is completely intentional. In many ways, to go with an extreme analogy, Abercrombie’s functions in many ways as the set from Our Town. Abercrombie sketches out bare details and populates a scene with what, at first appearance, are obvious archetypes but on closer examination stray much further from the fantasy norm. It is, as I said, an extreme analogy. There is one key thing to note, setting is mostly non-extant except for the major action set-pieces. Its an abrupt slide from black and white to full color but one that serves to enhance the action and leave a lingering image with the reader. As a result Abercrombie’s richly textured and vividly imagined characters stand out all the stronger. It becomes about the people and their, often strange, relationships to one another.”

Which encapsulates my approach to worldbuilding a good deal more succinctly than I generally manage to do, I’d say. I’ve got nothing against fantasies that emphasise worldbuilding, I’m as enthusiastic a fan of Tolkien as the next man, but there’s an awful lot of that type of work out there. In having a go myself, I wanted to push the world into the background and bring the characters firmly to the fore. I’m more interested in those things that epic fantasy has in common with every other kind of story-telling (character, plot, and action), if you like, than those things that separate it (worldbuilding, magic, and monumental length, though let’s face it, my books ended up pretty damn long). If it becomes, as the man says, about the people and their, often strange, relationships to one another, I’m well satisfied. Fantasy Magazine have also taken a look:

“There’s no way to give a capsule description of this novel without making it sound generic. Indeed, many of the plot elements are familiar from any number of other epic fantasies, and the battle scenes and fast-paced action sequences and abundance of political intrigue, while well-crafted, are pretty much fantasy standard. Anything but standard, however, is the pitch-black cynicism with which it’s all presented. Abercrombie creates a world in which every official is corrupt, every motive suspect, and virtue’s only reward is death and degradation. Even characters who grow and change get no credit-the obnoxious Jezal learns the folly of his arrogance, but that doesn’t make him any less of a fool. All this darkness is saved from monotony by frequent flashes of black humor, often popping up when least expected.”

Which encapsulates my approach to the tropes of epic fantasy pretty neatly. The situations, the settings, the events we’re used to seeing in the genre, but hopefully with deeper characters, a more realistic, less romaniticised feel, and (as the series goes on) very different outcomes. I feel you’ll surprise people most effectively if you give them, at least to some extent, what they expect at first, then when they’re snugly sure of what they’re going to get, give them the opposite. For me that’s the strongest appeal of writing within an established form with well established patterns. Finally, Rob Bedford’s been reading the book for a review at SFFWorld:

“Joe Abercrombie has done it again. He’s written another page-turner which plays with genre convention with a narrative style and pace that easily pulls the reader along for the ride. The only difference from his first book is that somewhere between finishing The Blade Itself and starting Before They Are Hanged, he became an even better writer. His plotting is tighter this time around and more focused.”

If he feels that way about the first two, I think he’ll really like the third…

In other news, the piece about George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones I referred to in an earlier post is up on the interweb now at SFX’s book club as a PDF, if anyone’s interested in reading it. Probably nothing that’s going to blow the minds of any serious fantasy buffs amongst you, but, hey. And I’m sure you’ll all have this lovingly circled in your calendars, but I’m signing books, or anything else you care to bring, at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury avenue tomorrow evening from six. Maybe I’ll see some of you there…

Posted in news, reviews by Joe Abercrombie on March 19th, 2008.

7 comments so far

  • Anonymous says:

    So when is LAoK coming out in the US?

  • Jason says:

    I think that its August (but don’t quote me on that) i have to wait as well 🙁

  • September is the official month I’ve been given for US release of LAoK. BTaH was available a month early, though. Whether that’ll happen with the next book I can’t promise, but I’m sure Pyr will be keen to get it out as soon as possible. Long gaps between UK and US releases do no-one any good, really.

  • flatrabbit says:

    I snatched a copy of BTaH, last week when they had them at the local BN.

    I haven’t finished yet (I normally read pretty fast and have been trying to slow down a bit to savor the reading a bit more, it’s a hard thing to do when you are really into a book) as my work schedule has been crazy and I’m trying to push through seasons 2.5 & 3 of BSG in the evenings with my son. But from what I’ve read it’s captured me again, the pacing is perfect. Not too much of one storyline before switching off to another.

    I’ll be scanning my local stores this summer in hopes of picking up LAoK early.

  • Flatrabbit,
    Glad you’re enjoying the books. Tough draw against BSG, though. I’m half way through the third series at the moment, and I must say it’s frakkin’ brilliant.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey man enjoying isn’t the word, loving these books. Flatrabbit had me perfectly as i was reading his comment, I also tried to slow down…but it was inevitable, i couldn’t stop. Never change the way you write. And keep writing for that matter! This is quickly becoming my favorite series. I have a question though if anyone could answer it for me, What are the real, big, differences between the books? because i’d get it shipped over if there isn’t any. I cant wait till sept!

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