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Green Gogol

On realism, grimdark and childishness

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10 minutes ago, SeanF said:

Evil aristocrats are fun, but if you want to portray them as they really are, you need a mix of the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

Why would I want that?

There's nothing inherently valuable about realism in sci-fi or fantasy. I'm not one of the people who argues grimdark is more realistic than high fantasy--it's just a different flavor of romanticism (in this case that the world is genuinely terrible from top to bottom and the hero rebels against it as a romantic rebel and society outcast).

If you're going to have thousands of books about noble good hearted aristocrats, it's nice to have a few where they're just plain scum. I admit, part of this is due to the fact that I grew up in the Deep South and was constantly surrounded by Confederate apologia that involved Old World Aristocracy as a way to justify the horrific brutality of slavery (that they also denied existed).

So, yeah, I side-eye all attempts to treat aristocrats as good people and enjoy a good, "they're scum and deserve to die" tale. It's refreshing.

This is, of course, my personal preference and I don't begrudge anyone who actually likes aristocrat heroes. I just enjoy a heavy deconstruction. It's part of why I like Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series where a major part of the heroes' goal is to bring egalitarianism and civil rights to the hereditary privilege-ravaged 30 Years War.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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15 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Why would I want that?

There's nothing inherently valuable about realism in sci-fi or fantasy. I'm not one of the people who argues grimdark is more realistic than high fantasy--it's just a different flavor of romanticism (in this case that the world is genuinely terrible from top to bottom and the hero rebels against it as a romantic rebel and society outcast).

If you're going to have thousands of books about noble good hearted aristocrats, it's nice to have a few where they're just plain scum. I admit, part of this is due to the fact that I grew up in the Deep South and was constantly surrounded by Confederate apologia that involved Old World Aristocracy as a way to justify the horrific brutality of slavery (that they also denied existed).

So, yeah, I side-eye all attempts to treat aristocrats as good people and enjoy a good, "they're scum and deserve to die" tale. It's refreshing.

This is, of course, my personal preference and I don't begrudge anyone who actually likes aristocrat heroes. I just enjoy a heavy deconstruction. It's part of why I like Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series where a major part of the heroes' goal is to bring egalitarianism and civil rights to the hereditary privilege-ravaged 30 Years War.

I enjoy medieval history and I find people like Henry Grosmont, Roger Mortimer, Enguerrand de Coucy, Gaston of Foix, Isabella of France complex and interesting, and like to see it reflected in literature set I such a world.

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On 2/3/2019 at 12:39 PM, Caligula_K3 said:

One thought I had about this topic, when I finally got around to reading Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns book last year, was that this "adult book" was incredibly childish. Despite being about rape and horror and violence and war and what we consider to be very adult issues, it's very much a YA power-fantasy book, except the protagonist is a 13 year old evil wunderkind who can do everything he wants to do (I think at one point, the main character learns how to do kung fu from reading a book) instead of a 13 year old good wunderkind who can do whatever they want to do.  It's all very edgy and GRIM in a way that reminds me of how 13 year olds can think that swearing and blood and gore are signs of maturity.  I think it's a key example of how grimdark does not equal adult. I haven't read anything more by Lawrence though, so this only applies to that one book.

In general, I'd say fantasy publishers are getting pretty crafty at marketing YA books as "adult" books though. Not that there's anything wrong with YA in itself, but I'm getting kind of tired of starting new, seemingly well reviewed books that promise political, cultural, and character complexity but are really, again, shallow power fantasies about a young woman/man who learns they're the most special snowflake in all the land.  Chakraborty's City of Brass and Scwhab's A Darker Shade of Magic come to mind. And as I read these books, which are supposed to be adult fiction, all I can think of is how The Hobbit, a book definitely meant for kids, handles "adult" themes with more maturity.    

 

I have to say my reaction to reading the prince of Thorns(and the rest of the trilogy) was similar to yours. It felt like the fanfic that a teenage edgelord would write. I didn’t mind Jorge was evil.  Or a really young genius. But god the way  he was written pretentious to the point of being insufferable and overpowered to the point of laughable. Worse it appears Lawrence wants us to think Jorge is so deep and complex.  I didn’t find Lawrence’s writing  to have gotten that better throughout the trilogy. There was always a childness there. “Oh chivalry is stupid” “religion is stupid” “the world is a dark place” is about how deep I found it to get.

I would recommend checking out “The red queen’s war”, a prequel trilogy towards the first trilogy. Much better. 

Edited by Varysblackfyre321

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I was a big fan of Code Geass, so I very much enjoyed Jorg's adventures.

Mind you, I feel like Mark Lawrence chickened out at one point.

Jorg is a rapist and mass murderer only because of mind-control.

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2 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Why would I want that?

There's nothing inherently valuable about realism in sci-fi or fantasy. I'm not one of the people who argues grimdark is more realistic than high fantasy--it's just a different flavor of romanticism (in this case that the world is genuinely terrible from top to bottom and the hero rebels against it as a romantic rebel and society outcast).

If you're going to have thousands of books about noble good hearted aristocrats, it's nice to have a few where they're just plain scum. I admit, part of this is due to the fact that I grew up in the Deep South and was constantly surrounded by Confederate apologia that involved Old World Aristocracy as a way to justify the horrific brutality of slavery (that they also denied existed).

So, yeah, I side-eye all attempts to treat aristocrats as good people and enjoy a good, "they're scum and deserve to die" tale. It's refreshing.

This is, of course, my personal preference and I don't begrudge anyone who actually likes aristocrat heroes. I just enjoy a heavy deconstruction. It's part of why I like Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series where a major part of the heroes' goal is to bring egalitarianism and civil rights to the hereditary privilege-ravaged 30 Years War.

Mmmm, I don’t know. Isn’t aristrocratic are evil/bad/horrible a pretty common trope?

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On 2/7/2019 at 6:40 PM, C.T. Phipps said:

I'd also like to point out that while Warhammer 40K was a satirical black scifi like Strotinium Dogs and Judge Dredd, it never actually used the term grimdark.

It used "in the grim dark future"

The words were combined only when it became a perjorative.

Deconstructionalist fantasy, admittedly, has existed a long time with Stephen Donaldson being famous for it.

I also don't remember the characters and stories of Warhammer 40k as either cynical or nihilistic. On the contrary I would describe them as usually being the opposite, with commonly recurring themes of heroism, selflessness, faith, sacrifice, and so on. 

What characterises Warhammer 40k is rather a setting that is so incredibly dystopian that it becomes a bit comical, with a galactic empire that draws inspiration from some of the worst totalitarian states in history as the main "good" faction. Which ends up working because the enemies it fights against are even worse.

Edited by Khaleesi did nothing wrong

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2 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

Mmmm, I don’t know. Isn’t aristrocratic are evil/bad/horrible a pretty common trope?

I'd say it's usually there's some corrupt noble like Jaffar or Mordred and it requires another noble to fix things. You don't usually see peasant heroes like Geralt of Rivia who just simply don't engage with the royalty save from a position of employment and the idea that the system itself is busted.

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10 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I'd also like to state that the Marquis De Sade, Hamlet, Titus, and a bunch of other stories are not grimdark. Because they're not fantasy or science fiction or a reactionary literay phenomenon. Grimdark is a bit like saying, "90s Antihero" for comic books or the "Dark Age of Comics." It is a specific reaction to the glut of high fantasy rules and doesn't exist prior to maybe the mid-to-late 80s.

1. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, at the time it was published in 1818, was firmly within the tradition of Gothic Horror. Yet, it has (retrospectively) been categorised as science-fiction - a genre that wasn't codified until H.G. Wells some seventy or eighty years later. If a work has the attributes of a given genre, why not classify it within that genre?

2. Your essay already looks at some potential antecedents for grimdark (Conan, Elric, and so on). As such, I think looking at older texts is fair game.

 

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5 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

The Lies of Locke Lamora spent pages and pages talking about what an absolutely shit place to live the city was. The people starving in the streets, the hanging of all thieves even when they were starving, the glutted excess of the nobility, and the fact it is a city with its own secret police. How bad is it? Organized crime has a treaty with the rich so the organized crime can freely prey on anyone BUT the rich and aristocracy with no reprocussions. It is a hellish cariacture of a civilization and wonderful as a setting.

The thing about The Lies of Locke Lamora (a book I love, BTW), is that the dark elements of the setting are wallpaper. There in theory, but ultimately, the heart of the book is the witty dialogue and clever capers. Locke himself is a career criminal who is about as morally compromised as Bilbo Baggins (the Burglar).

Also, it's worth pointing out that Locke is devoutly religious. Which is a bit odd for a grimdark protagonist.

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On the aristocrat front, I actually have a strange fondness for writing vaguely sympathetic ones. My villains tend to be absolutely sincere fanatics, or else a wider bureaucratised institution that individuals are helpless to change. One of the nicest characters in Wise Phuul is an aristocrat with (at least some form of) Aspergers Syndrome.

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1 hour ago, Darth Richard II said:

Fuck me, Conan is not grimdark, and I will fight people on that one.

No it's Sword and Sorcery, which is sort of the proto grimdark with its antiheroes and existentialism.

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10 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

Fuck me, Conan is not grimdark, and I will fight people on that one.

Indeed. Neither is the Gentleman Bastard series. Like Erikson, Lynch has occasional grimdark elements, but the setting as a whole does not count.

I would say that a key component of grimdark is that the very world/setting itself has to be hopeless, nihilistic or compromised. A good shorthand for grimdark may be "would this be an acceptable world to live in if the current crisis in the books wasn't happening?" For Bakker, Lawrence, Warhammer and 40K the answer is a resounding no. For a lot of other settings (even arguably ASoIaF, when civil wars aren't going on in Westeros) the answer is a yes or maybe, which makes a claim for them to be grimdark doubtful.

Edited by Werthead

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I think it is wrong to consider Geralt of Rivia a peasants hero. You may as well claim the knights templars (in our real world) as peasants.

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3 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Three and a half thousand words on the subject:

https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2019/02/10/pinning-down-grimdark/

I tend to agree with you. Phipps definition of grimdark is so broad as to make it meaningless. Almost every work out there could be considered grimdark according to his definition.

I don’t know, but Phipps, I feel you are fascinated by grimdark and that you would really like to claim a lot of works in this category. And I don’t understand why. 

Grimdark is a reaction to noble bright fantasy (I know the term is not appreciated, but I use it, for lack of a better word). As The Marquis the Leech wrote in his article, I would say that grimdark is an extreme. A black hole, where cynicism, nihilism, misery, despair, sadism, brutality, psychopathy, etc is all there is to the world. Be an amoral murderer or die. On the other end of the spectrum is the rainbow of noble bright. Flowers, unicorns, flawless heroes, cleanliness, honor, altruism, empathy, and compassion all around.

But those are extremes and no work is entirely grimdark or noble bright.

Me, I prefer stories where I can identify with the protagonist. I’ve had some pretty horrible things that happened to me, but I still believe that there is hope and that I can make the world a better place.

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17 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

If you're going to have thousands of books about noble good hearted aristocrats, it's nice to have a few where they're just plain scum. I admit, part of this is due to the fact that I grew up in the Deep South and was constantly surrounded by Confederate apologia that involved Old World Aristocracy as a way to justify the horrific brutality of slavery (that they also denied existed).

So, yeah, I side-eye all attempts to treat aristocrats as good people and enjoy a good, "they're scum and deserve to die" tale. It's refreshing.

This is, of course, my personal preference and I don't begrudge anyone who actually likes aristocrat heroes. I just enjoy a heavy deconstruction. It's part of why I like Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series where a major part of the heroes' goal is to bring egalitarianism and civil rights to the hereditary privilege-ravaged 30 Years War.

So the slavery of the first modern democracy of the world is now the fault of European aristocrats? Slavery is almost a human universal. What distinguishes white Europeans is not that they also traded in or kept slaves (because almost everyone did it since the beginning of human culture) but that they were among the very few cultures that got rid of slavery and even went to some lengths to abolish it elsewhere (although the motives were not only the purest).

I agree that there is nothing per se valuable about realism. Therefore let's skip the dubious claim that "grimdark" was more realist. But there is also nothing more trite than caricatures of "evil or stupid aristocrats". What is refreshing about something as old as Don Quijote? I would welcome more fantasy in fantastical non-feudal societies or ones inspired by centralist bureaucratic empires like Imperial China or native tribes or whatever instead of everyone following whig history caricatures of the middle ages and early modernity.

And don't get me started on Flint. I got the first as a free ebook and could not finish it because of the nauseating righteousness.

We (the" West") have as our most powerful leader a buffoonish plutocrat who got richer by bankruptcy fraud, defrauding country bumpkins with his "university" and similar schemes. The rest of our "elites" is not much better (otherwise such scum would not have risen to the top). We are "bringing our values and democracy" to the middle east and elsewhere which works brilliantly (depending on when you start counting, it is the 18th or 28th year of these wars, not quite 30 but we are getting there). We are really and truly so much better than the dirty, corrupt, bigoted and plain evil parties in the 30 years war. We certainly have better teeth and deodorant!

So by all means, let's show our "enlightenment" and pat ourselves on the back by "deconstructing" (tired and half-informed clichees of) 17th century Europe because they had bad teeth and would not have had a chance against heart of gold small town Americans with machine guns (oops, I forgot that the book was written before them small town heart of gold people voted for that abovementioned plutocrat to become the most powerful politician in the world).*

The people of the 17th century and the middle ages saw themselves as "dwarves on the shoulders of giants". *Everything* we have today (science, enlightenment, tech, freedom etc.) is founded on this our history. Many of us, like Flint, apparently think that we are giants who just sprang fully formed from the head of the goddess of enlightenment, totally unrelated to what happened before and that we are so much better than them. One would hope that we were better (I seriously doubt it, see above). But not with such an attitude that is the very opposite of enlightenment because it is based on self-righteousness and utterly cheap condescension (because the people of 1630 cannot defend themselves anymore) towards the people and their plights that made our modern society, values, science and tech possible in the first place.

Sorry for the rant and no personal offence intended.

 

*) I am not a military man nor a historian but I am pretty sure that Flint also seriously underestimates the intellingence and prowess of 17th century military leaders. The brilliant deconstruction of the tired Connecticut Yankee trope is Poul Anderson's "The high crusade".

Edited by Jo498

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3 hours ago, Nabarg said:

I think it is wrong to consider Geralt of Rivia a peasants hero. You may as well claim the knights templars (in our real world) as peasants.

Witchers are explictly not given the respect due knights as they are not noblemen or part of any church. They are providers of services.

As for my definition of grimdark, my definition is "adult dark gritty fantasy and scifi." It's kind of like asking what the definition of fantasy is and then being really annoyed when people talk about books without dragons, knights, and elves. It's a broad category that doesn't have to mean something very specific as it's just a term for fans of darker than average storytelling about fantastic concepts.

I think attempts to make it something specific undermines the concept as it's just a genre label. I also don't even understand the urge.

I discuss it here.

WHAT IS GRIMDARK: http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2015/07/what-is-grimdark.html

*humor mode* Now are grimdark readers inherently more intelligent and sexually attractive than non-grimdark readers? Obviously. Is everything not grimdark trash and should be ignored? Of course! Clearly grimdark is the only thing worth reading and I think we can all agree that only infantalized toddlers would read something with a HAPPY ENDING. *humor mode off* However, be that as it may, the fact is that grimdark is a very useful thing both from financial terms as well as artistic terms. As a reactionary movement against more lighthearted mass consumed fair (I blame you D&D/WoW), it provides indepenedent authors with an audience that allows them to succeed in a competitive market. It also provides a good way of attracting an audience that wants darker more mature fair to their stories.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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