NO SUCH THING AS GRIMDARK
by Michael R. Fletcher
A billion years ago, back in the spring of 2014, my agent looked at the manuscript I’d sent her and said, “the GrimDark crowd is going to love this” and I went scurrying off to find out what the heck GrimDark was.
While at first I was miffed to be so quickly lumped into a weird sub-genre (those grimdarkians are a crazy lot with their axes and deranged need for bloodshed and a truly epic body count), I soon came to realize that Beyond Redemption, my crazy little novel of manifest delusions, fit rather nicely. And if I was at all unsure, Rob Bedford’s “Beyond Redemption might be the grimdarkiest grimdark novel to ever grimdark” review at SFFWorld probably would have cinched it for me.
Fast forward a year and I’m living the life of a début author—which involves far fewer dead hookers than I’d thought—and really could be a post of its own. My most recent discovery is reddit, and more specifically r/Fantasy. It’s a vibrant and active community of over 85,000 SFF-loving souls. In the last few weeks I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion on the grimdark genre.
There are ideas I see repeated over and over: Writers are trying to out grimdark each other. Editors and publishers are demanding MOAR GRIMDARK MOAR GRIMDARK. Grimdark should be satirical in nature. Grimdark has become a mockery of itself. Grimdark always was a mockery. Grimdark isn’t realistic. Grimdark is too realistic to be fun; Grimdark is…and on and on.
Others have defined the sub-genre to the nth degree, but my question is…
Does anyone actually set out to write grimdark?
I certainly didn’t. I thought Beyond Redemption was fantasy, and maybe dark fantasy if you wanted to label it further. But then I live under a rock.
So I reached out to a few of the authors who have been accused of defiling reality with their overly dark writings.
All quotes are exact and unedited.
Mark Lawrence (Author of The Broken Empire series, and the Red Queen’s War series): “aardvark.”
Django Wexler (Author of The Shadow Campaigns series, and The Forbidden Library series): “Hmm. I generally don’t think of my stuff as grimdark, so I didn’t write it intentionally. But it’s been called that for sure.”
Teresa Frohock – (Author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale, and the Los Nefilim series): “I write dark fantasy/horror and keep getting called grimdark. I don’t know why. It’s driving me nuts.”
Scott Oden (Author of Memnon, Men of Bronze, The Lion of Cairo): “I’ve set out to write grimdark a time or two, only to realize later that those efforts weren’t particularly grim OR dark.”
Anthony Ryan (Author of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, and the soon to be released Draconis Memoria books): “I don’t remember the phrase Grimdark being in common usage when I started writing Blood Song, about ten years ago now. GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire was a big influence, along with David Gemmell and a lot of others, but I wasn’t consciously trying to write in what has since become a sub-genre.”
Tim Marquitz (Author of the Demon Squad series, the Blood War series, and more): “I rarely ever sit down to write anything specific beyond the vaguest concept of it being urban fantasy or epic or whatnot, the general genre definitions. My style is just naturally dark and bleak and all the other adjectives that are currently being aligned with Grimdark. It’s also a style I like to read and watch so my influences lead me to darker writing but I never label anything I do, or attempt to hit a certain feel, outside of what comes naturally.”
Marc Turner (Author of When the Heavens Fall – The Chronicle of the Exile, and There’s a Devil Watching Over You): “As for grimdark, no, I never set out to write it. I’m not even sure what “grimdark” is, exactly. As I understand it, the term was originally used as a pejorative to mean “excessively dark, cynical and violent”. But “excessive” according to whom? Obviously everyone will have their own opinion on the matter. I’d certainly say WtHF is “gritty” fantasy. It’s got plenty of violence and morally ambiguous characters, for example. But there are books out there that dial up the darkness to much higher levels! For me, the term “grimdark” implies a level of brutality and bleakness that is missing in WTHF. Not all of the characters will get happy endings, yes. But not all will die horribly either.”
I know it’s not much of a sample pool, but these are the few authors who didn’t shoot at me when I camped out on their lawn demanding answers. However, as my statistician friend says, “You don’t need a big sample pool if you pick the right three people.”
Reading over the above author quotes I can come to only one conclusion: There is no such thing as grimdark; at least as far as the writers are concerned. The sub-genre is a creation of publishers and readers and has nothing to do with the intentions of the people writing it. And just as obviously it doesn’t matter what authors think; grimdark is a real and thriving sub-genre hosting some of the best modern writers.
What do you think? Is it real, or a shared mass delusion?
His début novel, 88, a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains, was released by Five Rivers Publishing in 2013.
The next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror’s Truth, and The All Consuming, are currently in various stages of editing while Michael tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.
Michael is represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
About Beyond Redemption:
Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.
Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.
As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?