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Posts Tagged ‘the grimdark debate’

My World Fantasy schedule

FRIDAY, NOV 6: But it is historically accurate…

Fantasy authors often borrow from history to create their secondary worlds, but is historical accuracy ever a defense to criticisms of problematic content in Epic Fantasy? The thorny issues of authorial intent, historical context, cultural appropriation and the freedoms of creation often rear their ugly heads. The panel will discuss the various approaches taken to incorporate historical context, cultures and world views into secondary world Fantasy, and the pitfalls that might appear.

Jen Gunnels (mod.), Marie Brennan, David Drake, Lisa L. Hannett, Gene Wolfe

Should be interesting!

Weather forecast: rain. LOTS of it.

Back in 2010, I decided that (as with the Wheel of Time before it), I was done reading A Song of Ice and Fire until the series was finished. I hadn’t read any of the books since A Feast for Crows came out in 2005, and knew I would need to re-read to refresh my memory whenever A Dance with Dragons finally emerged — and then would have to re-read again some years after that, when we got book six, etc. Better to just stop and wait, however long that took. I sold my copies of the first four (to free up shelf space) and washed my hands of it.

About a month later, Martin announced the Really No We Mean It publication date for Dance, but that was okay: I was at peace with my decision. It came out in 2011, and I didn’t read it, and I went on not reading it.

But in discussing the show with friends, I’ve grown tired of dodging spoilers (sometimes unsuccessfully). So I kind of wanted to read the book, just to fix that problem. On the other hand, it had now been more than seven years since I read the books, and I knew that without a refresher, I wouldn’t find Dance as satisfying as I otherwise might. And yet, I didn’t want to take the time to re-read that much stuff. On the other other hand, [personal profile] teleidoplex told me I wouldn’t find it satisfying whether I re-read or not.

Reader, she was right.

I am putting this behind a cut because a) it’s long and b) if your personal parade is a happy one, I don’t want to rain all over it. Because I was not impressed with this book. No, that falls short: there are things in here that decrease my enjoyment of previous books. If reading about that is going to make you sad, then click away now.

(more…)

three conversations at once

I have other things I should be doing, but wshaffer made a very good point in the comments to my last post, so I’m back for another round. And at this point I’ve made a tag for the grimdark discussion, because I’ve said enough that you might want to be able to track it all down.

To quote wshaffer:

The thing that strikes me about the grimdark discussion is that there are multiple different-but-interlocking conversations going on at once. One is an argument about whether “realism” is grounds for granting a work a higher degree of artistic merit. Another is an argument about to what extent realism actually requires focusing on the darker and more unpleasant aspects of life. And the third is: supposing that we grant that the historical prevalence of misogyny and rape requires that they be addressed in realistic fiction, are there ways of portraying them that do no themselves reinforce misogyny and rape culture?

I love things like this, because they simultaneously clear up a bunch of confusion in my head, and make it possible to see things I couldn’t before. Let’s take her questions one at a time.

(more…)

gritty vs. grimdark

Yeah, I’m still thinking about this topic. Partly because of Cora Buhlert’s recent roundup. The digression onto Deathstalker mostly went over my head, since I haven’t read it, but she brings up a number of good points and also links to several posts I hadn’t seen. (Though I use the term “post” generously. I have to say, when the only response you make to this debate is “meh” followed by links to people who already agree with you, you might as well not bother. All you’re doing is patting yourself on the back in public.)

So I’m thinking about our terminology — “gritty” and “grimdark” and so on. What do we mean by “grit,” anyway? The abrasive parts of life, I guess; the stuff that’s hard and unpleasant. Logistics and consequences and that sort of thing, the little stony details that other books might gloss over. It’s adjacent to, or maybe our new replacement for, “low fantasy” — the stories in which magic is relatively rare, and characters have to do things the hard way, just like us. Hence laying claim to the term “realism”: those kinds of details that can ground a story in reality.

But that isn’t the same thing as “grimdark,” is it? That describes a mood, and you can just as easily tell a story in which everything is horrible and doomed without those little details as with. (As indeed some authors do.) Hence, of course, the counter-arguments that grimdark fantasy is just as selective in its “realism” as lighter fare: if you’re writing about a war and all the women are threatened with sexual violence but none of the men are, then you’re cherry-picking your grit.

What interests me, though, are the books which I might call gritty, but not grimdark. I mentioned this a while ago, when I read Tamora Pierce’s second Beka Cooper book, Bloodhound. The central conflict in that book is counterfeiting, and Pierce is very realistic about what fake coinage can do to a kingdom. She also delves into the nuts and bolts of early police work, including police corruption . . . I’d call that grit. Of course it’s mitigated by the fact that her story is set in Tortall, which began in a decidedly less gritty manner; one of the things I noticed in the Beka Cooper books was how Pierce worked to deconstruct some of her earlier, more romantic notions, like the Court of the Rogue. But still: counterfeiting, a collapse in monetary policy, police corruption of a realistic sort, etc. Those are the kinds of details a lot of books would gloss over.

Or an example closer to home: With Fate Conspire. I was discussing it over e-mail recently, and it occurred to me that I put a lot of unpleasantness into that book. Off the cuff, it includes betrayal, slavery, slavery of children, imprisonment, torture, horrible disease, poverty, racism, terrorism, massive amounts of class privilege and the lack thereof, rape (alluded to), pollution, fecal matter, and an abundance of swearing. All of which is the kind of stuff grimdark fantasy revels in . . . yet I have not seen a single person attach that label to the novel. Nor “gritty,” for that matter, but I would argue that word, at least, should indeed apply. A great deal of that story grinds its way through the hard, unpleasant details of being lower-class in Victorian London. Realistic details, at that.

Of course, the book has a happy ending (albeit one with various price tags attached). Which makes it not grimdark — and also not gritty? Or maybe it’s that I was writing historical fiction, not the secondary-world fantasy that seems to be the locus of the term. Or, y’know, it might be that I’m a woman. One of the posts Buhlert links to is from [personal profile] matociquala, who — unusually for this debate — names some female authors as having produced gritty work, and Buhlert takes that point further. This is a highly gendered debate, not just where the sexual abuse of characters is concerned, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we’re only looking at a fraction of the issue.

I’m sort of wandering at this point, because there’s no tidy conclusion to draw. You can have grit without being grimdark, and you can be grimdark without grit, but doing either while being female is rare? Not very tidy, but something to keep in mind. I think I’d be interested in reading more gritty-but-not-grimdark fantasy, from either gender. Recommendations welcome.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/580211.html. Comment here or there.

Batman had it easy

Only just now remembering to link to it, but this months’ SF Novelists post is “Welcome to the Desert of the Real,” in which I challenge the notion that so-called “gritty” fantasy is a) realistic and b) superior on account of its realism.

(Both that post and the rest of this one discuss sexual violence — quelle surprise, given the obsession gritty fantasy has with that topic — so if you don’t want to read about them, click away now.)

This is part of a much larger discussion floating around the internet right now, which I keep encountering in unexpected corners. The most recent of those is “The Rape of James Bond,” which makes a lot of good points; toward the end, McDougall talks about her own decision-making process where fictional sexual violence is concerned, and whether you agree with her decisions or not, her questions are good ones.

But the part I found the most striking was where she talked about reactions to Skyfall and the first encounter between Silva and Bond.

Cut in case you haven't seen the movie and want to avoid a spoiler.