Round Table Discussion on Grimdark with C.T. Phipps and James Schmidt/mightythorjrs
This is C.T. Phipps, author of ESOTERRORISM and THE RULES OF SUPERVILLAINY, here with James Schmidt/mightythorjrs to talk about one of my favorite topics in fiction: GRIMDARK. Grimdark is a subject which is very near and dear to my heart, underlying my two novels and inspiring me to write my upcoming fantasy series WRAITH KNIGHT.
It’s a much-misunderstood and ill-defined concept, having emerged spontaneously in fandom first as an insult directed at dark, gritty fiction and then as a descriptor which authors have reluctantly accepted. Having discussed the subject on both my blog (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2015/07/what-is-grimdark.html) and the SF Signal fanzine (http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2015/07/the-appeal-of-grimdark-by-c-t-phipps-author-of-esoterrorism/), I’m pleased to talk about it again with a person I consider a fellow expert on the subject.
So, let’s get discussing the issue.
- So what does grimdark mean to you?
C.T. Phipps: Grimdark, for me, is simply a memorable way of saying, “gritty, adult fantasy and science fiction.” It’s memorable and catchy in a world where you need to have as few words as possible to convey what a book is about. It’s more of a mood than a genre, to me, conveying that this is the kind of place where the return of the king isn’t necessarily Aragorn but Joffrey. I think fantasy, despite being written for adults as early as the Epic of Gilgamesh, is something which constantly struggles for recognition by adults. J.R.R Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings, in large part, in order to fight the perception it was for kids.
I think the 21st century is finally where we’re starting to get the impression fantasy is something okay for adults to like and being every bit as “mature” as other genres but there are those who like to push the envelope beyond even the acceptable barriers of that as well. Grimdark, for me, has to be a fundamentally “mature” work and the literary equivalent of an R. Even then, the fact its fantasy means it has to fight for respect. One of the most hilarious things I’ve encountered in my writing career is The Rules of Supervillainy, a book which includes a kid getting his brother murdered in front of him before gunning down his attacker, is classified as Young Adult. Clearly, I should have included more violence and swearing to be properly adult. Hehe.
James Schmidt: First off, I hate labels and grimdark is just another way for people to label books and authors. I understand the need to classify things, it makes it easier to find books you might like, gives things some order. But it can also hurt books and authors to be “type cast” in sub-genres. That said I agree with C.T. that it is a simple way to say “gritty, adult fantasy and science fiction.” A more modern twist on our old favorites, a little more violence and sex, and just a darker tone and feel to Fantasy and Sci-Fi.
2. Who do you think the fathers of grimdark are?
C.T. Phipps: I think grimdark is the direct successor of Sword and Sorcery writing from the old Pulps. Robert E. Howard, Leiber, Clark Ashton-Smith, and others wrote dark fiction without much in the way of heroes. Michael Moorcock is my favorite of the S&S writers, having created a variety of concepts which would go on to influence much of my childhood with Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer. I think grimdark is separate from Sword and Sorcery, though, because you can be both but Sword and Sorcery conjures a very specific freebooting style of fantasy.
For me, the “modern” grimdark is something created by George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire as well as Andrjez Sapkowski’s Witcher series. In both America and Europe, the two series had a big influence in opening doors for other authors to tell stories about dark and brooding fantasy. I also give credit to Warhammer 40K because anyone who can get away with portraying a combination of the Nazis and Papal Inquisition as the “good guys” has won my respect, even if its in a trainwreck sort of way.
James Schmidt: I definitely see Sword and Sorcery as the godfather of grimdark, I love Robert E. Howard and his works. Reading that has put me on the path to GRRM, Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, and Mark Lawrence. As far as who the fathers of grimdark are I could not really say, but the authors I mentioned are who I think of (right or wrong) when someone says grimdark.
- Do you have any favorite writers who can be considered grimdark?
C.T. Phipps: Well, I could mention the big dogs at first but I think the pups in the independent scene deserve some love too. I was, actually, introduced to the grimdark genre by Rob J. Hayes’ The Ties That Bind series as well as the Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Thieves anthology. While I’d read and loved the Westeros series, I’d fallen out of fantasy fandom and was more into horror.
The good people at Ragnarok Publications introduced me to a whole different genre which seemed written just for me and I’ve been devouring it for the past four years. It’s how I, appropriately enough, ended up working with Ragnarok Publications. I also would like to give some props to the good people behind Grimdark Magazine, who have written themselves an excellent fanzine. I recommend everyone check them out and pick up a copy if they like what we’re talking about (http://grimdarkmagazine.com/).
James Schmidt: Well anyone who knows me or my blog knows my love for Mark Lawrence. Whether or not he is grimdark someone else can decide. All I know is that he is hands down the best out there right now in my opinion. I recently read and reviewed Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher and I have to say it blew me away. A dark and crazy book, that took me by surprise. A book and author that I think everyone who likes grimdark or dark fantasy or whatever, needs to know about! Check out the review: Book Review: Beyond Redemption By Michael R. Fletcher
- Do you think grimdark is an actual genre now?
C.T. Phipps: Yes and no. I don’t think you can really claim to be a “genre” until people start writing you. The major figures in grimdark like Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercombie, Scott Lynch, and, of course, Martin and Sapkowski didn’t set out to write grimdark. They set out to write fantasy and did so. It’s just their fantasy was dark, grim, and adult. Even my attempts at writing started at grim and dark fiction, not “grimdark.” I think we’re on the road there, though, which is a very good thing. To me, we’re in the proto-genre stage where it’s more of a movement and a descriptor than an actual type of fiction.
James Schmidt: I don’t know about that, but it is a sub-genre and label people love to use right now. I do think that the darker, adult fantasy/fiction is very popular and there are very good authors and books that are classified as such. I am sure with those influences there will be even more great books and authors to come out in the “grimdark” style.
- What do you think of grimdark’s future?
C.T. Phipps: I think grimdark’s future is pretty secure. The very fact people are taking it seriously as both a movement and phenomenon is a supremely good sign. The people who played Dungeons and Dragons in their teens have since grown up to become the movers and shakers in media. A Song of Ice and Fire is the subject of academic essays and its adaptation to television is watched with the same attention as The Sopranos.
Future generations of fans are guaranteed as the proto-genre invades other mediums. Popular video game franchises like Dragon Age and Dead Space advertise themselves as “dark fantasy” and “horror science-fiction.” The Witcher series, one of the founders of the movement, is already adapted to three highly-successful video games. Grimdark isn’t a genre yet but I think we’re heading there and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.
James Schmidt: I believe grimdark or as C.T. said “gritty, adult fantasy and science fiction.” has a bright future (ironic I know). Whether you think of it as a label, or a sub-genre, or whatever, the authors and books that have come to define it are some of the best ever. They will continue to inspire even more awesome writers and books. As a very famous dark character once said ” If you only knew the power of the Dark Side”.
About the author:
C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on “The United Federation of Charles” (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/).
He’s recently released the novels “The Rules of Supervillainy” and “Esoterrorism.” His third novel, “Wraith Knight” is expected to release in January of 2016.
About the books:
- Series: From the Secret Files of the Red Room
- Paperback: 456 pages
- Publisher: Ragnarok Publications; 1 edition (July 6, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1941987559
- ISBN-13: 978-1941987551
There are no good guys in the world of shadows…but maybe some bad men are better than others.
Derek Hawthorne was born to be an agent of the Red Room. Literally. Raised in a conspiracy which has protected the world from the supernatural for centuries, he’s never been anything other than a servant of their agenda. Times are changing, though, and it may not be long before their existence is exposed.
When a routine mission uncovers the latest plan of the magical terrorist, the Wazir, Derek finds himself saddled with a new partner. Who is the mysterious but deadly Shannon O’Reilly? What is her agenda? Couple this with the discovery the Red Room has a mole seeking to frame Derek for treason and you have a plot which might bring down a millennium-old organization. Can he stop the Wazir’s mission to expose the supernatural? And should he?
“A testosterone fueled urban fantasy, the perfect novel for fans who are tired of the paranormal romance trope, and who want to see more of the action and adventure element. It’s big, it’s frantic, it’s violent, and it’s very often funny.”
—Bob R. Milne, Beauty in Ruins
- Series: The Supervillainy Saga
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1514269392
- ISBN-13: 978-1514269398
Gary Karkofsky is an ordinary guy with an ordinary life living in an extraordinary world. Supervillains, heroes, and monsters are a common part of the world he inhabits. Yet, after the death of his hometown’s resident superhero, he gains the amazing gift of the late champion’s magical cloak. Deciding he prefers to be rich rather than good, Gary embarks on a career as Merciless: The Supervillain Without Mercy. But is he evil enough to be a villain in America’s most crime-ridden city? Gary soon finds himself surrounded by a host of the worst of Falconcrest City’s toughest criminals. Supported by his long-suffering wife, his ex-girlfriend turned professional henchwoman, and a has-been evil mastermind, Gary may end up being not the hero they want but the villain they need.