History Repeating: A Return of Violent Machismo to Fantasy and Science Fiction
At the 35th Annual Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, March 2014, Stephen R. Donaldson, as a guest on a discussion panel, raised a concern about the apparent rise of violence, nihilism, cynicism, and darkness in modern genre fantasy writing. In particular he singled out what is most commonly referred to as ‘grimdark’, a sub-genre of fantasy popularised and exemplified by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George R.R. Martin. Although I should mention that he did not explicitly name those authors.
The common (mis)understanding of grimdark is that it is fantasy writing that eschews the tropes of hero, heroic quest and the simplistic morality of good winning out over evil, in favour of a much darker, more cynical fantasy world which is generally graphically and explicitly violent, morally bankrupt (or at the least deeply flawed), and celebrates the dirt, darkness and grittiness of the world. Heroic characters are replaced by violent, sociopathic, immoral or amoral protagonists, who are not so much anti-heroes as villains but on a side less villainous than the other. Good and evil have been replaced by evil and slightly less evil. In many ways a fairly accurate rendering of what the news presents us with on a daily basis, on the hour, every hour.