The Sword and Laser discussion

111 views
joe abercrombie blog - old vs new (nihilist?) fantasy

Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6350 comments Let the religious wars continue! (I got this from Jesse)

http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2011/02...


message 2: by Space Preacher (new)

Space Preacher (spacepreacher) | 39 comments Yeah I posted this up on... one of the forums below this one.

The interblogs are exploding. I don't think it's really a matter of old vs new fantasy though. In fact, I don't really understand Leo's argument at all. Abercrombie's work is not nihilistic. Their lives and actions are not meaningless, but the running theme in the book is you can't live a life of violence and expect to become a better person.

His books might seem sort of pessimistic, but Leo's example of Lord of the Rings isn't THAT optimistic in the end. Correct me if I am mistaken, but doesn't that series end with our hero corrupted and unable to complete his quest, the evil artifact being destroyed by a fluke, the hero being too emotionally scarred to re-enter society, and magic leaving the world forever? And don't get me started on his ideas of Conan being a moral character.

The article Abercrombie is responding tried to make your choice in fantasy a POLITICAL issue, so this whole thing just seems absurd to me.


message 3: by Veronica, Supreme Sword (new)

Veronica Belmont (veronicabelmont) | 1701 comments Mod
Best comment:

"If the mere notion of moral ambiguity, explicit violence and some swearing chills your very soul, I daresay you can still find something on the shelves with “the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves” as Leo has it. You want Tolkien and Howard? I’ve got a very handsome leather bound Complete Conan and I’m reasonably sure Lord of the Rings is still in print."


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

“Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.”

I dunno about you all...but I'd read the hell out of that book.


message 5: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6350 comments Gandalf the Black!


message 6: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new)

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
I haven't read Abercrombie yet, nor even the Silmarillion or Howard, but I'm finding this debate pretty interesting/amusing.

My favorite quote from Abercrombie's blog post:

"Whether or not my own work is nihilism seems to me very arguable, but poison to the reader's mind and culture? Really? If you feel your mind and culture might collapse under the weight of a surprising ending involving an unpleasant wizard, a rubbish king and a couple of swear words, it seems to me you really need to dig them some deeper foundations."


message 7: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments As I said in the other thread, there are some legitimate criticisms of gritty fantasy that don't involve political wankery -- namely that in many cases the grittiness is a superficial patina that covers an otherwise standard fantasy story with the standard white protagonists from a standard Medieval European culture where any non-white character ends up being some kind of Klingon or Fremen. I want more mature fantasies, but characters who say "fuck" a lot, screw whores, and go Jack Bauer on their enemies are a rather adolescent idea of maturity. N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is nowhere near as gritty as A Song of Ice and Fire or The First Law, but it's a far more mature story because it addresses serious issues about the way fantasies worlds are set up that Martin and Abercrombie ignore.


message 8: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 18, 2011 11:11AM) (new)

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Sean wrote: "As I said in the other thread, there are some legitimate criticisms of gritty fantasy that don't involve political wankery....I want more mature fantasies, but characters who say "fuck" a lot, screw whores, and go Jack Bauer on their enemies are a rather adolescent idea of maturity. N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is nowhere near as gritty as A Song of Ice and Fire or The First Law, but it's a far more mature story because it addresses serious issues about the way fantasies worlds are set up that Martin and Abercrombie ignore. "

Well, Adam Whitehead's rejoinder on the Wertzone blog seems to do a good job of separating the objections of "there are no heroes in these modern works (nihilism)" and "there is an overabundance of shallow, sensational 'adult content' in these modern works" that Leo Grin conflates.

Adam brings up what seems to be some good points about Tolkein and Howard having some quite dark comments about civilization and their own heroes, but I agree with some of the commentators there that Adam goes too far in equating dark themes with nihilism. But again, not having read the Conan stories or the Silmarillion, it's hard for me to say -- what do those of you have read either of those think?

Also, I found Song of Ice and Fire to have a pretty consistent and well-done critique of the standard fantasy ideas of chivalry without descending into the kind of sensationalistic nihilism that Grin is ranting about. I guess the excesses of Jeoffery's psychotic and abusive behavior come closest, though.


message 9: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6350 comments This post is totally going on the next Sword & Laser. Score!


message 10: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Jlawrence wrote: "Adam brings up what seems to be some good points about Tolkein and Howard having some quite dark comments about civilization and their own heroes, but I agree with some of the commentators there that Adam goes too far in equating dark themes with nihilism. But again, not having read the Conan stories or the Silmarillion, it's hard for me to say -- what do those of you have read either of those think?"

Including Howard on a list of fantasists who uphold Western civilization is utterly bizarre -- the main theme throughout his work is that civilization sucks and turns people into amoral wimps. But this isn't nihilism -- in Howard's mind, Grin would be a nihilist who embraces a worldview that is disconnected from reality.

As for Tolkien, Grin's arguments are ironic since he's essentially embracing Moorcock's complaints from Epic Pooh. But Tolkien fans have long since demolished Moorcock's criticisms, which demonstrate a superficial understanding of Tolkien.

Also, I found Song of Ice and Fire to have a pretty consistent and well-done critique of the standard fantasy ideas of chivalry without descending into the kind of sensationalistic nihilism that Grin is ranting about. I guess the excesses of Jeoffery's psychotic and abusive behavior come closest, though.

I agree Martin isn't nihilistic. If anything, my complaint about ASOIAF is that the world is too firmly grounded in a post-Enlightenment mindset. As mean as people are in that world, the POV characters view things through a modern lens.


message 11: by Space Preacher (new)

Space Preacher (spacepreacher) | 39 comments Conan is only ever incidentally a hero. He gets into most of his adventures as a result of his greed or pride pushing him. What is heroic about breaking into a priest's tower to steal his treasures, based on a boast made to some passing drunk? Or just barely holding back the urge to murder people for saying mean things?

The consequences in "dark" fantasy are what I enjoy. I dislike it when a huge, epic battle at the end of a book neatly resolves everything. Abercrombie covered all of this when Best Served Cold came out: "Great conflicts rarely change the world, and often carry within them the seeds of the next conflict. The Thirty Years war depopulated swathes of Germany and changed virtually nothing, even politically."

It's not really a matter of it being "realistic" though, just in having consequence that I as a reader can believe in. I don't think the power of love is what will change vengeance-seeking marauders. Moments of revelation don't necessarily mean someone will change. Many of Abercrombie's characters realized a long time ago that violence and vengeance aren't the way to live, but they do it anyway. Because they are well-written characters!

I'm rambling. The point is, logical consequences doesn't mean it is or has to be more realistic, or even that it's a better book. It all comes down to whether or not you think a character getting stabbed in the leg should be a minor inconvenience or cause crippling rot. :p


message 12: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments I see the new work as being grounded in realism. Some characters go bad (or always were and fooled us) and some grow, mature, improve and yet others stay stubbornly the same. Good things happen, bad things happen. The white hat sometimes has a stain on it, the darkness in the other hat turns out to be trick of the light.


message 13: by Colin (new)

Colin | 278 comments It is a shame that Grin fellow is rolling around in his pig pen clapping his dainty old-money hands at all the attention his rant has gained. While I applaud Abercrombie and the others for making civil (and hilarious) responses to that hate-spittle, it is a shame Grin has got so much publicity and traffic to his website. Quite frankly, he doesn't deserve it.

It reminds me of the fellow out in the interwebs who believes strongly that Beowulf is 100% truth, and that Grendel is really T-Rex. So by his 'reasoning' a 5th century viking warrior armwrestles a t-rex marauding across denmark, kills his dinosaur mother, and later kills the firebreathing dinosaur at the end of his life. How could i have discovered something so amazing? I was directed there by an off-hand comment on a hour long youtube book reading/interview with Neil Gaiman, where a fan points this out to him. It was amazing to read, but I later had to hang my head in shame for having contributed to the view ticker on his web page.
I wholeheartedly apologize for even bringing this up, as i know some people will seek this out to verify and perpetuate this.
;]


message 14: by Boots (new)

Boots (rubberboots) | 499 comments I looked at some of Leo Grin's other blog postings and I got the distinct impression that he is one of those guys who wishes Ronald Reagan was still President and everything was back to how he remembered things were in the eighties; even though what he remembers of the eighties and what it was actually like are probably two different things.


message 15: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ashby | 119 comments I enjoy reading Abercrombie. I will continue to read Abercrombie. If you don't enjoy reading Abercrombie you probably should not continue to read Abercrombie. - Now wasn't that easy! Sheesh! Why do people get so worked up about this stuff. It's not like it's required reading in elementary school.


message 16: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Another take on the brouhaha:

The recent debate about contemporary fantasy between Leo Grin and Joe Abercrombie reminds me of Tiptree’s story. Grin and Abercrombie argue over fantasy as art, social construct and moral fable totally oblivious to the relevant achievements of half of humanity -– closer to ninety percent, actually, when you take into account the settings of the works they discuss. No non-male non-white non-Anglosaxon fantasy writers are mentioned in their articles and in most of the reactions to their posts (I found only two partial exceptions).

I expected this from Grin. After all, he wrote his essay under the auspices of Teabagger falsehood-as-fact generator Andrew Breitbart. His “argument” can be distilled to “The debasement of heroic fantasy is a plot of college-educated liberals!” On the other hand, Abercrombie’s “liberalism” reminds me of the sixties free-love dictums that said “Women can assume all positions as long as they’re prone.” The Grin camp (henceforth Fathers) conflates morality with religiosity and hearkens nostalgically back to Tolkien who essentially retold Christian and Norse myths, even if he did it well. The Abercrombie camp (henceforth Sons) equates grittiness with grottiness and channels Howard -– incidentally, a basic error by Grin who puts Tolkien and Howard in the same category in his haste to shoehorn all of today’s fantasy into the “decadent” slot. In fact, Abercrombie et al. are Howard’s direct intellectual descendants, although Grin’s two idols were equally reactionary in class-specific ways. Fathers and Sons are nevertheless united in celebrating “manly” men along the lines demarcated by Tiptree.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I enjoy playing RPGs in many guises. But even for games -– let alone for reading -– I prefer constructs that are nuanced and, equally importantly, worlds in which I can see myself living and working. Both camps write stories set in medieval worlds whose protagonists are essentially Anglosaxon white men with a soupçon of Norse or Celt to spice the bland gruel. To name just a few examples, this is true of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Howard’s Conan stories, Moorcock’s Elric saga, Leiber’s Fafhrd series, Jordan’s Wheel of Time toe-bruisers, Martin’s fast-diminishing-returns Fire and Ice cycle. The real difference is approach, which gets mistaken for outlook. If I may use po-mo terms, the Fathers represent constipation, the Sons diarrhea; Fathers the sacred, Sons the profane – in strictly masculinist terms. In either universe, women have always been deemed polluting (as in distracting from bromances) or furniture items. The fact that even male directors of crowd-pleasers have managed to create powerful female heroes, from Jackson’s Eowyn to Xena, highlight the tame and regressive nature of “daring” male-written fantasy.

Under the cover of high-mindedness, the Fathers posit that worthy fantasy must obey the principles of abrahamic religions: a rigid, stratified society where everyone knows their place, the color of one’s skin determines degree of goodness, governments are autocratic and there is a Manichean division between good and evil: the way of the dog, a pyramidal construct where only alpha males fare well and are considered fully human. The Sons, under the cover of subversive (if only!) deconstruction, posit worlds that embody the principles of a specific subset of pagan religions: a society riven by discord and random cruelty but whose value determinants still come from hierarchical thinking of the feudal variety: the way of the baboon, another (repeat after me) pyramidal construct where only alpha males fare well and are considered fully human. Both follow Campbell’s impoverished, pseudo-erudite concepts of the hero’s quest: the former group accepts them, the latter rejects them but only as the younger son who wants the perks of the first-born. Both think squarely within a very narrow box.



message 17: by Tim (new)

Tim (zerogain) | 93 comments Thanks for the link Sean, Ms. Andreadis has some thought-provoking points.

@Kevin, because they become self invested in the works in question and assign part of their social and political (and maybe even cultural) identity to those works. The idea that someone might enjoy success in another forum that (apparently) directly challenges their chosen bastion is a personal insult, and therefore must be crushed.

Even Ms. Andreadis (as compelling a point as she makes) has a dog in this race, or a cockerel in this fight, however you want to view it.

In all of these arguments I can't escape that most people are just reinforcing their own bastions and letting the cannon roar at their perceived enemies, hoping to score points for their ideology. Instead of the crushing heroic epic battle that wins the day, I see it all as an endless revivification of the trench warfare of WWI.


message 18: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Strickland | 11 comments This whole "controversy" is so laughable. Two authors are not much of a genre and it's the only thing Leo Grinn places on his pedestal. He sounds like he should be in the 70's ranting against Moorcock for writing Elric.

The same complaints came about for sci-fi back when Neuromancer was published. For many, Gibson became the scapegoat for a movement that was pushing away from ideas that technology would save us all. It became hip to write how technology would not make our lives better. People thought it was destroying the genre by its grim outlook.

It's the same garbage that Miller and company pushed against in the 80's when they ignored the comics code. People wanted to explore more deep and meaningful stories with complicated characters. There is a clear reason why Batman's a more popular character than Superman and it's directly related to this area.


message 19: by Space Preacher (new)

Space Preacher (spacepreacher) | 39 comments Let's not say anything about Superman we can't take back, now. -_-


message 20: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Strickland | 11 comments smeej wrote: "Let's not say anything about Superman we can't take back, now. -_-"

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm a pretty big fan of the guy, but realize Batman's popularity. Superman has always been a much less complicated character. Batman's always been close to going over the edge and villains tend to be more popular than heroes.


back to top