Bear on Grimdark, Burroughs on Writing and some Pretty Covers

I was going to post some photos of my daytrip to Celle on May 1st, but something’s come up, so have some links instead:

Elizabeth Bear remarks upon the relentless darkness of the SFF genre and of its inability to have fun at Clarkesworld. Combined with the Bryan Thomas Schmidt post I linked to a few days ago, it certainly seems as if there is something of a backlash going on against the surfeit of grimdark*, slit your wrist depressing books in the speculative genre. These two are not the only ones who have issues with too much grimdark, either, I’ve seen similar complaints in several places. Well, it’s about time.

Meanwhile, the participants of a discussion of Bear’s column at the Westeros forum don’t really see the problem (well, that’s a surprise) and complain that Bear didn’t list any examples. So the members of a forum devoted to the works of George R.R. Martin have problems coming up with examples for grimdark speculative fiction? Hmmm, you’d figure they’d have read a couple, whether or not they would include A Song of Ice and Fire under the grimdark banner, especially as the author of some prime examples of grimdark fantasy appears in the thread.

The John Carter Files reprints a 1930 article by Edgar Rice Burroughs on the purpose of writing fiction. In short, Burroughs does not believe that he knows anything about writing except what works for him (he was not a trained writer after all, but came to writing after a series of failed business ventures) and he believes that the purpose of fiction should be to entertain. I strongly suspect that Mr Burroughs would not have been a fan of grimdark. Burroughs also believes that hobbies can be dangerous for a writer (too much of a timesuck) and that a writer should be interested in many things.

What is interesting from a contemporary POV is that Burroughs believes that a writer shouldn’t concern him- or herself with publicity and promotion, since it’s potentially embarrassing and the publisher’s job. This is pretty much the opposite of current writerly wisdom among both trad and indie published authors, that writers should/must promote relentlessly. Though not engaging in promotion certainly made sense for a pulp writer like Burroughs, for in the pulp era the magazine and to a lesser degree the publisher was the brand, not the writer.

What makes this even more interesting, however, is that Burroughs did not heed his own advice, since he was one of the comparatively few writers of the pulp era who were their own brandname. He was also extremely media savvy, exploiting his creations in comics, movies, toys, etc… And the first silent Tarzan movies had already been made by the time this article was written.

Finally, the annual cover contest for the best and worst romance genre covers of 2011 is open for voting. The contest organizers also posted some covers that did not quite make it on their blog.

It’s interesting to see several international editions (I spotted French, Spanish and German covers) among the nominees, though I’m still out of touch with the majority tastes in the genre. Besides, I actually quite liked the cover for Diana Rowland’s I was a white trash zombie (nominated in the worst category), since it fits the book (besides, it’s not a romance). And the German Carly Phillips cover (also nominated in the worst category) is funny. I actually gave that book to someone as a Christmas present and we both found the cover amusing.

*Is that what we’re calling it now? Grimdark? Well, it certainly is appropriate.

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7 Responses to Bear on Grimdark, Burroughs on Writing and some Pretty Covers

  1. Grimdark is the most common term — I call it grittygrotty. I wish SF/F authors would stop wringing their hands and just write fiction that is literature to the best of their ability; Schmidt’s post and the comments to it seem oblivious of the misogyny aspect of things and the epistles of Bear (and Abraham, earlier is SFS) are just too cutesy.

    • Cora says:

      I like “grittygrotty” as a term for that kind of unrelentingly dark SFF. And since we’re talking about SFF here, one cannot expect writers to just get on with it and write the sort of fiction they want to see. Writing a manifesto first is practically a genre requirement.

      I haven’t read the Abraham article, though I agree that Bear’s column was a bit cutesy. I found it nonetheless interesting, particularly since I recall Elizabeth Bear complaining about consolatory fiction on her blog not all that long ago. Daniel Abraham’s epic fantasy is pretty dark as well, as far as I know. I’ve only read his urban fantasy. As for Bryan Thomas Schmidt, from what I know about him, he does not strike me as the best person to be aware of the inherent misogyny in much of the SFF genre, including it’s darker corners.

      • Abraham’s (you’re right, that’s his last name) missive was from speculative fiction to mainstream, the standard whining about getting no respect and mainstream being snotty about literary value. It read like a stalker’s thoughts, frankly. I wish your observation about manifestos weren’t true; unfortunately, it’s increasingly the case, to the lasting detriment of the genre.

        • Cora says:

          I vaguely remember Daniel Abraham’s speculative fiction to mainstream missive, so I must have read it after all. And yes, it was kind of weird.

          As for manifestos and movements, the genre has been infested by those since the 1960s and it had only gotten worse in recent times. There actually is a recent manifesto/movement proclamation which echoes some of the complaints about grimdark/grittygrotty SFF, though it was penned largely by authors from the political right who hit at a lot of strawmen and mainly seemed to wish that Heinlein were still alive and the genre hadn’t progressed since his day.

  2. Erratum — that should have been Daniel (Abraham is his first name). The point about cheesiness and smug back-patting by self and others stands.

    • Cora says:

      I’m pretty sure the author is called Daniel Abraham, but then he writes under at least three names (and I have no idea whether any of those three is his real name), so it’s easy to get mixed up.

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