Shedding some Light on Grimdark

So, apparently, grimdark is a thing.

I read it. I watch it. I even write in the genre but have remained ignorant of the term ‘grimdark’ until only recently.

For those who have no idea of what I’m talking about, grimdark is a genre the encapsulates … no. Wait. It’s a sub-genre of fantasy that… No, wait again. It became recognized through the tabletop game Warhammer 40K’s tagline: ‘In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war’(At least, that’s what Wikipedia told me) and Warhammer 40K is science fiction. So, grimdark is at least a subgenre of both science fiction and fantasy.

If it’s more than a subgenre and less than a genre, what is it? How do you classify something that pervades multiple genres yet is a thing unto itself? Is it even a thing? Was I wrong at the outset of the blog? Is it like pornography, then, according to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: ‘I know it when you see it.’

I’ve come up with a definition: a collection of works spanning the vastness that is speculative fiction, all of which have a tone, character, and setting that reflect and aura of despair, or disease, or amorality, or all three.

Now, how to explain it simply and without using the words grim and dark? Because it is grim and it is dark. It’s also gritty( gritty gets used a lot). And violent. Very violent. The setting should be depressing(war or plague or famine or all three running rampant). Its main characters are generally not the nicest people in the world. Some of them are more than likely dicks and the only reason you cut them enough slack to keep on reading is that either you yourself are a dick and/or they are invariably awesome in at least one way. Very often, killing people is that one way. Somewhat less often is spouting witty one-liners while killing people. Finally, grimdark is realistic. No, wait. Again, sorry. It’s not realistic since it is speculative fiction and that pretty much means the opposite of realistic. But … it echoes the complexities of reality. Ooh, that sounds deep. But does that even mean anything?

I don’t know. I just know I like grimdark fiction. So…do you want to check some out? Do you have a sweet tooth for dark tales? Morally repugnant choices and behavior? Protagonists that are worse than monsters? Well, here’s a list of books/series that have been habitually described as grimdark. I’ve read them all and they are at least very good, some even great. If you want to get a feel for what grimdark is, check them out.

  1. ‘Game of Thrones’ – George R.R. Martin (you’ve read it or watched it, best grimdark series)
  2. ‘The Prince of Thorns’ – Mark Lawrence (a big name in grimdark)
  3. ‘The First Law’ series- Joe Abercrombie (‘The Heroes’ is the best single grimdark book imho; it is not part of the initial trilogy, but I’d advise you read all of his books in order)
  4. Warhammer 40K novel/series – (obligatorily included since it started it, the first three books are decent)
  5. ‘Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane – Robert E. Howard (original sword and sorcery grimdark)
  6. ‘The Centauri Device’ M. John Harrison (space opera grimdark; I’ve never seen this listed as grimdark, but I’m listing it as I feel it meets the requirements)
  7. ‘Heart of Darkness’ – Joseph Conrad (novella you had to read in high school which is neither sci-fi nor fantasy nor speculative but to me is infinitely grimdark. Perhaps the granddaddy of grimdark? Give it a shot, you might impress someone by reading it, too, since it is considered literature)

Kevin Wright

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