Gloom, Despair, and Agony

Until today I’d never heard of grimdark. It came up in a discussion on despair, the belief there is no hope and no use to try. Someone mentioned grimdark as an example, and I raised a virtual eyebrow. I’m not a “cheery” person, and rather like dark, gritty fiction and humor. To each his own, of course, but one of the participants has an urban fantasy set in a dark, gritty, 1930s, a series well liked among the participants, so the condemnation of this grimdark thing had me curious. What was it about grimdark that everyone disliked?

A quick web search gave the answer. Imagine if the nihilism of modern “literature“ and dark fantasy/science fiction had a child. That would be grimdark: fiction that not only is dark and gritty, but nihilistic. Things are dark, without purpose and meaning. Bad people in a bad world where bad things happen to them. The end. That’s grimdark. In grimdark there’s no real difference between heroes and villains. Whichever triumphs, if either does, doesn’t matter.

I don’t understand the attraction of grimdark, unless it appeals to those who like reading about bad things where nothing the characters go through amounts to anything. Some people like such: so be it. What I found disturbing was how someone characterized grimdark as “realistic.” Ah, no, it’s not. That would only hold true if nothing matters at all, and there are no good or bad people. That’s not the case. I suspect that those who think this way have never encountered the truly good or truly evil.

Realistic is to portray characters as, well, realistic people. The good might not be saints and the bad might not be devils, but you can tell the difference between the two. Even among the self-serving there is a difference. Occasionally, in real life you’ll have two evenly paired opponents, in which case the difference between the two determine who we support and oppose. Yet there is still a difference. What some call “realistic” in grimdark is actually rare.

What we have, then, is a genre that is about as realistic as one of those stories set in a world where everything is sunny and happy little critters run to and fro. Grimdark might be grim and dark, but it’s not realistic.

Obviously I couldn’t write grimdark. I’ve never been a fan of pointless fiction. Neither are most people, if the truth were known. That’s why grimdark is a subgenre and not a major movement.

That said, if you happen to want gloom, despair, and agony, here you go.