Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains blew us away with its nasty slog through a fantasy world where heroes get forgotten, mistreated or queer-bashed. And we were jazzed about the trend of noir fantasy, so we asked Morgan about it.
Why does fantasy lend itself to noir themes?
Well, I imagine there are many - not least among the core fantasy readership - who'd say it doesn't; but then again those are the same people who can apparently read stories of noble warrior kings and peasants without ever thinking about the social implications of a world in which power is either hereditary or derived from brute force and steel. For me, any fiction of nobles and swords necessarily HAS to be a story of corruption, injustice and savagely violent conflict - because any other treatment is going to have all the heft and realistic honesty of a bedtime fairy tale for five year olds. Noir is above all an ADULT form. It's a narrative technique which deals in the ubiquitous nature of humanity's failings under pressure - and there are few places you'd see those failings so luridly played out as in the pre-modern societies so beloved of most epic fantasy. Forget Chandler's nineteen thirties LA mean streets - what do you think the mean streets of your average feudal city state would have looked like? And what would you have to go through to extract some modicum of justice from that reeking mess?
Is there something about our current era (with the economic disaster, bank bailouts, etc.) that lends itself especially well to stories about morally grey heroes in corrupt, violent settings?
No more than any other recent period in modern history, I think. What has perhaps happened is that we have begun - slowly, painfully - unlearning all the shiny bright lies told to us by our rulers; Know Your Place; Don't Answer Back; Father Knows Best; Dulce Et Decorum Est; Nice Girls Don't.......and so forth. We're starting to see — and this has, I think, been on-going since at least the end of the first world war — that the worst enemies are usually within, in our own darkest urges and impulses, in the corruption of our leaders and the fallibility of our social systems, in cynically fostered ignorance and inherent human cruelty. The myth of Good Guys and Bad Guys is one of the most pervasive we own, and morally grey anti-heroes are simply one of modern fictions attempts to shake off that mythology and replace it with something a bit more honest.
And do you feel like you're part of a noir fantasy movement?
Yeah - me and Joe Abercrombie; we've just been officially designated twin key exponents of the sub-genre "Fuck Fantasy"! See the "A Song Of Ice and Fire" messageboard, thread titled "The Blade Itself vs The Steel Remains" for more details. :-)))))))))))) No, but seriously folks - all this talk of literary movements makes me very nervous; I guess there is - and has been since at least the late nineties - a wave of writers striving to popularise a more honest vision of the epic fantasy landscape, but I think it'd be a mistake to lump us all together; individual authors tend to have their own quite specific agendas - I know I do - and similarity does not necessarily indicate any kind of organised or coherent manifesto.