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I am a Nineties Edgelord.

This is something that I came to a recent realization about but was probably pretty obvious to everyone in my circles of fandom, reviewdom, and authordom for decades now. Being a Nineties Edgelord, I was absolutely into the Old World of Darkness tabletop games, heavy metal, horror films, and would have been a Goth if I could have pulled off the look. Also, being a Nineties Edgelord means that I’m forty-three in 2024 and am the kind of person who tells kids to get off his lawn.

My dark and edgy lawn.

With spikes.

And lava pits.

Oh yeah.

Dark.

Indeed, in the words of Principle Seymour Skinner, “Am I out of touch? No, it is the children who are wrong.” It’s just the subject of which ‘the children’ are wrong about is grimdark. For the purposes of this essay, I’m going to say that grimdark is defined as dark fantasy and science fiction that is deliberately designed to push the envelope. Dark fantasy and science fiction that is deliberately cynical, horrifying, and shocking. The kind of thing that would be parody if it wasn’t treated dead serious. It’s not an exact definition but it’s my essay, so hush.

Here’s the thing, I was recently shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that this is not something that is inherently considered to be a good thing. It was madness, it was blasphemy, and it was Sparta. One thread on a popular fantasy forum for the “edgiest” books and I listed one of my favorite authors only to be downvoted to oblivion because they assumed I was being insulting. I was like, “No, who would want to read a book without any edge to it? That’s like a bowling ball without a liquid center.” Which is my second Simpsons quote in this essay for some reason.

I mean, I would happily read (and often do read) stories with no edge. In addition to Cthulhu Mythos, Anne Rice, Berserk, George R.R. Martin, Poppy Z. Brite, and Joe Abercrombie, I love Dragonlance, Wheel of Time, as well as the Forgotten Realms. The comfort food of fantasy. Even then, my favorite characters are Kitiara uth Matar, Raistlin Majere, and Artemis Entreri. My favorite Wheel of Time romance is Rand and Lanfear. In the words of Lego Batman, “Darkness. No parents. Continued darkness. (More darkness, get it?)” And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

There’s nothing wrong with liking grimdark. Fantasy and science fiction exists to provide us a safe space for being able to explore concepts as well as ideas that we can’t experience (or wouldn’t want to) in real life. I would absolutely never want to live in Mad Max’s Australia or in HP Lovecraft’s Arkham but both would obvious influences on my Cthulhu Armageddon books. Westeros became the juggernaut that it was because it was a contrast to so much “feel good” fiction about heroes always saving the day with little apparent cost to their actions.

But what is the appeal? Why do people want to enjoy places like Cyberpunk 2077‘s Night City or Dark Souls‘ Lordan? That’s because we’re inherently drawn to the extremes of experience. Whether the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead or more personal stories like The Witcher where systemic corruption means that any heroics done by people like Geralt are probably futile (except worthwhile for the one or two people he might save). It’s because we want to see how people hold up against extremes and know how things might be without a safety net.

Authors should not be ashamed of pushing the envelope and deliberately writing darker stories that are counterbalances to happier ones. The reason Hamlet is remembered as the classic it is, is because Hamlet utterly screws up and his attempt to avenge his father makes everything objectively worse for everyone (including himself). I wouldn’t want to read evil triumphing over good or the failure of heroes against obscene odds. However, that happening on occasion is something that makes stories more memorable as well as interesting. Some of my favorite elements of the First Law Trilogy are the acknowledgement that sometimes people don’t grow, don’t change, or even get worse.

I’m also a fan of protagonists who, themselves, are kind of terrible. Geralt and Batman are both guys who struggle uphill against societies that are absolutely awful. However, some protagonists are fun even though they’re absolutely awful themselves. Takashi Kovacs is only mildly better than the people he fights and does some truly reprehensible things in the Altered Carbon books. I mentioned how enjoyable it was to follow Raistlin Majere is when he’s trying to be a god by murdering his way to apotheosis. Judge Dredd is the worst kind of authoritarian but that’s part of the appeal.

As a fan of cyberpunk, noir, horror, and fantasy/science fiction, my tastes tend to skew to the existentially dreadful. I think the Dark Tower movie was absolute garbage because it reinvisions Roland as the protector of children when his single most defining moment in The Gunslinger was the fact that he’d let a child die if it meant he could get himself closer to the Tower. Some people find this to be absolutely childish and a fourteen year old’s view of darkness and moral ambiguity. Absolutely. Fourteen years old, 1994 for me, is when I found a lot of things to be fun. I still find them fun at forty-three in 2024. Things that inspired tabletop RPG characters of mine named Lord Grimshadow Darkwulf the Cyborg Vampire with his ex-black ops soldier prostitute werewolf girlfriend based on X-23 (my wife’s PC)

So never feel ashamed of being an edgelord.

Edge is where the setting sun meets the encroaching night.

And sometimes the reverse.

TLDR: Midlde-aged man defends his silly tastes in fantasy/scifi.

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