The Rise and Fall of Grimpink

Today was a day much like any other on teh intrawebs, in that a bunch of SF&F people were irritated about something that Damien Walter had written in The Guardian. Specifically it was this piece, in which Damien has a go at the newly minted sub-genre of grimdark fantasy. Damien said, “It’s a particularly cynical worldview, that perhaps says more about the psyche of the young male readers and writers who dominate grimdark fantasy than anything else.” He probably thought that he was being very right on in doing so, and would therefore have been somewhat surprised to find himself assailed by angry women. “Oy, Walter,” they said, “I read/write grimdark, does this mean I’m not a woman?” One or two older men might have been a bit miffed too.

Naturally this led to a discussion as to whether books that looked just like grimdark, but which suffered from an infection of girl cooties, would be categorized in some other way. Teresa Frohock coined Girldark. I suggested grimpink, and one or two people were kind enough to find that funny. I even suggested doing a grimpink anthology. Then I went away to do some day job stuff and left things ticking over in my mind.

Of course the whole idea of grimpink is ridiculous. But is it ridiculous enough for no one in the UK book business to take it seriously? What if? What’s the point of being a science fiction writer if you can’t get into your time machine and see what would have happened…

Cue theramin music…

The genre of grimpink grew out of a conversation between Kameron Hurley, Elizabeth Bear and Cheryl Morgan in the bar at the 2013 World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. It’s official start is generally acknowledged to be the anthology, Grimpink, edited by Hurley and Morgan, and published by Morgan’s Wizard’s Tower Press.

Despite a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book was a commercial flop. It was universally panned by male critics. Jonathan McAlmont described it is, “derivative, clichéd, and entirely irrelevant to the needs of the pathetic, dwindling group of middle-aged adolescents who still read fantasy fiction.” A controversial review in Black Gate by someone calling himself Max Gore claimed that the book was, “positive proof that women can’t write fantasy, and exactly what the term ‘girl cooties’ was invented for.” Meanwhile women critics focused on the question as to whether the book succeeded in its professed aim of diverse content, mostly concluding, more in sorrow than in anger, that the anthology was “full of FAIL!!!”

That might have been the end of grimpink, had it not been for the London Worldcon, at which other conversations were had in bars and one or two people in UK publishing decided that grimpink might have commercial prospects if it were done right. Of course the whole idea had to be put past marketing departments before anything could be commissioned, and certain changes to the basic concept were made. Some stories from the original anthology came in for particular criticism. Brit Mandelo’s tale of a woman warrior struggling through battle while suffering from period cramps, and Glenda Larke’s story of a woman insisting on heading into an important battle mere hours after giving birth, were both deemed much to grotesque and disturbing for the crucial adolescent male demographic.

It was decided that the primary market for the new genre would be adolescent females. As such it was deemed necessary for the stories to include a male love interest; preferably a vampire, werewolf or similar tall, dark and handsome fellow who could be relied upon to rescue the heroine at vital moments during the narrative. When commissioning novels, extra weight was to be given to books that involved the heroine going into battle riding a unicorn. The standard cover design involved a beautiful young white woman holding a very large sword in front of her crotch and wearing armor that exposed her breasts, navel and thighs. Her unicorn steed could be seen in the background.

In all, a couple of dozen grimpink novels appear to have been commissioned. Most vanished without trace, mainly because they were marketed as fantasy and Waterstones refused to stock them anywhere except in their largest stores on the grounds that they were written by women and therefore unlikely to sell. The few that survived were those whose publishers, seeing the way the wind was blowing, quickly re-branded them as “dark fantasy” or YA. The best selling titles, mainly because they got the biggest publicity budgets, were those by T.A. Pratt and M.L.N. Hanover.

Within a couple of years the brief excitement caused by grimpink had completely disappeared. Before the end, however, Damien Walter wrote an article for The Guardian praising Robert E. Howard, the creator of Red Sonja, as the founding father of grimpink.

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4 Responses to The Rise and Fall of Grimpink

  1. Claire McKenna says:

    I wonder why it is that marketing companies don’t understand that the female readership predilection for “romance” is really our request for erotic content that doesn’t focus on the male gaze as the default. Sigh.

  2. Gaie Sebold says:

    This got me chortling – albeit in a somewhat jaded and cynical tone. It’s funny ‘cos it (could be) true.

  3. Justina Robson says:

    What Claire and Gaie said – it’s funny because it’s true!

  4. Pingback: Getting speculative. | MillyMollyMo

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