2011 In Review

Posted on December 31st, 2011 in film and tv, games, Other Life, reading, reviews

37 today, and another year flows beneath the bridge.  Go quick, don’t they?  From a personal standpoint I moved back into my house and continued the long building project, only now lurching dysfunctionally to a close.  Had a third baby.  Published a fifth book.  The good thing about babies is that they’re actually quite good fun to make, the hard work and expense starts after.  The good thing about books is that, while they’re quite hard work to make, once they’re published they require minimal maintenance and with any luck actually make you money.

A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – Yeah, I really can’t complain.  Well, I could.  As a venomously ambitious sociopath without the emotions of guilt, shame or regret, it galls me deeply that anyone in the world sells more books than me.  But I really shouldn’t complain.  The Heroes came out in January, made no. 3 on the UK Hardcover bestseller list and stayed in the top ten for four weeks, which makes it by far my fastest selling book.  Didn’t do too badly in the US either, especially in ebook format, which is rapidly becoming a significant slice of the pie, especially from an author’s standpoint as royalty rates can be five, six, even ten times higher than on a heavily discounted paperback.  Various translation deals were done for various books of mine, including first deals in Brazil, Italy (which had been strangely stubborn), and simple and complex Chinese.  I think that puts the Blade Itself in about 25 languages now, though don’t ask me to list them.  All 3 of the First Law books have now sold over 100,000 copies in their various UK editions.  You’d be amazed how hard it is to get reliable sales figures, especially from overseas, but in all languages and editions of all my books we reckon we’re at well over a million sold.  And all this for a load of nonsense I dreamed up in the middle of the night purely for my own amusement.  I really shouldn’t complain.

A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – I will admit, not my best.  I’ve written about two thirds of the first draft of A Red Country so far, and I reckon it’s going to need a fair bit of work when it’s finished.  Indeed a couple of chapters near the front might well need total rewriting from scratch, which will be the first time I’ve ever really done anything along those lines.  Why the slightly disappointing work rate?  The house was a mess when we first moved in and serious work didn’t end til April.  Then my new baby appeared, the eldest started school, Skyrim was released … so many distractions, so many excuses, and attempts to routinise the working day haven’t really panned out yet.  Hard to believe I wrote Last Argument of Kings in about 14 months while still working more or less full time as an editor.  But then I had no kids (or just the one baby towards the end) and a long-established plan to work from.  Full time authorship is a bit of a different deal, with an awful lot of additional stuff to do.  But I’ve had a good few days since Christmas, as it goes, and I’m hopeful I can hit my stride a little better next year.  We shall see…

BOOKS – This year I have been reading mostly fiction and non-fiction related to the American West.  Non-fictionally I’d say the best thing was actually Ken Burns’ TV documentary series on the subject.  A lot of the non-fiction books have been a little dry and specific – if anyone knows of any really good western non-fiction do comment below.  Some of the fiction’s been great, though.  Pete Dexter’s Deadwood, Elmore Leonard’s Western Short Stories, AB Guthrie’s The Big Sky and Richard Matheson’s Journal of the Gun Years were some of the highlights.  Call me ridiculous but I don’t think I’ve read a single fantasy or sf book this year.  Just haven’t really had the time.  One of these days, probably when I’ve finished the latest book, I’ll have to sit down and crack through a few recent genre classics that I might pontificate at length about just how far short of my stuff they fall…

TV and FILM – I may have interviewed George RR Martin about Game of Thrones for Sky TV, but I haven’t actually got to see the series yet.  How indescribably lame is that?  The televisual highlight was probably the first two series of cynical Danish procedural The Killing, with Spartacus: Blood and Sand providing some gore-daubed entertainment in the background.  Film wise I can’t think of much new that really floated the boat for me this year.  The Conan re-imagining sucked.  X-Men First Class was surprisingly good.  Otherwise I shrug my shoulders and concede that Unforgiven, Lonesome Dove and Deadwood are as brilliant as they ever were.

GAMES – Excellent year again.  Skyrim was my game of the year in the face of tough competition, and redefined fantasy roleplaying.  Dragon Age II didn’t.  Rage was kinda rubbish.  Deus Ex was kinda alright.  Dark Souls was fascinating but so, so hard.  LA Noire was fascinating but so, so flawed.  InFamous 2 and Arkham City were both excellent but perhaps lacked that special spark.  Resistance 3 I thought was very impressive, I don’t think I’ve seen so original and atmospheric a first person shooter in a long time, not that it’s my genre of choice mind you.  Uncharted 3 I’m playing now and all I can say is those guys can do a grandstand sequence like no one else.  It’ll probably be my no. 2 for this year.  Very much looking forward to the new Mass Effect in the new year, though…

BEST REVIEWS – There was a fair amount of praise for The Heroes even if I say so myself.  In the UK I managed to pull off the not inconsiderable feat of uniting The Guardian (“it’s imbued with cutting humour, acute characterisation and world-weary wisdom about the weaknesses of the human race. Brilliant.”) and The Sun (“Don’t miss it or you deserve to be gutted like a stuck pig, your entrails left to feed the crows.”) in enthusiasm.  Time magazine called it, ‘a magnificent, richly entertaining account of a single three-day battle’, while SFX said ‘an action-packed novel full of brutality, black humour and razor-sharp characterisation,’ and gave it all the stars they had.  Five, in case you were wondering.  I could go on.  No?  Oh.  I’ll leave the last word to Sci-Fi Now, who in their latest issue have declared The Heroes their best book of 2011.  No, seriously, they have: “Some books successfully capture the geist of the times and speak to the evolving expectations of the genre’s readers … this cynical, gritty, and realistic fantasy homage to the epic war movie is character-driven writing of the highest order.  It’s bleak and thoroughly modern view of human nature through a dark fantasy lens is a showcase for how much the genre has changed, and why Abercrombie holds his position at the forefront of British Fantasy.”  Zing!

BEST WORST REVIEW – The usual crop of amazon one-starrings, blog-lashings, accusations of overratings and offhand chat-room pastings, but one meaty slice of criticism bestrid the others as ’twere a colossus over pygmies, and it was, of course, Leo Grin’s fire and brimstone assault upon modern fantasy or, as he had it, “postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage” and “Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer” in particular.  And a proper storm in the internet teacup ensued, didn’t it, though?  My own response became my most commented-upon post of this year or, indeed, ever, by some considerable margin, with 224 comments and 26 trackbacks.  I cannot imagine that I have ever seen so many people resolving to buy and read my work as I did in the wake of that article.  Proof, if any were needed, that there is truly no such thing as bad publicity.  I can only hope that I continue to “shock, outrage, offend and dishearten,” critics everywhere in the months to come.  I’d say it’s a virtual certainty…

Happy new year, readers!

30 Comments So Far... (join in)


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  1. Sharing birthday with Alex Ferguson. Well done.

    Congrats are in order, of course.

    And thanks for all the words. They make me quite happy, you know.

  2. Happy Birthday Joe and congratulations on your years bookselling.

    Seriously looking forward to ‘A Red Country’ . If it contains a certain gentleman with only nine fingers, so much the better!

    Skyrim is not an acceptable excuse though for doing less though. I know this, because my wife has pointed it out. Many times.

  3. Happy birthday, Mr. Abercrombie.

    Best of luck making progress with A Red Country. I remember reading that Chris Wooding had to significantly rejig The Iron Jackal, the latest Ketty Jay book. Despite that, many people think it’s actually the best one to date.

  4. Happy New Year, Joe, and all the fine folks who post on this blog.

    I’m looking forward to a much better year than the one I just had (it sucked!) and I’ve some pretty awesome plans.

  5. Many happy reutrns, Joe. Just about to go and read your interview on Fantasy Faction http://fantasy-faction.com/2011/joe-abercrombie

    Looking forward to ‘A Red Country’ and personally I’m hoping for a certain Inquisitor to make a welcome return…

  6. Happy Birthday and Happy New Year Joe. Looking at your post, is not been a bad year at all, specially considering the current times we are living.
    I agree with you with the top 2 games, Skyrim I am still playing (getting into 170 hours on mine by now) and Uncharted I think it was great too.
    Now that I have a Kindle (Christmas was great this year, yoohooo!) and having read that you get a better share on e-books, plus saving a few trees on the side, I think I will get The Heroes (yes, I haven’t got it yet, mea culpa) and wathever comes after (A red country, are you keeping the “A” then? Good) in that format…
    Regarding books about western, I cannot help much, but I always had the Jeremiah graphic novels very high on my list… Somehow I always thought that theme needs the visuals (like in the movies). Cormac McCarthy seems to do a lot of western, but there again, I think most of it fiction…haven’t read him, so I cannot comment

  7. Happy birthday, Joe. Re: non-fiction on the American West, check out Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder, which I consider the Lonesome Dove of non-fiction on the West.

    I’ve lived most of my life in Arizona, took the required Arizona History class in high school, but never knew about Kit Carson’s brutal campaign against the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly until I read this book (though it covers much more than this event). I hate to say this is entertaining reading (though it is very much so), but it’s pretty enlightening.

  8. Happy birthday, merry Christmas and a very happy (and productive) New Year!

    Also looking forward to ‘A Red Country’. Its got to have the Dogman in it, right?

    Mark C

  9. Heroes was on Lev Grossman’s top five SF/F books of the year as reported by NPR. It’s in my top two (overshadowed only by Dance with Dragons, and that may just the GRRM fanboy in me talking).

    Happy New Year!

  10. You might like “Justified,” a TV show starring Deadwood’s Timothy Olyphant as a US Marshall whose sudden shooting of a Florida mobster gets him demoted to eastern Kentucky where he grew up and still has lots of complicated ties. It’s based on some Elmore Leonard stories and has a very western feel to it. Have a terrific new year!

  11. Happy Birthday Joe!

    Congrats on the successes of 2011 (well-deserved as they are) and I hope you have a great 2012!

  12. It really chaps my ass that you’re going to be in Michigan while I am in an “undisclosed location in southeast Asia.” Anyways, happy birthday sir.

  13. Rage was okay. It gets really repetitive and there isn’t too much depth to the plot or the characters in the game, but the world itself is what I enjoy about it. I just love those fallout/wasteland settings.

  14. Happy Birthday, Joe! Wishing you all success in 2012! :)

  15. Happy new year.

    Highlight of the year was obviously Leo Grins little tantrum at Big Hollywood. The site that tried to convince people that Buffy was a deeply conservative icon.

  16. Happy New Year. Hope it’s a good year for you and yours. Can’t wait for the next book. Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he needs to get some more screen time!

  17. Joe, I read a couple dozen books this year, of various sizes and qualities, and, after some deliberation (not much was required, in truth), I decided The Heroes was my favorite read of the year.

    Yeah, I know, another nameless, faceless fan spouting inanities, yawn. I get it. Still, I mean it. You keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them. My small contribution to your home remodeling project and/or college fund.

  18. Hey Joe,
    Your books are the best I’ve read in years,can’t wait for ‘A Red Country’
    Keep up the good work! And get writing!

  19. “A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – I will admit, not my best. I’ve written about two thirds of the first draft of A Red Country so far, and I reckon it’s going to need a fair bit of work when it’s finished.”

    Sitll, one good book every two years pays the mortgage and feeds the kids, right? So seems to me you’re doing it right :)

    You rock, Joe! Happy 2012.

  20. belated happy Birthday and thanks for the review of the year. Obviously looking forward to A Red Country, what is the current ETA into our hot sweaty hands?

  21. Hey Joe,

    First, a belated happy birthday to you. And then a happy new year as well.

    Looking forward to A Red Country… and glad you chose “A Red Country” over just plain old “Red Country,” which I still insist is the nickname of a gritty Ozark hillbilly with a dangerous past.

    Oh and thanks for keeping up with your blog. Not that the sausage-making details of the literary process are as good as the result, but getting an affirmation of the comparitive suckiness of new Conan vs. the epic riddle of steel version restored my faith in what is best in life.

    Cheers.

  22. You really must must must watch Game of Thrones – and a little known and sadly not carried over series called Firefly.
    Gives you a Western Space Ship complete with bad guys and laser shooters. I was excited initially about cowboys vs aliens…but it was kind of a fizzle. Old series call westworld, Stephen King’s Gunslinger..(that one is fun to read),old series the wild wild west – remade into a couple of movies with Will Smith – but the series..that is worth watching some episodes of. I hope this helps with some materials to keep you not only in the Sci Fi Fantasy genre, but also appease the Western flavor. Deadwood was a Fantastic if not insane series. Watch Game of Thrones. ~TS

  23. Joe, you should seriously try The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on the Wii, its fantastic! Very different to the games you mentioned but its a classic.

    A belated happy birthday and new year

  24. ‘Bury my heart at wounded knee’ by dee brown is a brilliant book about how the Wild West rolled straight over the top of the Lakota Sioux. The political machinations and brutal truths put me in mind of the tone of your work Mr A.

    A Western book from another perspective – ‘How the West was Lost’.

    cheers

  25. A good Western non-fiction that I read earlier this year is Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. It is a history of the American Southwest (New Mexico, California, Texas, etc.) wrapped about a biography of Kit Carson, a famous mountaineer. It covers several decades as his life was expansive, long and full of unlikely happenings. It is written very well and belies the usual dry sense one can get from reading history.

  26. Regarding gritty TV westerns, check out AMC’s Hell on Wheels. Really good stuff. Liking it even more than Deadwood.

  27. You asked about western books.

    Non-fiction not to be missed:
    Oh what a slaughter by Larry McMurtry
    Undaunted Courage by Ambrose
    Crazy Horse and Custer by Ambrose
    The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. By N Philbrick
    The last two above do not actually overlap much and cover far more than Custer’s slaughter.

    Fiction:
    Smonk by Tom Franklin.
    Lonesome Dove was mentioned already.
    Woodsmen of the West by Grainger…. fiction but based on author’s experiences.

  28. Yeah, it’s fiction. Probably one of the best and darkest pieces of fiction I’ve ever read too- Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I still am haunted by this book years after reading it.

    Empire of the Summer Moon was the best western non-fiction I read last year. It’s about the rise and fall of the Comanches and their final days as the frontier pushed westward. Another book that’s high on the brutality meter…

    On that note, Cheers, and enjoy! Can’t wait for the next book.

  29. Hi Joe , Just caught up with the last couple of months of your blog . Regarding western non-fiction “empire of the summer moon” by SC Gwynne is a great read and quality writing. It covers the conquest of the Commanches but is especially good on the clash of cultures . Pretty high on gore, not so much gritty as gravely! Really looking forward to “A Red Country”.

  30. Hi Joe, “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick DeWitt is an excellent Western.

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