Tag Archives: Weird Fiction

cthulhu

What do we do about Lovecraft?

The more I think about the issue, the more concerned I become about the honouring of H.P.Lovecraft in Horror, Fantasy, SF, weird and speculative fiction.

The argument has come to the fore again in my mind because of the furore at Weird Tales, which also roughly coincided with Lovecraft’s birthday. Lovecraft’s racism is not widely discussed even within his fandom, but has come increasingly to the fore, for instance in response to essays like Nnedi Okorafor’s here. But what has really made me consider the seriousness of the issue again is this review of Save The Pearls, the novel at the heart of the Weird Tales nightmare, here in The Guardian (for which I write regularly, by way of disclaimer) which incidentally links to this foul little ditty penned by non-other than Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself. I’m going to repeat this below because I think it is essential it’s read to understand the problem fully, and the click through on links is less than 10% on average.

On the Creation of Niggers (1912)
by H. P. Lovecraft

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

Now I don’t intend to rehash the back and forth arguments about Lovecraft. I’m just going to state what at this point I take to be the facts. H.P.Lovecraft held racist opinions which he expressed overtly in rhyme, and which can also be identified in his fiction.

There are perhaps some valid responses to this. As a commentor on The Guardian blog notes, these were such widely held opinions in the early 20th Century that an authoritative source such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica repeated them. Many artists have objectionable opinions which we manage to separate from their work. Lovecraft’s stories are general expressions of deep seated fears, of which racism is one other expression. Often stated arguments, but not ones I entirely accept.

Imagine an average non-fandom type person encountering two facts. One; H P Lovecraft is hailed as a founding figure of weird fiction, thousands of fans still adore his work, hundreds of writers have worked in his Cthulhu mythos, dozens of anthologies are published in his name every year, and the World Fantasy Award goes so far as to give his head away as a trophy, all of which adds up to a remarkable kind of ancestor worship. Two; H P Lovecraft was a racist.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable of that average non-fandom type person to assume those fans are a bunch of racists as well.

Maybe not cross-burning white hooded lynch mob racists. And probably not even overtly ‘we don’t like your kind around here’ racists. But maybe, yes, the kind of racists who insistently claim they aren’t racist, and fully believe their own claims. Maybe the kind of racists that Avenue Q makes fun of in the lyric ‘everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes‘. The humour in Avenue Q’s joke is that everyone is a bit racist, but its the people who lack the self-awareness to identify and prevent their own racism who are the problem.

The problem for the community of people who ancestor worship Lovecraft, and indeed other equally problematic writers and artists of all kinds, is to approach these figures with self-awareness. We need, I believe, to include the discussion of Lovecrafts racism whenever we talk about his life and writing. It needs to be present in those anthologies. It needs to be reflected on and, where necessary, reacted against by writers taking up the Cthulhu mythos. And as for giving his head away as a trophy? Yes, not doing that might be one quite effective way of making it clear that we aren’t a bunch of racists.

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Weird Tales editor has insulted us all

The genres of SF, Fantasy, Horror and other styles of the fantastic have changed a lot in recent years. Those changes, to my mind, have been hugely positive. And if I can identify one cause at the heart of those changes it is this: diversity.

To use the Hugo and Nebula awards as a benchmarks, we have seen a marked increase in both women and black authors being nominated for the sector’s top awards. The discussion of genre writing online has become a great deal more politically aware, and while they were caused by failures in the sector, debates like #racefail highlight a growing awareness in our ad-hoc community. My own experience of attending conventions in the UK and America has been a happy one of encountering more and more writers from many more diverse backgrounds. A diverse SF world is a strong SF world, and should be both celebrated and protected.

But, as in the broader political landscape, not everyone in the SF community is happy about this. And I’m going to hazard a guess that one of the people it displeases is Marvin Kaye, the incumbent editor of Weird Tales, the oldest publisher of weird short fiction in the world. I’m basing this on Kaye’s choice to publish the opening chapter of the insane racist screed Save the Pearls in the next issue of Weird Tales. below is a promo video for Save the Pearls. And yes, that is a blacked up white person.

As if to highlight its growing political awareness the SF community crushed Kaye’s decision under the hammer blow of social media within 24 hours, prompting this complete retraction from Weird Tales publisher John Harlacher. Marvin Kaye himself is at the time of this writing still to comment. Let’s hope he is spending this silent time at some kind of spiritual retreat, learning some humbleness and preparing for the huge and complete apology which is his only remaining option. And even then, the background to Kaye’s decision makes me feel that nothing less than his resignation is likely to resolve the situation.

Weird Tales is one of the oldest publishers of weird fiction. A lot of what we now call horror and science fiction started in those pages. It began the careers of some cult figures in modern SF, not least H P Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos and, unfortunately, petty minded bigot and racist. The genres of the fantastic are powerful ways to expose the deep dark human subconscious to the light of day and sometimes what they illuminate is nasty…and not in a good way. Were Lovecraft and other writers of his generation crusading members of the KKK? Probably not. Were many of them unreformed bigots and racists who encoded their fears in fiction? Yes, very sadly. And of course, there are still a lot of unreformed bigots and petty racists out there doing exactly that…do I need to point out that video of the blacked up white girl again?

Under the editorial direction of Ann VanderMeer, Weird Tales consciously steered away from the worse parts of its otherwise distinguished history. Ann found the best weird fiction by the most diverse writers. Weird Tales’ subscriber base tripled. It won a Hugo award. But perhaps more importantly, especially for us writers and core fans, Weird Tales came to symbolise what was good about the changes in the SF community. To put it simply, Ann VanderMeer at Weird Tales was doing good and important things, and those good and important things had only just started…

…when Ann was summarily removed as fiction editor and replaced by the new owner / editor Marvin Kaye. Kaye made it clear in his early statements that he wanted to take Weird Tales back in the Lovecraftian direction from which it had, in his view, strayed. And those of us who knew what that meant feared, it seems rightly, that what Kaye really wanted to do was exert a conservative influence and, in effect, go back to the petty bigotry that had sometimes characterised the magazine in the past.

What is most insulting about Kaye’s decision to publish Save the Pearls is that it was deliberately aimed at all those writers and readers who had loved Ann VanderMeer’s earlier editorial direction. It was an act of vandalism, taking something beautiful and pissing on it simply because you are too ignorant to understand what makes the beauty. It’s become clear the decision was both deliberate and premeditated. Kaye was explicitly warned what the outcome would be, and proceeded anyway because he wanted to deliver his insult to the magazine’s existing readership. There was no reason to publish Save the Pearls except as an an insult, and in the face of such a deliberate insult the outrage expressed towards Kaye is entirely valid and will continue.

Personally I will not be satisfied by an apology from Kaye unless it clearly communicates that he understands why what he did was so deeply insulting. Even then, I can’t conceive of any way I can continue to support Weird Tales in any form with Kaye at the helm, and hope he will find the decency to step aside and hand the magazine back to the community who it truly belongs to.

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Questionnaire with a Dark Lord.

Éric Poindron’s Étrange (*) Questionnaire. Discovered at the Weird Fiction Review.

(*) Bizarre, extraordinary, singular, surprising. Le Robert Dictionary

1 – Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Dark Lord in posession of a plot to destroy the world must be in want of a minion.

2 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?

7:45

3 – Look at your watch. What time is it?

7:51

4 – How do you explain this — or these — discrepancy(ies) in time?

My time keeping device indicates the time via the screams of a minion, and he was a bit hoarse today.

5 – Do you believe in meteorological predictions?

Why would my weather minion lie to me, knowing, as it does, the unfortunate consequences?

6 – Do you believe in astrological predictions?

Piffling one! No aspirant may claim the title of Dark Lord without full powers of precognition and ambulatory divination.

7 – Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?

The all seeing eye does not gaze. Glowers perhaps. Or probes. Yes, probes.

8 – What do you think of the sky and stars by night?

I am the Dark Lord of all I survey.

9 – What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?

The dark heart of mankind.

10 – What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?

Only that it can be informative to study the techniques of ones forebears.

11 – What would you have “seen” if you’d been blind?

What would you have “seen” if ‘you had’ been blind. Pedantry is the pleasure of all Dark Lords.

12 – What would you want to see if you were blind?

Your mortal concept of sight means nothing to the awakened ones.

13 – Are you afraid?

*ahem* OK. A little bit. Just between us.

14 – What of?

Sometimes, when I awake from my eternal slumber, I worry that I won’t destroy the world. It’s a stupid fear I know, but it vexes me. What if I’m not evil enough? What if actually I’m quite nice, and might just be happier with a quiet job in a museum and a nice little house somewhere? Ridiculous of course. My destiny is a subject of prophecy. I can’t choose a quiet life, even if I wanted to. Not that I want to. At all.

15 – What is the last weird film you’ve seen?

After a particularly long day of dominating the mortal plane of existence I will, on occaision, instruct some among my minions to perform a popular entertainment of the day. You have not experienced culture until you have seen Avatar interpreted by terrified and highly trained minions. In 4D.

16 – Whom are you afraid of?

Paxo. Even Dark Lord’s fear a Newsnight grilling.

17 – Have you ever been lost?

I did once spend a frustrating afternoon in a service station McDonald’s near junction 8 of the M6, watching rain stream down the plate glass windows, receiving ever more apologetic text from a soon to be kept in agonising torment for eternity driver minion.

18 – Do you believe in ghosts?

Well, I am keeping you suspended between realms in order that we may continue this discussion.

19 – What is a ghost?

Describe your current circumstance.

20 – At this very moment, what sound(s) can you here, apart from the computer?

The weeping of minions.

21 – What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard – for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?

Joyous laughter.

22 – Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?

*raises eyebrow*

23 – Have you ever been to confession?

What full blooded Dark Lord has not been tempted to employ the services of a Man of the Light? But it’s not something we talk about at the dinner table.

24 – You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.

‘Damn me father, for I have done good! I have fed and homed a number of kittens, and allowed my minions moments of peace and freedom!”

25 –Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?

Why would I not cheat?

26 –Do you believe in redemption?

ahahahahahaha

27 – Have you dreamed tonight?

Only of power.

28 – Do you remember your dreams?

No. I make them real.

29 – What was your last dream?

Destroying the world. Then I woke up and destroyed the world.

30 – What does fog make you think of?

Fog.

31 – Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?

I must be careful what I believe in, as it will automatically come to pass.

32 – What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?

Let’s just say it involves numerous minions in various states of discomfort.

33 – If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Reverse Paul Daniel’s and Debbie McGee’s costumes.

34 – What is a madman?

Someone who believes in an objective reality that does not conform to their every whim.

35 – Are you mad?

I bend reality to conform to my every whim.

36 – Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?

They make an excellent entree.

37 – What was the last weird book you read?

Every now and again a writer or two dedicates their being to my service as a minion. They amuse me with the contents of their puny mortal minds which I have them labour for year upon year to record in words. At least, watching the manuscripts burn is amusing. I would never read one. How funny! Reading the hopes and dreams of a minion. Ha!

38 – Would you like to live in a castle?

Funny you should say that…

39 – Have you seen something weird today?

*raises eyebrow*

40 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. Creepy or what?!

41 – Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?

I…have never considered the issue.

42 – Can you see the future?

I can see your future.

43 – Have you considered living abroad?

If by abroad you mean in parallel tiers of reality, then, no.

44 – Where?

The problem with pan dimensional travel is that wherever you go you find British people. I mean honestly, if you make it to the eighth tier of transcendence do you really need a traditional english breakfast and a pint of lager? Apparent you do if you’re from Essex.

45 – Why?

oh all right then. I’ve always quite fancied a backpacking trip to Valhalla. Satisfied?

46 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?

Ah ha! I am indirectly responsible for the Transformers movie franchise and Pearl Harbour, following the transfer of Michael Bay’s soul to my possession. ouch! stopping kicking me!

47 – Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?

I had much more fun living in a vicar.

48 – What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A post-modernist satire on the absurd impossibility of writing an epic fantasy in the 21st century, surely?

49 – Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?

Globes of course, to better peruse my possession. And hour glasses make me nervous. Like I’m always late for something.

50 – Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?

Ah ha! The former, because they allow me to better see the impact of the later.

51 – What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?

You do not wish to know, I assure you.

52 – Do you like taxidermied animals?

heh heh heh heh…that made me think of something I did with a few minions last week. *snort*

53 – Do you like walking in the rain?

That…oh my…my memories are flooded with the aroma of fresh cut grass after a thunder storm in late summer. Walking across the open fields of an idyllic countryside hand in hand with a young maiden who loved me with all her heart as droplets of moisture tumbled from the sky on to her beautiful, upturned face. Then sacrificing her. So, yes.

54 – What goes on in tunnels?

You…don’t really want to ask me that, do you?

55 – What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?

My favourite minion Tony. He seems…agitated.

56 – What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?

*blank expression*

57 – Without cheating: where is that famous line from?

I do not appreciate your attempt to outwit me, for which you will suffer in agony for eternity.

58 – Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?

See question 53. Replace maiden with gentleman.

58 – Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.

He loved Dark Lord. (Inspired by Orwell)

59 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?

9:08

60 – Look at your watch. What time is it?

9:08

embassytown

Mieville, Embassytown and radical SF

China Mieville
Image by ceridwenn via Flickr

Is SF becoming cool? If it is, as China Miéville claims, then the award-winning author, whose new novel Embassytown hit the shelves yesterday, may have something to do with it. In our current era of austerity, with the largest-ever protest march on the nation’s capital and a previously apathetic youth culture rallying to the UK Uncut banner, Miéville’s homebrew of weird fiction and radical politics seems ever more relevant. Despite the current slew of mindless SF-flavoured Hollywood blockbusters, Miéville reminds us that beneath SF’s skin-deep popular appeal beats a radical heart.

Read more in The Guardian.