Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Endnote to the Weird Tales Controversy

The Utopia of the Progressive is a Dystopia for the rest of us. Armed with his theories about how we all ought to live, the Progressive is the man behind the terror, murder, privation, and misery of one revolution and one absolutist regime after another. The Progressive is O'Brien. We are Winston and Julia.

I recently read a good deal of truth in a lowly form, the television tie-in novel. The novel is The Prisoner #2: Number Two by David McDaniel (Ace, 1969). (To tie things together nicely, I found the book at PulpFest.) Here is a quote:
Number Six: Most people who want to run other people's lives for them are theoreticians. (p. 54)
The Progressive is a theoretician, a systematizer, a purveyor of truth, reason, and rationality, an author of weighty tomes and fiery manifestos. Dissatisfied with himself and with his fellow human beings, he wishes to remake us in the image of his theory and system. Many millions may have to die in the process, but that is as it should be. As for the rest of us--not the theoretician himself, of course, but the rest of us--we are consigned to Dystopia.

A theoretician and practitioner of Dystopia is in the news today (Sat., Aug. 22, 2015). Ieng Thirith, eighty-three years old and onetime leader in the Khmer Rouge, has died. She and her fellow theoreticians were murderers and their victims numbered in the millions. Mrs. Ieng came from the middle class as murderous theoreticians tend to come. Educated in the West, she was a scholar of Shakespeare and a teacher of literature. She was also a Marxist, and as Marxists do, she turned against her own middle class. If you wore eyeglasses or were a teacher in Cambodia in the 1970s, you were as good as dead. And then you were dead, with your skull and your eyeglasses piled up as in a midden outside a monster's cave.

Intended or not, the endpoint of progressivism is Dystopia, and because human beings are and shall be free, Dystopia, if it is ever brought about, eventually decays, dissolves, or is overthrown, only for the cycle to begin again. One difference now over past theories and projections of Dystopia is that technology may allow for more perfect control over human beings. The test of our humanity will be whether we submit or rebel, the same choice faced by Number Six in his seaside prison, The Village, and the same choice faced by every one of us every day.

In addition to writing about the need to overthrow the dead, cannibalistic past, Jeff VanderMeer has written about Dystopia and related topics. His essay is called "Redefining Utopia and Dystopia or Post-Apoc," it's dated July 15, 2015, and you can read it by clicking here. If you are skeptical of the connection between progressivism and a yearning for Utopia/Dystopia, you might find something to help turn your opinion in Mr. VanderMeer's essay.

First I should say that "Redefining Utopia and Dystopia or Post-Apoc" seems to me a loose and unfocused bit of writing. It isn't exactly clear to me what Mr. VanderMeer is trying to say. I'll just offer some quotes:

In referring to a term, "hyperobjects," the author writes:
. . . any term we do use had better be complex enough to really help us make a paradigm shift in our thinking, because the very problems we face have occurred because we’re too simplistic in our thinking. 
This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.
To translate: "paradigm shift" = "intentionally transform" = forced change = progress.

That's just the warmup. Here's the kicker from Jeff VanderMeer:
What may be required is that we redefine Dystopia and Utopia, perhaps not so much along the lines of "do we have things or do we not have things"--less about a middle-class idea of happiness--and more along the lines of what do we need to do to be less intrusive on the landscape and to be more adaptive to it. If that lessening is "dystopia" then maybe dystopia isn't a bad place to be.  
And this:
Desolate is not depressing. Empty is not depressing. These are human constructs, values we apply to the diminishment of human beings or the thought of the diminishment of human beings. 
The subject of "Redefining Utopia and Dystopia or Post-Apoc," like Ms. Figueres' speech, is global warming, but I think there is a larger idea at work here. Global warming is not primarily a scientific issue. Global warming is politics masquerading as science. And as we know, politics contaminates anything with which it is mixed. That's a minor point. The  larger point is that progressives like O'Brien, Number 2, Ieng Thirith, Christiana Figueres, and apparently Jeff VanderMeer, instead of living and allowing other people to live, have developed complex and abstruse theories about living; have decided that we all must change how we think and live to meet their theories; are prepared to deprive us of our rights and freedom for that purpose; and wish to usher in a Utopia/Dystopia through which they plan on having us all more fully under their control. In his essay, Jeff VanderMeer appears to be doing some softening up: "maybe dystopia isn't a bad place to be." He also seems open or welcoming to the possibility of a "diminishment of human beings." By what method? Ieng Thirith had one. Maybe that's too extreme for him.

My question for anyone who would like to see human beings diminished is this: Why don't you diminish yourself? Or if you believe in global warming, this: Why are continuing to pollute the atmosphere--our atmosphere--with your exhalations? Or if you believe there are too many people in the world, this: Who exactly do you think should be eliminated? Or better yet: Why are you still here? Be the change you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi said, and remove yourself from the equation. Or do you lack the courage of your own convictions?

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Weird Tales Controversy-Part Five

Andrew Klavan (b. 1954) has written mysteries, thrillers, and stories of the supernatural. A couple of his books have been turned into movies. Last week Mr. Klavan posted on line a smart-alecky essay called "Science Plus Politics Equals Politics" (Aug. 17, 2015). You can read it by clicking here. He begins with a quote from Ayn Rand, then follows with a much pithier quote from Mark Steyn:
It's a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice-cream and a quart of dog feces and mix 'em together the result will taste more like the latter than the former.
One of his commenters has, I think, an even better analogy:
Imagine a barrel of wine and a barrel of sewage. If you were to take a cup of the wine and pour it into the barrel of sewage, nothing would change; you would still have a barrel of wine and a barrel of sewage. But if you were to take a cup of the sewage and pour it into the wine, you would then have two barrels of sewage.
Andrew Klavan's point is in his title: Mix politics with anything and it becomes political. That's what has happened with science fiction and now seemingly with fantasy and weird fiction as well.

Science fiction is easily politicized because it is about the future; the political progressive stakes his or her exclusive claim to that territory. Fantasy or weird fiction would seem insulated from the process of politicization, as it tends to be about the past. But the past can also be made political by applying today's political ideas or political correctness to what has gone before us. (A current example is the Democratic Party's repudiation of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.) That's partly how the Weird Tales controversy got started: H.P. Lovecraft is seen as a racist and so his entire life's work is tainted, maybe beyond purification. He and it must be expunged. Race also came into the controversy by way of the novel Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden by Victoria Hoyt (2012). Revealing Eden is science fiction. Strictly speaking, it should never have been considered for inclusion in Weird Tales. More than that, the book is racially, hence politically, charged. Marvin Kaye should not have touched it with a ten-foot pole. But even without that controversy, fantasy and weird fiction were bound to have become politicized because all things eventually will be.

Jeff VanderMeer, husband of the previous editor Ann VanderMeer, wrote an essay shortly after the controversy erupted. In it he expressed his values. They appear to be the clichéd values of progressivism: the necessity for innovation and progress over a "dead" or "cannibalistic" past; "inclusiveness"; "diversity" (whether race-based or otherwise); a preference for international, "non-Anglo," "marginalized," "forgotten," or "invisible" authors; etc. The VanderMeers may very well have seen Revealing Eden as an extreme reactionary response to their efforts--like I wrote yesterday, Marvin Kaye's "Revenge of the White People." I don't know. But I doubt that's how Mr. Kaye intended it. He seems to have stumbled into the controversy. Or maybe he himself decided to insert politics into art. Either way, the results were predictably disastrous.

Whatever else, Marvin Kaye appears to be backward-looking or conservative. For evidence, look at the three issues of Weird Tales of which he has been editor so far, the Cthulhu Returns Issue, the Fairy Tales Issue, and the Undead Issue. Look, too, at the theme of the next planned issue, sword and sorcery. All four themes are backward-looking: The first and last look to H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and the Weird Tales of the 1930s (Mr. Kaye's decade of birth). The middle two look back to even more ancient times, to before eighteenth-century rationalism and the Age of Reason. Jeff VanderMeer probably has in his way a legitimate complaint. The solution to all this is not political however. And it cannot involve race. Despite any claims to the contrary, race is not ultimately a psychological, cultural, or sociological phenomenon, and it certainly isn't a biological or a scientific fact. In the end, race is a political issue. To mix it with anything makes that thing also political, as we have seen with Weird Tales.

W.E.B. Du Bois famously predicted: "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." Here we are more than a hundred years later and into another century and the problem still seems to be one of race. It's a mine field, a powder keg with a short fuse attached. I feel nervous just writing about it. But I would like these things to be said. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Can we not say the same thing about the artist? That the content or character of his or her work should be the basis for judging it, not the color of his or her skin? Does it really matter that H.P. Lovecraft was white? You don't have to know anything about him to enjoy--or be bored by--his fiction. Does it matter that other authors might be black or Asian or Latina? Isn't it the work itself that counts? Isn't consideration of the artist's skin color essentially a political consideration? How can it be otherwise? And if you're a whiter-than-white editor, are you not essentially taking up the white man's burden by looking at non-white writers as needing some kind of special help from you? Can writers not succeed--should they not succeed--on their own merits regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, or national origin? Duke Ellington said, "There are two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind." He also said, "If it sounds good, it is good." Those two judgments say nothing about the composer or the musician as a person, only about the work or performance itself. Why would those things not also be true of fiction? Does it really matter who wrote it? Isn't the most important thing whether it's good or not?

Art and literature are like wine; politics is sewage. Put a teaspoon of sewage into a cask of wine and it becomes sewage. Put politics into the arts and they become polluted. The problem is that politically-minded people will not restrain themselves. They carry a hip flask of sewage around with them everywhere they go and they're ready to pour it into the punchbowl. That tends to ruin the party for everybody.

Fantasy and weird fiction would appear to be antithetical to progressivism, and yet they seem to be in the process of being politicized, especially, though not exclusively, by progressives. But can there really be such a thing as progressive fantasy or weird fiction? C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein were two exemplars of twentieth century fantasy. Neither was progressive. Both were Christian, conservative, and skeptical of the idea of progress. If there is any person more fitting for the image of the World Fantasy Award than H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkein would seem to be it. But would progressives stand for it? I'm not sure. C.S. Lewis is probably out of the question, for he was a Christian apologist and a convert from atheism to belief in Christ. So what are we left with? A token image? A unicorn? Or maybe no award at all.

On the same day that Andrew Klavan posted his essay, Joel J. Miller wrote about Lewis and Tolkein in a review called "What Tolkien and Lewis Teach Us About Surviving Dark Times." You can read it by clicking here. Following is a quote from Mr. Miller's review of Joseph Loconte's new book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18. The words in the Gothic typeface below are quotes from Joseph Loconte from within Mr. Miller's essay. The words in the Roman typeface are Mr. Miller's directly.
For the intellectual class as well as the ordinary man on the street, the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped to underwrite them. Moral advancement, even the idea of morality itself, seemed an illusion. . . . [T]he war to make the world safe for democracy, the holy war to advance Christian ideals, was an unholy delusion.
Mr. Miller continues:
In his previous book The Searchers, Loconte explains the virtue of disillusionment, how it can serve--even with brutal and terrible imperfection--to sever us from harmful fantasy. He returns to that theme now with the example of the pre-war Myth of Progress.
This myth, says Loconte,
was proclaimed from nearly every sector of society. Scientists, physicians, educators, industrialists, salesmen, politicians, preachers--they all agreed on the upward flight of humankind. Each breakthrough in medicine, science, and technology seemed to confirm the Myth.
Christian ministers and theologians got swept along, baptizing and proof-texting all manner of bogus utopianism. And then it all went to hell. Every oracle of progress, including the preachers, looked like fools or charlatans. When the survivors cleared the rubble, many mistook the Myth for Christianity itself and tossed both in the garbage bin.
The war made utopianism impossible. But for those who could disentangle Christianity from the failed Myth of Progress, it remained a vital force for renewal. Tolkien was--and Lewis became--two such people.
Those are long quotes but I think necessary here. We have been shown again and again that the idea of progress is a myth, an often dangerous if not disastrous myth. The need to advance towards Utopia is equally a folly. And yet the myth persists. The folly goes on. Near the end of his essay, Jeff VanderMeer writes that he "loves . . . edgy, transgressive fiction . . . ." Again, progressive clichés. Like children or readers of Cosmopolitan ("50 Hot New Sex Moves"), we believe we're the first to try this or that thing. But what, at this late date, can there be that has not been done before? Only something technological, and so there remains the possibility for innovation of some kind. But there is no new transgression. In searching out the last transgression, progressivism wears itself out, like the characters in La Dolce Vita. The end point, as with Dystopia, is extreme decadence or a very sad and often disastrous dissolution.

We have arrived here in the twenty-first century after more than two centuries of innovation. We are now as people picking among the ruins of previous civilizations, civilizations ruined by the mindless and heedless pursuit of progress and perfection, still looking, looking for something new. We should remember the admonition of Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Weird Tales Controversy-Part Four

Jeff VanderMeer dated his essay, "Moving Past Lovecraft," September 1, 2012. His wife, Ann VanderMeer, had resigned her position with Weird Tales less than two weeks before. Both Mr. and Mrs. VanderMeer would have had every reason to be angry about how things had gone with the magazine. I can't blame him for his words, which may have been heated. Taken at face value, his essay is a criticism of the supposed Lovecraftianism of traditional fantasy and weird fiction, but it may also be a thinly veiled attack on the new editor Marvin Kaye.

A year before, Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher had purchased Weird Tales from John Gregory Betancourt. In the winter of 2011-2012, Ann VanderMeer edited her last issue. Then in June, Mr. Kaye and Mr. Harlacher revealed to her their plans to publish an excerpt from Victoria Hoyt's recently released novel Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden in the pages of Weird Tales. I have not read this book or any part of it, but it seems to me that to have written and published Revealing Eden required a serious lapse in taste (black people are called "coals" in the book, white people "pearls") and good judgment on the part of the author. A backlash was inevitable. Marvin Kaye should have known that. And yet he proceeded with plans to print an excerpt. Ms. VanderMeer advised him against it as any good editor would have. On August 20, 2012, citing "major differences with the existing editors," she announced her resignation.

In his essay of September 1, Jeff VanderMeer assailed what he sees as the conservative or backward-looking cult of Lovecraft. The controversy over Revealing Eden had broken at the time of his wife's resignation. That controversy was not so much literary as it was political in nature, for Revealing Eden involves race, a political land mine, or better yet, a field of land mines. The controversy had been preceded in 2011 by another involving race and the World Fantasy Award statuette, a representation of Lovecraft. Mr. VanderMeer touched on that controversy in his essay as well. Finally, he must have known when he wrote that Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher were preparing Weird Tales #360, the Cthulhu Returns Issue, for publication. In the four years or so that Mr. VanderMeer's wife served as editor, she had, I believe, cultivated new writers, international writers, and what Mr. VanderMeer referred to in his essay as "non-Anglo" writers, in his words a "diverse cavalcade of voices." Now Marvin Kaye had come along and spoiled everything, first by announcing plans to publish a racially- and politically-charged novel that can easily be interpreted--fairly or not--as the revenge of the white people, then by going all the way back to the ancient past to publish an issue about Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. No, you can't blame the VanderMeers for being angry. Thus, apparently, the manifesto "Moving Past Lovecraft."

Marvin Kaye was born on March 10, 1938, exactly 360 days after the death of H.P. Lovecraft. Mr. Kaye is a writer, editor, teacher, and performer. In 1988, he edited Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies, published by Doubleday. Whether he was guilty himself or merely guilty by association, there he committed his first known crime when a shameless swipe of a Frank Frazetta painting appeared on the dust jacket. The artist was Richard Kriegler. Mr. Kaye's next transgression--in the eyes of the politically correct at least--was his editing of The Ghost Quartet (Tor, 2008), in which Orson Scott Card's story "Hamlet's Father" appeared. Then came his purchase of Weird Tales, the firing of the editorial staff, the Revealing Eden fiasco, and the publication of the nostalgic Cthulhu Returns Issue of "The Unique Magazine." It's no wonder that politically-minded people--moreover, the anti-Lovecraft camp--see him as a reactionary of some kind or maybe a hopeless fuddy-duddy. Is he really? I don't know, but in the realm of politics, something need not be true to gain traction. In fact it very often helps if a thing isn't true. The falsity of it makes it that much easier to believe.

Mr. Kaye seems to have been genuine in his opinion of Revealing Eden. I'll quote his review from Amazon in its entirety for fear it will disappear one day the way the Weird Tales website has disappeared. These are his words in context with nothing removed:

A Thoroughly NONRACIST Novel, August 14, 2012
By Marvin Kaye
This review is from: Revealing Eden (Save the Pearls Part One) (Hardcover)
I have been an anthologist and magazine editor for most of my life, and as of last year became copublisher and editor of Weird Tales, America's oldest fantasy magazine. In the upcoming issue, we are publishing the first chapter of Victoria Foyt's SF novel, "Saving [sic] the Pearls: Revealing Eden" (the subtitle after the colon is an indication that the story will continue in a subsequent novel).

Weird Tales seldom prints SF, but this story is a compelling view of a world that didn't listen to the warnings of ecologists, and a world that has developed a reverse racism: blacks dominating and detesting not just whites, but latinos and albinos, the few that still survive of the latter are hunted down and slaughtered.

It is the same literary technique employed in the off-Broadway musical a few years back, "Zanna, Don't!," set in a world where homosexuality is the norm, and a pair of heterosexual lovers are therefore socially condemned.

Racism is an atrocity, and that is the backbone of this book. That is very clear to anyone with an appreciation for irony who reads it.

I have noted the counterarguments that some Amazon readers have launched against the book and its author, and while I strongly disagree, this is America and they have the right to express their opinion(s).

But I also have been told that they have not stopped there, but also have attacked Amazon readers who describe the book in positive terms. I do not know if this is true, but if it is, it is mean-spirited, espcially [sic] if they have not read the entire book before condemning it, a charge that has also been leveled against some of them. Again, I do not know if this is true, or an exaggeration, but if these actions have, in fact, been performed, than I wish those who have done so a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is to wish they acquire sufficient wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis to understand what they read, and also the compassion not to attack others merely because they hold a different opinion.

The curse is an integral part of the blessing ... for if they do acquire those virtues, they will then necessarily look at their own behaviour, and be thoroughly ashamed.

The Rev. Marvin Kaye

(I didn't know he is a reverend.) I won't defend Marvin Kaye. He's capable of defending himself. I won't attack him, either. I believe he made a mistake with Revealing Eden if only because he allowed himself to become mired in politics. He may have been naïve. He may have thought he was onto something big, like the next Hunger Games. That's all in the past. As for the Return to Cthulhu Issue and his Lovecraftian nostalgia--well, it's his magazine. He can do what he wants with it. If Ann and Jeff VanderMeer wanted Weird Tales to be something different, they should have purchased the magazine themselves. Maybe it's not too late for that.

I understand why the VanderMeers are or were upset and angry. (I hope they have put those things behind them as their anger can only hurt themselves.) I would not attack them, either, but they should know that fantasy or weird fiction does not belong to them or to any other editor, publisher, theoretician, or issuer of manifestos. It belongs to the people who dream it, create it, read it, and enjoy it. They will decide what it will be, and not by anyone's theory or command, least of all by any politicized process or political correctness.

Mr. VanderMeer ends his essay with a description of how things should be. I can tell him how things should not be: Politics should not be injected into art and literature, for it converts both into something other than art and literature. In the end, any injection of politics into art or literature is very likely to prove fatal.  

To be concluded . . . 

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Weird Tales Controversy-Part Three

If I have my chronology worked out right, Ann VanderMeer resigned her position with Weird Tales on August 20, 2012--three years ago this week (and the 122nd anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft's birthday). On September 1, 2012, her husband, Jeff VanderMeer, issued a manifesto on the website of their co-creation, Weird Fiction Review: Your Non-Denominational Source for the Weird. Mr. VanderMeer's manifesto is called "Moving Past Lovecraft," and you can read it by clicking here.

"Moving Past Lovecraft" is an essay dense with thoughts and opinions. It's not easily quotable in mere snippets. The gist of is that Jeff VanderMeer objects to weird fiction "with Lovecraft at the center of it" and to:
"the continued adulation for and imitation of Lovecraft";
"[t]he commodification of Lovecraft"; and
the "wallow[ing] in Lovecraft [and the] fetishiz[ing of] Lovecraft."
You might say that Jeff VanderMeer has a bone to pick with Lovecraft and all of his numberless followers. He has a point. We can probably all agree that there is way too much adulation and imitation of H.P. Lovecraft and his works. I think we can agree, too, on Lovecraft's manifest flaws and failings as a writer. As an aside, Mr. Vandermeer is simply continuing a tradition in American literature, one that goes back at least as far as Mark Twain and his essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895). The point is that writers and artists of the current generation want to be heard. They want the present to belong to we who are living. They very often would like to put the writer from the past in his grave. Sometimes the writer in question doesn't even have to be in the past, as with Robert Bloch's opinion of Robert E. Howard, or J.D. Salinger's opinion of Ernest Hemingway. But it is a legitimate desire on the part of the artist to express himself without being encumbered by the clanking chains of the long-dead.

Jeff VanderMeer begins his manifesto by commenting on the controversy over the World Fantasy Award and Lovecraft's supposed racism, writing:
In a sense, this entire conversation is surreal and strange to us because from our perspective the weird has never been something with Lovecraft at the center of it.
and adds parenthetically:
(When I first won a World Fantasy Award, I didn't know it was a bust of Lovecraft; I thought it was just a depiction of an ugly ghost.)
He sounds like Lovecraft's mother, who called her son "ugly." On top of that, I'm not sure how you can go very far in the world of fantasy without knowing what Lovecraft looked like. But those things are beside the point. The point is that Mr. VanderMeer wrote those words without a bit of irony, considering the following image:

That's Stephen H. Segal on the left and Ann VanderMeer on the right. They are holding their Hugo Awards, presented in 2009 for their work on Weird Tales during the previous year. (The award, for Best Semiprozine, was a first for Weird Tales.)

The Hugo Award is named for Hugo Gernsback, and though the award is not in his image, it recognizes his central place in science fiction, just as the World Fantasy Award, which is not named for Lovecraft but bears his image, recognizes his central place in the world of fantasy. I don't think anyone would say that Gernsback or Lovecraft is the only person who is central in his field, but we have to look somewhere, and so we have chosen these two men. They may have been flawed, but who in human history has not been flawed? Shall we make our awards in the name or image of only perfect people and thus have no awards at all? Or should awards be something else? As S.T. Joshi wrote, "[The World Fantasy Award] says nothing about Lovecraft's personality or character--just as the Hugo Award says nothing of the character . . . of Hugo Gernsback." (1) The World Fantasy Awards were first held in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft's native city. In the forty years since, three more conventions have been held there, more than in any other city. For forty years, the World Fantasy Convention has recognized H.P. Lovecraft as central to fantasy in America. Just because one person or another doesn't want it to be so doesn't mean that it's not so.

To continue:
This feeling has intensified with Weird Tales having gone from a modern expression of "the weird" under this site's co-founder Ann VanderMeer . . . to something that is clearly more conservative. The saddest part of this latter aspect is that Weird Tales often championed unclassifiable strange material; in other words, back in the day the cosmic horror of Lovecraft was something new. (Although let's also not gloss over the truth: a certain percentage of what they published ranged from competent to mediocre in terms of the execution, and one reason some Weird Tales writers aren't better known now is that their work was steeped in non-progressive attitudes toward race and other cultures.)
He makes a good point: In its time, Weird Tales was an innovation, the first American magazine devoted exclusively to fantasy. The sub-genre of weird fiction evolved more or less in its pages. The authors themselves were also innovative. Lovecraft created or synthesized a new kind of fantasy by combining supernatural horror with science fiction. Dark in mood and materialist in orientation, it nevertheless held back from complete nihilism. Robert E. Howard was also an innovator. The sub-genre of heroic fantasy as we know it today is more or less his invention. But all that was nearly eighty years ago. There is no reason why we today should slavishly follow writers of the past. But there also isn't any reason to throw off the past just for the sake of throwing it off. We can value what is valuable from the past while still living in the present and anticipating the future. That as much as anything might define the difference between the conservative and the progressive.

It's clear what side Jeff VanderMeer is on. I can't say what his wife's opinion might be as the words are his. However, he seems to be expressing their shared approach to fantasy. In any case, "conservative" and "non-progressive" are clearly disagreeable to the author. He expands on his ideas: 
Our bewilderment that this pull toward the fetishizing of and yearning for the dead past is still an issue for weird fiction in 2012 is matched only by our belief that this is indeed a golden age for weird fiction. But not in the sense of looking back to a Golden Age. A mode of fiction that eats itself, that becomes cannibalistic, cannot be said to be progressive or innovative in any real sense. [Emphasis in the original.]
There is the point and apparently the direction in which Mr. VanderMeer wants to take weird fiction: The past is dead; conservatism and non-progressivism are at the very least problematic. In their place there must be innovation and progress, away from the dead or cannibalistic past and towards a new Golden Age of--what? The present? How? Progress into the present doesn't make any sense. So the future instead? Must weird fiction be taken away from "conservative" and "non-progressive" readers, writers, and editors? Must it reside within the exclusive territory of the progressive, that is, in the future, or at the very least the present as a gateway into the Golden Age of the future? And what is the Golden Age of the future but Utopia, which is, as we know, merely a mask for Dystopia, the end point of progressivism?

Those are my extrapolations. They should not be taken as Mr. VanderMeer's words. But among his words are these: conservative, non-progressive, nostalgia, frustrating, "yearning for the dead past," cannibalistic, narrowness, "problematic past attitudes or prejudices." All are negative in denotation or connotation and all are used in reference to Lovecraft and his followers or to the traditional writer, reader, and fan of fantasy or weird fiction.

Here are more of Mr. VanderMeer's words, all used positively and in reference either to progressivism or to his preferred authors: modern, "Golden Age [of the present]", nuanced, complex, inclusiveness, "moved on [beyond Lovecraft]," "amazing writers of weird fiction [who] have been forgotten or marginalized," "those who have become invisible,"  international, "non-denominational," non-Anglo, edgy, transgressive, diverse. (2, 3) In his essay, the author claims a "position of not buying into cliché," yet he uses the clichéd language of the aggrieved and thoroughly academic progressive throughout. If only "social justice" were in there, Mr. VanderMeer's essay would be complete.

He closes with these words:
Our maps are always in the process of being rewritten, and we do not always know our course, or what we may discover in the process of the mapping . . . and that's how it should be. [Ellipses in the original.]
In other words, there will always be change and no resting place, nothing, I suppose that will have any enduring value or meaning. (Again, those are my words, not his.) And just in case you don't like it, you should know that Jeff VanderMeer, who writes "we have no emperor or king or queen," has already decided for you that "that's how it should be." 

Next: Marvin Kaye Will You Please Go Now?

Notes
(1) The Mystery Writers of America present every year their awards, the Edgars, named for Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was a flawed man, too. The politically correct of today could easily find offense in his life and works. They might start with "The Gold-Bug." Shall we do away the Edgars as well because of it?
(2) I suppose it was by some dark and terrible conspiracy that those writers have been forgotten, marginalized, and rendered invisible. If there is a conspiracy, we all know who must be responsible.
(3) I'll have more to say about those words later in this series. There is also some academic gobbledygook in the essay--"subtextually" is the best example of that--but thankfully the author keeps it to a minimum. 

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Weird Tales Controversy-Part Two

In order to understand the recent Weird Tales controversy, we should know something about the events that preceded and followed it. So here is a chronology. If I have made any mistakes or left anything pertinent out, I hope someone will let me know.

Chronology of Recent Events in Weird Tales

2006--Five issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press or Wildside Press/Terminus with George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John Gregory Betancourt as editors

2007--Five issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press or Wildside Press/Terminus with George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John Gregory Betancourt as editors for one issue (Feb./Mar. 2007); Stephen H. Segal as editor for three issues (Apr/May, June/July, and Sept./Oct.); and Ann VanderMeer as editor for one issue (Nov./Dec. 2007)

2008--Five issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press with Ann VanderMeer as editor

2009--Weird Tales won a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine (for Ann VanderMeer's first full year as editor)

2009--Two issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press with Ann VanderMeer as editor

2010--Weird Tales nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine

2010--Two issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press with Stephen H. Segal as editor for one issue and Ann VanderMeer as editor for one issue

2011--Weird Tales voted thirteenth place as Best Magazine in the Locus Poll Awards; Ann VanderMeer voted eighth place as Best Editor; Weird Tales nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine

2011--Two issues of Weird Tales published by Wildside Press with Ann VanderMeer as editor (Spring 2011 and Summer 2011)

August 2011--Weird Tales was reported to have been sold to Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher (the seller was John Gregory Betancourt of Wildside Press)

Oct. 20, 2011--Nth Dimension Media, Inc., announced that it had purchased Weird Tales magazine

2012--Weird Tales voted sixteenth place as Best Magazine in the Locus Poll Awards; Ann VanderMeer voted fourth place as Best Editor

2012--Two issues of Weird Tales published by Nth Dimension Media, Inc., with Ann VanderMeer as editor for one issue (Winter 2012) and Marvin Kaye as editor for one issue (Fall 2012--The Cthulhu Returns Issue)

January 10, 2012--Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden by Victoria Hoyt published by Sand Dollar Press, Inc.

June 2012--Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher told Ann VanderMeer of their plans to publish an excerpt from Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden by Victoria Hoyt in the first issue to be published with Marvin Kaye as editor; Ms. VanderMeer objected (that issue became the Fall 2012 issue, the Cthulhu Returns Issue)

August 14, 2012--Marvin Kaye posted a review of Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden on Amazon; the review included his announced intention to print an excerpt in the upcoming issue of Weird Tales

August 20, 2012, and following--Ann VanderMeer announced her resignation from Weird Tales; controversy over her resignation and the plans to publish an excerpt from Revealing Eden in Weird Tales erupted on the Internet and among writers, fans, and critics; John Harlacher issued an apology and/or retraction (some people seemed to have been mollified, while others were still incensed about the controversy)

2013--Weird Tales voted seventeenth place as Best Magazine in the Locus Poll Awards; Ann VanderMeer voted fifth place as Best Editor

2013--One issue of Weird Tales published by Nth Dimension Media, Inc., with Marvin Kaye as editor (Summer 2013--The Fairy Tale Issue)

2014--Weird Tales voted seventh place as Best Magazine in the Locus Poll Awards; Ann VanderMeer voted fourth place as Best Editor (presumably for Tor.com)

2014--One issue of Weird Tales published by Nth Dimension Media, Inc., with Marvin Kaye as editor (Spring 2014--The Undead Issue)

Apr. 5, 2014--I began writing as a guest blogger on the Weird Tales website (I have provided this date to show that the website was still up and running as of then)

Summer or Fall 2014--The Weird Tales website was taken down

2015--Ann VanderMeer voted third place as Best Editor in the Locus Poll Awards (presumably for Tor.com)

I have compiled this chronology mostly from the Internet Speculative Fiction DatabaseFrom it, a few patterns show themselves:

1. In 2006-2008, Weird Tales was on a regular schedule of five issues per year, roughly bimonthly.

2. The publication schedule since then has become irregular if not erratic, with only one or two issues per year and no issue this year (yet).

3. Under Ann VanderMeer's guidance, Weird Tales was nominated for several Hugo Awards and won one award--its first Hugo ever--in 2009.

4. However, the popularity of the magazine in the Locus Poll Awards dropped from thirteenth place in 2011, to sixteenth place in 2012, then to seventeenth place in 2013. Weird Tales increased in popularity under Marvin Kaye (seventh place in 2014) but has since disappeared from the list.

5. Since resigning from Weird Tales, Ann VanderMeer's popularity as editor has increased from fifth place in 2013 to third place in 2015.

A commenter on this blog wrote that he had heard that the subscriptions to Weird Tales increased under Ann VanderMeer from under 1,000 to about 2,000. I have no way of confirming that, but I'm willing to accept it. I assume that the combination of low circulation and irregular schedule is why Weird Tales was considered a semiprozine by the Hugo Awards.

In summary, Ann VanderMeer's tenure as editor of Weird Tales (Nov./Dec. 2007-Winter 2012, or four years plus a little) was marked by increasing subscriptions, increasing popularity, and the winning of several awards and honors, including a Hugo Award in 2009. The downside of all that was the irregular or erratic publishing schedule, but she may have had little or nothing to do with that. (Any troubles the publisher might have had could explain his eagerness to sell off Weird Tales in 2011.) Ms. VanderMeer has also increased in popularity since leaving Weird Tales. Popularity and even awards can be as political as the next thing, but Ann VanderMeer seems to be on the right track as an editor. Marvin Kaye might have reason to envy her success.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Notes from PulpFest-H.P.L. at 125

Today, August 20, 2015, is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, author, poet, essayist, editor, publisher, and perhaps the most prolific writer of letters in human history. PulpFest, the annual pulp magazine convention held in Columbus, Ohio, honored Lovecraft at the convention and on the cover of its annual magazine, The Pulpster. Inside is a long article called "Lovecraft's Lasting Legacy," with contributions from Ramsey Campbell, Darrell Schweitzer, S.T. Joshi, Marvin Kaye, Will Murray, and many others. Happy Birthday, Ech-Pi-El! (The photograph is from 1915.)

This week is also the anniversary of the birth and death of Hugo Gernsback, known as "The Father of Science Fiction." Born Hugo Gernsbacher on August 16, 1884, he came from Luxembourg to the United States in 1904 and set himself up in the electronics business. Soon he was on to radio and eventually television. In the 1910s, he began publishing science fiction. (The term did not come into use until 1929.) In 1926, Gernsback published the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. If I have done my research correctly, he also published the second, third, and fourth science fiction magazines, the Wonder titles of 1929-1930. The Hugo Awards, presented by the World Science Fiction Convention, are named in his honor. (Incidentally, the World Fantasy Awards, presented by the World Fantasy Convention, are cast in the image of H.P. Lovecraft.) Hugo Gernsback died on August 19, 1967, at age eighty-three. Happy Birthday, too, to Hugo Gernsback! (The photograph is from 1918.)

Captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Weird Tales Controversy-Part One

Last week, before PulpFest, I was writing about politics and science fiction. My thesis is that politics often intrudes upon science fiction because: a) people who are extremely political make all things--including art, science, and literature--political; and b) science fiction, being progressive in a general sense, too easily lends itself to progressivism in the political sense. The subject of science fiction is the question what if? The temporal setting for that question is usually the future. But in working with the future, the science fiction writer unknowingly intrudes upon a territory carved out by the political progressive exclusively for him- or herself. As a result, the science fiction writer may feel pressure to create in his or her work a future suitable to the political progressive. He or she is not free as the artist must be free. There is pressure to conform, to guard his or her thoughts and words, to compromise his or her own artistic integrity, to engage in tokenism, to be politically correct, and, at the extremes, to create propaganda. To be nonconformist is to risk censorship, boycotts, and opprobrium of the most vicious kind. Physical violence may not yet have occurred in the world of science fiction, but earlier this year, the staff of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by Islamists. Those staff members--artists, writers, and editors--were non-conformists. They stood alone and they died alone. Their spilled blood was yet warm when the politically correct (and others) began defending their attackers and attacking them, the defenseless, with the opinion that they got what was coming to them. It may just be a matter of time before other artists and writers face the same kinds of threats, hazards, and violence. You can ask Salman Rushdie, a writer of science fiction and fantasy, about that.

Now I'm forced to show my hand: The second part of my thesis is that, if the future belongs only to the political progressive, and science fiction, as the literature of the future, is increasingly or inevitably politicized, then only fantasy (including weird fiction) remains for the escapist, the non-political person, the politically non-progressive person, or the person who wants to read within the larger realm of fantasy simply for pleasure. Fantasy (including weird fiction), being about the past, is apolitical (or non-political or anti-political) because the political progressive is not interested in the past. In fact, he or she hates the past. At least I thought all that before reading about the Weird Tales controversy of 2012. Now I'm beginning to see that the world of fantasy can be--and probably will be--politicized as well. I don't know why I would have thought differently, knowing then and now that for politically-minded people, all things are and must be political. To them, even the past can be politicized. Even the past can be made politically correct. And it will be. The past will be scrubbed, expurgated, censored, revised, and bowdlerized to match current requirements, which will, as we know, change moment by moment. In short, the photograph you think you saw never existed, for it disappeared down the memory hole.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley