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 na├»ve. 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

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