Weird Tales and Non-racism

While flying home from Gen Con this weekend I noticed an odd blip fly across the social media radar. Weird Tales, a magazine that I have enjoyed under many editors and publishers, was posting a selection from a book that they assured was the most non-racist book, possibly ev-AR.

This on its own, especially in our society, was an odd enough assertion that I wanted to find out what the hell they were talking about. So I clicked on the link and found one of the strangest (even for a magazine with weird in the title) endorsements I’ve read of a new book.

The post by editor Marvin Kaye titled, “A Thoroughly Non-racist Book” stated without much context that Weird Tales would be publishing an excerpt of a novel in an upcoming issue. The selection would be from Victoria Foyt’s Saving Pearls: Revealing Eden. He assured that the book is primarily about ecology and global warming and that the loud accusations of racist elements that some people saw as offensive were actually not offensive but resulted from a simple difference of opinion.

I think accusations of racism should be taken very seriously and if found to be true, the suspect material should be treated like radioactive waste. To accuse someone of racism in a professional setting can destroy their career. Victoria Foyt’s career could essentially be binned after this, so I think that it’s important to examine the evidence carefully before feeding into an internet maelstrom. I read about the book, I visited the book’s website, I read what critics have to say and the defense that was put up against it. I have to say very clearly, I did not read the book.

Basically it boils down to this: in promotional materials a blonde haired, blue eyed actress appears in makeup that is essentially blackface. In the ‘about’ page for the book, the reader is faced with the question, “Would you betray your loved ones—and maybe your entire race—to avoid a horrible death?” Those are two very big strikes against the book off the bat. Asking the reader if they could imagine themselves as a race traitor? For real?

The plot posits a sort of alt-future where global warming leads to environmental catastrophe and dark skinned people (called ‘coals’ in the book) fare better than light skinned people (called ‘pearls’).

Seriously. Coals vs. pearls.

By the way, in case you weren’t immediately offended, it might help to know that the term coal is actual historical American racist slang.

The main character, a pearl named Eden, “has begun secretly dating her handsome co-worker Jamal.” No comment required, moving right along… But everything goes awry, “when Eden unwittingly compromises her father’s secret biological experiment.” Yep, good ole’ dad is a eugenicist!

I know that right now you’re thinking, “sweet buttery baby Jesus cheeks, this is a train wreck.” But wait:

“Eden must fight to save her father, who may be humanity’s last hope, while standing up to a powerful beast-man she believes is her enemy, despite her overwhelming attraction to him. To survive, Eden must change-but only if she can redefine her ideas of beauty-and of true love.”

That’s right, out of the eugenics mine-field and right into the artillery with the stereotype of the wild beast-man that she wants to be ravaged by.

These are just examples from the author’s own promotional material. She seems to either be a shut-in whose lens on the world is Fox News or have little concern for the stereotypes that she uses and promotes.

To give you a little bit of history, Weird Tales is a significant magazine in the fantasy/horror/odd stories space, and the most venerable. It started in 1923 publishing stories by the likes of Lovecraft (though he was himself a bit of a racist) and C. M. Eddy, among a handful of daring and innovative writers. As the years passed it published Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and more recently, Michael Moorcock, Caitlin Kiernan, and countless more.

The magazine has changed hands, ceased publication for decades at a time only to be picked right back up and dusted off and published anew. It was most recently purchased by the aforementioned Marvin Kaye who got rid of the previous editor, the ass-kicking Ann VanderMeer, in favor of himself.

Needless to say, after Kaye posted support for this book, the internet began to melt and the publisher for Weird Tales, John Harlacher, had to post a retraction. It’s thoroughly disappointing to see an editor tarnish a magazine with such a legacy. I guess time (and a change of staff) will tell if it will be able to recover.

By the way, here’s the a reprint of the original blog post from the Weird Tales site, which has since been removed:

A Thoroughly Non-racist Book

by Marvin Kaye

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 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 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.