Weird Tales and Racist Pearls of Wit and Wisdom

Victoria Foyt’s controversial self-published1 novel, Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden, slipped completely under my radar. I just don’t read a lot of YA literature (although, when I do, I tend to enjoy it), so I’m typically not aware of a lot of the new titles out there. However, Pearls is enjoying a bit of renewed notoriety concerning  themes of race and racism addressed by the author in the text of the novel and in subsequent criticism of that text. But that is still not how I came to be aware of this book’s existence. Marvin Kaye, the new editor in chief and co-publisher of Weird Tales Magazine, wrote an editorial defending both the book and his decision to publish an entire chapter of it in a forthcoming issue of Weird Tales.

You can read his editorial here. I’ll wait. (EDIT: they took it down, but a cached version is available HERE.) Yes, he did confuse “then” and “than” but that’s not the point.

Having not read the book, I am not going to opine on its quality. I am also going to defer to others on the subject of whether or not it is racist or at least fails in its attempt to upend racism2 by subverting privilege and power expectations. I will go so far to say that if I’d read the blurb on the back cover and/or seen the book trailer with an actress in blackface in isolation of any other discussion, I likely would have passed on this book anyway. I am however, terribly disappointed in the inaugural editorial from the new head of Weird Tales Magazine.

Cribbing from my own Facebook comments and tweets on this subject, here is the comment I just appended to the end of Marvin Kaye’s piece.

Reading an editorial such as this from the new Editor in Chief of Weird Tales is beyond disappointing. Without addressing the ad hominem assaults on reviewers’ wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis, reducing criticism of the book’s merits to expressions of mere opinion is an absurdity. We all know the word opinion is more closely related to “taste” than “reasoned argument.” “This book is sub-par because it made me feel icky,” is an opinion. “The author’s white privilege undermines her attempt to tell a coherent story about racism,” or “Her story exhibits poor understanding of science, Meso-American culture, and gender politics,” are arguments that can’t be dismissed by saying, “well this is America so I guess you can say whatever you want.” “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” is NOT equivalent to “arguments on both sides of the issue are equally compelling.” And while I agree that name-calling and shouting matches are not helpful in any discussion, that Mr. Kaye is appalled that people would try to engage reviewers in a dialogue about their endorsement of this material is also disheartening.

I can confidently say that if this is the direction Weird Tales is taking, I’ll have to join the chorus of voices decrying the loss of a gold-standard publication in which I aspired to one day see my own work appear.

Bracken MacLeod

You can try to defend the indefensible–that’s a key element of freedom of speech as we enjoy it in the U.S.–but don’t act like your argument is compelling simply because you gave voice to it. Speaking aloud is a necessary condition of participating in an argument, but it is insufficient if you cannot employ a single good reason why we should adopt your position other than that you disagree with your opponents .

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1 In the first draft of this piece I simply called her book a novel, instead of a self-published, or more accurately, a vanity-published novel. As my friend Kyle Cassidy mentioned, “Calling it a novel suggests that this went through some sort of vetting at a publisher and that an editor looked at it which would make this … much worse.” I know people who have self-published their fiction, and I don’t mean to belittle their work, but Ms. Foyt’s bought-and-paid-for vanity “awards” and sock-puppet Amazon and Goodreads reviews do more than suggest not only personal dishonesty in marketing her work, but also causes me to wonder how–given the high quality of work available to Weird Tales–this could have ever warranted such specialized attention from Mr. Kaye and premium placement in a magazine with such an illustrious history (’til now).

2I will, however, say that there is no such thing as reverse-racism. There is only racism. Any time someone starts decrying “reverse” racism I start listening for other dog-whistle signals that belie actual intent. And so should you.

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~ by poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq on 20/08/2012.

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