This is how my Monday morning began: with a slap in the face, courtesy of new Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye.
If you haven’t been following the “controversy” over author Victoria Foyt’s self-published novel Revealing Eden, here’s a good analysis of it with links to others. I put air quotes around controversy in this case because there really isn’t one. On the one side of the discussion you’ve got the author and a handful of defenders — many of whom seem to be sockpuppets of the author herself — insisting that the book isn’t racist because… something. On the other side you’ve got several thousand readers saying OMG WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT RACIST MESS I JUST SAW. That’s not a controversy, it’s an object lesson in How To Be Wrong On The Internet.
I haven’t talked about the Foyt book much because I didn’t care. At the start of this I read the first chapter of the book out of curiosity (you can download a sample on Amazon); it’s really not very good at all. It also falls prey to the usual problems that occur whenever someone who’s not very educated on how racism actually works — and who’s clearly unwilling to learn more — tries to address it. Foyt’s characters adhere to every racial stereotype you can imagine, for example, in this supposedly not-racist book. But poorly-written books are a dime a dozen, and so are racist texts; I saw no point in giving additional attention to this one versus any of the thousands of others. I also tend not to negatively review other authors’ works in general, since there’s really no way to avoid the appearance of unprofessionalism and/or grudgewank in the process. There are times when it’s worthwhile to burn those bridges, but that one wasn’t one of them.
Some context here. Weird Tales is a magazine with a long and checkered history. I didn’t follow it back in the old days when it was all! Lovecraftian! All! The time!, simply because I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. In its more recent years it published some names I actually cared about, like Tanith Lee; I read an issue or two to sample it, but again — not my thing. In 2007, however, Ann VanderMeer, Stephen Segal, and some other folks decided to revive the old Weird Tales brand and evolve it beyond its classic roots. When their issues started coming out, I read a sample and was blown away by the fiction selections, the layout, the sheer collective beauty of the thing. I started buying it, and I also immediately started sending story submissions there. Most of them got rejected, although usually with nice notes encouraging me to keep trying. And I did. Then finally I sold one: “The Trojan Girl”, which was published in WT #357 in early 2011 with lovely, eerie illustrations by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein. I was so proud, ya’ll.
And then last year something bizarre happened. New owners Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher bought the magazine — and promptly fired the team that had earned it its first Hugo award. Okay. That was stupid, but businesses do stupid things all the time. The new folks made a vague effort at damage control afterward, so I chose to hope that the new ownership would get its shit together and get back to the business of putting out a high-quality speculative magazine. I didn’t have a subscription — I buy on the newsstand, ’cause I actually like browsing newsstands — so it didn’t do me any harm to wait and see. They’d bought a magazine with an invaluable reputation that had been years in the building, after all; I figured no one would be stupid enough to piss that all away.
I was wrong. They’ve shat it away. And pissed on the steaming pile afterward.
It’s more than the fact that the editor has chosen to introduce the revamped magazine with a diatribe against evil anti-racists, or evil people with no sense of irony, or something. It’s more than the stunningly poor judgment that he displays by hitching his magazine’s new applecart to this spavined old horse. It’s also the fact that they’re going to be publishing the first chapter of this hugely problematic book in Weird Tales. What the hell is that about? In all the furor over this book, no one is defending it as high-quality literature. It’s not even “weird”, in either the old-school pulp sense or the VanderMeer-era modern sense; it’s a slushpile-stock discrimiflip with implausible science and banal writing. This is a book whose author self-published it — perhaps because the publisher of her previous novel saw what a mess it was — and then promoted it via self-reviews on HuffPo and a bunch of vanity awards. Now I’m wondering whether she paid WT to publish this excerpt. Maybe she even bought Kaye’s editorial. Or maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe Kaye just thought it was a great idea to start his new regime with a bang. Any publicity is good publicity, right? Right?
How much does a good reputation sell for, I wonder? Hope Kaye got a good price.
All my pleasure and pride at having been published in WT is gone. Goes without saying that I won’t be submitting there again, ever, but at this point I’m ashamed to have my name associated with the magazine at all. And that pisses me off especially, because something I really cared about has been destroyed. I was willing to give WT’s new owners the benefit of the doubt after the regime change; sometimes change can be a good thing, after all. But this editorial, and this decision to publish such poor-quality fiction on misplaced principle, makes it clear that WT’s reputation is now meaningless. By this gesture Marvin Kaye hasn’t just slapped me in the face, he’s slapped every author the magazine ever published, every hopeful author who’s submitted during and since VanderMeer’s tenure, every artist whose illustrations ever graced its pages, and every fan who voted for WT to win that Hugo.
Slap me and I’ll slap you back. I can’t revoke my Hugo vote and I don’t want to; Ann and the gang justifiably earned that award. I’m just sorry the award is now attached to a magazine that’s clearly going to be shit from here forth. WT #357 is a print magazine and nothing can un-print it, but here’s what I can do: I can do my damnedest to make sure the new owners don’t profit in any way from my work. They’re still selling back-issues of the magazine, and the story I published there has thus far only been reprinted in audio form. So on the thin chance that anybody reading this was thinking about buying a back-issue in order to read my story in it, no need. I’m reprinting it here now for free. Enjoy.
ETA: The publisher has backtracked on WT’s brave commitment to racism, go figure. Damage done, I say.
Sister of Grand-niece of ETA: WT has taken down Kaye’s initial statement. (Good grief, don’t these people have any clue how not to handle an internet controversy?) Here’s a cached version.
Friend of Cousin of Oh Fuck It: Jeff VanderMeer weighs in, with some deep-twitch-inducing insider info on how this debacle began.