This is how you destroy something beautiful.

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.

This, however, is.

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.

Daughter of ETA: Artist Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein has graciously given me permission to repost her art with The Trojan Girl. Yay!

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.

53 Responses »

  1. Ann VanderMeer was the shining beacon of WT, and her departure served great storytelling not at all. That said, scanning all of the above…ow, ow, ow. I share your regret, and I’m glad I published with WT when I did (and that was even back before Ann was in place).

  2. Hear, hear.

    I pulled my submission the day Ann announced that she had been pushed out, and have been boycotting them ever since.

  3. Wow, I just read about this and it broke my heart. That magazine had been so gorgeous, and I’d been looking forward to submitting there.

  4. Wow, thanks for summing it all up here. I’d heard lots of buzz but couldn’t find anything actually explaining what was happening. I haven’t read Foyt’s work–and honestly have no desire too–but reading about all of this makes me so glad I decided to hold off on sending Weird Tales my work after the switch. I’m very sad that I missed the old days, though, and sad the spirit of the magazine has taken such a turn.

  5. Thanks, Nora, for the eloquent post. As somebody who was also proudly published in Weird Tales — back in 2004 — my first reaction on reading the blog was similar to yours, mainly: “Oh, crap. I hope people understand that my story has nothing to do with the magazine as it now stands…”

  6. WOW – remind me never to piss you off. I think you’re right – it’s a very sucky situation. I like your revenge move and am looking forward to reading the story.

  7. *standing ovation*

  8. Never ascribe to malice or greed any action which can be attributed to shear stupidity.

  9. How awful and thanks for adding the story for free, I hope there was at least a twinge of satisfaction when you clicked ‘post’. As for the Hugo award, it should come with the names of the team on it, it’s wrong that WT can now trade on that achievement.

  10. Wow – that’s appalling. :-(

    Well, I guess I know never to ever submit anything to WT, unless its ownership and/or editorial team change completely.

    The one good side I can see is that the comments they’ve gotten on that editorial, at least as far down the page as I read, were almost all highly critical. So at least most readers don’t seem to be buying their bullshit, for whatever that’s worth…

  11. My first pro sale was to WT under Vandermeer and Segal. You have said everything I would have wanted to say. Thank you.

  12. FWIW your link “This, however, is” to the editorial at Weird Tales (http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/2012/08/15/a-thoroughly-non-racist-book/) currently returns a “page not found” message.

    Given that you posted this article today, and presumably the link worked then, this bespeaks some damage-control going on.

    Speaking of this book’s publicity efforts, did you see the YouTube videos featuring white actors in blackface?

  13. Whatever it was that you liked to at i>Weird Tales has apparently been taken down or locked.

  14. Looks like the publisher of WEIRD TALES has backtracked:

    http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/2012/08/20/a-message-from-the-publisher/

  15. Whatever it was that you liked to at Weird Tales has apparently been taken down or locked.

  16. In case anyone’s interested, the original “A thoroughly non-racist book” announcement from WT can be seen here via Google’s webcache:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Aweirdtalesmagazine.com%2F2012%2F08%2F15%2Fa-thoroughly-non-racist-book%2F&sugexp=chrome%2Cmod%3D2&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    This is all very depressing, apology or not.

  17. Having worked alongside Ann on WT, and been dropped with along with the rest of the staff during the shift, I’m undoubtedly biased against the current management. That being said, I’m not entirely surprised by Kaye here; he’s shown terrible editorial judgement in the past (remember the situation with “Hamlet’s Father” by Orson Scott Card from a while back? He originally published that, too – go figure.) Not that it excuses this mind-boggling choice. At least the publisher stepped in.

  18. I’ve never followed Weird Tales in any of it’s incarnations, but I certainly respected it’s place in the history of the field. It’s quite distressing to hear what’s happened to it and has been going on there and sad that Marvin Kaye, whom I thought had more sense, has gone so far off the rails.

    Perhaps there should be a campaign to convince the current publisher to re-hire the Hugo-winning editorial team?

  19. So I’m going to just leave this link right here, to Deb Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature. She wrote a post about the portrayal of indigenous people in Revealing Eden. She might be considered as disagreeing a teensy weensy bit about how awesome this book is.

  20. Moshe Feder@20: With regards to Kaye’s alleged previous sensibleness, I think I have to simply quote James Nicoll: “Well, if nothing else this whole will help people forget Kaye’s role on publishing OSC’s Bad Touch Hamlet.”

    (If you need context)

  21. Thank you for posting your story. It’s absolutely wonderful! I’ve started reading it and bookmarked it. I hadn’t heard of Weird Tales before and I certainly won’t buy it or support it. John Scalzi reposted a link to your blog on twitter. I will be keeping a lookout for other stories or books of yours, to buy, this time. Thanks again!

  22. This year, even more so than usual for the past decade or so, I keep getting the feeling that I’m going to wake up and discover that, hey, I’m not actually going to be born for another 5 years, because it’s 1952. Not that it would make things like this any less appalling, they’d just be slightly less unexpected. (Although in the case of Weird Tales and Marvin Kaye, perhaps 1922 would be a better choice.)

  23. 1922 indeed! I think that’s the key… it’s not that Kaye is trying anything new; he just wants to bring back the original spirit of Weird Tales! Since as we all know H.P. Lovecraft was such a staunch anti-racist.

  24. John, thanks for the contextual link about Kaye and the Orson Scott Card story. I hadn’t heard of it before and it sounds awful and incredibly offensive. (Contrary to what you might think, Tor editors are not able to read all Tor books!)

    I’ve known Marvin since the 70s when I worked part-time for AMAZING and FANTASTIC and his charming fantasy romp The Incredible Umbrella, appeared in the latter. But our conversations were limited to the SF/Fantasy field and the theater, about both of which he was knowledgeable and reasonable. Clearly, if we had moved on to matters of politics and society, I would have encountered notions that are the opposite of charming. What a shame.

  25. “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.”

    Just wanted to point out that WEIRD TALES has been publishing Tanith Lee since the 80s (when Lin Carter was the editor). Every editorial team since that time has published Tanith’s stories–she has been one of the magazine’s regular or semi-regular contributors in the past three decades.

  26. Thanks so much taking a stand on this, as well as providing links and a great post that spells everything out.

    Marvin Kaye went on Amazon (August 14th) and basically said the same BS over there about supporting the novel, even giving it five stars.
    Link –
    http://www.amazon.com/review/RDS9KM7733XZA/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?ie=UTF8&asin=0983650322&cdForum=FxS3N1M209IZIR&cdPage=1&cdThread=TxZZQCJJRV08JV&store=books#wasThisHelpful

    Now that I read about the cozy relationship between the major players as well as back tracking regarding who knew what and when with Foyt’s Weird Tales deal, this whole thing reeks of someone thinking controversy equals more readers, which was supposed to (I guess) be a win-win situation for all. Kaye’s reasoning on Amazon is baffling and offensive as it was on Weird Tales.

  27. John Fultz–mighty good of you to admit that kind of continuity since all you did while Ann was editor was be a total jerk about her being the editor and complain she was too avant garde. JeffV

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