First comes an article by The Atlantic‘s Philip Eil, “The Unlikely Reanimation of H.P. Lovecraft”. After noting Lovecraft’s immense success in the early 21st century, he also notes the extent to which Lovecraft was racist, and to which Lovecraft’s racism drove his stories.
Lovecraft’s ascendance has also brought an uncomfortable truth into the spotlight: He was a virulent racist. The xenophobia and white supremacy that burble beneath his fiction (which may have gone unnoticed, had he remained anonymous) are startlingly explicit in his letters. Flip through them and you’ll find the author bemoaning Jews as “hook-nosed, swarthy, guttural-voiced aliens” with whom “association … was intolerable”; New York City’s “flabby, pungent, grinning, chattering niggers”; and New England’s “undesirable Latins—low-grade Southern Italians and Portuguese, and the clamorous plague of French-Canadians.” In 1922, he wrote that he wished “a kindly gust of cyanogen could asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion” of New York City’s Chinatown, which he called “a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh.” In another letter, he wrote, “In general, America has made a fine mess of its population and will pay for it in tears amidst a premature rottenness unless something is done extremely soon.”
These writings leave Lovecraft fans in an uncomfortable spot. Leeman Kessler, who plays Lovecraft in the popular “Ask Lovecraft” YouTube series, has written an essay, “On Portraying a White Supremacist,” in which he says, “As long as I take money for playing Lovecraft or accept invitations to conventions or festivals, I think it is my moral duty to stare unflinchingly at the unpleasantness.” In 2011, the World Fantasy Award-winning novelist Nnedi Okorafor wrote a blog post calling attention to Lovecraft’s poem, “On the Creation of Niggers.” “Do I want ‘The Howard’ (the nickname for the World Fantasy Award statuette…) replaced with the head of some other great writer?” she wrote. “Maybe … maybe not. What I know [is] I want … to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it.”
Last year, a petition demanding Octavia Butler replace Lovecraft as the face on WFA trophies received more than 2,500 signatures. A counter-petition soon followed, titled, “Keep the Beloved H.P. Lovecraft Caricature Busts (‘Howards’) as World Fantasy Award Trophies, Don’t Ban Them to be PC!” Similar exchanges play out regularly on the many social media pages dedicated to Lovecraft.
But as vexing as Lovecraft’s racism is for fans, his views are also one of the most useful lenses for reading his work. In March, Leslie Klinger delivered a lecture on Lovecraft at Brown University’s Hay Library, home to the world’s largest collection of Lovecraft papers and other materials. Toward the end of his remarks, Klinger—without excusing or defending Lovecraft’s racism—refused to separate it from his achievements. Lovecraft “despised people who weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants,” he said. “But that powers the stories … this sense that he’s alone, that he’s surrounded by enemies and everything is hostile to him. And I think you take away that part of his character, it might make him a much nicer person, but it would destroy the stories.”
What responsibilities do his contemporary fans have?
Meanwhile, io9’s Rob Bricken has “The He-Man Movie Just Got a New Writer, and Here’s Why It Actually Matters This Time”.
There have been a lot of screenwriters hired to pen a live-action movie adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but none of theme have managed to turn the story of a tan, mostly naked barbarian/bodybuilding enthusiast for modern audiences. But I have high hopes for the newest writer to take it on.
It’s Christopher Yost, who penned Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming Thor: Ragnorak scripts for Marvel. I actually really like The Dark World, but even if you didn’t, Yost is also one of the masterminds behind the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon, which was Marvel’s brilliant, shockingly overdue answer to Bruce Timm’s DC animated universe.
(I watched He-Man, in the 1980s. Even then I had no sense of it being anything lasting, or meriting revival.)
The Guardian‘s Richard Lea, finally, has “Science fiction: the realism of the 21st century”. Drawing from interviews with Kim Stanley Robinson, Alistair Reynolds, and Ann Leckie, Lea considers the role of realism in science fiction. What does it mean? I like Leckie’s take on the question.
Ann Leckie, whose Imperial Radch novels are set thousands of years in the future, says the distinction between plausible technology and the kind of hardware that is – in Arthur C Clarke’s memorable phrase – so advanced as to be “indistinguishable from magic” isn’t important for fiction.
“Even in real life I’m not certain the boundary is particularly solid,” she says. “The ‘indistinguishable from magic’ thing is highly dependent on where a viewer is looking from, and not something intrinsic to any particular sort of tech.”
Sometimes Leckie delves into the background of a technology to see what would make it work, and at other times simply tells herself “Yeah, I just want one of the variations on wormholes for interstellar travel, I’ll glue some glitter to mine,” but the starting point is nearly always, “What would make my story work the way I want it to”.
[. . .]
“I just put it all together in as artful a form as possible, in a way that will ask interesting questions, or illuminate the issues I’m pondering.” Leckie can hop over any gaps between currently achievable technology and what’s needed for the story and “go on with the adventure. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about that disjunct, of course, just that it’s not something that’s going to trouble me too much once I get going. I only need something to seem like it might mostly fit what we know, I don’t really need to worry too much about the details of how it might happen.”
By definition, Leckie continues, science fiction is concerned with science, but the demand for realism hides a host of assumptions about what’s real and whether fiction can convey objective reality.