The new novel Saving The Pearls: Defending Eden sounds like something that someone made up as a prank. Victoria Foyt’s self-published novel takes place in a world where, due to global warming, most white people are dead. The world is ruled by black people, called “coals” in the book. The remaining white people, called “pearls,” are oppressed by the “coals.” But apparently this book is real, and its author chose to promote it with a video showing a white person in blackface. The internet, not surprisingly, was not amused.
All of this would be just another internet firestorm about somebody being an idiot — except that Weird Tales Magazine, one of the most venerable speculative fiction magazines in the world, decided to reprint the first chapter of Saving the Pearls in its next issue. And Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye, who took over the magazine from the Hugo Award-winning team of Ann VanderMeer and Stephen Segal last year, wrote a blog post defending the book:
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… 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.
The comments on Kaye’s post were predictably not amused, with Cali putting it most succinctly:
I’ve read that first chapter and I’m shocked you say it’s not racist and that if you think it is, you don’t get irony. I really don’t think you’ve read it. The narrator dreams about the good old days when her skin colour was the ideal and she would have been on the cover of magazines. That awful “coal” term is used as a slur against the supposedly privileged class.
Similarly, Mary Robinette Kowal points out that the main African American character in the novel’s interracial love story is referred to as a “beast-man.”
Other commenters include some well-known authors, including Phoebe North and Cat Rambo, basically saying they no longer want to be associated with Weird Tales in its current form. Darren McKeeman, who ran the great horror market Gothic.net, writes, “I think I will try to start a boycott of Weird Tales now.” McKeeman also tweeted: “We should create a Kickstarter to buy back Weird Tales from that old white racist & give it back to Ann Vandermeer.”
N.K. Jemisin has a great blog post about the situation, in which she gives a lot of background about the history of Weird Tales. She writes:
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.
Update: Ann VanderMeer, who had stayed on as a senior contributing editor, announced her resignation:
Due to major artistic and philosophical differences with the existing editors, I have resigned from Weird Tales as a senior contributing editor, effective immediately. This resignation has been in the works for several months, ever since I was removed as the editor-in-chief, but was delayed by my commitment to writers whose work I had accepted for the magazine and to whom I felt a responsibility. I will, as always, continue to be an advocate for exciting new writers at Weirdfictionreview.com and my various anthologies.
Now, the magazine has apparently changed its position. The publisher posted the following statement :
I would like to tell our community that Weird Tales will NOT be running an excerpt from Victoria Foyt’s novel in our upcoming issue.
Marvin Kaye is our editor and has full control over fiction published in the magazine and website, and he agrees with me on this.
Marvin was approached by Victoria Foyt, and was asked to review her novel. He was told that she was being slammed online by people who had not read it.
I have not read the novel, but have gone over its online presence today. I have no need to read it. I saw the blackface video and read the excerpts the author and publisher chose to make available. I must conclude that the use of the powerful symbols of white people forced to wear blackface to escape the sun, white women lusting after black “beast men,” the “pearls” and “coals,” etc., is goddamned ridiculous and offensive. It seems like the work of someone who does not understand the power of what she is playing with.
Marvin says if you read the whole book, she explains her use of this imagery, and it ends up as a plea for tolerance. I say, so what. And that is the position of Weird Tales – and upon reviewing the video and other materials, Marvin is in full agreement.
I deeply apologize to all who were offended by our association with this book. I am offended by it. I fully respect those who have been writing negative things about us today. You are correct.
I have removed Marvin’s endorsement because he no longer stands by it. Marvin is traveling and will make his own statement shortly.
(Thanks for the heads up, Cat Rambo)