Are we making any progress yet? (On Weird Tales, Marvin Kaye, and the whole Save the Pearls debacle).

This recent situation just has me seething.

If you’ve managed to make it to August 2012 without ever hearing the title Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls!  before this, or the resultant backlash against Victoria Foyt’s “thoroughly non-racist book” because of the heaps and heaps of racism it contains (and misogyny, but that’s another post), here are a few blog posts about it: from Foz Meadows, from NK Jemisin, from Inverarity, from acrackedmoon.
Note: potentially triggering imagery in the Inverarity post, because one of the major marketing tools for this book were a number of videos portraying a blonde, blue-eyed white woman wearing blackface and talking about how “they” (black people) are trying to kill her. I am not kidding. And this is supposed to be a book for teenagers about racial tolerance.

Now, after the book had been tossed around the internet a bit and thoroughly mocked and disparaged and raged at by nearly everyone who touched it, we all thought we’d heard the last of it. Not so. Just the other day, we got this post on Weird Tales magazine’s blog, from its new editor Marvin Kaye. It talks about Kaye’s commitment to serializing Save the Pearls in Weird Tales (despite it falling well outside the typical genre purview of the magazine) and accuses all detractors of the novel of mean-spiritedness and lacking “sufficient wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis” to appreciate the racial dynamics presented in the book.

As your can see in the comments on that cached post, the community was not amused. There was backlash.
The publisher of WT, John Harlacher, eventually deleted the original blog post by Kaye and replaced it with this apology and retraction, claiming that the two of them had been ignorant of the offensive marketing materials and were no longer going to be publishing the book. To which the lot of us responded, “you didn’t think the book was racist enough by itself?”.
Jeff Vandermeer also had this to say about the mess, which throws rather a bit of doubt on the competency of the new WT staff or the truth of Harlacher’s statement. For the record, Ann Vandermeer is wonderful and had this never happened I was planning on letting my WT subscription lapse anyway, due to her absence.

In any case, pissed off by the whole debacle and unimpressed by Harlacher’s apology, I wrote this:

Hi there,

About a year and a half ago (I think, for some reason I’m unable to log into my account at wildsidemagazines, the site does not recognize my email address) I paid for a subscription to Weird Tales, as well as a number of its back issues.
At the time, the magazine had won awards for its editorial prowess on the part of Ann Vandermeer, and was publishing some truly daring and mind-bending prose.
Since then, it’s been purchased by Marvin Kaye, who has made some incredibly questionable editorial choices and written some extremely inflammatory things. In short, I do not believe this is the magazine I originally subscribed to in anything but name.
I’m not certain how many more issues are left in my subscription, if any, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d either cancel it or commute my subscription to a different magazine. If canceling it is all that can be done, that’s fine. I don’t really need to get my money back from you. I just don’t want to own anything edited by the man who first published Orson Scott Card’s gallingly homophobic novella “Hamlet’s Father”, or who would go out of his way to stand behind Victoria Foyt’s appalling racist Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls.
(Here’s where I put my address and personal info, in hopes that they could use it to find my account and cancel my subscription).
Please advise me as to my options.
Many thanks,

To which I was expecting a polite email expressing regrets from one of the WT interns or assistant editors, followed by instructions on how to never receive another issue of WT again ever.

Instead, I received this:

Your wishes will be respected; I believe the publisher will handle that, I regret your decision, and can only say that after reading the book, I found it a powerful attack on racism, just the opposite from the charges leveled at it. However, I only recently saw the marketing of this book, and find it in terrible taste; had I seen it, I would not have read the book. As it is, we have decided not to publish the story.

Regarding Scott Card’s story, I did not see any homophobia in it, or I would have objected, but for the record, I did not want to buy anything from him; the publisher, Tor Books, made it clear that if I did not include his story, they would not publish the book at all.


When Harlacher posted his original apology, he insisted that Kaye was currently traveling and therefor unable to apologize for himself. He implied that once Kaye was no longer traveling, he would do so. Kaye has not yet made a public statement.
Kaye has instead opted to email individuals privately in order to state his case. Rather than inviting a respectful open debate in a public forum, he is trying to defend himself piecemeal through our private accounts. This is, in my view and as I’ve said repeatedly, an incredibly slimy and disingenuous tactic.

In addition to his continuing not to see the racism in StP, he also takes a moment to defend unrepentant homophobe (and NOM board member) Orson Scott Card’s novella “Hamlet’s Father” from accusations of homophobia. Again: these things have been discussed at length by members of the minorities concerned as well as their allies. These facts are not in any manner up for debate.

Marvin Kaye, it’s time for you to apologize. And it’s time for you to shut up and listen.

I expect far better from leaders in the SFF community.
Clearly Weird Tales is no longer the leader it once was.

Edit: I wanted to add a link to Debbie Reese’s article about the way in which indigenous peoples are represented as infantile and brutish in StP. Since her excerpts come largely from the latter half of the book, I can only assume this is what Kaye is referring to when he insists that the book redeems itself in its latter chapters.

I also want to mention that this isn’t the first counter-backlash over this book: Victoria Foyt herself has been making some very offensive statements in response to her critics as well.


14 thoughts on “Are we making any progress yet? (On Weird Tales, Marvin Kaye, and the whole Save the Pearls debacle).

    • I’d love to hear more about that. Sean Wallace expressed some skepticism in the ‘Message from the Publisher’ thread, from the point of view of an another anthologist, that Tor pressured him to do anything. But honestly I feel I’d need to hear details from both sides to know what really happened there.

      I’m confused, though, by his assertion that there was nothing homophobic in the story being so closely followed by a claim that he was not at fault for it being published, despite commissioning it. Is he standing by his editorial choices or not? :\

  1. It seems as if MK is in some sort of denial. Either that or he is a homophobe/racist and he’s too cowardly to admit it.

    • Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’d have to say that at the very least he gets extremely defensive when challenged and is wont to cover his ears and ignore points of view he doesn’t like, even when they’re held by people with much greater understanding of the topic than he has.

      And if there’s a word for a person of privilege who consistently silences or ignores marginalized people’s voices when they speak about their own oppression, well…

      • Yes, at the very least he is very ignorant, if not outright racist/homophobic. But still, even if we ignored the racism of Save the Pearls, the book doesn’t deserve to be published anywhere anyway, based on the writing. Just my opinion.

      • I am in complete agreement with you on all counts. It’s not even Weird Tales’ genre!

        Unfortunately, it’s sounding more and more like a personal matter—friends publishing (Hollywood-connected) friends’ racist novels…

      • Yeah, I agree. Either he’s helping a friend or he wants to make some weird point about something. Either way, it’s unprofessional.

      • Highly. It was awful that he ignored Ann Vandermeer’s advice, and everything he’s done since has been poorly handled. He really REALLY should not have been the one sending those reply emails. It should’ve been somebody else saying “I’m sorry to hear that, here’s how to unsubscribe.”

        The next thing we heard from him should have been a sincere apology
        and retraction on the WT blog. Anything less is adding insult upon injury.

  2. Am I the only one who doesn’t want an apology? The honest answer here is that the editor saw nothing wrong with the material and seems to be removed from the sensibilities of a good chunk of his audience. But should he apologise for that? Admit might be a better word. But then, nothing gained for me, really. At this point I’d rather have people talk about other markets which reflect the material they want to see than asking for an apology and some sort of promise of unlikely reform.

    • I’ve been thinking about your comment all morning, and trying to dissect my feelings about it. I think originally I wanted an apology because I wanted there to be an open space for discussion on this. I wanted to see that he understood how much he’d hurt people in the community, specifically the people who were directly harmed by ‘Save the Pearls’. I don’t know why I gave him enough credit to think that he would change his mind, honestly, given his history, but I did.

      By the time I posted this here, I knew that I was never going to forgive Marvin Kaye, or John Harlacher, or Weird Tales. But I guess some little part of me, whether carried over from the time of slightly greater faith or born from some vindictive wish to see him face publicly the condemnation of his peers… wanted that still. But you’re right. He’s not changing. He’s not *listening*, and nothing he could say at this point outside of “I’m stepping down and ceding all editorial responsibilities back to Ann Vandermeer et al” could change my mind about subscribing or submitting to WT in the future.

      I guess that’s where this stands. I’m looking at Shimmer and Bull Spec right now, for regular lit zines, and I’d love more recommendations.

  3. Not going to assume anything about what could have been seen as “redeeming” in the latter half of the book… Is playing Indian/going Native seen as redeeming of the racism in the rest of the book?! Wondering if MK went to a school with an Indian mascot. Honoring/remembering us, you know, with BS and stereotypes.

    • I read your post on it and was just appalled. I have no idea what he thinks is “better” about the ending of the book, as you said… it’s the worst kind of colonialist ‘primitive native’ racism.
      I think it’s another sign of how deeply the cotton batting is tamped into Kaye’s ears, and how loudly he and Foyt have been protesting their innocence of all charges.

  4. I just feel, whatever MK does or does not do about this debacle, Weird Tales is a lost cause. There are many other magazines writers can send their work to and readers can subscribe to–magazines that are run by competant editors who have the sense enough to not make their magazines a platform for their ignorance.

    • Utterly true. As I said to Silvia… I really didn’t have hopes for anything Marvin Kaye has his fingers in anymore.

      I’ve brought up some great literary magazines in the past on here, including ones I’ve illustrated for, but I think I’ll do another blog post about some of the really terrific alternatives out there. Any and all recommendations would be hugely appreciated! :)

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