Category Archives: news

New for spring…

occupy me. sullivanToday I’d like to say a few words about two brand new science fiction novels that I was lucky enough to have the chance to read in manuscript. The first is Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan. If I were to tell you that Occupy Me is the story of an angel discovering her true destiny, that would probably give you an extremely skewed idea of what this novel is actually like. If I were to tell you that Occupy Me is the story of a quantum being discovering the gateway to another universe, that might give you a better sense of the textures and themes you’ll find yourself experiencing if you pick up this book. Both statements would be true. Neither gives the whole picture.

“Most of the cabin class passengers are aware that they’re doing something extraordinary by flying. Even if they only let out a fleeting smile when looking out the window, or utter a silent prayer on landing, most of them sense that they are close to heaven. And heaven isn’t what you think it is. Heaven, even glimpsed side-on, is awesome. While folks are hurtling along at angel-altitude, their souls are open. Their hearts are accessible. Their minds can be touched. I’d like to think that a little nudge from me at the right moment on a flight can bring about long-term changes on Earth.”

I first read Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me in draft, in the summer of 2014, and I’m still trying to think of words that accurately describe it. ‘Adventurous’ and ‘ambitious’ don’t seem sufficient by themselves. ‘Experimental’ has to be in there somewhere, but I would hate to suggest that this novel doesn’t also deliver a blistering story. Occupy Me is skittish, fluid, unpredictable, rapturous, and wayward. There are so many ideas here – ideas on every page, jostling each other impatiently, like precocious children. I think the thing I love most about Occupy Me is that it feels so alive – as if those ideas are being created as you read about them, as if they’re still being thought about even as they plump down on the page. Nothing is fixed here – everything is up for grabs.

The voice of Occupy Me is alternately angry, tender, contentious and filled with wonderment. This is a novel in motion, and another thing I love about it is the way its language mirrors the mercurial fluidity of its thought processes. Sentence fragments, word cascades, thickets of imagery – this is a work in thrall to the power of the written word.

There need to be more science fiction novels like this: elusive, combative, curious, willing to take risks. Occupy Me is science fiction at its leading, not to say bleeding edge: there’s no formula for work of this kind. You won’t know exactly where you’re going until you get there.

It’s clear almost from the first that Occupy Me‘s central character Pearl is graft.2016working from a place of deep compassion. Compassionate would not be the first word that comes to mind when describing the various protagonists of Matt Hill’s thrilling second novel Graft – the book opens with a particularly brutal punishment shooting – but travel the road with them a little further and you might be surprised.  What Graft also has in common with Occupy Me is an interest in quantum dimensions and parallel futures – according to Hill as to Sullivan, these can be very dangerous places to wind up in.

For anyone who’s read Hill’s debut, the terse and wonderfully unpredictable The Folded Man, his vision of a future Manchester – cracked and bleeding – will be familiar as well as fascinating. But you don’t have to have read that first book to enjoy this new one. Graft is more immediately accessible than The Folded Man, but its concepts and characters are no less challenging, no less original. As with Occupy Me, what I admire most about this novel is its language, its wily construction. You’ll begin by wondering where you are and what the hell is about to happen. But within a short space of time you’ll be drawn into a story you won’t want to put down. Matt Hill is shaping up to be one of the most innovative and outspoken new writers of British science fiction currently on the scene. If you enjoyed Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn, or Matthew di Abaitua’s The Red Men or If Then, then I’d strongly recommend you give Graft a read as soon as possible.

Beware the Manor Lord, though. And mind the Slope…

Graft is out any day now from Angry Robot. You’ll find an interview with Matt here at SFF World, and more on his insights and inspirations for Graft here at SF Signal.

Occupy Me is out now from Gollancz. Check out Tricia’s blog for more information on the science and even the music behind the novel, and listen to her in conversation with Mavesh Murad on the podcast Midnight in Karachi.

 

#weird2016: Run the GAMUT!

There’s a wonderful project up at Kickstarter at the moment and I’m personally urging anyone with an interest in horror and weird fiction to consider backing it, or just to spread the word if you possibly can. GAMUT looks like being the most interesting new magazine venture to have surfaced in years. It’s the brainchild of Richard Thomas, writer and editor. Richard has made literary quality a defining feature of all the projects he’s been involved with, and if you glance down the tables of contents of the anthologies he’s edited – The New Black, Burnt Tongues (which was a Stoker finalist) and The Lineup – you’ll see just what an innovative and ambitious approach to weird fiction he has.

Don’t listen to me – let Richard tell you more about Gamut himself:

Gamut will be accepting solicited submissions only for a time, but Richard fully intends to open the magazine up to new writers in due course. There will be non-fiction and commentary too.

I believe that Gamut is exactly the kind of webzine the genre landscape needs right now. Independent-spirited, innovative and just more willing to take risks than other venues. I hope to see it becoming a kind of meeting point, a hub for weird writers and readers of all persuasions. With the right support and enthusiasm, Gamut really could help to increase the profile of quality speculative fiction generally.

Please back Gamut now!

Dann sind wir Helden…

My first encounter with David Bowie’s music came in 1975, when my brother and I purchased the single of ‘Space Oddity’ with our joint pocket money. My brother was seven, I was nine. We had this thing where we would sing and act out the lyrics. He was always Major Tom. I was Ground Control, and the background narrator. The helmet was a washing up bowl. We played the song endlessly. It was a game for us, a sort of party piece we would perform for our parents (who I’m sure became tired of it far more quickly than they let on).

It was something else too, though. From a very young age, I was obsessed with song lyrics (Middle of the Road’s ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, which I thought was about a baby bird who had lost its mother, used to fill me with horror even as I enjoyed singing along to it) and the story told by Bowie’s song was a source of dread and wonderment to me.  I know there are theories that the lyrics are actually code for taking drugs (aren’t all song lyrics?) but for me it was always simply about this astronaut, this internationally feted yet infinitely lonely man who was left floating in space, knowing he was doomed to die and yet was somehow OK with that. ‘And I think my spaceship knows which way to go’ – the line seemed unutterably sad to me.

I never spoke of these feelings. The song still seems both heroic, and unutterably sad.

I didn’t think much about David Bowie after that until the early eighties, when someone – I can’t for the life of me remember who it was – played me ‘Life on Mars’ as part of a compilation tape they’d made (remember those?) and that song has remained part of my personal lexicon ever since. Something about the chord changes, the aching swings from major to minor, and of course those lyrics. For me, the lyrics seemed to sum up everything about the nineteen eighties, even though I could never have said precisely what they meant. If I happened to hear the song playing on the radio I’d stop what I was doing to listen. When I hear it now, it seems to speak of a past I know we can never recapture.

I had a 12″ single of the German version of ‘Heroes’. My mum found it for me in our local record store. Even now when I think of that song, it’s the German lyrics I think of first.

Chris and I were talking about Bowie only last week, when we were driving back from doing the weekly shop and I was telling Chris about a glorious ranty send-up I’d heard somewhere or other, of the lyrics to ‘Starman’. (‘He’s come all this way, he has the power to cure global warming and cancer but what comes top of his list of priorities? Let the children boogie.’) Although I was never anything more than the most casual Bowie fan, when I turned on the radio first thing this morning and heard the news of his death I found myself harbouring the fleeting hope that it was all a hoax. David Bowie was one of those artists who seem timeless, who we come to think of as almost immortal. Then they are gone, and the world is, somehow, just a little bit changed.

2016: My Year of Reading Weird

I remember saying at the end of 2014 that I was dissatisfied with what I’d read. Not with the books, or not with all of them by any means – when I look back at my books-read list for 2014 and see it included Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed and Paul Park’s All Those Vanished Engines, I feel an instant wave of nostalgia for those sublime moments of discovery – but with my own disjointed approach to the reading year. Just a bunch of books, basically, and no order, system or overall plan to distinguish my choices.

Not that one should feel obligated to have a plan – choosing what to read next can be a decision as personal, random and fortuitous as the reader’s heart desires – but I like the idea of being headed somewhere, of ending the year with the sense that I have moved forward as a reader, that my default choices have been challenged in some way, that my reading has given me new ideas about where I want to go as a writer. When I happened to come across Jeff VanderMeer’s Epic List of Favourite Books Read in 2015, I was struck by its sense of cohesion, the sense that these were books you could return to again and again for new insights. They made sense as a group, somehow. Also they seemed so refreshingly, blessedly different from so many of the books on most of the ‘Year’s Best’ lists that are currently doing the rounds.

In 2015, as in 2014, I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything like that. I’ve read some astounding books and some indifferent books and some really rather bad books. I’ve read books that have surprised me and books that have disappointed me and books that have inspired me. On the whole though, I feel that my reading experience has been circumscribed by its randomness. I think at least part of the problem – maybe even the larger part – is the pressure one feels these days, as a reader, to be current. To be up with what’s coming out and down with the various literary prize shortlists. To have what passes for a relevant opinion – on a bunch of books that just happen to have been published in a given year.

I’ve come to believe that these pressures have been working against what I want to do, what I need to gain from reading, as a reader and as a writer. Awards shortlists may be lots of fun to dissect, but as arbiters of anything other than themselves, they are confining.  Which is why I want to pay less active critical attention to them in 2016. Unless an awards shortlist seems particularly relevant to my interests, I won’t be rushing to read it or even comment on it.

I’ve seen various book bloggers talking recently about an ongoing online community project called the Classics Club – members select a personal list of 50 books, to be read and blogged about over the course of five years. The only rule is that all books selected should be at least twenty-five years old – other than that, it’s completely up to individual members how they choose books, and which books they choose. I think it’s a fascinating idea – once you’re freed from the need for everything you read to be ‘new and upcoming’, your choices are almost bound to be more challenging and, in a strange way, more personal. Take a look at David Hebblethwaite’s newly complied list and you’ll see what I mean.

Thinking around these ideas, I came up with one of my own that feels even more right for me at the moment – My Year of Reading Weird 2016. There are no hard and fast rules – I’m too good at finding excuses to break them. I’m not banning myself from reading 2016 books either – but I do want to try and ensure that a good proportion of the novels I read this year are novels that were published before this year, to include at least a couple that really are ‘classics’, published a century ago or more.

The overall aim of the challenge? To increase my knowledge of weird and horror fiction. I’ve always thought of horror as the area of speculative fiction I understand best, and yet I know I’ve been neglecting it somewhat in recent years. There are new writers and books I’m very aware I’ve not read yet – as well as the many, many gaps in my knowledge of historical and classic weird. My goal is to make a move towards putting that right, and I think I’ll be gaining a lot as a reader and as a writer in the process.

It goes without saying that I’ll be looking for the weird in some unexpected places. While I might be rereading The Tales of Hoffmann, I might also be finally getting around to Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, which has to count as horror, more than anything else. I definitely want to include more literature in translation, and I’ll probably be including some films and individual short stories along with the novels. Weird also might simply refer to the way a book is written – the form a book takes is often as interesting to me as its content, if not more so.

I’m hoping to blog as many of my weird and horror reads as I possibly can, providing not so much book reviews as a kind of running commentary on my experience. I might, occasionally, get ranty.

And you know, I’m looking forward to this already.

The countdown has begun…

With the new year rapidly approaching, it’s lovely to see that the new and expanded Titan edition of The Race has made the Barnes & Noble SFF blog’s list of the 42 Most Anticipated novels of 2016!

the race cover (2)

While in B&N’s follow-up article detailing the 2016 Books SFF Editors Want You to Read, the wonderful Cath Trechman has this to say:

“As soon as I finished reading The Race I wanted to press it into the hands of everyone I know. Much like Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it’s science fiction that packs an emotional punch—subtle and layered but at the same time compelling and very readable. It is set partly in a future scarred by fracking and ecological collapse, and partly in modern times, and tells the story of four damaged people whose lives are inextricably linked—and a child’s kidnaping with consequences that reach across worlds. The Race has already been nominated for several awards and the Titan edition features a brand-new chapter, which I think completes the book even more effectively than before. I love this book, it still haunts my dreams.”

What a beautiful accolade – thanks, Cath! With ARCs of The Race currently in preparation, it truly feels as if the book is almost here.

In the meantime, it’s well worth checking out both of the above lists. There are some fascinating novels on the way.

Nominating for the BSFA Awards and end-of-year musings (Part One)

Yes – it’s time. With Christmas and New Year come the first intimations of the rapidly approaching 2016 awards season. First out of the starting gates are the BSFA Awards. Under the new and somewhat arcane awards rules, those eligible to nominate must now do so twice: once for the selection of the longlists (which as I understand it will consist of ALL eligible nominations received in this first round) and then again for the selection of the shortlists. BSFA members and members of the 2015 Eastercon must get their first round of nominations in by December 31st in order for them to count in the second round. So get nominating. The rules and online nominations form can be found here. Alternatively, you can email your full list of nominations to the awards administrator at awards@bsfa.co.uk

Remember, nominations are restricted to four works per category, which can call for some difficult choices. I’ve not completely made up my mind yet which will make my final cut, but as has become traditional at this time of year, I’d like to mention some of those works of science fiction, fantasy and horror which have particularly caught my attention.

In the novel category, three works stand out: Alexis Wright’s The Swan swanbook.wrightBook, Sarah Taylor’s The Shore and Laura Van Den Berg’s Find Me. All three could be called post-apocalypse novels, but I’m coming more and more to dislike such easy categorisations and in any case, the three books are all very different. What these three novels do have in common, sadly, is critical neglect. While The Shore did make the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the shortlist of the Guardian First Book Award, it seems barely to have been discussed in SFF circles. Similarly with The Swan Book, which was shortlisted for both the Stella and the Miles Franklin Awards in Wright’s native Australia, but – this excellent review by Octavia Cade at Strange Horizons aside – has been more or less bypassed by critics with an interest in SFF. Laura Van Den Berg has rightly received a great deal of praise for Find Me in the US mainstream book press. Why the British release seems to have been absent from just about everyone’s radar is anyone’s guess, but whatever the reason, it’s a serious oversight. These three books offer so much to the reader, not simply in terms of what they wish to tell us about the dangers of climate change, the breakdown of society under unchecked capitalism and the iniquities it perpetrates, but in terms of how their stories are told. The fractured narratives of The Shore, the extraordinary language of The Swan Book, the blurring of realities in Find Me – anyone in doubt over the literary value of speculative fiction would be hard pressed to find three more complex, absorbing, beautiful and passionately executed novels from the whole of what gets called the mainstream, all year.

rawblood.wardOn the horror side, of course I’m going to name Catriona Ward’s Rawblood as my Book of the Year. I also need to mention J. M. McDermott’s Straggletaggle. I think this was actually a 2014 release, but blink and you’d have missed it, and so far as I can recall I don’t think either the eBook or the physical editions were actually available in the UK until 2015 in any case. Straggletaggle is a wild, weird and genuinely terrifying deconstruction of the steampunk idiom. Quite brilliant, and quite unlike anything else you’ll have read this year. Once again, the lack of critical commentary is really quite staggering. It genuinely upsets me, the paucity of attention McDermott is given. As one of the most original voices currently working in SFF his name should be everywhere.  His works are spare, acerbic and mystifying, sometimes difficult but always rewarding. I’m intending to make a deeper study of his work at some point (time, time) but in the meantime, I would thoroughly recommend Straggletaggle as a starting point. Please read it.

Honourable mentions must go to Oliver Langmead’s bold and really rather trouble.linkwonderful Dark Star, a science fiction novel written entirely in iambic pentameters. We have seen speculative fiction embrace epic poetry before now – most notably in Anne Carson’s sublime Red Doc> and Sam Barlow’s gripping LA werewolf noir Sharp Teeth (read them now if you haven’t already!) – but Langmead takes to the form admirably and there is a real strength of line in his composition. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border offers only the tiniest excuse to be called SF, but fans of The Carhullan Army will find plenty of reminder of that novel in Hall’s treatment of landscape and illumination of the inner lives of characters. I loved this book, which would vie with Joyce Carol Oates’s Carthage as my Book of the Year Across All Genres. China Mieville’s collection Three Moments of an Explosion seems to signal a new direction for Mieville. There are occasional flashes of ur-Mieville excess, of course (tentacles!) but on the whole the explosions these collected pieces generate are more tautly controlled. more contemplative, if that’s the right word for a collection that still does contain excavated alien antecedents, lake demons, arcane playing cards that force you into playing forfeits with Elder Gods or whoever. I loved the mix-up of fictions and metafictions. Mieville has a new novella out in February which I’m looking forward to but from a critical standpoint I’m especially interested to see where his next full-length novel might take him. Still on the subject of collections, it’s not every year we have a new book by Kelly Link to delight us, so the publication of Link’s fourth collection, Get in Trouble, was a particular treat. I’d read a couple of the stories before in various online venues, but several were completely new to me and all, as with everything by Link, will deepen and strengthen in the rereading.

anne.charnock.embersLate Arrivals at the BSFA Ball? Two I’m reading at the moment, both British, both second novels, both immensely promising and both might well make it to my final BSFA nominations slate. The first is Anne Charnock’s Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, which presents us with three interlinked stories across three different time periods: past, present and future. Art, history and future society form the primary subject matter and I’m loving this novel every bit as much as I enjoyed Charnock’s debut, A Calculated Life, which I read earlier this year. Secondly we have Matthew de Abaitua’s long-awaited return with If Then, which if it stays as good all the way to the end as it is in its first third, will be one of my top tips to take next year’s Clarke Award.

New stuff to watch for 2016? It’s way early yet, but just to mention a couple graft.2016of books I’ve had the pleasure and the luck to read in manuscript form and that will be coming out next year. First up, Matt Hill’s second novel Graft will be out from Angry Robot in February. Anyone who’s read Hill’s debut The Folded Man – and if not, why not? – will instantly know where they are as Hill’s mean and broken future Manchester is pretty inimitable. You’ll meet some amazing characters navigating some profoundly dangerous situations in an environment of true weirdness that has a touch of the William Gibsons about it whilst at the same time presenting a science fiction that’s very personal, very British. In a word, it’s fantastic. Zachary Jernigan’s new short story collection – so new its title hasn’t been announced yet – should be out in the spring from Ragnarok Publications. Some of the stories take place in the world of Jeroun – see Jernigan’s tough-minded and exquisitely wrought novels No Return and Shower of Stones – some have a more recognisably realworld setting. All are pretty extraordinary. I found the collection stunning, to be honest – I gave it a 10/10 on my private score-ometer (whatever that is) – and I hope it wins many awards. I could say the same of Aliya Whiteley’s upcoming novella from Unsung Stories, The Arrival of Missives. This is so beautifully executed it made me cry. All those who read and loved The Beauty, brace yourselves, because Missives is just as good, if not better. All those evil people who haven’t read The Beauty yet, why not atone for this grave mistake by pre-ordering The Arrival of Missives right away??

radiance.valenteTwo spring releases that I’ve not read yet but am particularly excited about are Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance, a novel based around the world and the characters we first met in her story ‘The Radiant Car thy Sparrows Drew’ which I loved, and which most recently appeared in the Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. It’s a feast of metafiction, found documents and embedded texts, by all accounts, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.  My second pre-order for 2016 is Claire Vaye Watkins’s first novel Gold Fame Citrus. Watkins’s debut, the short fiction collection Battleborn, was one of my favourite books of 2012 and I’m hoping this new work – a near-future science fiction set amongst the same landscapes as Battleborn – will be something equally special.

Back soon for Part Two – in which I’ll talk about the short fiction and non-fiction which most stood out for me in 2015.

 

The Weekend Read

My story ‘Marielena’, first published in Interzone last summer, is currently available to read online as part of The Weekend Read, as organised by For Books’ Sake, a charity devoted to the promotion of women’s writing through workshops, online publishing projects and live events nationwide.  The Weekend Read aims to promote short fiction by women, with a new story up every Friday and previously featuring stories by Patricia Duncker, Jenn Ashworth, Kirsty Logan and plenty of others. Many thanks to For Books’ Sake for their enthusiasm and commitment to new fiction.

‘Marielena’ tells the story of Noah, a teacher forced into exile from his (unnamed) homeland in the Middle East. His experience of being a refugee is difficult enough already, but then he meets Mary, a homeless woman who seems to know more about the future of Noah’s adopted city than she really should.

This story was directly inspired by reading some of the real-life experiences of refugees seeking asylum in my country. ‘Marielena’ was a story I felt I needed to write, just to say something, to do something. I hope readers will carry something away from it, however small.

“You imagine you understand how it begins. You – with your passport from birth and your front door key, your insurance against life, death and hijacking – think of palace coups and mobs with guns, young men in dirty bandanas and shouldering Kalashnikovs. How about a voting booth, a press conference, a gaggle of bland-speaking politicians wearing Western clothes? That’s how it’s done these days, believe me. Why shoot when you can legislate? The guns come out right at the end, for those who don’t get the message or who won’t get lost.” 

Brief updates

Firstly, I’m delighted to announce that Nevsky Prospects will be publishing a Spanish edition of The Race, currently scheduled for spring 2017. Huge thanks to Marian and James Womack for their continuing commitment to my work. I’m thrilled that this is happening.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m currently hard at work on the third draft of The Rift. I’m very excited about the book now. It’s now just over a year since I first began writing it, although the basic idea (and some of the characters) had been floating around inside my head for quite a bit longer. At this stage, the novel feels fully formed and really here.

Immediately prior to starting in on this third draft, I had a lot of fun first-drafting a horror story – quite a long and involved one – which I’ve been commissioned to write as part of a project that should be seeing the light of day sometime next year. It’s been quite a while since I wrote any horror – the story I wrote for Aickman’s Heirs in the summer of 2014, in fact – and I don’t mind admitting it felt great to be back in that territory. In fact, it’s inspired me to read, write and blog more horror next year. Plans are already afoot, so watch this space!

Come in Howard, your time is up

Cthulhu BarneyChris’s ‘Howard’ was awarded to him in 1996, for The Prestige. Although he was delighted to accept the award itself, he always considered the trophy to be a thing of unsurpassed ugliness, and until I went up there to fetch it so he could take this photograph, the unfortunate effigy was residing in our loft.

POINTS WORTH REMEMBERING THIS WEEK:

  1. The trophy is hideous – there’s no denying it.
  2. The World Fantasy Award and the World Fantasy Award trophy are not the same thing. The former is a highly regarded juried award, designed to recognise the year’s most outstanding works of fantasy literature. The latter is a pewter statuette on a wooden base.
  3. Changing the form of the latter does not in any way diminish, impugn or invalidate the worth of the former.
  4. H. P. Lovecraft was a horror writer, and a niche horror writer at that. He rarely travelled anywhere and when he did he didn’t enjoy the experience. His literary output was similarly restricted. He also held racist views that would be considered extreme by most standards. The idea that Lovecraft can be an appropriate emblem for ‘world fantasy’ is wrongheaded, and that’s putting it mildly.
  5. Given that an increasing number of readers, critics and above all World Fantasy Award nominees are becoming uncomfortable with the idea of Lovecraft’s image being used as the figurehead for the World Fantasy Award, it is difficult to understand how anyone who truly cares about the award as a standard-bearer for world fantasy can themselves remain comfortable with it.

A dear friend of mine won a Howard this week. Many other good friends and esteemed colleagues have either won or been nominated for Howards in previous years. I understand nostalgia – I’m British, for goodness’ sake, our engines run on the stuff. What I don’t understand is why there are people who seem to be conflating the current physical representation of the World Fantasy Award – Gahan Wilson’s bust of H. P. Lovecraft – with the award itself. Why many of these same people seem determined to read the recent WFCB decision to retire the Howard as an attack on Lovecraft’s literary legacy is beyond me.

I’m not a Lovecraft expert but I have read him. I consume his work sparingly these days – too much at once and the overblown, repetitive drone of it can become tedious – but there are things about his oeuvre that I find consistently inspiring. His disturbingly persuasive conception of ‘cosmic horror’, of course, but for me personally as a writer, Lovecraft’s obsessive portrayal of introverted scholars ferreting their way through dusty libraries and untold reams of obscure documents in their feverish search for evidence of Elder God involvement in human affairs awakens more than a shiver of horrified excitement each time I revisit him. Lovecraft’s influence on weird fiction is far-reaching and ongoing. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the kind of wilful negation of documented fact that tries to insist that Lovecraft the man wasn’t really a racist, but a product of his time.

H. P. Lovecraft was certainly a complex, conflicted and frequently misanthropic individual. There is an argument to be made that some of the more outlandish expressions of his racist views arose either directly or indirectly from his general loathing and mistrust of the human condition. But to pass off the views themselves as anything but egregious, to soft-soap them as little more than the ubiquitous background racism that was then endemic is an act of self-delusion, or to put it less kindly, a lie.

“The New York Mongoloid problem is beyond calm mention. The city is befouled and accursed—I come away from it with a sense of having been tainted by contact, and long for some solvent of oblivion to wash it out! … How in Heaven’s name sensitive and self-respecting white men can continue to live in the stew of Asiatic filth which the region has become—with marks and reminders of the locust-plague on every hand—is absolutely beyond me. … There is here a grave and mighty problem beside which the negro problem is a jest—for in this case we have to deal not with childlike half-gorillas, but with yellow, soulless enemies whose repulsive carcasses house dangerous mental machines warped culturelessly in the single direction of material gain at any cost. I hope the end will be warfare … In New England we have our own local curses … in the form of simian Portuguese, unspeakable Southern Italians, and jabbering French-Canadians. Broadly speaking, our curse is Latin just as yours is Semitic-Mongoloid, the Mississippian’s African, the Pittsburgher’s Slavonic, the Arizonian’s Mexican, and the Californian’s Chino-Japanese.”

(Letter from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, August 21, 1926. More here if you can stomach it.) 

We can choose to call this ignorance, we can choose to call this paranoia, we can choose to call this heightened sensitivity to social change. We MUST call it racism. It’s contemptible and vile and cannot be gainsaid. Admitting these things does not mean we have to consign Lovecraft’s oeuvre to the cultural scrapheap. Those who feel the need to constantly apologise for Lovecraft would be advised to ask themselves why they rush to do that. His work stands by itself – it doesn’t need our apologies. There can be no apology or excuse for the views on display in that letter to Belknap Long. These two facts stand side by side and we have to live with them. Any discussion of Lovecraft’s work that does not acknowledge the problematic nature of Lovecraft’s racist worldview is incomplete.

Far more worrying, at this point in time, than Lovecraft’s racism – Lovecraft died almost eighty years ago, remember, he’s beyond pamphleteering – is the number of notable voices in the field of horror fiction who clearly consider it more important to retain a particular incarnation of an award trophy than to work towards any kind of true understanding of why an increasing number of readers, writers and critics now find the signal that trophy sends inappropriate and offensive. That certain authors and editors should abuse the platform they are privileged to occupy by dismissing people’s rightful anger and discomfort with the Howard as shrill whining or malicious censorship is, quite frankly, appalling.

It is also the most urgent demonstration of the need for change.

ON LOVECRAFT: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq. Houellebecq could hardly be cited as the most reliable witness in the case of Lovecraft’s racism, to say the least, but as one writer exploring his passion for another there’s no doubt that Houellebecq’s extended essay makes for mesmerising reading. As a bonus, it also includes an introduction by Stephen King and two HPL originals.

ON THE NEED FOR CHANGE: Lovecraft’s Racism and the World Fantasy Award Statuette by Nnedi Okorafor, winner of the WFA for Best Novel 2011:

“I too am deeply honored to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It feels so so so right and so so good. The awards jury was clearly progressive and looking in a new direction. I am the first black person to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel since its inception in 1975. Lovecraft is probably rolling in his grave. Or maybe, having become spirit, his mind has cleared of the poisons and now understands the err of his ways. Maybe he is pleased that a book set in and about Africa in the future has won an award crafted in his honor. Yeah, I’ll go with that image.”

World Fantasy Awards – what did I say? by Sofia Samatar, winner of the WFA for Best Novel 2014:

“I just wanted them to know that here I was in a terribly awkward position, unable to be 100% thrilled, as I should be, by winning this award, and that many other people would feel the same, and so they were right to think about changing it.”

THE NEXT GENERATION: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has provided inspiration for new writers even from the time HPL was still in the active process of creating it. Indeed, Lovecraft encouraged and welcomed the idea of others working in his universe. The Mythos is, if anything, more popular than ever before, with writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, Livia Llewellyn and Caitlin R. Kiernan producing works that – to be perfectly honest – often outshine ‘the master’ in their psychological acuity and stylistic virtuosity. There is a lifetime’s worth of superb material to be explored here, but for new voices it’s worth checking out Paula Guran’s anthology New Cthulhu and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s recent all-women anthology She Walks in Shadows (gorgeous cover, too). For those seeking an instant online tentacular fix, Ruthanna Emrys’s ‘The Litany of Earth’ is a fine example of how skilfully Lovecraft’s prejudices can be turned on their head. The tale is of of one Aphra Marsh, and some deeply traumatic memories of a town called Innsmouth… Another favourite recent story comes from Michael Cisco, one of the most brilliant and consistently underrated writers in the field of weird. It’s actually an excerpt from a work-in-progress, Unlanguage, but reads perfectly well as a standalone short story. The Mythos isn’t referenced directly but it doesn’t need to be. Needless to say I am eager to read Unlanguage in its entirety.