Weird Tales Magazine Apologizes, Yanks Planned Excerpt Of 'Racist' YA Novel

Weird Tales Apologizes for 'Racist' YA Novel

via io9

After readers threatened a boycott, the editors at Weird Tales Magazine have apologized and nixed a plan to run an excerpt of Saving The Pearls: Defending Eden in the next issue. Critics charged that Victoria Foyt's self-published novel is racist.

Saving The Pearls: Defending Eden takes place in a world where global warming has wiped out most of the world's white population. Blacks are now the ruling class, and they are called "coals." They oppress the remaining white people, who are called "pearls."

And if you go to the website for the book, you are greeted by a video featuring a white actress in blackface. 

Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye, who had decided to run the excerpt, defended it in a blog post (since deleted), in which he said that racism is an atrocity, and the meaning of the book "is very clear to anyone with an appreciation for irony who reads it."

But the magazine quickly changed course--here's an excerpt of what publisher John Harlacher had to say, after the decision was made to pull the excerpt: 

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 can't find any comment from Foyt, in relation to the controversy. The latest post on her Facebook page is from July 23, highlighting a (mostly) positive review of the book. 

Now, I have not read this book. I read the excerpt that's available on Amazon, I watched the (cringe-worthy) video, and I read a lot of the reviews and blog chatter.

I'll allow that maybe Foyt wanted to make a grand statement (racism is bad) but didn't have the tools to pull it off. To paraphrase This Is Spinal Tap, there is a fine line between clever and stupid.

At the same time, it's hard to believe that video was created for anything other than shock value, which, if that's the case, then shame on her. This isn't the sort of thing that should be dredged up for publicity. 

What do you think? Is the blackface video enough to condemn Foyt? Should we be giving her the benefit of the doubt, and reading the book before passing judgment? Is Weird Tales doing the right thing by refusing to excerpt the book?

UPDATE: When I filed this last night, Foyt hadn't commented--but she's now posted a long rebuttal on her Facebook page, which reads, in part: 

Artists provoke to get their point across. I abhor racism. In Revealing Eden I aimed to turn racism on its head in order to portray its horrors and its inevitable road to violence. I believe that anyone who reads the novel will understand its strong stance against racism.

She's right to say people should read the book. But she also says the video isn't blackface--which it is. And she equates the judgment leveled against her book with actual racism, which is a little heavy-handed. And the comments. Oh, the comments on that post. No one seems to be buying her argument. Here's one: 

You didn't turn racism on its head, lady. You just fed an entire population of white Americans who believe the only racism that still exists is racism against white people.

Also: 

If you think criticism can be compared to racism, it just proves how completely unqualified you are for writing a book about racism.

The controversy thickens...

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Comments

DmNerd's picture
DmNerd from Orlando Florida is reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress August 22, 2012 - 7:08am

You can defend an author's work on the merit of the message, but without having read the book I'm not sure if that can be applied here. However I find it difficult to defend the use of black face in the video. That seems pure shock value to me. Approaching the topic of racism is surgery not demolition.

However if the editor felt that the book as relavent to his readershp then he should have still included it magazine. I don't like seeing material pulled just because some people aren't comfortable with it.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine August 22, 2012 - 7:23am

I don't know if I'd consider what's going on in that video blackface, at least not in the minstrel/Al Jolson sort of way, but I won't argue that the whole thing doesn't seem a little... misguided.

Also, it made me really want to go watch Soul Man.

Anthony Banter's picture
Anthony Banter August 22, 2012 - 7:42am

I see more and more criticism of works being made by people who don't read the material.  The fear that being labled as a racist or the fear of not being able to hold your own in a debate about the subject (or sheer unwillingness to enter that debate) is the sign of a weak and cowardly writer/editor/columnist/reviewer that should not be listened to on the subject AT ALL.

READ THE FRICKEN STORY AND MAKE YOUR OWN JUDGMENT INSTEAD OF FOLDING LIKE A NAPKIN AT THE SLIGHTEST BACKLASH FROM OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE PROBABLY NOT READ THE MATERIAL FOR IT'S MESSAGE EITHER!!!

You have fallen a few pegs, in my book.  Anyone that writes a damned article about the contents of a book without actually reading it is not someone to be taken seriously as a reviewer.  You blew it.  The outrage of the marketing of the book is for another source - you are supposed to review LITERATURE, not the advertising for said literature.

Could you please refer me to another site that might make real and brave reviews of literature?  I am not partaking in your biased and unprofessional cowtow reviews any longer.

FEAR is a four letter word.

Anthony Banter's picture
Anthony Banter August 22, 2012 - 7:42am

I see more and more criticism of works being made by people who don't read the material.  The fear that being labled as a racist or the fear of not being able to hold your own in a debate about the subject (or sheer unwillingness to enter that debate) is the sign of a weak and cowardly writer/editor/columnist/reviewer that should not be listened to on the subject AT ALL.

READ THE FRICKEN STORY AND MAKE YOUR OWN JUDGMENT INSTEAD OF FOLDING LIKE A NAPKIN AT THE SLIGHTEST BACKLASH FROM OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE PROBABLY NOT READ THE MATERIAL FOR IT'S MESSAGE EITHER!!!

You have fallen a few pegs, in my book.  Anyone that writes a damned article about the contents of a book without actually reading it is not someone to be taken seriously as a reviewer.  You blew it.  The outrage of the marketing of the book is for another source - you are supposed to review LITERATURE, not the advertising for said literature.

Could you please refer me to another site that might make real and brave reviews of literature?  I am not partaking in your biased and unprofessional cowtow reviews any longer.

FEAR is a four letter word.

Anthony Banter's picture
Anthony Banter August 22, 2012 - 7:43am

...so important that I said it TWICE!

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this August 22, 2012 - 7:56am

Dear Anthony:

1. This is not a review.

2. I was clear about not having read the book, nor did I pass judgement on the work as a whole.

3. If you'll notice (you have to read to the end though, which I know is tough), I agreed with Foyt, that people should the entire book before passing judgement. 

4. Most people--at least, anyone with reading comprehension above a third-grade level--would realize I was posing questions as a point of generating discussion.

5. Given my desire for intelligent discussion on this site, it's no great loss to see you go elsewhere.

DmNerd's picture
DmNerd from Orlando Florida is reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress August 22, 2012 - 7:58am

Your caps lock and exclimation points will be missed.

Having read the authors response I still feel like she was attempting to pull off a larger critique of racism that fell a bit short. I don't feel that she should have to defend herself from attacks over it. If people don't like her books (given that it has won several awards) let them not like it. Let the literature speak for itself.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this August 22, 2012 - 8:01am

You know, I'm actually sort of tempted to buy this and read it--the only thing holding me back is that I have piles and piles of books I need to get through, and I don't really have the time to add another. 

But I'm intrigued. The excerpts I read... they were not very good, but I'm still interested to see the overall "message." 

NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn August 22, 2012 - 8:37am

Two things:

1. It was a little stupid for a magazine to reject publishing the excerpt based on internet twiddle. If that was done all the time, FSOG wouldn't have made it so big. (Okay, maybe it SHOULD be done that way...) It is always important to read something before you pass judgement on it. Always. Banned books week is coming up next month which wouldn't be here without retards like that guy.

 

2. She self published the novel. Not a wise idea for an author who has knowingly written a controversial piece of literature (a term I use loosely). I have mixed feelings about this because the strong liberal side of me is angry at the backlash she gets over writing a book that some people may or may not be offended by. That's not her problem. The first ammendment says she can write any novel she wants. But.... the writer side of me wants to slap her for how she handled the backlash. By all means, stand behind your work, if it's work that deserves a defense.  Based on the excerpts, I think it doesn't. *shrug* 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated August 22, 2012 - 8:48am

Well, if you aren't afraid of people saying you're a racist this truly brilliant marketing.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig August 22, 2012 - 9:40am

The First Amendment says she can write any novel she wants, but it doesn't say Weird Tales has to publish excerpts of it. 

It seems as though Harlacher felt the need to make a judgement call based on excerpts he read and the online presence. Maybe it is "controversial" but if Foyt is marketing herself in such a way that Harlacher looked at it and said "this is racist and can't go in my magazine", she should look at the way it is marketed if she wants people to "read the book."

Like Rob, I've got a whole stack of backlogged books, if an author is sending a message that her book is shit, I'm going to err on the side of the books I already own, rather than reading her book just to see if she just REALLY sucks at marketing.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 22, 2012 - 9:56am

Yeah, after Ann VanderMeer resigned as Senior Contributing Editor (already having been pushed out as Editor-in-Chier) I cancelled my recent subscription to Weird Tales as well as a submission I had on file with them. I don't like the direction WT is headed, and this is just another bad decision in a long list of bad decisions. So, I am boycotting WT, regardless of whether or not they pull that excerpt. Maybe someday WT will regain its status as one of the best publishers of dark, strange fiction. It's a real shame.

Joan Defers's picture
Joan Defers from United States August 22, 2012 - 10:15am

Coal is also a four letter word.

I think you can tell if something is racist without reading every single word of the text.  Seeing as coal is in the blurb, along with save the pearls in the title? Right off the bat: black people are coals (aka a major component of what ruined the sky and the planet in her dystopian future, aka an actual racial slur in this country in the past) and white people are precious stones?  Yeah. I don't need to read the whole thing to know that Foyt didn't think hard enough. Seriously, she's never heard of onyx?

That argument just doesn't make any sense. If a book is so terrible you can't finish it, you have to keep quiet because you "didn't read" it?  No. This sounds like all those nuts that insist that an agent or editor has to read the whole book to legitimately reject it.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 22, 2012 - 11:18am

After reading her response to the criticism, I'm less appalled at the story line. She explains the use of the word coal and pearl fairly well -- in the world they live in, luxury items are superfluous and useless, while things that serve a purpose (like coal) are the ultimate objects of worship.

That turned the entire story around for me. I get that there's a video that she didn't address, but the girl in the story wears "blackface" (paints her face with a dark coating) so that she doesn't die from the blistering heat that's occurred after global warming. People with dark skin are more likely to survive the type of conditions described because light-skinned people are more prone to skin cancer, which wipes out the majority of the white race.

She didn't "turn racism on its head," in my opinion, but the story is a lot less controversial when you realize that it speaks more to eugenics than racism. The Pearls are second-class because they're genetically inferior. If she had written it from that angle, rather than saying it's about racism and the "beauty within," we'd all have a different view of it.

In reality, it's a lot less racist when you listen to the premise rather than the degrading blog posts. She was definitely misguided in making a video featuring blackface (which I haven't watched) and should have responded to that criticism rather than the one about her cover, but she seems fairly justified.

Also, she doesn't compare criticism to racism. She points out that anyone automatically assuming that all of her "rave reviews" have been from white critics have an extremely skewed sense of race and what racism means.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 22, 2012 - 11:24am

Oh, and I just watched the video -- it actually explains most of the points I made and isn't "blackface" at all. There's no mockery of black people or stereotypes. Everyone's up in arms because she's wearing dark makeup while she explains why she has to wear dark makeup?

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine August 22, 2012 - 12:05pm

^^^ @Courtney reiterates my point perfectly. This is less deserving of moral outrage than Angelina Jolie wearing dark makeup to play a biracial woman in A Mighty Heart. The only thing offensive about the Foyt video is the acting. Yikes.

Joan Defers's picture
Joan Defers from United States August 22, 2012 - 12:27pm

I thought Jolie wearing dark makeup in A Mighty Heart really sucked, too. 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer August 22, 2012 - 12:42pm

"Well, if you aren't afraid of people saying you're a racist this truly brilliant marketing."

I'm sure all of this is resulting in a tremendous spike in interest for the book. Probably sold more copies due to controversy than it would have otherwise.

MD Cain's picture
MD Cain August 22, 2012 - 3:37pm

I agree that it isn't blackface, I agree that the book's topic will probably come off as pretty racist or ignorant.

Of course, I won't be reading this because the concept just doesn't appeal to me. As a Black man, something about an oppressed White woman finding love amongst her oppressors just doesn't click with me. It sounds like a lifetime movie, if lifetime ever had movies that had major Black characters in them.

Americantypo's picture
Americantypo from Philadelphia is reading The Bone Clocks August 23, 2012 - 2:09pm

Well, I guess I'm taking an unpopular opinon in saying that I think Weird Tales should've just published the excerpt and let people discuss it and decide for themselves. I haven't read the book and it doesn't really sound like something I'd be into but reading some of the explanations regarding the themes, etc, it seems like it's a racial book but not a racist book per se. If the author's intentions were to take race and put it on its head, maybe she totally failed and this is the backlash. I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt that she isn't an overt racist and considering that don't really see a problem publishing the excerpt under the circumstances. If it stinks, it'll just get trashed and no one will buy it (or maybe it'll stink so bad people will buy it because of that). I'm actually annoyed that Weird Tales just bent to everyone's criticism to publish the story. They should be brave and stick by their original stance. After all, this is leading to a lot of discussion about race and I don't think that should be confused with something being racist.

Then again maybe the book is just horrendous and that's why its getting killed. Like most of you, I haven't read it yet.