The eminent US fantasy magazine Weird Tales‘s decision to publish an extract from a young adult novel featuring a minority white race called the Pearls that is dominated by the black race of the Coals, which has been widely described as racist, has been attacked by readers, reviewers and authors.
Victoria Foyt’s self-published novel Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls Part One is set in a dystopian future where solar radiation means the Coals (with dark skin) can survive better than the fair-skinned Pearls. Pearls cover their white skin with dark make-up, and the black love interest of the 17-year-old white heroine Eden – shown in blackface make-up on the front cover and in promotional videos – is described as a “powerful, beastly man”. At one point, Foyt writes: “Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur. ‘Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!'”
The novel has been the subject of widespread attacks across the internet, with readers criticising it as “incredibly racist to pretty much every reader. Especially readers of colour”, and as a “white supremacist fantasy”. “The coals/pearls contrast is itself offensive: after all, coal is dirty and cheap, whereas pearls are beautiful and valuable,” wrote one blogger. Some readers have said they are considering boycotting the magazine.
Foyt, who self-published Revealing Eden but has previously been published by HarperCollins, has defended herself on Facebook and in blog posts, saying that she “abhor[s] racism”, that the book has received many positive reviews, and “if you ask if all these reviewers are white then consider that you have a racist point of view”.
When Weird Tales, America’s oldest fantasy magazine, ran an editorial by Marvin Kaye last week defending the novel as “a thoroughly non-racist book” and announcing its intention to run an extract, it prompted a huge backlash from readers and writers. The author Jeff Vandermeer said he would never submit to the magazine again while it was run by the current editorial staff, describing himself as “just quite frankly livid and utterly enraged”, as did the writer NK Jemisin, hitting out at Weird Tales’ “brave commitment to racism” in a blog post entitled “This is how you destroy something beautiful”.
Ann Vandermeer, the former editor of the magazine who was pushed out when it was sold to new editor Kaye, resigned from her current position as contributing senior editor (her husband Jeff said she was “personally devastat[ed] given that the new vision for Weird Tales seems to be so against everything that she envisioned for the future of the magazine”).
Now the publisher of Weird Tales has weighed in, removing Kaye’s original editorial from the site – it remains cached on Google – and issuing a blanket apology for the piece. “I deeply apologise 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,” wrote John Harlacher. “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.”
Kaye, said Harlacher, believes that “if you read the whole book, [Foyt] explains her use of this imagery, and it ends up as a plea for tolerance”.
“I say, so what,” Harlacher continued. “And that is the position of Weird Tales — and upon reviewing the video and other materials, Marvin is in full agreement.”
[Weird Tales via California Cthulhu (Will Hart) / Flickr]