August 22, 2017 — NecronomiCon, R.I.P.
Once upon a time there was a convention devoted to H. P. Lovecraft named NecronomiCon Providence. It was run by a well-meaning but somewhat weak-willed individual (rather reminiscent of Edward Derby in “The Thing on the Doorstep”) named Niels Hobbs. The initial conventon of 2013 was a wondrous event that left all participants and attendees feeling good about the state of Lovecraft studies and of Lovecraft’s recognition in the wider literary community. The convention of 2015 was generally successful but had some awkward moments.
By the time the 2017 convention was in the planning stages, trouble was brewing. Specifically, it appeared that Mr. Hobbs had been captured (and, indeed, rather willingly) by the forces of political correctness, so that the focus became less on Lovecraft himself and more on those aspects of weird fiction that those horrible dead white males had evilly suppressed. (It is not entirely clear how this suppression occurred, but let that pass.) And it also appeared that Mr. Hobbs had been swayed by various forces hostile to Lovecraft in the initial stages of programming.
Consider the naming of the redoubtable Ellen Datlow as a special guest. Now it is well known—and Mr. Hobbs should certainly have known it—that Ms. Datlow was instrumental in removing the Lovecraft bust as the emblem of the World Fantasy Awards, an act that would strike any fair-minded person as one that denotes a certain animus against the dreamer from Providence. This act has, of course, not stopped Ms. Datlow from capitalising on Lovecraft’s growing popularity—and the concomitant popularity of weird fiction in general that has occurred in his wake—to assemble several mediocre and fundamentally un-Lovecraftian anthologies that use his name to line her pockets. In these anthologies she makes no bones about her low opinion of Lovecraft (from the introduction to The Children of Lovecraft: “his prose was often clumsy and overblown”—a witting or unwitting echo of the odoriferous Daniel José Older’s preposterous claim that Lovecraft was a “terrible wordsmith”). And yet, she was chosen as a special guest! There were other individuals who were chosen, quite frankly, less for their inherent literary merit than for the fact that they allowed Mr. Hobbs to check off certain specific boxes in his quest for “diversity” and “inclusiveness.”
But let us consider who was not invited. The absence of Dr. Robert M. Price was cavernous, and I now have inside information on how this came about. Dr. Price had requested a public apology from Mr. Hobbs for throwing Dr. Price under the bus after the latter’s admittedly controversial remarks in his keynote address at the 2015 convention. Needless to say, Mr. Hobbs was unwilling to offer such an apology. However, he was magnanimous enough to say that Dr. Price would certainly be allowed to attend the convention—so long as he was not put on any panels!
Well, this is most interesting! It appears that Mr. Hobbs believes that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. What do I mean? Simply this. Mr. Hobbs expressed high dudgeon when I, in an attempt to save the convention from being polluted by the Lovecraft-haters, presented a list of individuals who I felt had nothing of consequence to contribute either to the discussion of Lovecraft or to that of weird fiction as a whole; the omission of these names from any aspect of programming became a condition of my own participation in the convention. Indeed, Mr. Hobbs went to the extent of posting on the NecronomiCon website, just days before the event, a self-righteous message whining about being “pressured” by certain nefarious individuals (i.e., myself) into enforcing a “blacklist,” which of course violates all notions of diversity, inclusiveness, freedom of speech, blah blah blah. Evidently, when Niels Hobbs blacklists Robert M. Price, it is all very benign; but when I declare that the presence of certain individuals at the convention will necessitate my withdrawal from it, that is evil and intolerable. It also appears that Mr. Hobbs’s notions of “diversity” and “inclusiveness” only extend in certain specific political directions. Am I the only one smelling a whiff of hypocrisy here?
There must be something wrong with a Lovecraft convention that has alienated the two figures—Robert M. Price and myself—who, over the past forty years, have done more to promote Lovecraft scholarship than any individuals on the planet. (I hardly need remark that, with the notable exception of Sam Gafford, no member of the NecronomiCon convention committee has made the slightest contribution to Lovecraft studies.)
However, the derelictions of Mr. Hobbs are dwarfed by the backstage shenanigans of his Svengali, Mr. S. J. Bagley. This person, in charge of the NecronomiCon “memento book,” kept horning his way into programming decisions, attempting to overrule the nominal program director, Sam Gafford. Like a bad computer virus, various names kept inserting themselves into the panel assignments during the planning stages of the convention. Sam kept removing these names, but they just came back, like bad pennies. Bagley indulged in other high-handed actions that conveyed the impression that he was actually running the show. Given the paucity of his own accomplishments, it would appear that Bagley thinks he can gain some credit for being the Grand Panjandrum of the convention. (His ambitions for achieving fame and fortune appear to be curiously limited.) When Sam finally complained to Niels about Bagley’s actions, Niels appeared to side with Sam—only to go behind my back, and Sam’s, to set up a special event for Scott Nicolay and his current squeeze, Anya Martin!
Niels now attempts to maintain that I had in fact only banned Nicolay from “panels” (or maybe just from “Lovecraft panels”) and not from other events—but this is a lie, and he knows it. If Niels thinks he was being proper and above-board in this action, why is it that he never notified me in advance to this effect? He claims that there is an abundant paper trail of our discussions on the matter, as indeed there is. But I find no document in which he stated to me ahead of time that he was to take this action. Strange oversight! Instead, since I did not have the time or inclination to check the NecronomiCon website every minute of the day, it was left to others to alert me of this turn of events. What else could I do—after all the other frustrations of dealing with such a spineless and duplicitous individual—but to walk away?
Niels has also made the astounding claim that Nicolay is not in fact a “Lovecraft-hater.” Can he really be so ignorant of the fact that, over the past three years, Nicolay has been a leading flag-waver of the “Lovecraft-is-nothing-but-a-horrible-racist” meme? Niels seems to have developed a remarkable skill at selective ignorance and amnesia, especially where his own perceived friends and allies are concerned.
Niels goes on to say that Nicolay is an “important” figure in contemporary weird fiction. My friends, Scott Nicolay has published one (mediocre) collection of short stories. Offhand, I can think of about five dozen contemporary writers who are more significant in our field than him. Indeed, Jonathan Thomas, who aside from having the virtue of being a “local writer,” has published five scintillating collections of tales as well as perhaps the best Lovecraftian novel ever written, The Color over Occam. But did Thomas get on any panels? No. And why was his reading slot set for the very end of the convention, after a good many attendees had already left? Is it any surprise that he, along with any number of other figures who were treated in a shabby manner, have now decided to have nothing to do with NecronomiCon in future?
The plain fact of the matter is that, if NecronomiCon Providence is to be saved, it can only be saved by a wholesale replacement of the current convention committee, especially the Hobbs/Bagley cabal. It is abundantly plain that these people do not have Lovecraft’s best interests at heart and wish to turn NecronomiCon into a more general weird convention where the Lovecraft content is reduced to a minimum—and, indeed, where even the focus on the weird is in a narrow, politically circumscribed, and ultimately exclusionary direction. Those who still wish for a NecronomiCon that remains true to its original purpose would be advised to contact Mr. Hobbs (firstname.lastname@example.org
) and let their feelings be known.
August 28, 2017 — Real and Fake Liberalism
I am a far-left liberal. Especially in the wake of the ongoing nightmare of the Trump administration, I have been speaking out loud and clear about the multifarious derelictions of conservatives and Republicans of all stripes. Most individuals in the weird fiction community are probably unaware of these screeds, because they have generally appeared in my journal, The American Rationalist, especially in my column “The Stupidity Watch.” Regrettably, this journal is now defunct, so I have lost this forum for my lambasting of contemporary conservatism. (I have reprinted my columns from 2011 to 2016 in my self-published book, The Stupidity Watch.
Otherwise, I prove my liberalism by voting uniformly for Democrats (I have not voted for a Republican since 1984 [Thomas Kean of New Jersey], and I regretted that vote later); I contribute to Democratic political campaigns and also to organisations such as the ACLU; I do what I can do drum up support for liberal candidates and liberal causes. This strikes me as genuine liberalism.
What I do not do is launch furious attacks on H. P. Lovecraft for his racism. Of course he was a racist; everyone knows that. But I fail to see what good it does to attack him for this admitted failing at this late date. He has been dead for nearly three-quarters of a century; what is more, his views had no influence on the culture of his own time, or even on his small cadre of friends, colleagues, and correspondents. Indeed, it is telling that Frank Belknap Long, who met Lovecraft on an almost daily basis during his years in New York (1924–26) and frequently in later years, has testified that “during all of those talks on long walks through the streets of New York and Providence, I never once heard him utter a derogatory remark about any member of a minority group who passed him on the street or had occasion to engage him in conversation”—an inexplicable circumstance if one believes that Lovecraft was “obsessed” with the issue of race.
It is easy to condemn Lovecraft as a racist; it gives one a momentary feeling of self-righteous virtue and superiority. But it accomplishes nothing. It does nothing to combat the racism that we increasingly see in our midst today. If this is all you can do, you are indulging in fake liberalism. Indeed, it is of interest that the great majority of individuals who have tendentiously spoken out on this issue are white (and, in fact, white males). Evidently it counts for nothing that I am one of the few persons of colour in the realm of Lovecraft scholarship and criticism, and for that matter in the overall realm of weird fiction: because I regard Lovecraft’s racism not as a cudgel with which to beat him over the head, but as something to be considered with nuance and a full understanding of the historical, cultural, social, and intellectual circumstances surrounding this immensely complex issue, I appear to be regarded as some kind of honorary white conservative.
Well, that hardly matters to me. But I do wonder at this monomaniacal fixation on one single (and, to my mind, not enormously significant) aspect of Lovecraft’s life and thought. Why is there not more discussion of Lovecraft as a lifelong and full-throated atheist? as one who thoughtfully evolved from extreme political conservatism to moderate socialism? as a keen commentator on the literary, political, and social movements of his day? as a devoted if impecunious traveller who in fact learned to appreciate other cultures (the French in Quebec, the Spanish in Florida) on his far-flung voyages? as a devotee of amateur journalism and, more broadly, of the principle of aesthetic expression without thought of monetary reward? All these features seem to me of much greater importance to the essence of H. P. Lovecraft than his racism; but hardly anyone outside of scholarly circles talks about any of these things.
But the chatter on the Internet and social media will ultimately make not the slightest difference to Lovecraft’s standing as a writer. He is continually being translated into more and more languages around the world, and his work is being disseminated in the English-speaking world more and more widely. He will outlive us all, and he deserves to.