The Lovecraft Reread

The Stars Are Right but the Cultists Need Coffee II: Necronomicon 2019

Welcome back to the Lovecraft Reread! Anne and I have been busy traveling with the Mi-Go going to too many conventions (me) and undergoing obscure and unnatural distortions of the human form  dealing with medical foo undergoing obscure and unnatural distortions of the human form (Anne). I’ve returned this week to report on Providence’s revels celebrating the rightness of the stars. Next week, Anne will join me once more to explore some of the cosmic secrets hinted at during those unholy rites author recommendations from the con.

I like a lot of things about Necronomicon, but one of those things is that it’s among the few cons where I meet at least as many Reread fans as people who enjoy my books. Thank you to all our readers who came up to say hi (and thank you to the vendor of mysterious maps who put up with a sudden burst of Opinions About Stories in front of their table).

My experience of Necronomicon feels somewhat more scattershot this year than last time, partly because Anne wasn’t there to pick up the bits I missed, and partly because I was too tired (see above, Too Many Cons) to make it to all the panels I wanted to check out, or the Carcosan ball, or the art show. No mysterious shoggothy sculptures for me this year, grumble. But I did attend several excellent panels and a strange marionette show, as well as spend a lot of time talking to awesome authors and chicken out of squeeing at John Langan. Sonya Taaffe, a Reread favorite, was the con’s Poet Laureate, which brought me to more poetry-related events than usual, a decision I don’t regret in the slightest. Carcosan sonnets may have been committed (and then hidden in my Patreon where their ability to warp unsuspecting minds can be limited).

Two panels stood out. First, a retrospective on Sonia Greene provided intriguing background not only on Greene’s relationship with Lovecraft, but on her role as an influential member of the amateur press world in her own right. While she wrote stories only sporadically, she was a regular correspondent and funded several publications out of her millenary earnings. I came away with an even stronger impression than before of a marriage founded on mutual geekery, and foundering on—well, on the fact that Sonia Green was a Jewish immigrant and Lovecraft was… himself, unfortunately. Beyond his bigotry, it also seemed clear that gender role expectations also played a part. She had a steady, well-paying career, and loved buying him little trinkets and tokens of affection. And yet, he spends so much of their marriage looking, ineptly, for work that paid better than his writing. If they’d both been okay with her supporting him as a stay-at-home writer… probably it wouldn’t have made much difference, because he was still a bigot. But it might have helped.

I was most fascinated to learn about Greene’s contentious relationship with August Derleth, who apparently did not appreciate her sharing non-hagiographic reminiscences of her ex-ish-husband (he never actually filed the divorce papers) with the public. He rejected her original version of The Private Life of H.P. Lovecraft complete with letters that she later burned. She eventually published the abbreviated version through The Providence Journal; Derleth published his rebuttal. They engaged in an acrimonious exchange in the letter column; one of her letters starts “My dear Mr. Derleth…” and, quoth the panelists, “it goes downhill from there.” Does anyone else feel a Hamilton filk coming on?

Second, the excellent panel on Weird Fiction From the African Diaspora introduced me to a couple new authors and delved into a fascinating discussion of how marginalization and oppression impact what feels like horror. You can’t be shocked, after all, to discover that the universe is indifferent to your survival if you already know. Victor LaValle described this as “a profoundly naïve thing to be afraid of,” and talked about finding the things that are still scary when casual malice and indifferent destruction are everyday facts of life. Teri Zin talked about the use of people of color as the scary thing in too much horror, both directly and out of ignorance or disinterest. “White writers use voodou the way men use pregnancy, as this abstract horror.”

The panel itself unfortunately also illustrated how far Lovecraft fandom itself has to go: several of the panelists had only this one panel and a reading. (Exceptions: Craig Lawrence Gidney was also on a Tanith Lee panel, and Victor LaValle was one of the guests of honor.) Cons, put your marginalized guests on panels that aren’t about their marginalizations. I swear we have other things to talk about. The panel also consisted, I think, of a large percentage, possibly the majority, of the people of color attending the con. Now, I realize that many geeky POC have other fandoms on which they’d prefer to spend their weekends, but there are also definitely POC authors and fans of weird fiction out there in rather more than single digits; the con could do a better job of actively letting folks know that they’re welcome.

It did feel as if the fandom was having a bit of an identity crisis. Several panels turned into extended discussions attempting to define “weird fiction.” This was no surprise at “Welcome to the Weird,” an early-in-the-weekend panel that I was on, but was less expected at “The Future of Weird Fiction” at con’s end, when presumably everyone had figured it out. Or not—clearly this was a topic heavy on people’s minds. For the record, my definition was the practical basket of things we cover in the Reread, including:

I’m pretty comfortable with this big basket. But in the negative spaces of the repeated request to define terms, I sense a larger conversation about how strongly weird fiction should center Lovecraft himself. Most subgenres acknowledge and respect their founders, but few still keep them so strongly at the core of the conversation. And of course this column is itself an illustration—we haven’t been calling it the Weird Fiction Reread, after all. Maybe it’s Lovecraft’s work not as an author but as a correspondent, keeping people arguing with him in print decades after his death. Or maybe in an impersonal universe, personalization is sometimes irresistible.

Either way, despite the issues, I appreciated the chance to join the larger conversation in person for a few days–and will be back again next time the stars are right.

 

Next week, Fiona Maeve Geist’s “Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” is at the top of the Necronomicon recs list for King-in-Yellowy goodness/wickedness. You can find it in Robert S. Wilson’s Ashes and Entropy anthology.

Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, including Winter Tide and Deep Roots. Her short story collection, Imperfect Commentaries, is now available from Lethe Press. You can find some of her fiction, neo-Lovecraftian and otherwise, on Tor.com, most recently “The Word of Flesh and Soul.” Ruthanna is online on Twitter and Patreon, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.

Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story “The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.

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