Cthulhu vs. Bigger Thomas: “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last week I went to a panel hosted by the National Academies of Sciences called “Identity, Race, and Genetics.”*  It featured an author/editor, a PhD Candiate who wrote on the History of Science, a NIH geneticist and a law professor. The law professor–who was also an artist. The lawyer-scholar-artist mentioned the virulent racism of H.P. Lovecraft and suggested that black people lived in Cthulhuscene Period, due to the past and ongoing history of (pseudo)science and the black body. Lovecraftian mythos shows mankind as the inevitable victim of a hostile universe; existing while black (in a hostile/racialized universe) is part and parcel of the Black Experience.

I immediately thought about LaValle’s novella. The book is dedicated to Lovecraft (and H.P. even has a cameo). The Ballad of Black Tom is kind of an answer/re-positioning of the notorious Horror at Red Hook. It’s written from the perspective of a black first generation immigrant grifter and concerns his unfortunate dabbling in the occult. Imagine a collaboration between Richard Wright’s social realist fiction with Lovecraft at his lurid best, and you would have this novel. In place of Lovecraft’s rampant eugenical musing, LaValle shows what it was like to be of African descent in 1920s New York, complete with run ins with the police and racists. The novel compares and contrasts the horror of White Supremacy with the horror of Elder Gods. The reader is left to decide which is worse.

*DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) Participants:

Sheree Renee Thomas, World Fantasy Award-winning editor and author

J. Cecilia  Cardenas-Navia, Ph.D., History of Science and Medicine, Yale University

Bill Pavan, Senior Investigator, National Genome Research Institute

Michael Bennett, Associate Research Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society + Center for Science and the Imagination, Arizona State University

MUSIC: “Windumaera” by Autumn’s Grey Solace. Sunlit and sinister melodies

 

Prolific “ethereal-wave” Florida band Autumn’s Grey Solace just independently released their 9th album—the digital only “Windumaera.” The short album is kind of a mirror/sister album to “Monajifyllen,” released in 2014. Where that previous album was becalmed and angelic, this one is over so slightly darker. Sunlit melodies will suddenly turn sinister and menacing, resulting in a more dramatic sound.

AGS has drifted away from clearly delineated lyrics and song structures into something much more vaporous and atmospheric. It’s drifting ambient music made by electric guitars. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Ferrell manipulates his guitar into waves of chimes and ripples. The orchestrated guitar parts sound like bells and harps. Erin Welton’s voice soars over these soundscapes in coloratura swoops and swirls. For the most part, the lyrics are unintelligible, and though random phrases in English drift up, they are submerged by the virtuosic vocal technique.

ref: Cocteau Twins, Cranes, ambient music

Giovanni’s Room and Pride Creators List

This past weekend has been full of ups and downs.

The downs, of course, is the massacre of LBGTQ people (many of them POC) in Orlando. I feel helpless and hopeless and enraged. As long as hate and bigotry are profitable (both moneywise and politically), I fear that events like these will continue. Hence, visibility and telling our stories is important. I hope that people can find some comfort in my work during these dark times.

The ups include the reading I participated in with Carmen Maria Machado and Tom Cardamone this past Friday at Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia. It was a full  and engaged audience. Thanks to Giovanni’s Room for hosting us.

Giovanni's Room Reading

Another up: Poet and Editor Rose Lemberg has curated a list of Queer POC writers and artists in Speculative Fiction. She writes:

To celebrate Pride Month, I am highlighting ten LGBTQIA creators of color in the field of SFF. I ask those of you who would like to participate, to highlight your favorite LGBTQIA creators using the hashtag #pridecreators

You can check it here.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan: A dreamlike travelogue

The GracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Winner of this year’s Lambda Literary Award in the SF/H/F Category

Beautifully written, with a meandering plot.
The story moved slowly and the dramatic tension was in the doldrums. The lapidary prose and the elegiac mood is what propels this novel forward, rather than a proper plot. The worldbuilding was vague, both a strength and a weakness. (It suffers from the Planet of White People syndrome issue; seriously, where are the POC?) The characters were well drawn but some POVs were unneccesary and didn’t really reveal anything. (Why, for instance, is there a whole chapter from the point of view of the messenger, or from one of the clowns? They add nothing to the story). I feel the author missed opportunities to build suspense; the plot only takes place in the last 20 pages or so. It is better to take this book as a dreamlike travelogue than full-fledged novel. I’m looking forward to Logan’s next book.

EVENT: Queer Speculative Fiction Reading in Philadelphia This Friday

Come out to hear Carmen Maria Machado, Tom Cardamone and myself read at the oldest GLBTQ bookstore in the country.

I plan to read from the queerest section of my illustrated chapbook THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES. And I will have a few copies of ltd. edition (now SOLD OUT) on hand.

 

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A magnificent tribute to Tanith Lee

It has been a year since Tanith Lee passed away. She died on May 24. I just read a stunning tribute to her by a fan on Tumblr.

Take a moment to read A Year Without Tanith Lee

Tanith used to correspond to me every now and then. I will share a brief note she sent me along with a copy of her then new release TURQUOISELLE. She sent both because I was recuperating from a minor surgery. She was kind as she was talented.

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