Down With Lovecraft, Long Live Victor Lavalle


Down With Lovecraft, Long Live Victor Lavalle (in English)

Diese (englischsprachige) Kolumne ist nichts für schwache Nerven, denn hier wird geflucht und diskutiert: Nicolette Stewart von liest alle Kurzromane von und schreibt darüber. Diesmal geht es um: rassistische Tentakel und eine Rasierklinge.

Such dark times. As I am writing this half the United States looks like Mordor (thanks, forest fires), the other half looks like it was authored by J.G. Ballard (thanks, hurricane-sponsored flooding). For a long time I found myself unable to read fiction; I needed all available processing power needed to cope with the nonfictional headlines. There may not be any light at the end of the reality tunnel, but there's been a light at the end of the reading slump tunnel, and it's name is novella.

Fall is the season for evenings spent sitting as close to the woodstove as I possibly can, curled around a book. It is the season of horror reading. Which, considering the way this year has been going, feels thematically appropriate anyway. So I began my horror reading binge with The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, a Tor novella published in February 2016. Fucking thing won a Shirley Jackson Award and was nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, Locus, British Fantasy Award, and Bram Stoker Award. My god. I guessed it was going to be good. I was right.

In a nutshell

The Ballad of Black Tom is superb. The prose itself doesn't do anything acrobatic, but as a vehicle for a twofold creepy tale, it works like a charm. I say twofold creepy because this is a tale of horror and magic and unfathomable, unspeakable creatures (Read: Cthulhu) but this is also a tale of racism and discrimination in 1920s New York City. I'm not sure which element was more horrifying—oh wait yes I am and it was the racism because my god it does not feel like that much has changed and these are real horrors happening to real people every goddamn real day. LaValle intertwines these two horrors expertly, playing them off of each other so as to intensify both.

A very excellent, very brutal example of this is as follows. Name Xed out to avoid spoilers (though you should know dude here is an asshole white dude). But also don't read this quote if you're squeamish.


Black Tom held a straight razor in one hand, and it was slathered in blood.


Black Tom had cut off XX's eyelids.


"Try to shut them now," Black Tom said. "You can't choose blindness when it suits you. Not anymore.


Holy shit, right?


I am tired of hearing about H.P. Lovecraft

Turns out, The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of—or perhaps more accurately put, a response to—Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook." One of Lovecraft's most racist numbers, I've been told.

I'm over Lovecraft, and I've never even read him. While I have been told, over and over again, that I would likely love his style, would likely love his brand of creeping horror, having never come to him by accident, I'd rather, now, avoid him on purpose. I would not argue that his work must be banned, burned, and blacklisted, but I don't feel inclined to make time for it in my limited reading schedule. Dude was a racist asshole, and life is short. I'd rather read smart answers to his bullshit written by writers who are not racist assholes, who address that racist assholerly and then piss all over it.


I hope Lovecraft is turning in his grave.


Point is, I have still not read Lovecraft, so I cannot comment on the interaction between "The Horror at Red Hook" and The Ballad of Black Tom. While knowing it is happening will up your appreciation levels, you do not need to read the Lovecraft to love the LaValle. Other people have already done it, so unless you are very curious, no need to bother.

The horror

The beginning of The Ballad of Black Tom is filled with horrors of the every day kind: racism and discrimination and bad business deals. Slowly the supernatural elements creep into the plotline, and after a few very realistic murders, turn into the proper creeping, shuddering horror you probably want if you are attracted to something you've read does Lovecraft better than Lovecraft. And my god the ending. Gory, horrific, and the perfect crescendo to a dark, dark tale. Number one top recommended Halloween horror read go buy this right now.


This review was brought to you by Party Discipline by Cory Doctorow, a short story which has very little in common with The Ballad of Black Tom, except for, perhaps, its social conscious. May contain: activism, factory strikes, dystopian futures, and teenage rebellion.



-- ist nicht nur das führende Onlinemagazin für Science Fiction und Fantasy in den USA, sondern auch ein unabhängiger Verlag für Novellen. Welche man davon wirklich gelesen haben sollte, verrät dir Nicolette Stewart in ihrer Kolumne – auf Englisch!

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