J. T. Glover (jtglover) wrote,
J. T. Glover

The Shaky, Shaky Tentacles of Comforthulhu

Yesterday we experienced the largest earthquake the East Coast has seen in a hundred years. It was exciting and frightening, as such things tend to be, but that's not the shaky I'm talking about. If you haven't heard already, Weird Tales is in the process of being sold, with the entire staff to be replaced, including Editor-in-Chief Ann VanderMeer. She has my best wishes for a good landing elsewhere, and I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming The Weird anthology she co-edited with her husband, Jeff VanderMeer. I will be interested to see where Weird Tales goes next, but the current editorial staff did new and exciting things that helped push, nudge, and nuzzle the edges of genre, and I'm going to miss this incarnation of the magazine. Whether it's time for "good night" remains to be seen, as the magazine has been revived multiple times, and I've loved those revivals. I'll never forget the shock that came with seeing the Fall 1990 issue on a shelf at a local comics/SF store and falling down the rabbit hole. Wherever Weird Tales goes next, I hope we don't get more Comforthulhu.

A good story breeds the demand for more of the same, and that story always weakens as the years pass, unless new material is smuggled into the basic structure. Cthulhu & kin are generally no longer frightening, except in the mustiest and most nostalgic of ways. We have changed as readers along with our times, and people in search for the shock of strangeness that Lovecraft once delivered generally look elsewhere. Cthulhu was dragged years ago into the land of plush dolls, YouTube channels, and fundamentally un-Lovecraftian games. That doesn't mean the Great Old Ones have nothing to offer, and I love them for their squamous, rugose, nictating crepusculence, but they are a flavor of extruded horror that is difficult to create well. Little of it is actually Weird or weird, even in the most artificial, call-and-response, here-are-the-tentacles-now-tremble-in-fear sort of way.

There was a time when I read every piece of Mythos fiction I could get my hands on, whether in anthologies from Arkham House, photocopied zines, or in classic reprint anthologies... but that was back in the days of actually having to hunt for those stories. Such is no longer the case. Anyone who wants to find the kind of dusty, un-be-womaned stories full of gibbering wretches who go insane when dropped into Eldritch Scenarios can do so easily. The kicker, however, is that even when said scenarios are not aimed squarely at the heart of an antiquarian, they are often set in a fantastical modern day wherein: (1) women have little or no agency, if they exist at all, (2) protagonists are unaware of all science fiction media, (3) non-white people are usually elided, if they exist at all, and (4) Lovecraft's social attitudes persist unexamined as fundamental assumptions necessary to enjoy the story. In short, what the reader is asked to swallow in order to suspend disbelief is the passage of the 20th century.

Writing successful Mythos fiction requires cognizance on the part of the writer of the passage of time and the examples of skillful transference of Cthulhu into modern times. If not that, it demands an audience unfamiliar with same. "But what," you ask, "about the geeks out there who read and love Mythos fiction, and who know and love all things tentacular?" I often count myself among their number, so I feel comfortable saying: indiscriminate love of all things Cthulhoid in story format necessarily translates into an ability to read and enjoy very bad fiction.

This does not mean that the world needs more very bad fiction.

Arguments about quality and taste in genre fiction inevitably result in someone dragging out Sturgeon's Law, and it's a fair point: 90% of everything is crap. That said, when there's already a known quantity of a particular brand of steaming, maggot-ridden, culturally noxious, inbred, uninteresting, easily available, and fundamentally flawed fiction, why would you intentionally propagate more of the same? Good Mythos fiction is being written. Bona fide Lovecraftian fiction is being written as well. Truly weird stories are being told. It is my hope that the new editors of Weird Tales will seek these things out, and not serve up the warmed-over pablum that drains from noisome, horrible, unnameable pools wherein lie dreaming the endless minions of Comforthulhu.
Tags: business of writing, horror, spec fic
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