Why I’m Against Octavia E. Butler for the WFA

I don’t think that Octavia E. Butler should take H.P. Lovecraft’s place as the World Fantasy Award. I feel treacherous for even typing those words but here they are: I do not think that Octavia E. Butler should replace H.P. Lovecraft as the “face” of the WFA.

I love Octavia E. Butler. I found her work as a strange black girl in a time before the internet could show me that there were other strange black girls out there. I, quite literally, picked up her books from around the world, squealing with delight when I found one. I wept over the news of her death. Over all the stories that she would never be able to tell.

I recommend her work to everyone that will listen, steering them past Kindred and the Parable duology, the only two works that that mainstream seems to know of hers. I remark on how sad it is that a writer who created such dazzling speculative works is most known for writing about slavery. Time travel is involved, yes, but it seems cliché that that would be the book considering that so much of bibliography is much better, so much weirder.

So it may surprise you, dear reader, as it surprises me that the petition to change the bust from H.P. Lovecraft to an author who is beloved to me, was met with not joy and immediate reblogging of the petition for such a change but with balk. I couldn’t quite place why at first but then it became clear.

Octavia E. Butler is not equal to H.P. Lovecraft.

Which isn’t to say that her work is not powerful and in many cases far more well written than the offerings of a man who is by many considered one of, if not the, father of modern horror. By all accounts, Lovecraft’s prose has been ripped apart by critics and in many cases found lacking. On that scale, Butler far outshines Lovecraft. Hands down, no questions asked.

On the scale of what they stood for, well, Lovecraft was a well-known racist. Not even in the sense of “It was just that time period, everyone was racist then,” sort of way that we excuse old people when they say something off color over dinner. He was openly racist and his prejudice shows in his work. This isn’t an argument, this is fact. Accepting this award is problematic for many writers because of this. How does one reconcile the history of the figure with the present?

I do believe that especially considering that fact that Lovecraft should be removed and another writer put into his place if another writer is to be used. Someone who represents what the World Fantasy Award stands for, not so one whose personal darkness is intertwined with his soul like the tentacles of an elder god.

But Butler, for all that I love about her does not have the same standing as Lovecraft when it comes to notoriety. Butler is well known by people who read, really read, science fiction. This is not the case with Lovecraft.

Lovecraft’s work has spread to influence other writers, comics, film, etc. Lovecraft is everywhere in speculative fiction and although I would love to see Butler’s work held in the same regard because she truly deserves it, it is not and therefore does not meet Lovecraft on the scale which was clearly used to choose him.

If it had simply been about being a strong writer and not an overt racist then there are plenty of other authors they could have chosen. But he won out. His influence is strong and I don’t think Butler can match that.

I do believe that his face should be removed from the award and iconic as it is, perhaps it is time to go with something more representative. Speculative fiction has evolved and features parts from all genres, all histories. Can it be best represented by one figure? I don’t think so. I think it’s time to move away from that and into something completely new.

As much as I love Octavia E. Butler, as highly as I think of her work, I do not believe that she is a good choice for representation. It kills me to say that but she is not Lovecraft. Lovecraft doesn’t deserve the honor either but the solution is not to turn to someone who is their polar opposite simply because they are the opposite.

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The Leftovers: Kevin, Matt, and All the Animals

The-Leftovers

Note: This was meant to be a standalone blog post but my thoughts became a bit more than that. I will be posting new posts exploring some of the other themes found in this show as the week progresses. These posts deal with episodes 1-6 of the The Leftovers. I have not read the book (yet).

Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) is stumbling through a frozen midnight dark forest. Two dogs run across her path and a bald man, holding a rifle is close behind them. He pauses to shoot the dogs and turning realizes that silent as snowflakes, Laurie is just the first in a sea of white clad cult members emerging from the tears. They stop, the man and the cult, to observe each other for a moment before the momentum picks up again. There is, briefly, this sort of silent exchange between them. I’m not part of your story, they seem to say without saying. But of course they’re part of each other’s story. That is the world of The Leftovers.

HBO’s new show is six episodes in, choked full of meaning and little direction. The show is not a braid, at least not yet, deftly combining disparate plot lines to create a cohesive whole at the end. This is more like a charm bracelet. Each piece hangs from the same strand of silver, on its own still its own shape and meaningful in its own way. Each story line is fairly insignificant on its own but together, they create a broken dialogue about what happens next.

Which is the big question on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the universe of The Leftovers; what happens next? Because this is not a story about the Rapture, the Rapture, for lack of a better name for the sudden unexplained disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, this is a story about what people do next with no guidance, no explanations.

On October 14th, a random selection of people disappeared. On October 15th everyone left had to get on with their lives. Which is the hardest part. The show portrays the characters and their search for meaning in a world that still remains much the same but has seemingly gone mad.

One of the most evident symbols of the slightly shifted world are the animals. Both Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) both are lead or have encounters with animal life.

Kevin, the town Sheriff, upholder of the law and perhaps possessor of a slowly slipping grip on reality has multiple interactions with both deer and dogs in his passage through what is left of his life. He sees a deer four times, once when it destroys his kitchen, again during the time period he is attempting to return the body of the first dead dog, once in a dream where he hits it with his car, then later, dead and being feasted on by a wild pack. The deer can symbolize regeneration, life cycles, regrowth. But in the four times that we see the deer, it is still except for the time where it destroys his kitchen.

In essence, his own regeneration is stuck. He can’t, for whatever reasons move forward, he is in the worst position possible, in this case as it turns out, food for a pack of wild dogs.

The wild dogs that were once ‘our’ dogs. Loyal, faithful companions turned into something other. Something so close to what we’re used to but like all things truly horrible, very, very different. As the mysterious dog shooter from the opening said, “They’re not our dogs anymore.”

In a way though, they are. A thing once tamed will never be truly wild again. There will always be a part of it that knows domestication. That knows us. The dogs are that sort of representation of madness. Of course they’re acting out their baser instincts, lost they’re trying to form new connections, new rules because they old ones just don’t work anymore. Kevin is faced with a choice, do we destroy the new order to cling to the old or vice versa. No one else, besides the Stranger with a Rifle seems to notice that these dogs are running rampant. No one else seems to care.

Which is an interesting parallel to the teenage population of the town. Jill Garvey (Margaret Qualley) is our personal Virgil into the depths of the Teenage Wasteland. Without the departed she would likely seem like an angst filled hormonal teenager but in light of the world wide tragedy, there is something about her personal grief that seems inadequate. The world she shows us is of teens let loose. There are no boundaries, no lines.

The parties and activities of the teenagers wouldn’t seem out of place in a teen movie where we expect the young people to exist in a strange world with no adult supervision but in The Leftovers, much like the dogs, no one seems to be watching these kids. They stalk the streets in groups of two or more, wreaking havoc on whatever catches their fancy.

In that way, Kevin and his dogs is really Kevin and his children. He has lost track of them. They are not children, not anymore. They are these beings that have grown restless and aimless somewhere beyond his reach. He is aware that something needs to be done but he is powerless to do all but the most destructive things because the situation, his life, is firmly outside of his control.

This is in direct juxtaposition to Matt, a preacher who runs his own truth and believes that things are very much out of his control. He is guided by his faith and convictions. He sees birds. Pigeons of all things. He sees them on a traffic light and on a roulette table in the casino. They, without a doubt, help guide him. They lead him down the path to procure the money that he would need to pay off his church.

However, that does not work out for him. Although he does get the funds that he needs to pay off the debt, he is caught by a rock meant for a Guilty Remnant, the white clad cult. He is knocked unconscious for three days, missing his chance to pay what is owed on his church. He did everything right, followed all of the signs unquestioningly and still lost what he wanted most.

Ultimately this becomes one of the larger points in this show. The idea that things don’t always happen the way you want them. Even when do you all of the right things, the universe doesn’t reward you. You do what makes you can but there are things outside of yourself and those things are other people on their own track. Part of their own stories.

In every scene that these two characters meet, they act as a sort of foil for each other. They are both men of their beliefs dealing with the fall out of the world holding on to the things they have faith in. For Matt, they are his beliefs, for Kevin, it’s his job. They both seek to provide order to the world that is not terribly interested in listening to them any longer.

They’re both looking for the answer as to what’s next. What are they supposed to do? But their reliance on the forces outside of themselves leave both men stuck, taking part in quests that do not, ultimately matter. Their actions and reactions always coming a bit too late as the case with Matt’s church and Kevin’s baby Jesus. As if the universe is saying, “It’s too late for you to choose the paths, you have to follow the one that’s set. You can’t go into the woods and then expect to find your way back.”