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  1. Marvin
    Marvin January 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm . Reply

    I’ve never read T.E.D. Klein, but you inspired me to go to the library and look him up. I found The Ceremonies and Reassuring Tales (signed limited edition, which makes me think Austin must have a pretty hip librarian in there somewhere). Dark Gods wasn’t available, but I’ll give the others a try.

    Your comment about white liberals and racism reminded me of the thing going on right now in the skeptical community, where some feminist activists are trying to get the old-boy network to wake up to the fact that if they want more women to participate, then the male majority needs to stop acting like sexist dickbags. (Which apparently causes a lot of otherwise progressive, educated, intelligent guys to suddenly start acting like Rush Limbaugh clones in defensive outrage.)

    Anyway, I found myself thinking about how I can’t really think of many SF books (other maybe than Octavia Butler’s and Samuel R. Delaney’s) that deal with matters of race with any specificity. There are allegorical treatments of racism all over the place, where some alien species is treated as an Other that just needs to be understood, but damn little that actually deals with the nuts and bolts of ordinary human-on-human prejudice.

    Maybe it’s because it’s a fairly easy thing to deal with the idea of racism by acknowledging that it’s bad and resolving to be egalitarian in outlook, to vote with progressive values, and to assume that other people are basically just like me even if they look different. And that’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t contribute anything towards understanding how other people’s lives are different because of issues that surround race; it doesn’t help one unravel one’s own privileges and unconscious prejudices; and it doesn’t prepare you for the day when you find yourself stymied because, even though you’ve resolved not to hate, you haven’t actually bothered to try to understand.

    So I wonder if white SF writers in particular are prone to writing about a future where they can assume that matters of race are mostly in the past for human beings, where ethnicity can be shown with a name or a description and then pretty much ignored when it comes to the formation of character because on some level the future is a monoculture where real variety comes from alien species rather than other people.

  2. Marvin
    Marvin February 3, 2012 at 2:26 am . Reply

    So, at this point I’ve read all the stories in Reassuring Tales except for the last, “The Events at Poroth Farm,” which I might get to this evening or tomorrow. And I can understand the lukewarm reception they’ve received. They’re mostly gimmicky in a way that has long since gone out of style. A good illustration of the problem is “S.F.” where the central conceit is gradually revealed — and is indeed very sad-making and rather horrible — until it ends almost perfectly, and in better than average fashion for this collection, at the bottom of a page. And then you turn the page and discover that Klein has added several more paragraphs designed to make ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU GET THE GIMMICK and then you think, “Dammit! So close!” There are some good character moments in “Nat Crumley” and “Ladder,” but I’m definitely hoping for some improvement.

    I might be misremembering Delaney on the race thing. Or maybe I read something in a nonfiction essay that I’m conflating with a story. It’s been a while.

    As for handling issues of race in genre fiction, I’m now thinking that the only place I’ve seen it crop up with any regularity is in detective or mystery stories. A.C. Doyle wrote a very progressive story about racial prejudice in “The Yellow Face,” Robert B. Parker has the character of Hawk in his Spenser novels, with whom Spenser will sometimes have conversations about matters dealing with race, and then you’ve got someone like Walter Mosley who writes hard-boiled detective stories from an African-American point of view. And it’s fairly common for detective stories and police procedurals to mine minority communities for color (ugh — sorry about that) and sometimes to make a political or sociological statement.

  3. Marvin
    Marvin February 5, 2012 at 11:15 am . Reply

    Ok, the story about Poroth Farm was very good. You’re right that Klein is negative about most of the stories in his introduction, but never having read him I think I took that for polite self-deprecation and not editorial distance.

    And now…The Ceremonies!

  4. Marvin
    Marvin February 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm . Reply

    Just finished Ceremonies. Enjoyed it…trying to think of a brief, spoiler-free summary. Like “The Events at Poroth Farm” it’s almost as much a bibliography of horror as it is a novel, but in a good way. I think. Need to think about it some more.

  5. Marvin
    Marvin February 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm . Reply

    Hearkening back to the topic of your original post: although racism is not a major theme in Ceremonies, it certainly plays a role in establishing the personalities of several of the lead characters, specifically their relations to multi-racial New York City and with the idea of cosmopolitan urbanism. It has the effect of making them seem more real, and very ordinary, as human beings, in the sense that our “heroes” are not particularly exceptional in any way, and are very much products of their majority white culture. And it’s not a hateful or explicit racism, but the self-conscious and fearful kind that knows and suspects its own motives but still wants to be appeased.

    An on reflection, I think this makes an interesting counterpoint to the character I’d call the protagonist, who’s probably the least racist person in the book precisely because his misanthropy has the virtue of being universal.

  6. Marvin
    Marvin February 16, 2012 at 4:20 am . Reply

    Hm, I’ve never watched Community, 30 Rock, or How I Met Your Mother, so I can’t really comment on those shows. I think I’ve seen a little bit of the “making fun of hypersensitivity” trope on Big Bang Theory, but it’s so tongue-in-cheek I don’t know if it would actually tend to desensitize a person to real issues of racism. (But perhaps that’s a blindness that comes with being white.)

    I think that conservatives are about as sensitive to charges of racism and sexism as liberals, but their sensitivity seems to come from a different place. Whereas liberals want to believe that they’ve overcome racist and sexist tendencies, conservatives (in my experience) seem to experience these accusations as a kind of Orwellian disinformation campaign or a tactic of character assassination employed by liberals to discredit deeper conservative issues. In both cases the self-perceived absence of an explicit feeling of hatred or contempt may provide defensive cover for racist/sexist attitudes and behaviors that have gone unexamined or unnoticed.

    As for the stereotypical white conservative’s sensitivity towards accusations of ignorance, stupidity, poverty, etc…. I’m not sure how strong that is. It seems to me that rhetoric on both the right and the left has elaborate strategies for impugning the intelligence of the other side, and accusations of poverty have little effect unless you’re trying to fake it, or unless you’re so impoverished that you can’t spin a lack of wealth as a surplus of salt-of-the-earth decency. And being liberal certainly doesn’t make a person immune from worry about class and status.

    But none of these cases seem to carry the flavor, if you will, of racist epithets. With racism we might be in a zone of genuine asymmetry. As a white guy from Texas, I can’t imagine anything anyone could call me, on the level of race, that would effect me the way the N-word might affect an African-American. I might perceive the anger or hatred behind the epithet, but it simply wouldn’t hit me the same way, and that’s just the privilege I enjoy by being a member of a group that did the colonizing and the subjugating and the categorizing and the labeling. Maybe if I spent long enough living in another country…but even then I’d probably immediately see racist epithets directed towards me as evidence of the stupidity of the other, and not as a reflection on my own status, not unless some other set of events really beat down my self-esteem.

    I suppose the flip side of this might be that nothing about my in-group white-guy-ness will ever be edgy, alluringly transgressive, or cool the way black culture has often been. But I doubt that makes up for the privilege of dominance.

  7. Marvin
    Marvin February 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm . Reply

    I seem to be very bad at keeping up with hip new TV shows. The Sturdy Helpmeet and I have been neck-deep in BBC Sherlock and Downton Abbey, and I’ve been watching the old Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series from the 1980s, plus for some reason I’ve been rewatching some early X-Files. Basically I watch TV like a 16 year old girl with a Tumblr account.

    Every now and then I’ll catch a bit of Big Bang Theory, but I don’t watch it regularly. I’m aware that I’m “supposed” to be hooked on Community, for instance, but for some reason I never get around to looking it up. And I have a soft spot for Doctor Who, but these days I find myself feeling more and more irritated by it. I miss the days when the Doctor had adventures that were about people other than himself.

    Anyway, about the comedification of issues surrounding racism, whether it’s hypersensitive defensiveness or hypersensitive white guilt or whatever…I guess I’d have to watch some specific examples to make a judgment. I have a feeling that some writers just think its daring or funny to explore our discomfort and anxiety about the subject, but don’t feel obliged to actually think about it deeply (which I suppose is just another mark of the very-probably white privilege of the overwhelming majority of TV writiers).

    Regarding #3 above, I was really just thinking of arguments I’ve seen between conservatives and liberals on the Internet, or even between New Age-y woo-spouting liberals and their more atheistic, empiricism-prone allies. But I think I agree that among the religious right there’s definitely a profound defensiveness about some strange (to me) concept of authenticity. People worry about being a real Christian, a real American, a real salt-of-the-earth good-old-boy you can have a beer with. And I suppose the disadvantage of buying into anti-intellectualism might be the half-suppressed fear that one has been tricked into being stupid for no good reason.

    On the global appreciation of black culture…yeah. The social dynamics between class and ethnic groups won’t automatically translate across cultural borders, and being a member of a what’s perceived to be a race of conquerors carries more cultural credit than the opposite.

    Maybe there’s some consolation in something I remember reading once on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: he described moving from the UK to the US and being shocked at how black Americans are no matter what their skin color happens to be. If Martin Luther King believed that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” then maybe it will also bend towards the soulful and the cool.

    (The philosophical half of my brain is already rejecting such an oversimplification, but fuck it.)

  8. JP
    JP April 15, 2012 at 9:43 am . Reply

    I read “Dark Gods” in my freshman year of high school, I think, many eons ago, and I remember being spooked out by it pretty thoroughly. I got it from the public library; I looked for it again recently, but it was gone, without even a notation in the library database—such a shame.

    But Kline’s real masterpiece is the “Events at Poroth Farm.” What a story! It really plays upon the primal fear you feel when you’re alone in the woods at night. Maybe that’s not an especially original idea, but it never gets old, and Kline handles it well. His writing is clear and easy to follow—he doesn’t dilute his prose with slang the way Stephen King does, and he doesn’t heap on the adjective like H.P. Lovecraft (Not that I dislike either King or Lovecraft). Overall, a great read. I read it before bed and it took me quite awhile to doze off afterward. Next up on my list is “The Ceremonies.”

    Random thought: who designed the cover for “Dark Gods?” I don’t remember that it has much to do with the stories, but it’s kind of an evocative image. Why is there a human-shaped hole in the ground, anyway? And is the ground surface made of sand, dirt, or some kind of cake frosting? (It has a soft, creamy texture if you look closely). Hmmm. The cover is worth a story in itself.

  9. JP
    JP April 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm . Reply

    Yeah, the top painting is probably referencing “Children of the Kingdom” indirectly. Sometimes I suspect that the cover artists don’t actually read the stories, or at least not very thoroughly. In spite of it, I kind of like the hardcover picture for “Dark Gods.” It’s stark and ominous, even if the ground looks like a Betty Crocker product. It could have been a second tier surrealist painting—something by Rene Magritte, maybe. I even like the Bantam paperback version too, but the final one (the Pan paperback) is cheesy, like a 70’s comic book.

    I did hear that “The Ceremonies” was based on “The Events at Poroth Farm”—that kind of piqued my interest since “Poroth” was so good. I think I’ll even re-read “Dark Gods” while I’m at it.

    The only other things I’ve read by Klein are “Growing Things” and “Curtains for Nat Crumley.” “Growing Things” isn’t really a horror story—or really much of a story. It’s more a fragment of a story. “Nat Crumley” is a bit of a black comedy with some supernatural elements. And I guess there’s not much more to his corpus of work than that, and a few more stories that I haven’t read. Maybe he’s like the Harper Lee of the horror genre: one good novel, and that’s the end. But I suppose quality is more important than quantity in the long run.

    Anyway, I hope you write a post on “Poroth” when you get around to it. I’m curious to see your take on it.

  10. hardgearcowboy
    hardgearcowboy May 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm . Reply

    Somehow, every year I always find the time to come back and check whether T.E.D. Klein has decided to write anything new. I picked up a copy of Dark Gods for maybe 20 cents after flicking through it briefly and noticing a Lovecraft reference.

    I wasn’t expecting much from it, considering the sheer volume of Lovecraft imitations, but man – this guy did it right. He didn’t copy Lovecraft, rather he imported the quintessential Lovecraftian spirit of cosmic horror. I came to appreciate Klein that much more some years later when I embarked upon an obsessive study of techniques and devices of sinister suggestion in horror fiction. Klein was a guy who deconstructed the best weird tales of M.R. James, Machen, Lovecraft, Blackwood etc., isolated what worked and reproduced it in a modern setting. I’m embarrassed by what passes as ‘Lovecraftian’ these days – apparently you only need to throw in something with tentacles or the word ‘eldritch’.

    I read The Ceremonies after Dark Gods, and although I certainly enjoyed it, I didn’t find it anywhere near as effective as any of his novellas. I found an atmosphere-eroding tendency towards over-explanation, which I couldn’t quite understand given the quality of Dark Gods.

    If you haven’t read the so-called ‘strange stories’ of Robert Aickman, it needs to be done. I feel I need to always bring up Aickman whenever any discussion of obscure writers of effective supernatural horror arise, because so many lovers of finely-crafted weird fiction have never even heard of him. He really takes atmospheric weirdness and horror to a new level. Lovecraft could carve out magnificent and awe-inspiring visions of blood-freezing cosmicism, but Robert Aickman pretends to be taking you somewhere perfectly ordinary, and before you know what he is doing he gets right under your skin and creeping you out on a monolithic scale. He has some 70-80 short stories scattered in old horror anthologies. I most strongly recommend his stories ‘The Hospice’, ‘The Inner Room’ and ‘Ravissante’. Creepy, creepy shit.

  11. Maddog
    Maddog September 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm . Reply

    @Marvin, I would say that most logical people view the Feminist Infiltration into both the scientific and the Atheist Word(Atheism +) the last few years as proof of how Feminism is the female equivalent of the self serving Manic Belief that have already long been condemned in the Straight White Male community(not that it was by any means just white males doing the condemning)

    This old argument needs to go back to the “Freedom Before Equality” debate. A much deeper conversation about how lowering standards hurts everyone etc. Welfare might have been created to help the poor like many black women and children, but it is blamed for the Institutionalized Racist Destruction of the Black Family by many African Americans today.

    Culture also often comes before race or sex but is never looked at honestly.

    Course everything always goes back to Class. Not sure what planet some think we are on but the Few white 1% Rich Bastards didn’t get where they are by helping out and sharing with the 180 million other whites. Many more whites fought and and or died to end slavery then there were slave masters.(‘The Forgotten’ I call them) That same Higher Class ‘Rich’ attitude we know from Modern America that loves them some Cheap Labor. The Free Labor of the far past was their Wettest Dread come true.

    But we all want to be rich(never trust someone who says they are not out for themselves)
    Yet That only opens up deeper questions about us, Ones that most of us would (I feel) react much like our Damn Politicians when asked about our new afforded views on Class problems, and most likely respond (even to ourselves) with a “No Comment”
    .
    Gord, you mentioned having Honesty in Debate and maybe we should address the Issues instead of resorting to name calling. Sadly that day still seems very far away as it seems a institutionalized problem that.(at least in the vague but still powerful way we love to use that term)

    Anyway Klein is or was one Damn fine writer. I hope he returns at some point.

    G. Gordan Snooty

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