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When Racism and Scifi collide

Confession: I have never read anything from HP Lovecraft. I probably should - after all, he contributed enormously to what is now my favourite genre, but I’ve never felt the pull to pick up one of his books. However, I’m not completely useless. I have done my research on him, and his stories.  His plotlines are fantastical. Without Lovecraft’s contribution, we would not have the glory of Cthulhu running for president in the US elections. He was creating science fiction works before it was science fiction.

We have HP Lovecraft to thank for this existing on the Internet.


Lovecraft was a great contributor. Lovecraft was also racist. Pretty racist. Hectically racist. Practically everything I’ve read about Lovecraft the man and the writer indicates that he had a less than friendly attitude towards people who were not of his skin tone.  And for a scifi reader, it’s a bitter pill to swallow that someone who helped create the genre would think of you as a lesser human.

Introducing la Valle

So how do I navigate that space?  Luckily enough, someone had already thought of that question before I did.  Tammy Oler explores this sticky situation through the work of another scifi writer. Victor la Valle takes one of Lovecraft’s stories, The Horror at Red Hook, and remixes the story, retelling it through the eyes of one of its black characters. The Ballad of Black Tom humanizes the character Tommy, and LaValle marries the fictional setting to the reality of black people in 1920s New York (and modern times too). It was interesting, reading about an author who looked at Lovecraft’s work specifically with a racial angle.

SciFi and Racism

How does this relate to science fiction in general? There are other instances of racism, or the least, racial insensitivity, in well-known scifi books.  The other example that comes to mind is Dune. Frank Herbert is the writer responsible for launching me into the world of scifi. I love that book like crazy. I am strongly considering getting a Litany against Fear tattoo. Yet the White Saviour Complex in Dune grates my brain.  But that’s for another day.

If I had zero motivation to read Lovecraft now, my motivation is in negative numbers. Avoiding his work doesn’t solve the sticky situation of racism in scifi, but it does mean that I remove unnecessary feelings that will get in the way of me enjoying what is a wonderful universe of alternate futures and realities. And it motivates me to do, in my own small way, whatever I can to correct the racial imbalance.

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