Thursday, October 10, 2013

30 Days of Halloween - Day 9: Black Horror

Speaking of The Other:  apparently, October is Black Speculative Fiction Month.  I'm glad to make its acquaintance.  And I'm glad they're using the term 'speculative fiction' because it is inclusive of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

I myself come from what I sometimes consider the whitest of white ethnicities:  Scandinavians (grandpa Otto Eberg Petersen moved from his native Norway to the USA around age 20).  It's what I call Ethnic White: almost so white it's black, if you know what I mean, where you can actually re-situate 'whiteness' into its rightful place as just one of the many ethnic variations.  These were the fair haired, fair eyed, fair skinned Nothern Barbarians that terrified people from Southern Europe and the Middle East, the darker-skinned birthplaces of Western civilisation.  Scandinavians were every bit as exotic to these cultures as later Europeans found Africans to be.  So I'm pretty white, I guess.

But blackness got under my skin somehow and I like it there.  My very favourite singers tend to be punk or avant garde white boys deeply influenced by previous generations of black singers:  Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Mike Patton, and Neil Fallon  all readily acknowledge and display their deep debt to the greats of African-American gospel, blues, soul, and R&B, such as Howlin' Wolf, Son House, John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino, etc.

Unfortunately, I still haven't read much in the way of science fiction by black authors.  I've been aware of luminaries like Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany for years, but aside from a few short stories by the latter, I've still not quite managed to get round to reading them.  (I recently acquired Delany's Jewels of Aptor and moved it up on my to-read list.)  I have read, however, Toni Morrison's powerful and grotesque historical novel on American slavery:  Beloved (sometimes labelled 'magical realism' because an incarnated ghost is one of the central plot features).  It tingles with the numinous but most of its outright horror is of a visceral and harrowing variety.  I've also read Colson Whitehead's 'literary zombie novel' Zone One (as well as an earlier novel, John Henry Days, which has moments of horror).

But another interesting thing for me is that several protagonists in my own fiction are more or less black characters.  'More or less' because one is Afro-Japanese (a travelling preacher who befriends and fights monsters variously).  Another is an African-American Samurai rabbit!  (You just have to read it, I guess.) It's an outgrowth in my art of my New Testament conviction:  that Christ reconciles all of us to the racially Other (as well as 'other kinds of Others'), creating an Uncanny Church, gloriously haunted and monstrous in its unity and diversity.

The fact that horror-master H. P. Lovecraft showed racist xenophobia quite clearly in his fiction (he himself briefly and unhappily sojourned in an ethnically plural neighbourhood in NYC and then fled back to Rhode Island from those 'monstrous' neighbours), makes these developments all the more interesting and hopeful.