Weird Tales: Cat Rambo on Early Influences

Ann VanderMeer • December 8th, 2007 @ 4:35 pm • Culture

With the 85th anniversary of Weird Tales upcoming and a slew of editorial and format changes having been made to the magazine, I thought it would be interesting to guest blog on Ecstatic Days, especially since Jeff is in the process of meeting his many, many deadlines. Part of guest blogging will be to present the short essays and observations of the writers being published in upcoming issues, some of whom are new to the field and offer a genuinely fresh perspectives. Some of these posts will relate to Weird Tales and some won’t. I’m giving the writers the freedom to post about whatever interests them. I hope you enjoy these posts over the next month or so. – Ann

Writer: Cat Rambo
Weird Tales Story: Events at Fort Plentitude (issue #348, February 2008)
Writer Bio: Cat Rambo lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. A product of Notre Dame, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and the relentless pursuit of popular culture, she writes stories that wander freely in the adjoining pastures of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and occasionally jump the fence to eat the cabbages of Literature. She is the co-editor of Fantasy Magazine.

***

I was an early and fast reader, perhaps the result of an experimental program I was in during kindergarten, perhaps simply because my parents read to me a lot. At the age of eleven or twelve, though, I’d exhausted most of the books in the children’s room in the library, to the point where I’d read through the 390 (Folklore) section, as a passable substitute for fiction. My parents never restricted my reading at home (with odd results – my early views on sexuality were entirely shaped by DR. NO, which I’d found somewhere, and FIRE ON THE LAKE was my first vision of a non-Hollywoodified war. And so they prevailed on the library to grant me access to the grown-up stacks, which otherwise weren’t enterable until the age of sixteen or thereabouts.

I went straight to the science fiction section and found myself disappointed — beyond an incomplete run of early Year’s Best SF and some classics I’d already managed to find in used bookstores, there wasn’t a lot. But there was all of H.P. Lovecraft, or at least a respectable chunk, and so one of those one-sided friendships were born, the ones we have with the writers who shape our psyches and influenced how we see the world. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” was the story that most terrified and enthralled me, but others were close behind: “At the Mountains of Madness” presented another landscape that haunted and thrilled me. THE DREAMQUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH informed most of my game campaigns, and when Chaosium released their Lovecraft role-playing game, CALL OF CTHULHU, I started a campaign that ran a respectable two or three years.

Later on, I’d read Sprague de Camp’s biography of Lovecraft and realize the racism that I’d overlooked before. It was odd to see the brown people and their cabbalistic rituals in “The Horror at Red Hook” swim into a different, more recognizable focus, and shocking, a betrayal of that friendship which made me go back and look at a lot of the other stuff I’d loved, more often than not with the same results. But reaching adulthood and whatever it is that comes afterward has tempered that shock, and now Lovecraft is more like that friend you have who occasionally does something horribly selfish but you put up with them because they don’t know any better.

This is the main reason why a sale of WEIRD TALES is meaningful to me — to rub shoulders within the same tradition as H.P. Lovecraft is thrilling and makes me a little giddy. It makes it very, very cool to be able to call myself a WEIRD TALES author.

8 Responses to “Weird Tales: Cat Rambo on Early Influences”

  1. Elizabeth Coleman says:

    I was always the sort who read the folklore section instead of fiction (but I loved to look at the pretty covers of books!) and I’ve long regretted that.

  2. C. S. Inman says:

    “…Who occasionally does something horribly selfish but you put up with them because they don’t know any better.”

    Hahaha, well said! I feel that way about many authors I fell in love with before I Understood The World. I’ve seen people make an argument that Tolkien’s writing is racist, but I can’t let modern dissection ruin something that filled my seven year old head with such adventure. He can be the ignorant, one-sided, dead friend. ;)

  3. shelly rae says:

    Sounds like we had similar upbringings Cat. Although I discovered the Kinsey report and Masters & Johnson in the public library and eventually became the fount of information on things sexual for my peers.

    One of my first SF reads was H.G. Wells. I poured over The Times Machine, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and Island of Dr. Moreau plus his wonderful short stories like In the Country of the Blind. Later I discovered that he’d been a lover of Margaret Sanger and Rebecca West (amongst others) and had a child with West. OK I guess. Then I read some of his non-fiction particularly some of his work advocating eugenics, sigh. Like you, I discovered the racism in the writing that I’d missed as a young reader. I guess i can dismiss some of that as being “a man of his time” however he was a man far ahead of his time so how is a reader to come to terms with that? I like your summation of Lovecraft and will take that stance with Wells.

    And by the way? I’m looking forward to reading your next published piece!
    Anon

  4. Aloysius Watermelontail says:

    2-3 years is respectable for a system that assumes the characters are going to live that long, for CoC, that’s heroic.

  5. LMarley says:

    I only wish that at sixteen I had understood science fiction was a genre. I wandered around, reading things I was told to read, and yearning for the sort of thing I loved when I was really young: Oz, Half Magic, and so forth. It was a heck of a long time before I learned what those letters on the spines of books meant! And then I scoured my library for everything Marion Zimmer Bradley had written.

    Do you know she wrote a wonderful non-spec book about acrobats?

  6. Felix Gilman says:

    I’ve always loved Lovecraft’s stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought of him as a friend — for me, reading Lovecraft is less like having an imaginary friend and more like being trapped in a small room with a fascinatingly creepy schizophrenic who keeps talking to himself.

    Finding out that he was a terrible racist came as no surprise — he was paranoid and messed up in so many other ways, why not that one too?

  7. Felix Gilman says:

    Though now that I come to think of it, I did have a kind of adolescent one-sided imaginary friendship with Martin Amis, which is now being painfully betrayed in contemporary real-time, and it’s just horrible.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Felix–I had that same kind of friendship with Amis… :(

    JV

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