Few writers have had the influence of H.P. Lovecraft on SF, fantasy, and horror, but the eccentric author’s racism and xenophobia—extreme even by the standards of his time— shamble through many of his stories and can make contemporary readers terribly uncomfortable. Matt Ruff is the latest writer to address Lovecraft’s other disturbing rather directly in a Lovecraft-influenced novel. Lovecraft Country unfolds against the backdrop of mid-1950s America, and focuses on characters who face both the eldritch horrors and the Jim Crow racism lurking beneath the surface of American life.
Title: Lovecraft Country
Author: Matt Ruff
First published, Feb. 16, 2016.
A veteran of the Korean War, and his uncle, the publisher of an African-America “Safe Travel Guide,” head to New England in search of a missing relative. Their quest will embroil these characters and several others in a power struggle between factions of an Ancient Order. The dangers they face, burbling beneath the surface of peachy-keen post-war America include haunted houses, tentacled horrors, and time travel, alongside segregated services, “sundown towns,” and threats of lynching.
The center holds, as the various characters head out on their bizarre pulp adventures, with SF horror and racist history given equal weight.
For a book with characters representing diverse backgrounds, the dialogue and characterization are noticeably flat.
Originality: 3/6 Ruff does not merely recycle Lovecraft’s tropes and creatures; he uses Lovecraftesque elements in a novel written in his own voice and for his own ends.
Imagery: 6/6 The novel takes a rough look at America, and shows contemporary readers what it meant for a non-Caucasian to cross the country in an earlier, hostile era.
Story: 5/6 The individual stories often feel fragmented and incomplete, but they cohere in the end.
Characterization: 4/6 Despite some issues with character development, the novel gives us strong, aware individuals, many of them fantasy readers who question, engage, and often reject the ethics and implications of some influential fantasy literature and the culture that produces it.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Lovecraft Country receives 33/42