Thursday, December 4, 2014

Karl Edward Wagner's Kane: The Frank Frazetta Covers

Born on this date in 1945 in Knoxville, TN, the late great Karl Edward Wagner made his bones writing countless tales of Kane, a somber swordsman from prehistory. Warner Books published these paperbacks throughout the 1970s and '80s with cover art to catch anyone's eye, thanks to the mighty Frank Franzetta's depictions of ripped musclemen in various states of dress and battle. It was a match made for the pulp ages...

I haven't read these myself--Wagner's horror fiction is more my thing--and I don't usually see these books when I'm out book-hunting. So I leave it to you guys: how much do you like Wagner's Kane books?


11 comments:

AndyDecker said...

Wonderful covers.

At the time the Kane novels were among the best fantasy that was published, and they are still better then most of the multi-part series. Wagner wrote in the field of Robert E. Howard, and he did it better then his contemporaries, especially in his novellas. There are so many concepts Wagner did first with Kane. An immortal wanderer, maybe Cain, cursed by his god, and a typical anti-hero. Great atmospheric stories, quite dark and not an elf or orc in sight. Recommended, if you like heroic fantasy. As there was a lot of horror content in the stories, maybe even for horror readers.

Alejandro Omidsalar said...

Happy birthday to KEW!

So weird that this post came up this week, because I've recently been getting back into classic, gritty swords-and-sorcery, like Howard's Conan, Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Burroughs's Barsoom (that last one kinda counts, right? Sword and planet?). Must be some kinda spooky kismet that will surely manifest as a comely, seductive woman with fangs. (Thanks, John Milius).

I remember lukewarmly receiving KEW's collection, The Book of Kane. AndyDecker's absolutely right. The stories did have lots of fun horror tropes, but Kane was sometimes too invulnerable as a character to really become all that invested in. There are one or two cool Kane stories in Exorcisms and Ecstasies that I remember enjoying; if I'm not mistaken, one of them featured Michael Moorcock's excellent anti-Conan, Elric of Melnibone. Now there was a paperback fantasy hero for the ages! I digress...

Still, my general mood and this post make me want to dig up my paperback copy of Bloodstone and see what all the fuss is about once more. It's a Baen reissue with a smaller version of the Warner Books' cover art from above. Not quite as neat, but still more evocative than anything gracing bookstore shelves today.

Ron Clinton said...

Agreed -- KEW's Kane stories will hold immense appeal to horror readers.

This post, though, brings back some personal shame, though. When I was younger -- 11 to 13 or 14, probably -- I would go down to my local used bookstore and, along with my horror picks, would buy pbs with Frazetta and Boris Vallejo covers -- so all the Conan and Gor novels and whatever else I could find. I'd take them home and, after reading them (and weren't all those Gor novels interesting to this middle schooler!), tear off the covers to "collect" the art. Fortunately, this book mutilation only went on for a few years, but I still bear the shame. :-(

Tim Mayer said...

Excellent books. I spent 30 years tracking down all the books on KEW's "Best" list that he published in the old Twilight Zone magazine.

Jack Tripper said...

Love Kane, but especially the short stories/novelettes like "Undertow" and "Reflections for the Winter of My Soul," which have much more of a horror vibe compared to the battles and world-domination aspects of the novels. I mean, who doesn't love the whole "snowed-in while being hunted by...something" theme, which is done to perfection in "Reflections?" Yes that trope's been done a million times in horror, but Wagner makes it a classic cozy-style whodunit as well, and pulls it off.

Adam said...

Absolute perfection.

Adam said...

Ah. While I'm thinking of it Will, I can't say I know exactly what you stock on your shelves, but I'd imagine there might be a good chance you have a copy of either Splatterpunks II or The Cutting Edge anthos which contain a stealth Kane story, "Lacunae", so you could start there. Also, the tale "At First Just Ghostly" is included in both Best New Horror by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell and The Best of Weird Tales by Betancourt.

Both of those tales are not collected in the books in your post and they're contained in some fairly common collections, so they might be a good place to start out for you. Doesn't hurt that all of those books are pretty great.

Unknown said...

I enjoy the Kane stories and novels a great deal. The AD&D developers must have too, they "borrowed" the maimed witch Zuggtmoy for the Greyhawk backstory.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuggtmoy

JP W said...

All of the Kane stories are deeply influenced by KEW's knowledge of the horror genre, and he frequently employs some of the genre's key archetypes, particularly those of cosmic horror/the Cthulhu mythos. Even those stories that aren't particularly supernatural (such as the novella "Cold Light") draw on ideas of existential horror similar to much of KEW's non-Kane short stories.

But more than that, Kane, is the rare anti-hero that lives up to the title. He is a villain: irredeemably evil by virtually any social standard. We're not talking about a Clint Eastwood-type antihero: rough-around-the-edges, anti-social, and unconventional, but fundamentally on the side of right, defending the right and balancing the scales of justice. Kane is selfish, cruel, devious, and wrathful. And yet we're forced to root for him—his adversaries are even worse, and to root for those who have any shred of decency would, in Kane's world, be an act of profound naïveté.

Finally, more than any other writer except perhaps Les Daniel, KEW captures the weariness and the curse of immortality. All authors who write of such things pay lip service to the curse of undeath, but underlying it is a kind of God-envy. In Kane, KEW genuinely explores the desperate, futile, and corrosively transformative struggle to find meaning in eternity.

As with other commenters, I would recommend starting with his collections, rather than his novel-length works.

Romantic Heretic said...

I loved Kane. It often made me wonder how twisted I'd become if I was immortal.

I remember reading Bloodstone in my early twenties while a couple of sheets to the wind. The climatic battle of that seriously creeped me out.

Kane is possibly the best anti-hero in fantasy fiction.

Andy said...

The Kane stories are classics of sword-and-sorcery fiction. The pre-modern ones, that is. Wagner later wrote a little bit of material about Kane living in the present day and, while interesting, it's inferior to the prehistoric stories.

Sword and sorcery in general is a good genre for horror fans to slide over toward since at its core it's merging swashbuckling adventure with horror fiction. Basically Robert E. Howard took the idea of a Lovecraft story and replaced the mentally fragile protagonist with someone who could fight back (but when Howard wanted to write straight horror, he could do that, too).