Thursday, September 16, 2010

Karl Edward Wagner and The Year's Best Horror Stories Series

Just found an oh-so-worthwhile personal remembrance of the late Karl Edward Wagner, by one of his oldest friends, entitled "The Dark Muse of Karl Edward Wagner." Turned up on one of my periodic Google searches for new info on older horror writers. I love this kind of behind-the-scenes look at the life and struggles of a modern pulp/horror/fantasy writer, and I think a lot of you will dig it too. Guy was a powerhouse at whatever he did.

Known for both his medical expertise (he very nearly became a doctor) as well as for lighting up 1970s horror conventions with his Viking-biker appearance and appetite for drugs and booze - not to mention his own considerable fiction - Wagner took over the editorial reins of The Year's Best Horror Stories for DAW Books in 1980, and continued until his unfortunately early death at age 49 in North Carolina in 1994. He lived in nearby Chapel Hill for awhile. In fact, I recall years ago finding books from his own personal library in a used bookstore here in Raleigh. According to Amazon, none of his dozens of books are currently in print.

14 comments: said...

Great post, Will! Wagner deserves as much blogging about as he can get beyond the grave.
I maintain a page mostly dedicated to people wishing to discuss the superlative 39 best horror novels list compiled by the late Karl Edward Wagner and other topics of horrific interest. . My most recent post is regarding Leo Perutz's "Master of the Day of Judgment".
Also, my friend Tim Mayer of Z7's Headquarters has individual postings about many of the novels on the KEW 39 list. Visit Tim's site at . His most recent post is about "The Fire-Spirits" by Paul Busson.

Will Errickson said...

Thanks for the links. Just looked KEW's list, and aside from FALLING ANGEL, which I've reviewed on this blog and loved (much more than the first time I read it), I'm unfamiliar with most of them! said...

It's a world unto itself, that list is.
I had read Visiak's "Medusa" b/c of Wagner's boosterism in Jones and Newman's "Horror:100 Best Novels" (book length list w/ huge supplementary list, it's a "must get", if you see it about) in which famous horror authors (past and present) chose one notable book from any given year spanning 1592 to1987. For the distantly deceased authors' "choices", a positive review or short essay pertaining to another writer's work was used.
Wagner, as you know, didn't die until the early nineties, so "Medusa" was his actual choice to write about for this book.
Wagner said that "Medusa" read like "Treasure Island" as if written by William Burroughs on LSD or something to that effect. Well, suffice to say: "Shit! Man, that's all you needs to say!" And then, after finally tracking down via inter library loan a copy of "Medusa" and reading it, I found that there was this incredible 39 book long list by Wagner, which meant: Yipee! 38 more books selected by the great horror connoisseur, himself. I was overjoyed and more than a little daunted.
Well, now I've read 36 of the 39 (I'm still going to revisit "Frankenstein", though) in a little over a year, no less. All but two of them I could find and those two probably won't appear until some kind small press reprints them.
"Falling Angel" was the latest book ('78?) on Wagner's list. It was a favorite of mine, too;
it had atmosphere enough to kill several elephants in any room.

Will Errickson said...

About 15 years ago when I worked in a chain bookstore, a fellow employee and I tried to track down some of those titles in 100 Best Horror Novels; not much luck. I did find her a copy of Melmoth the Wanderer, however. We also stocked our horror section till it was bursting at the seams with the good stuff, but not a lot of it sold so eventually titles had to be returned. Alas. And isn't there a second volume of 100 Best Books? said...

Yes, there were two lists by the same editors. Actually both "core lists", the ones of 100 books each, not including the supplementary lists and essays, which, in some cases, are also rather good, can be found online. However, I find my self endlessly consulting the hardcover copy I have, which I bought blindly, not knowing what it was, for $3.00 in perfect, "as new" condition on the clearance rack in a used bookstore.
BTW, Thanks for visiting my humble site. Try Mark Samuels, his collection "The White Hands" is an excellent and inexpensive way to start. Just keep in mind that in that collection as good as the first story is, it rapidly does not continue on in the same vein, changing its whole tack & by extension your view on the work and writer himself, quite early on. Although, each tale stand up well on their own merits, the collection is bookended by two complimentary storys, the only ones to feature recurring characters, at least in the periphery (read: in cameo). Samuels is varied writer with unique ideas of what constitutes modern horror (though the loss of identity and an almost Dickian preoccupation with the nature of "reality"*, do get their just due as worthy themes) who is equally at home spinning competent, Lovecraftian horror tales or those that seemingly flow ceaselessly from his twisted & existentially crippled intellect.
I really can't praise Samuels highly enough and his collections, in my opinion, only keep getting better. Please, if you do decide to check him out, let me know what you think.
Hell, I'd be honored and go so far as to lend you my copy of "The White Hands" if you promise to write a short entry about it once you get around to reading it, and only then if it at all strikes your fancy in anyway, I believe its better to keep positive where burgeoning talents are concerned, the established guys/gals can afford (and in many cases deserve) the negative reviews. Just give me your address and I'll pay the shipping costs there and (at your leisure, of course) back again. I do really appreciate your articles & your dedication to horror fiction, so it's the very least I can do. Needless to say but "No pressure, at all." the thought just struck me as I wrote the above.
All the best,
Woodside Skulker

*Though Samuels, unlike PKD, is about quality above quantity, and far more literary while still being thoroughly readable a lot of fun to read at that.

Tim Mayer said...

Just found a copy of FALLING ANGEL at a yard sale for 50 cents. I read it years ago and watched the movie version opening weekend. Good adaptation of the book, even if they did change some of the settings.
Excellent blog. I'm going to add yours to my fave list.

Tim Mayer said...

Finding some of KEW's personal books in a used bookstore is interesting. Last year there was a discussion on the KEW Yahoo! group about whatever happened to his vast collection. The general feeling was that his immediate family had taken possession of it. But no one really knows.

Will Errickson said...

Tim, thanks for stopping by. Wish I could remember what books I was looking at that belonged to Wagner (a personalized bookplate, IIRC); wasn't too long after that that I learned he'd died, so this was probably 1995 or '96.

Woodside, thanks for the offer, but I am as loath to borrow books as I am to lend them out! ;-) And I really need a copy of 100 Best, even if just for reference.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I loved those covers Will. I recognised the final cover, as it was also used as the cover for the UK paperback of Guy N. Smith's 'Fiend'. I dont have any of Wagner's anthologies, do you have any information on the distribution of his work in the UK?

Will Errickson said...

I recently read--pretty sure it was on the Vault of Evil's message boards--that these Year's Best Horror Stories anthologies were *not* widely available in the UK, alas. Actually, I have never run into any copies in my used bookstore searches; only ever see 'em on eBay or Amazon. said...

No big deal re: "White Hands", I'm the same way, myself about books, usually actually. I can be almost insanely enthusiastic about Mark Samuels, at times. Hope it wasn't off putting. Do read him one day, though, if you get a chance. I devoured 3 collections and the short novel in a little over a week, which is extremely fast for me.

Back to Wagner, the editor!

Re: Year's Best Horror Stories Series
I see them all the time and have managed to assemble quite the large armada of Year's Best. I have 7 of the ones pictured above & more. Let me know if you want more images and I'll scan the ones I have, if you like.
I much prefer the artwork/design of the older ones before DAW changed their format.
These book can be found cheaply; remember "Good things comes to thems that waits." & this is doubly true in the book collecting world, particularly with relation to paperbacks, I've found. Didn't pay more than 99¢ for any of mine.

More difficult to find, in my experience, are Wagner's own novels (don't get me started on the scarcity of his collections of horror tales) with 4 exceptions "Bloodstone", "Dark Crusade", "Legion from the Shadows" & "Conan: Road of Kings". However, I managed to find 2 copies "Night Winds" (gave the other to a friend) & a beautiful copy of "Death Angel's Shadow" though a reprints all, for $2.50 each. I guess it was my lucky day! Either that or the person dropping them just left the store as I was entering it.

"In a Lonely Place" is Wagner's classic and in my opinion best collection of stories. The stories are all strong, flow really well together & resonate, particularly "Sticks". Images from "Sticks" have embedded themselves in my mind & make my soft tissues writhe at the recollection. Great cover on that one, too!

Will Errickson said...

My third post on this blog was on KEW's two horror short story collections, which I was able to find for cheap. I also think the DAW covers are superior to the later editions. However, I'm not familiar at all with any of his heroic fantasy fiction.

Kevin said...

Will -

If you do decide to try Wagner's Kane books, I'd recommend starting Night Winds, and anthology of short stories featuring the character, because I remember at least three being far closer to horror stories: "Raven's Eyrie" "Lynortis Reprise" and "Sing a Last Song for Valdese".

If still not your cup of tea, fine. But I definitely recommend it over the Darkness Weaves and Bloodstone novels.

Otherwise I did have Year's Best Horror XIX, and all what I remember from it nowadays was Wagner in a puckish mood, selecting someone's humour article "Stephen King's Book of Blurbs" which reviews a collection of Stephen King's ubiquitous blurbs from that decade. If only for the line that made me laugh "Bari Wood gives me nightmares, but I take Tabitha King to bed with me every night!"

Unknown said...

I have a copy of Lord Halifax's Ghost Book inscribed "To myself, for general use! C.C.M. Christmas 1936" A later purchaser noted that this was "Canon C.C. Marshall, late vicar of St. Chad's, Far Headingley, Leeds".

Also a C.M. Eddy collection inscribed to L. Sprague de Camp by his widow, and a book on the English Civil War which was once owned by Jay Luvaas, a well-known military historian.