The Year’s Best Horror VIII, edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1980, for the year 1979): Wagner’s first year as editor for DAW’s seminal, annual horror anthology gives us more than a dozen stories ranging from very good to classic, carefully selected (as was Wagner’s M.O.) from a wide array of genre magazines, mainstream magazines, low-print-run chapbooks and assorted other venues. Wagner, who died in 1994, was one the horror genre’s five or six greatest editors, and a fine writer as well.
Wagner’s first effort for DAW is wide-ranging, combining first or second efforts from a couple of writers, stories from established writers, and at least one return to the genre by one of the Golden Age’s more skilful writers (“From the Lower Deep” by Hugh B. Cave, a dandy of atmosphere and misdirection). Splatterpunk was still a few years away in 1980, and few of the stories are particularly graphic. A fine balance is struck between realistic horror (the best of these being old hand Davis Grubb’s “The Babysitter”) and the supernatural, with all the shadings between those two poles. The Ramsey Campbell story included here is a bit of a curiosity, though a very effective one — “To Wake the Dead” is really the prologue to Campbell’s excellent novel The Parasite.
Harlan Ellison gets two selections; 1979 really marks the end of Ellison’s most fruitful years as a short-story writer, and while “In the Fourth Year of the War” is a dandy, “All the Birds Come Home to Roost” seems awfully dated now, and a tad like a misogynist’s fantasy of horror (a guy who’s had a lot of sex with women suddenly starts having those women show up in his life for a one-night stand, in reverse chronological order, leading him backwards to his first wife, who’s been in a mental asylum for decades and, I guess, is going to drive him crazy or something when she returns, given that she mumbled a lot and made him feel bad, but then he punched her, and then she got committed. In any event, the poor guy just keeps getting jumped by his previous conquests as some sort of cosmic punishment. Maybe this only qualified as horror in the Swinging 70’s).
But enough of my yakking. Wagner would ultimately edit these annual books until his death, when DAW discontinued the line. This one and the others are all well worth picking up used for both their literary and historical value. Highly recommended.