Category: karl edward wagner

More Whispers in the Dark

Whispers IV: edited by Stuart David Schiff (1983) containing the following stories:

A Night on the Docks by Freff: One of the oddest vampire stories I can think of, with echoes of the classic tale “Call Him Demon” by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

Into Whose Hands by Karl Edward Wagner: Terrific, moody piece that draws on Wagner’s experiences as a psychiatrist working in public mental health facilities. Maybe Wagner’s most subtle piece.

Out of Copyright by Ramsey Campbell: Droll bit of supernatural revenge by Campbell, working in a very literary version of his EC Comics revenge mode.

Elle Est Trois, (La Mort) by Tanith Lee: I think this is the prolific, multi-talented Lee’s crowning achievement in short works. It’s really an essential piece of dark fantasy/horror.

Come to the Party by Frances Garfield: Fun short from the writer also known as Mrs. Manly Wade Wellman.

The Warrior Who Did Not Know Fear by Gerald W. Page: Odd choice, as it’s really a piece of a longer work of heroic dark fantasy, a piece without an ending. Still enjoyable.

Fair Trade by William F. Nolan: Another short exercise in the EC vengeance mode, with Nolan doing spot-on dialect for the first-person narrator.

I Never Could Say Goodbye by Charles L. Grant: Mysterious.

The Devil You Say! by Lawrence Treat: More humour than horror.

Diploma Time by Frank Belknap Long: Interesting ghost story from long-time writer Long, with one of his typically jarring moments in which he eschews transitions, though here it’s intentional.

Tell Us About the Rats, Grandpa by Stephen Kleinhen: Minor bit of gross-out horror.

What Say the Frogs Now, Jenny? by Hugh B. Cave: Unpleasant insofar as the female victim of sexual harassment is somehow made out to be the antagonist of the piece. I don’t think that was Cave’s intent, but it’s a really ugly, somewhat cliched story.

The Beholder by Richard Christian Matheson: Unusually supernatural story for the master of shocking short-short stories.

Creative Coverage, Inc. by Michael Shea: Bleak comedy about corporate malfeasance. Really, really, really bleak.

The Dancer in the Flames by David Drake: Evocative piece draws on Drake’s time in Viet Nam, but uses a somewhat clumsy ‘footnote’ ending to fully explain what has happened.

The Reflex-Man in Whinnymuir Close by Russell Kirk : Lovely period piece/pastiche by the always elegant Kirk.

In all: recommended.

Most Peculiar Mummy

Whispers (1977) edited by Stuart David Schiff, containing the following stories:

“Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner: One of Wagner’s four greatest stories, “Sticks” is a terrific piece of Cthulhu Mythology, with an absolutely riveting first half.

“The Barrow Troll” by David Drake: Typically tough-minded piece of revisionist historical fantasy from Drake.

“The Glove” by Fritz Leiber: Blackly humourous San Francisco-era piece from Leiber, set in a familiar apartment building for Leiber fans.

“The Closer of the Way” by Robert Bloch: Droll bit of meta-fiction from the creator of Psycho.

“Dark Winner” by William F. Nolan: Fascinating bit of Bradbury-tinged horror-nostalgia that would have been right at home on The Twilight Zone.

“Ladies in Waiting” by Hugh B. Cave: Solid haunted-house riff.

“White Moon Rising” by Dennis Etchison: A non-supernatural psychological thriller from Etchison. Stylistically precise, thematically mysterious.

“Graduation” by Richard Christian Matheson: Epistolary creep-out.

“Mirror, Mirror” by Ray Russell: Fun, minor piece.

The House of Cthulhu by Brian Lumley: Lovecraftian sword-and-sorcery.

“Antiquities” by John Crowley: Mummies wreak havoc in England in a most peculiar way.

“A Weather Report from the Top of the Stairs” by James Sallis and David Lunde: Adaptation of a famous Gahan Wilson cartoon (“And then we’ll get him!”) with two different endings.

“The Scallion Stone” by Basil A. Smith: A very M.R. Jamesian horror story from a writer who avoided publication until after his death.

“The Inglorious Rise of the Catsmeat Man” by Robin Smyth: Very much an Ambrose Bierce/Roald Dahl-like exercise in gross-out horror-comedy.

“The Pawnshop” by Charles E. Fritch: Entertaining deal-with-the-devil story.

Le Miroir“by Robert Aickman: An even-more-ambiguous-than-usual story from the eternally ambiguous Aickman.

“The Willow Platform” by Joseph Payne Brennan: Nice bit of regional Maine Lovecraft-tinged cosmic horror in the backwoods.

“The Dakwa” by Manly Wade Wellman: The Southeast backwoods play host to a particularly gruesome Native-American monster.

“Goat” by David Campton: Really solid, evocative piece of particularly British small-town horror.

“The Chimney” by Ramsey Campbell: Award-winning story of childhood horrors that may or may not be real.

The first anthology of stories from Schiff’s semi-prozine Whispers really almost bursts with heady goodness. In all: Highly recommended.

I’ve Come To Talk With You Again

The Year’s Best Horror XXII-1993 edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1994) containing “The Ripper’s Tune” by Gregory Nicoll; “One Size Eats All” by T.E.D. Klein; “Resurrection” by Adam Meyer; “I Live to Wash Her” by Joey Froehlich; “A Little-Known Side of Elvis” by Dennis Etchison; “Perfect Days” by Chet Williamson; “See How They Run” by Ramsey Campbell (aka “For You to Judge”); “Shots Downed, Officer Fired” by Wayne Allen Sallee; “David” by Sean Doolittle; “Portrait of a Pulp Writer” by F. A. Pollard [as by F. A. McMahan]; “Fish Harbor” by Paul Pinn; “Ridi Bobo” by Robert Devereaux; “Adroitly Wrapped” by Mark McLaughlin; “Thicker Than Water” by Joel Lane; “Memento Mori” by Scott Thomas; “The Blitz Spirit” by Kim Newman; “Companions” by Del Stone, Jr.; “Masquerade” by Lillian Csernica; “Price of the Flames” by Deidra Cox (aka “The Price of the Flames”); “The Bone Garden” by Conrad Williams; “Ice Cream And Tombstones” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman; “Salt Snake” by Simon Clark; “Lady’s Portrait, Executed In Archaic Colors” by Charles M. Saplak; “Lost Alleys” by Jeffrey Thomas; “Salustrade” by D. F. Lewis; “The Power of One” by Nancy Kilpatrick; “The Lions in the Desert” by David Langford; “Turning Thirty” by Lisa Tuttle; “Bloodletting” by Kim Antieau; “Flying Into Naples” by Nicholas Royle; “Under the Crust” by Terry Lamsley.

This was editor Karl Edward Wagner’s last Year’s Best horror-short-stories volume for DAW Books before his death at the age of 49 due to complications caused by chronic alcohol abuse. His was a tragic end long foretold, based on most accounts I’ve read, a slide that went on for more than a decade. Through that slide, he edited more than a dozen volumes of this annual collection (the only such annual collection for horror at the time), and while his writing petered out over that awful span, his editing remained sharp and idiosyncratic right up until the end.

Wagner’s editorship tended to focus on short stories rather than novellas and novelettes, which meant that his volumes — especially the later ones, with much-increased page counts — sometimes have a ridiculously large table of contents. I think sometimes there must have been one novella out there that year that was better than three of the included short stories, but Wagner’s committment to a certain level of volume introduced readers to a lot of writers who might otherwise have remained mostly unknown.

This isn’t Wagner’s best Year’s Best volume. There are a few too many gimmicky punch-line stories for my taste, and a few too many generic stories with generic titles. But there’s also excellence here from Dennis Etchison — maybe the least well-known great horror writer of his generation due to his concentration on the short story.

And there’s a concluding double-punch of fine novellas by little-known writers, “Flying into Naples” by Nicholas Royle and “Under the Crust” by Terry Lamsley, that highlights Wagner’s career-long strength as a finder and provider of excellence from unexplored corners of the publishing world. When Wagner died, the DAW series was buried with him. Poor Wagner, but what a legacy he left, singing out of darkness. Recommended.

Doomsday Books

The Year’s Best Horror Stories: XX-1991 (1992) containing Ma Qui by Alan Brennert; The Same in Any Language by Ramsey Campbell; Call Home by Dennis Etchison; A Scent of Roses by Jeffrey Goddin; Root Cellar by Nancy Kilpatrick; An Eye for an Eye by Michael A. Arnzen; The Picnickers by Brian Lumley; With the Wound Still Wet by Wayne Allen Sallee; My Giddy Aunt by D. F. Lewis; The Lodestone by Sheila Hodgson; Baseball Memories by Edo van Belkom; The Bacchae by Elizabeth Hand; Common Land by Joel Lane; An Invasion of Angels by Nina Kiriki Hoffman; The Sharps and Flats Guarantee by C. S. Fuqua; Medusa’s Child by Kim Antieau; Wall of Masks by T. Winter-Damon; Moving Out by Nicholas Royle; Better Ways in a Wet Alley by Barb Hendee; Close to the Earth by Gregory Nicoll; Churches of Desire by Philip Nutman; Carven of Onyx by Ron Weighell.

Horror was in a boom period in 1991, with splatterpunk rising to the fore. Wagner’s selections here in the tenth volume he’d edited of DAW’s annual Year’s Best Horror is solid and occasionally eclectic and broad of range, with M.R. James-influenced ‘traditional’ ghost stories rubbing shoulders with splatterpunk, existential horror, sexual horror, and surreal, unease-making entries by Nina Kiriki Hoffman and D.F. Lewis. Alan Brennert’s story is a fine bit of Viet Nam horror, while Ramsey Campbell’s story suggests that some Greek islands should not be visited by tourists. Recommended.


The Year’s Best Horror: XVII-1988: edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1989) containing Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley; Works of Art by Nina Kiriki Hoffman; She’s a Young Thing and Cannot Leave Her Mother by Harlan Ellison; The Resurrection Man by Ian Watson; Now and Again in Summer by Charles L. Grant; Call 666 by Dennis Etchison; The Great God Pan by M. John Harrison; What Dreams May Come by Brad Strickland; Regression by R. Chetwynd-Hayes; Souvenirs from a Damnation by Don Webb; Bleeding Between the Lines by Wayne Allen Sallee; Playing the Game by Ramsey Campbell; Lost Bodies by Ian Watson; Ours Now by Nicholas Royle; Prince of Flowers by Elizabeth Hand; The Daily Chernobyl by Robert Frazier; Snowman by Charles L. Grant; Nobody’s Perfect by Thomas F. Monteleone; Dead Air by Gregory Nicoll; Recrudescence by Leonard Carpenter


1988 was a transitional year for horror in general. Slasher movies were on the wane, while the ultra-violence of splatterpunk was on the wax in written horror. Wagner’s selection here is mostly solid, though two pieces by the usually solid Ian Watson are startlingly ineffective as horror. Three novellas — “Fruiting Bodies”, “The Great God Pan”, and “Recrudescence” — are the high points here, along with one of the better NuCthulhu stories I’ve read in awhile, “Souvenirs from a Damnation”, and one of Elizabeth Hand’s first published stories, “Prince of Flowers.” Dennis Etchison is solid and disturbing as always. Recommended.