Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I've Come To Talk With You Again
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.