In his introduction to The Year’s Best Horror Stories Series VIII, Wagner presents us, the readers, with a problem. Despite horror being a popular literary genre, there is an absence of horror literary magazines. In 1980 Weird Tales was no longer the staple of horror literature it once had been. Between 1973-1987 less than ten issues were released. Wagner had two solutions to creating his roster from the lack of horror magazines, cast the net wider, and delve into the world of “the semi-prozine”.
“…finding good horror fiction becomes something rather like fishing a good trout stream on opening day-not as simple as shooting carp in a barrel, but with effort and patience the results are most rewarding.”-Karl Edward Wagner
Despite the lack of horror magazines, the genre itself was becoming more and more popular. Many fantasy, science-fiction, and non-genre magazines began to carry a horrific story or two between their pages. As I’ve already mentioned in the podcast Wagner was a man well read in a plethora of genres and literary styles. In the introduction he says, “Today the situation, for both reader and editor, become more a matter of the thrill of the chase.” He’s implying that like a hunter, you the horror reader will have to follow the quarry to its feeding grounds (The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Playboy, Easyriders, etc…) and be ready for it when you catch a glimpse. I think this sentiment can only come from a person that truly loves reading and loves the genre. This is one of the aspects of Wagner’s personality that I find most appealing; he is up for a challenge and willing to go on an adventure.
Wagner also introduces the idea of “the semi-prozine”. The semi-prozines were a class of magazine that came out of the amateur press and were the liveliest source of horror at that time. According to Wagner, the ability to pay competitive rates attracted professional authors to the zines, so there was a mix of established writers with the up and coming. The nature of the amateur press was one of abundance and uncertainty. You never knew whether the magazine would make it to the next month or fold. Sifting through this material was a large task and Wagner spends a bulk of his introduction informing the reader the names of these zines and how to get them. Of course, to save time, the reader can find the best stories by picking up his collection.
“My goal was to gather together the best even when this meant presenting more than one story by the same author, or passing over a story by a “famous name” in favor of a better story by an unknown writer.” -Karl Edward Wagner
The above statement is both bad-ass, and filled with integrity. Wagner is tasked to find what he thinks is the best horror of the year. He won’t leave any stone unturned, and when he finds the best, he’s publishing it. Period. The rules of nicety and politics are out the window. I can’t wait to get started on this collection. On Monday I’ll start with his first selection The Dead Line by Dennis Etchison.