YBHS IX: Introduction-The Year of the Anthology

Art by Michael Whelan

Welcome to the second annual October Best of read. In the past, I’ve read a horror story a day during the month of October. Last year, when I started this blog I decided it would be a great opportunity to work my way through The Year’s Best Horror Stories collections edited by Wagner. I previously covered Series VIII and this year I’ll be covering Series IX. I’ll have two to three posts a week each featuring a different story in the collection, I hope to talk about history, influences, Wagner, and I’ll also give my thoughts on the story. As an introduction to the series, I’d like to take a look at Wagner’s introduction.

“The year past, 1980, will go down in the annals of horror literature as the year of the blockbuster original anthology. One has to go back to those thousand-page super-dreadnought-class horror anthologies published in England during the 1930’s—particularly those edited by John Gawsworth—to find a comparison.”

And what a crop of anthologies it was. That year saw the publication of three series that are still talked about today; two edited by Ramsey Campbell, Pan books, New Terrors (containing Wagner’s ‘.220 Swift’), Arkham House’s New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and the 500+ page Kirby McCauley edited anthology, Dark Forces (containing Wagner’s ‘Where the Summer Ends’). Thirty-eight years later, Dark Forces is a legendary anthology. Kirby McCauley using his artful eye was able to assemble a line up of established writers as well as the up and comers who would become giants in their own right in the following years. Will Erickson has a great post about this collection over on his blog Too Much Horror Fiction. Looking at the table of contents of Dark Forces you’ll find many names that appeared in Wagner’s first Year’s Best Horror, as well as names that reoccur in his collections throughout the years.

I can’t help but compare Wagner’s time and our own. When he started this series he was chin deep in the horror boom. Right now we are experiencing a horror boom of our own. We have our own collections coming out; Nightscript, Shadows and Tall Trees, Looming Low, the various themed collections of Word Horde and Ellen Datlow. We also have several pro and non-pro digital magazines; The Dark, Nightmare, Black Static, Apex, Strange Aeons, and the new Vastarien. New companies are being formed as we speak, as older companies like Fangoria are relaunching! It is truly a time of abundance, and with abundance comes the difficulty of sifting through the multitudes. Thank goodness we have St. Datlow in our modern age.

I’d like to close this post with some words of wisdom from Mr. Wagner about what makes a successful horror story:

“Because a horror story asks its readers to accept as truth certain facts which the reader knows are contrary to the ordered universe (as he has been led to believe it exists), it is absolutely imperative that the author convince the reader of the reality within his story. Catsup isn’t blood no matter how liberally it’s splattered. Rubber monsters aren’t frightening no matter how many fangs and tentacles. Cardboard sets and wooden characters don’t scare us for all the cobwebs and screams. If you don’t believe it, you aren’t frightened.”

Next up: ‘The Monkey’ by Stephen King

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