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Collecting Karl Edward Wagner

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Karl Edward Wagner books-small

I’ve been enjoying gathering data for my informal survey of paperback prices for some of the most popular and collectible 20th Century science fiction and fantasy authors — mostly because it means shopping for vintage books on eBay. As I said in the last installment, I was a little surprised at the demand for Robert A. Heinlein, but at least I knew he’d be near the top of the list. He wasn’t at the top, however. Setting aside Phil K. Dick, so far the most expensive author I’ve collected recently is Karl Edward Wagner, whose collections sell for around $6.40/book, roughly a 30% premium over Heinlein.

32 books by Arthur C. Clarke $27.00 $0.84/book
35 books by Isaac Asimov $82.17 $2.35/book
51 books by Robert A. Heinlein $255.00 $5.00/book
11 books by Karl Edward Wagner $70.55 $6.41/book
56 books by Philip K. Dick $536.99 $9.59/book

The 11 paperback books above sold on eBay on September 27 for $70.55, making Karl Edward Wagner the most expensive author in our survey so far, outside Phil Dick.

Wagner, like Dick, has grown in stature since his death, especially his Kane books. Originally published as paperback originals by Warner Books, in recent years the tales of Kane have been acclaimed as “the most exciting and intelligent sword & sorcery series ever written” (Centipede Books). They’ve been reprinted in several deluxe editions, starting with a two-volume collection from Night Shade:

Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane (528 pages in hardcover, May 1, 2002, cover by Ken Kelly)
The Midnight Sun: The Complete Stories of Kane (450 pages in hardcover, September 15, 2003, cover by Ken Kelly)

Both Gods in Darkness and The Midnight Sun were reprinted by the Science Fiction Book Club, in April 2003 and February 2004, respectively.

More recently, Centipede Press announced a handsome five volume limited-edition hardcover set, shipping next month. Here’s a look at Dark Crusade:

The Complete Kane Dark Crusade

And here’s the complete set:

The complete kane

Exorcisms and Ecstasies-smallRead more at the Centipede Press website.

Still, it wasn’t the Kane books that drove the paperback collection above to lofty auction heights. Most Wagner collectors already have the Kane books. Yes, the original paperback are pricey, but Warner kept them in print for many years (roughly from 1978-1985), and they’re not really that hard to come by. They’ve also been reprinted many times.

I bid on the set of paperbacks above, and I didn’t do it because of the Kane novels — although those copies were in good shape, much better than mine. I didn’t do it because of the Echoes of Valor anthologies, as collectible as they are. I did it to get my hands on Wagner’s first two short story collections:

In a Lonely Place (Warner Books, 265 pages, March 1983; cover by Barclay Shaw)
Why Not You and I? (Tor, 306 pages, September 1987; cover by J. K. Potter)

Unlike the Kane books, Wagner’s highly sought-after short story collections have not been reprinted for nearly three decades. If you’re a Wagner collector, be prepared to spend some time hunting for them, especially if you want them in good condition (as the ones in the set above are).

If you just want to read the stories, I highly recommend Fedogan & Bremer’s excellent 1997 collection Exorcisms and Ecstasies (at right; click for bigger version), a massive 460+ page collection gathering much of Wagner’s best short fiction, with a cover and interior artwork by J. K. Potter, and an introduction by editor Stephen Jones. (Note: it isn’t cheap, either. Used copies start at Amazon. com at $84.50, and range up over $200.)

If you’re a serious Wagner collector, you also can’t ignore the enormous contribution he also made to the field as an editor, especially with the highly respected Berkley Medallion editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

These are some of the most collectible Conan paperbacks on the market.

Berkley Conan-small

They are:

The Hour of the Dragon (296 pages, August 1977, cover by Ken Kelly)
The People of the Black Circle (293 pages, September 1977, cover by Ken Kelly)
Red Nails (295 pages, October 1977, cover by Ken Kelly)

These were the first corrected editions, made without editorial interference from Conan’s many posthumous collaborators over the years, and drawn from the text of the original Weird Tales.

As important as Wagner’s contributions were to Howard scholarship, his most important contribution to the field as an editor was the monumental Year’s Best Horror Stories, which Wagner edited for 15 volumes, from 1980-1994. The series was started by Richard Davis in 1973; Karl took over as editor with Volume VIII, taking the reins from Gerald W. Page, who edited volumes IV through VII.

The Year's Best Horror Stories-small

Like Wagner’s fiction, The Year’s Best Horror series is also highly collectible. The nearly complete set above, in marvelous condition, sold on eBay for $110.00, or $5.50/book. Individual copies sell for much higher.

20 volumes of The Year’s Best Horror Stories $110.00

Obviously, this isn’t a very scientific analysis of the value of Wagner’s paperback editions. It would be better if, like the massive Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Dick collections we compare it to above, we had a more sizable collection on offer.

Sadly, the eleven books in the top photo constitute the bulk of Wagner’s fiction output. An alcoholic, he died in Chapel Hill, NC on October 14, 1994, at the age of 48.

He produced three other novels of mostly minor interest to collectors:

Legion From the Shadows (Zebra Books, April 1976), a Bran Mak Morn pastiche
The Road of Kings (Bantam Books, October 1979), a Conan pastiche
Killer (Baen, January 1985), co-written by David Drake

Our previous coverage of Karl Edward Wagner includes:

Bloody Battles, Espionage, Dark and Beautiful Prose, & Lovecraftian Horror: Karl Edward Wagner’s Dark Crusade by Connor Gormley
Seductive Sorceress Queens, Decadent Civilizations, and Moon-lit Brawls: Bloodstone by Connor Gormley
Enjoying the Unique Character of Karl Edward Wagner’s Dark Crusade by Brian Murphy
Fiction Excerpt: “The Dark Muse” by Karl Edward Wagner (from Black Gate 1)
Death Angel’s Shadow by Fletcher Vredenburgh
Legion from the Shadows by Fletcher Vredenburgh
Night Winds by Fletcher Vredenburgh
“How Many Psychiatrists Does it Take to Change a Genre?” Karl Edward Wagner in Fantasy 55
The Weird Horror of Karl Edward Wagner, Part 1: In a Lonely Place by G. Winston Hyatt
The Weird Horror of Karl Edward Wagner, Part 2: Why Not You and I by G. Winston Hyatt
Echoes of Valor I
Echoes of Valor II
Echoes of Valor III
The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XIII
Future Treasures: The Complete Kane

And our previous titles in the Collecting series include:

Collecting Robert A. Heinlein
Collecting Philip K. Dick
Collecting Arthur C. Clarke
Collecting Isaac Asimov
Collecting Lovecraft, Part I
Collecting Lovecraft, Part II
Collecting Lovecraft, Part III: The Arkham Hardcovers
The Collections of Tanith Lee
The Novels of Tanith Lee: The Wars of Vis
James Bond in Outer Space: The Croyd Spacetime Maneuvres Novels of Ian Wallace
Clones, Deep Space Ships, and Surviving the Apocalypse on a Submarine: The Pocket Richard Cowper

Below are a few close-ups of some of the paperback collections above, included for those, like me, who enjoy looking over vintage paperbacks. As always, you can click for bigger versions.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

Karl Edward Wagner books 3-small

 

Karl Edward Wagner books 4-small

 

Karl Edward Wagner books 5-small

 

Karl Edward Wagner books 6-small

 

Karl Edward Wagner books 7-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 1-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 2-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 3-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 4-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 5-small

 

The Year's Best Horror Stories 6-small

7 Comments »

  1. The more I read, I think Wagner is like the fourth Beatle of Sword & Sorcery. Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock are usually seen as the three Grand Masters, but Wagner totally deserves to be standing among them. I think he’s even much better than either Leiber or Moorcock. But two years ago I’ve never even heard of him.

    A reprint of Echoes of Valor would be just amazing.

    Comment by Martin Kallies - December 12, 2015 7:47 pm

  2. Martin,

    I’d love to see the Echoes of Valor anthology series continue (with volume IV), but I doubt it will be reprinted. It’s a tough thing to reprint an anthology — you have to get all the permissions all over again.

    But used copies aren’t very expensive. Less expensive than a brand new paperback, for example.

    Comment by John ONeill - December 12, 2015 8:14 pm

  3. I hoping to see one of these posts on Poul Anderson!

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - December 13, 2015 3:07 pm

  4. Great suggestion! Anderson would make a fine topic. He’s still got some fans today, and he’s very fondly remembered.

    He was also very prolific, so there’s lots to collect!

    Comment by John ONeill - December 13, 2015 3:24 pm

  5. Cannot wait for my Centipede Kane editions.

    The first Wagner that I ever read was probably Where the Summer Ends in Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces, although I didn’t register it as a Wagner story at the time. I was aware of the Kane books from an entry in Baird Searles’ Reader’s Guide to Fantasy, but didn’t actually acquire copies until sometime in 1991 or so when I found a set on the shelf at Uncle Hugo’s.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 14, 2015 11:57 am

  6. Joe,

    It’s surprising how much your experience mirrors my own. I discovered Wagner (and Kane) through his short fiction. My friend Todd Ruthman gave me his copy of Night Winds, which contained the magnificent “The Dark Muse,” which I reprinted in Black Gate 1 eight years later.

    I don’t have the stats at hand to prove it, but I think that experience is less common today — i.e. finding a new author through short fiction first, before you turn to their novels.

    Comment by John ONeill - December 14, 2015 12:30 pm

  7. I also think the early 1990s was the golden age of the used SF bookstore — that’s when I could still walk into Uncle Hugo’s and walk out an hour later with a grocery bag full of old Jack Vance, Tanith Lee, Lin Carter, etc., etc.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 14, 2015 1:59 pm


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