Karl Edward Wagner was a man fascinated with monsters and, by most accounts, tormented by an overwhelming host of personal demons. A bearded and brawny hard-drinking Southerner who typed with two fingers like his childhood idol Robert E. Howard, he is perhaps best known for his iconic sword-and-sorcery character, Kane: a red-haired, black-hearted warrior whose love of battle and lust for knowledge combine into one all-consuming will to power. Wagner himself was an unlikely combination of savage and savant, his rough outlaw biker exterior sheltering a deep love for tales of imagination and wonder. At one time a practicing psychiatrist pursuing a doctorate in microbiology, he left that field for a writer’s life. He went on to edit numerous anthologies (including DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror from 1980 to 1994), co-found his own short-lived press, and pen several novels and collections. Most of Wagner’s original work is currently out-of-print. Centipede Press is releasing two hardcover collections of his short horror fiction this year. Hopefully, this will re-kindle interest in the man’s work, making it more available (and more affordable) for those who wish to read it.
I was first introduced to Karl Edward Wagner’s work through his R.E. Howard pastiche, Conan: The Road of Kings, a ripping good tale any fan of the barbarian hero should read. From this I moved onto the Kane material, tracked down in musty used bookstores or acquired through well-placed eBay sniping. Over the holidays I managed to find one of his horror collections stuffed into a shop’s bottom shelf. It is Wagner’s first horror collection, In a Lonely Place, and through it I discovered yet another impressive facet of the late author.