Thursday, July 13, 2017

Karl Edward Wagner.

I rarely meet anyone these days who even knows who Karl Edward Wagner was. I knew him and exchanged letters with him and spoke to him a number of times at various conventions and writer gatherings. He was one of the most brilliant fantasists who ever lived. And he was from the South and part of Everywhere, and it's sad that so much of his work is forgotten. Wagner was a giant personality, but terribly flawed.

I say I knew him, but not really...and I don't want to give the impression that we were in any way close. But we would exchange letters from time to time. He even critiqued my work occasionally, for which I have always been grateful. But almost every time we would meet I would have to remind him who I was. Yes, this could have been partially because he was always drunk; but also because I am not a shining, glowing personality who is easy to remember.

I met Karl at least a dozen times. I always had to reintroduce myself. The only time he recalled who I am was when I saw him at an sf show in Atlanta not long before he died. He noticed me across the room and came over to chat. And although I said nothing, he could see the pure horror on my face and he stopped what he was talking about and said: "I have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever." Then he showed me red spots on his pale, emaciated arm. "That's why I look the way I do." I later found it was a story he had concocted to tell people who were similarly horrified at his physical state. He didn't have the Fever, of course, and was just dying of a liver that had ceased to operate due to his chronic alcoholism. But I could not hide the shock that was painted over my face. The last time I'd seen him he was his hale, hearty, vibrant Viking self. And then I see this sick, wizened, obviously dying old man. Noting that horror on my face, he had to say something.

Now...damn. It seems no one recalls him. Until recently his books were out of print in any affordable way. I had seen his novels and stories appear in the past decade or so, but in very expensive limited edition books far beyond the affordability of casual readers. This giant of fantasy and horror is completely out of the view of the reading public.

These days, I think you can land his fiction courtesy of the company who seems to have inherited the rights of the works that he published under the old Warner imprint.

I recommend his fiction as highly as I possibly can.

Karl Wagner during his healthier days.
Wagner and a rendition of his alter-ego, Kane, the Mystic Swordsman.

This is how most people became familiar with his work--through the Warner books paperbacks with those amazing Frank Frazetta covers.

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