Thursday, November 11, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 89

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as an author.

The Midnight Sun
by Karl Edward Wagner

The Midnight Sun: The Complete Stories of KaneDuring his much-too-short life of only 49 years, Karl Edward Wagner was known for a few things. He was known as a horror/dark fantasy author, mainly the stories and novels involving his Kane character. He was also known as the editor of numerous horror anthologies. And he was known to party hard.

I first discovered the writings the Wagner through this book, The Midnight Sun, a collection of his Kane short stories. This particular book was published in the early 2000s by Night Shade Books, a known publisher of fine works of speculative fiction.

Why did I get this book? Well, I had heard of Wagner as an editor, but I had never experienced his actual writing despite being told by numerous sources that he was a quality author. Also, I myself tend toward mixing fantasy and horror in my own writings, and I had heard Wagner was known for this.

But the book was difficult to find when I went searching for it. No book stores had it. The publisher, at least at the time, was no longer printing it. And Wagner's older works, his novels, were particularly difficult to find, and I spent weeks upon weeks scouring used book stores for anything by Wagner. Then one night I was scanning through eBay, and sure enough, this book was available.

I snagged it up, and a few days later the book arrived in the mail.

I've been thankful ever since, and hold this book in high regard.

Wagner's short stories in this collection pinpointed particular times in the life of his Kane character, initially a swordwielding mage of extreme power who is immortal. Eventually the reader figures out this Kane is actually the Cain from the Bible, or at least some version of Abel's brother. The reader also discovers that Kane is quite ruthless and possibly insane. Also, being immortal, Kane exists in many worlds in many different times. Some of the stories in this collection are in another world seemingly far in the past, but a handful of the tales are set in modern times. Throughout these stories, Kane seems to have one goal, vengeance against God, and Kane often goes to extremes in searching out this vengeance.

Kane is rarely likable, though he can at times be somewhat honorable. Often he is ruthless to the point of betrayal, even to savagery.

He doesn't sound like a very nice person, now does he?

That's because he's not.

But his tales are still fantastic. The writing is strong here, mixing darker elements into fantastic worlds in a manner as strong as the writings of Lovecraft but sometimes with the pop culture knowledge of Stephen King. Many of these tales are not for the weak of heart, though a few are downright sentimental.

More than anything, Karl Edward Wagner showed me how horror elements could be mixed with Sword & Sorcery fantasy and still come off strong, quite strong, when done correctly. As a writer, I can only dream to be a hundredth as good as the tales in this collection.

Up next: Mysteries of the Unexplained


Charles Gramlich said...

I read all of these stories in early publication forms, like in the collection Night Winds, which had an incredible Frazetta cover. Wagner is second only to HOward in my hall of fame for heroic fantasy. The Kane stories just blew me away, and his straight horror stories are also incredible.

Will Errickson said...

I dig KEW's horror collections, WHY NOT YOU & I and IN A LONELY PLACE, but I've never read any of his Kane stuff. Pretty interesting writer, that's for sure.