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Walk on the Wild Side: The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, Volume Two

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The second volume of Karl Edward Wagner's horror fiction collects much of his shorter and painfully explicit later work, including such stories as "Little Lessons in Gardening," "Slug," "Prince of the Punks," "More Sinned Against" and other disturbing tales by an acknowledged master of the genre with an acidic and wry sense of humor. The second volume of Karl Edward Wagner's horror fiction collects much of his shorter and painfully explicit later work, including such stories as "Little Lessons in Gardening," "Slug," "Prince of the Punks," "More Sinned Against" and other disturbing tales by an acknowledged master of the genre with an acidic and wry sense of humor.


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The second volume of Karl Edward Wagner's horror fiction collects much of his shorter and painfully explicit later work, including such stories as "Little Lessons in Gardening," "Slug," "Prince of the Punks," "More Sinned Against" and other disturbing tales by an acknowledged master of the genre with an acidic and wry sense of humor. The second volume of Karl Edward Wagner's horror fiction collects much of his shorter and painfully explicit later work, including such stories as "Little Lessons in Gardening," "Slug," "Prince of the Punks," "More Sinned Against" and other disturbing tales by an acknowledged master of the genre with an acidic and wry sense of humor.

30 review for Walk on the Wild Side: The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, Volume Two

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    I don’t know what to think of this book, probably because I don’t know what to think about Karl Edward Wagner. Walk on the Wild Side, the second and last volume of his selected stories, contains not even one tale which is the equal of my favorite half-dozen in the first volume, Where the Summer Ends (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), and yet, although it is clear that he is an artist in decline, the way Wagner the writer copes with his personal demons and frequent dry periods reveals a I don’t know what to think of this book, probably because I don’t know what to think about Karl Edward Wagner. Walk on the Wild Side, the second and last volume of his selected stories, contains not even one tale which is the equal of my favorite half-dozen in the first volume, Where the Summer Ends (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), and yet, although it is clear that he is an artist in decline, the way Wagner the writer copes with his personal demons and frequent dry periods reveals a stubborn courage, an almost heroic self-awareness—that makes me admire him more and more. Of all his demons, the most obvious was alcohol: it cost him his marriage, it cost him his health, and it may have cost him his inspiration. And whenever that inspiration failed to manifest, he would summon it aggressively: through booze, through anger (at his ex-wife, his friends, the medical profession, himself), and through lust (increasingly violent S&M fantasies). Because of this, his stories are often unpleasant, fueled by misogyny, self-loathing, petty grievances, and dreams of sexual torture. Yet, in the kingdom of the imagination, it is sometimes “the violent who bear it away,” for Wagner’s stories—at least those included here—all manage to succeed on some level. They are interesting, often shocking, filled with merciful pockets of humor and self-awareness, and communicated to the reader through an unfailingly intelligent, muscular prose. Wagner is at his best when he tells an ironic tale of an innocent or imprudent protagonist led by degrees into unfamiliar—and increasingly menacing—territory. Wagner makes us feel the coming horror before his hero does, and although we may pity the hero, Wagner compels our gaze and forces us to not look away. Many of such tales are explicitly sexual and violent (“The Kind Men Like,” “A Walk on the Wild Side,” “The Picture of Jonathan Collins,” “Locked Away,” “Brushed Away”), but others are not: “Shrapnel” (a junkyard dispenses odd justice), “Did They Get You to Trade?” (a painter encounters a has-been punk rocker), and “Old Loves” (a fanboy meets his favorite 60’s TV spy, who bears some resemblance to Mrs. Peel). Some of my favorites in this collection are “The Picture of Jonathan Collins” (a Dorian Gray variation involving a Victorian era photograph), “More Sinned Against” (a starlet brutalized by her actor lover exacts an unusual revenge), “Little Lessons in Gardening” (a man retaliates against his intrusive, litigious neighbor), and “In the Middle of a Snow Dream" (an experimental therapy session for those with near-death experiences yields some surprising results). But some of the best—and most touching—tales deal with the artist in decline. In the aforementioned “Did They Get You to Trade,” has-been rocker Nemo Skagg, whose audience has vanished, finds an ingenious way of giving concerts for the dead, and in the haunting dreamscape of “Endless Night,” a gladiator/magician in a post-apocalyptic world is compelled to perform in an empty stadium, incinerating with hatred people summoned from his past, random objects of petty annoyance and dislike. I think the most moving story of all, though, is the first in the collection, “The Last Wolf.” In it, ‘the last writer,” meaning the last writer of real books—obsolete in a world of sitcoms and soap operas—is visited by a host of half-formed wraiths, characters of stories only dreamed by their creators, of novels half-written and abandoned: a “bleary-eyed lawyer” neglected by William Faulkner, a “long-legged mountain girl” ignored by Thomas Wolfe, Cromach the barbarian whom Robert E. Howard would have created...if only he had not taken his own life. ”Why are you here?” the writer demanded. “Did you think that I, too, was dead?” The sad-eyed heroine of his present novel touched his arm. “You are the last writer. This new age of man has forgotten you. Come join us instead in this limbo of unrealized creation. Let this ugly world that has grown about you sink into the dull mire of its machine imagination. Come with us into our world of lost dreams.” The writer gazed at the phantom myriads, at the spectral cities and forests and seas. He remembered the dismal reality of the faceless, plastic world he had grown old in. No one would mark his passing… “No.” He shook his head and politely disengaged her hand. “No, I’m not quite ready for limbo. Not now. Not ever.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    The front cover would be perfect for "The River of Night’s Dreaming", a story in the first volume. Who cares? It's awesome & I like the picture of the corridor on the back cover even better. The introduction by Peter Straub was depressing & not worth much time. He also did the introduction to In a Lonely Place & recaps it here along with some other well known facts. Straub mentions that there are some authors & subjects that he just can't read, which amused me since I've never been able to get in The front cover would be perfect for "The River of Night’s Dreaming", a story in the first volume. Who cares? It's awesome & I like the picture of the corridor on the back cover even better. The introduction by Peter Straub was depressing & not worth much time. He also did the introduction to In a Lonely Place & recaps it here along with some other well known facts. Straub mentions that there are some authors & subjects that he just can't read, which amused me since I've never been able to get into any of his books. Worse, he said he never tried to read any of the Kane stories because he had read Conan. Seriously? In the last page or so, he wrote about how devastating it was to see Wagner drinking himself to death, but mostly he gushed. I don't understand Straub's comment about misunderstanding one of the stories he liked best in In a Lonely Place, though. Of the 3 stories he likes best, only ".220 Swift" has a male protagonist & I don't recall Brandon seeing himself in a window. Does anyone else know? Each story has a wonderful full page picture preceding it. They are shorter than the ones in the other book, though. Darker & weirder, too. The stories are arranged in published order. "The Last Wolf" was an interesting commentary on where the art of writing is going. Too depressing & true to be horror, if that makes any sense. Just morbid. Not my favorite. "Into Whose Hands" is perfect. I remembered it well from a previous read & still chuckled at the end. What a twist! "More Sinned Against" is a wonderful tale & comes to a fitting conclusion. "Shrapnel" has the B&W version of the back cover of the first volume of this collection for some reason. It's perfect for this story, though. And what a story. If only karma really worked like this. "Silted In" is copyrighted in 1985, earlier than I thought it would be given KEW's personal life. It is a descent into the worst kind of horror, too real & morbid. "Lost Exits" stretches reality out of shape into a bewildering & horrible look at what might be. "Endless Night" I don't get at all. Weird. "An Awareness of Angels" is a different take on Jack the Ripper & his legacy. **** To this point, I'm not enjoying most of the stories quite as much as those in the first volume. They're much shorter, weirder, & pretty good, but I think KEW did better when he more time to set the mood. "But You’ll Never Follow Me" (1991) started off with a lot of potential, but the last few paragraphs pretty much turned it into a train wreck. First, (view spoiler)[ a big deal has been made out him not liking to kill, even when he shot the security guard, but he left 4 lbs of C4 in the building? WTF?!!! Dead is dead, whether by a bullet to the brain or an explosion that destroys the entire building & for what? (hide spoiler)] Second, because I would have liked a little more info on what he was or am I just dense? (view spoiler)[ He lived through the war & bullets didn't seem to harm him, but he's graying & getting a beer belly, obvious signs of aging, so he's not immortal. It's mentioned that he has no choices, just keeps trying to hold down a job & do his 'duty'. A word that is never used, just implied. Just what was or is he supposed to be? (hide spoiler)] "Cedar Lane" is much like "Lost Exits", but better, IMO. Kind of a reverse haunting. "The Kind Men Like" was over the top & pretty obvious. "The Slug" was pretty good, especially the end. The afterword wasn't necessary, but was fun. "Did They Get You to Trade?" was OK, but I didn't care for the way it ended. It would have been more horrible without the supernatural element or maybe ending a bit more like "The Slug". "Little Lessons in Gardening" was great! Perfect! I've known people like that & wish I could have found such a perfect solution. "A Walk on the Wild Side" is somewhat inspired by Lou Reed. Very surprising ending. "Passages" has the picture of the corridor from the back cover. It's actually 3 old friends at their 25th class reunion catching up. Wow. The ending is great. "In the Middle of a Snow Dream" not bad, but the girl-girl relationship & sex gratuitous. KEW died in October of 1994. All the stories from here on were published after his death. "Gremlin" was just fun. A new take on an old tale. "Prince of the Punks" a new take on Dracula. Cool ending. "The Picture of Jonathan Collins" not bad, but the sex was again gratuitous nor was the ending any surprise. Dorian Gray reprised. "Locked Away" used sex as the vehicle again. Pretty gross stuff, with a surprise ending. The narrator was (view spoiler)[ very unreliable, so what we at first think of as a supernatural element turns out to actually be madness. (hide spoiler)] It was very effective & well done. "I’ve Come to Talk with You Again" was very eerie. Kind of a Lovecraftian vampire tale. Excellent. "Final Cut" makes me wonder how much of the author's own experience is in the story. Again, excellent. "Brushed Away" again descends into madness in an understandable way. Our sympathies are shifted until the horror of the end seems quite appropriate. Super. "Old Loves" was a fun horror spoof on The Avengers TV show of the 60's. Reality & the supernatural are well blended. "Lacunae" is a Kane story. He really is a cold-hearted, evil bastard. So why do I still like & root for him? Afterword by David Drake is a very raw account of KEW that seems closer to the truth than many of the other biographical stories I've read. I never knew KEW, but I've known a lot of alcoholics & Drake's account makes far more sense than those of the apologists. It's a damn shame, but instructive & well worth reading. Overall, this book's stories didn't impress me as much as the first book. If you're not a real KEW fan, it might not be worth it to you. If you are, it's a must-read. I think it gives a great picture of the real man & the way his mind worked. There is no doubt he was a genius in the field of horror & very influential.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jon Recluse

    An incredible collection of Wagner's later works, bearing witness to the pain that would cut short his career and his life. These stories all bear the scars of the battle between his personal demons and his muse, including several which are painfully autobiographical, giving the reader an unflinching view into the psyche of a man at his breaking point. Featuring an introduction and an afterword by friends remembering the last times they saw him, this volume is a fitting memorial to one of the tr An incredible collection of Wagner's later works, bearing witness to the pain that would cut short his career and his life. These stories all bear the scars of the battle between his personal demons and his muse, including several which are painfully autobiographical, giving the reader an unflinching view into the psyche of a man at his breaking point. Featuring an introduction and an afterword by friends remembering the last times they saw him, this volume is a fitting memorial to one of the true masters of his generation. Highly recommended. Just wanted to add that Laird Barron did not write the afterword in this volume. David Drake did. Laird wrote the afterword in Where the Summer Ends: The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, Volume 1

  4. 4 out of 5

    Graham P

    While volume one highlighted Wagner's more expansive work, this 2nd collection goes for the throat, or should I say, it kicks a steel-tipped boot deep below the belt. This is not high fantasy, or literary horror with a wide scope. Most of these stories are reclusive, depressing, grotesque, violent and unrelentingly sadomasochistic. It's as if Wagner is no longer channeling the pulp-era icons of Weird Tales but going into the same desperate, raw-knuckled universe that Hubert Selby Jr. wrote about While volume one highlighted Wagner's more expansive work, this 2nd collection goes for the throat, or should I say, it kicks a steel-tipped boot deep below the belt. This is not high fantasy, or literary horror with a wide scope. Most of these stories are reclusive, depressing, grotesque, violent and unrelentingly sadomasochistic. It's as if Wagner is no longer channeling the pulp-era icons of Weird Tales but going into the same desperate, raw-knuckled universe that Hubert Selby Jr. wrote about. Whether a prostitute or a drug-addled actress, his characters here get lost in their own addictions, and the brutal sex in some of them comes across so lurid, you'll either laugh in shock, or gag in nauseous reflex. There is no comfort or desire in the sexual act here. 'The Kind Men Like' is a tale of a succubus-type Bettie Page where the bondage goes beyond titillation into brass-knuckled territory; 'The Picture of Jonathan Collins' is a sordid take on 'Picture of Dorian Gray' and features turn-of-the-century porn with none other than a sadistic and cruel, Oliver Wilde starring as the villain; and 'Brushed Away' introduces us to a beaten-down man who grew up fantasizing about the air-brushed anatomies of early pin-up models, only to turn into a psychopath with hopes of recreating the human body in accordance with his own desires (quite predictably sick ending in this one, but still entertaining). There's some other stories that are quite eloquent, sad and well-envisioned. High school reunions are lined with darkness and regret in 'Passages'. 'Into Whose Hands' shows the ragged and depressing life of a round-the-clock psychiatrist who knows a thing or two about death and how easy it is to control. 'Lost Exits' takes the fragmented story lines of a budding relationship, and meshes the good and the bad versions with a razor-blade tenacity, one in which rivals the climax to Jim Thompson's phenomenal 'A Hell of a Woman'. An important collection despite its excess. Coupled with memories and eulogies written by Wagner's friends and peers, the stories show the unhappiness, fear and abuse that Wagner inflicted upon himself in his later years. And with that, it feels as though we are reading a crypto-biography, a demise told by the author's own short stories. The last story, 'Lacunae' brings the return of his titular anti-hero, the immortal Kane. But no longer is he high up on the chain; now he's just a scumbag drug dealer, and with that, a hero who has clearly fallen wayside with the passing of time. And that was perhaps what Wagner realized when writing this story, in that he too couldn't rise to the top again, so he simply wallowed in the bottom until the end. Wagner was a brilliant writer and editor, and understood the genre top to bottom, and it's a shame he didn't stick around a bit longer.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Blake

    A mix of erotic and the horrific, Karl uses a unique technique of painting a portrait of a character, and using their very lives as a pretext for the horrible. At the same time, he seems to gravitate to the old maxim, "Write what you know," populating his tales with leads that are very often doctors and psychologists. A mix of erotic and the horrific, Karl uses a unique technique of painting a portrait of a character, and using their very lives as a pretext for the horrible. At the same time, he seems to gravitate to the old maxim, "Write what you know," populating his tales with leads that are very often doctors and psychologists.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    nice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karl

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chas

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  11. 5 out of 5

    S.J. Francis

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caryn

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Garcia

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chet Williamson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keith Thomas

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cezary

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tim McBain

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex Budris

  19. 5 out of 5

    Isidore

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Slater

  21. 5 out of 5

    andyさん

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erxbooks

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rob Jensen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Philip Gelatt

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Thompson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jack Tripper

  27. 4 out of 5

    OTIS

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard Pace

  29. 4 out of 5

    J. P. Wiske

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

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