Friday, September 5, 2014

FFB: the anthologies of Kirby McCauley, 1941-2014: NIGHT CHILLS (1975), BEYOND MIDNIGHT (1976), FRIGHTS (1976) and DARK FORCES (1980)

George Zel's cover for the St. Martin's original; below, the Warner mm pb.
The agent and, briefly, anthology editor Kirby McCauley has died this week, ultimately apparently of renal failure while treating with diabetes; George R. R. Martin's remembrance of the man and his work is getting the most play, I think. He produced only four volumes I'm aware of, and I've yet to read his first two reprint anthologies (the work I've read that's in them is pretty impressive), but his position as one of the most energetic and enthusiastic agents for writers in and around horror fiction in the 1970s into the '80s helped him put together two very impressive anthologies of original fiction, with Frights and the very heavily promoted and heftier Dark Forces, and these I definitely did read and enjoy as a young horror fan, in the paperback editions. I recall Dark Forces being the most expensive mass-market paperback I'd purchased to that point.

Frights for its part was the first anthology of new horror fiction I recall purchasing, not long after discovering the then-new fifth volume of Gerald W. Page's The Year's Best Horror was a banner year for me, and I'd just found the First World Fantasy Awards volume, and through that Stuart Schiff's Whispers and Charles L. Grant's Shadows anthologies in hardcover in the libraries, to supplement the ever-wider remit of fiction magazines I was finding (rather luckily, in the latter 1970s) on the newsstands. Frights led off with Russell Kirk's "There's a Long, Long Trail a-Winding" (already familiar from the World Fantasy Awards volume), and further discoveries of Kirk's ghost stories in back issues and anthologies from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction...I wouldn't read any of his conservative political thought, in the pages of National Review or elsewhere, for another couple of years, and a slew of stories by a number of the better writers still active in the field from the heroic years of the 1930s or '40s onward (Robert Bloch, Davis Grubb) as well as a couple of folks whose professional careers hadn't quite finished a decade and a half by then (Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell), along with those a bit further along: R. A. Laffterty, Robert Aickman, Gahan Wilson (with a typically daft tale...Lafferty not too far behind in that). Aside from the lack of women contributors, save Karen Anderson in collaboration with her husband Poul, a not bad sampling of much of the best of the horror field in English in 1976.

Oddly functional (at best) covers.
Dark Forces went a bit bigger, and demonstrated that the horror boom that McCauley and his star client Stephen King (among many other notable artists, but no others yet quite as commercially potent)  helped to detonate was starting to let itself be felt. Again. light on women contributors (though Lisa Tuttle and Joyce Carol Oates, the latter having a new story published for the first time in an explicitly horror/suspense context, are excellent representatives), but featuring an Edward Gorey illustration story (or a graphic story, a term just coming into the language), and an even more impressive roster of contributors to the horror tradition, from Isaac Bashevis Singer and Manly Wade Wellman to the relatively young T.E.D. Klein and Ed Bryant, Karl Edward Wagner and Joe Haldeman, and reaching out also to folks as diverse as Clifford Simak and Gene Wolfe (not too often writers of horror fiction, less so than the likes of Singer, Oates or Kirk, certainly) to augment the previous crew and the addition of such other major figures as Sturgeon, Bradbury and Matheson (with younger Matheson)--even if the Sturgeon and Bradbury items were perhaps not the best in the book...which was led off by Etchison's brilliant and jarring "The Late Shift" and wrapped up with King's stupid but highly popular and well-regarded novella "The Mist" (this was one of the key works by King that helped put me off him almost as soon as Carrie had made me receptive to his work). Dark Forces, in part on the strength of the King draw, was a hard book to miss over the early '80s, and "The Mist" was famously adapted (in "3-D" sound) by the NPR radio drama anthology Earplay, in its turn issued widely as a "book on tape", in the decade or so before the film version...but for one reason or another, perhaps largely because of his personal and professional troubles, McCauley never put together another volume in the clear. Sparing a thought for him, and the good work he was able to do and to further over his career.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more prompt reviews today.  And the fine Vault of Evil blog for some reviews of the books story by story...

Courtesy ISFDB:

  • Publication: Dark Forces 
  • Editors: Kirby McCauley
  • Year: 1980-08-00 Pages: xvi+551+[2]

  • Publication: Frights 
  • Editors: Kirby McCauley
  • Year: 1976-08-00 Pages: 293

  • Publication: Beyond Midnight 
  • Editors: Kirby McCauley
  • Year: 1976-11-00 Pages: x+210 
  • Notes: Story Notes by T. E. D. Klein. 

  • Publication: Night Chills 
  • Editors: Kirby McCauley
  • Year: 1975-11-00  Pages: 260 


mybillcrider said...

I have the paperbacks of both of those you discussed and read them with enjoyment long ago. Don't have the other two, though.

Todd Mason said...

They definitely look like interesting assemblies.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I remember coming across them but not picking them up (bit of a wuss when it comes to horror on print and on screen in fact...)

Todd Mason said...

Well, as McCauley is careful to note (and is one of those who taught me to be careful similarly), the anthologies include suspense fiction as well (and Dennis Etchison, particularly, rather as with Joe Lansdale, is usually more disturbing with his suspense fiction than with his horror)...I suspect you'd've enjoyed these back when, and would still...

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, this is fascinating stuff as ever. I recently came across short stories and novellas of Robert Bloch, R.A. Lafferty, Robert Aickman, and Many Wade Wellman (at UNZ, I think) but didn't quite know which ones to download and read. They all seemed interesting. Spoilt for choice, am I? In fact, I was looking for links to UNZ here but then, I guess, one can't do better than isfdb for a comprehensive picture.

Alice Chang said...

Well, all four of those writers have some work that is pretty minor at times, but their best work has been among the most influential written in horror, fantasy, suspense fiction and sf...the problem with what UNZ has posted is that it won't all be among the minor work (particularly if you're looking at posted issues of WEIRD TALES in the 1940s) but that a whole lot of the best work (from the pages of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, for example) will have been taken down because was trying not to be seen to be violating copyright. The best way to get to know the work of these four, and most major writers, is to find a good collection of their own work, or a good selection in an historically-minded anthology that has been edited by people who actually know the field and are interested in doing a good job...two strikes for someone in your position, where the physical books are hard to come by, and where the experience of knowing who is actually knowledgable about the literature and not too much wedded to certain hobbyhorses (S. T. Joshi comes to mind here) only comes with reading the literature and gaining perspective...something very difficult to do with any sort of systematic approach when only a small fraction of the literature is easily available to you. Not a happy problem, and not one which is going to resolve itself as soon as the Cybernetic Revolution might've led us to hope it might.

Todd Mason said...

That's me, Todd Mason, posting accidentally under Alice's login again.