By MIKE ASHLEY (Taplinger Publishing Co.; 1977)
This mini-encyclopedia is fairly obscure, but remains one of my favorite genre resources. In its day it was billed as the “most thorough” attempt yet at compiling mini biographies of horror/fantasy authors, and has been a favored possession of mine for many years. It was WHO’S WHO IN HORROR AND FANTASY FICTION, after all, that initially filled me in on the life and work of now-obscure masters like E.C. Vivian and Richard Marsh, and alerted me to the fact that E.H. (MEDUSA) Visiak’s final novel THE SHADOW was published only in the John Gawsworth anthology CRIMES, CREEPS AND THRILLS, and that PHANTOM OF THE OPERA author Gaston Leroux wrote many other worthy books.
British author Mike Ashley is quite knowledgeable about the horror and fantasy genres, having written numerous articles for THE TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE and other publications, edited numerous anthologies on the subjects, and penned a lengthy biography of Algernon Blackwood. Matter of fact, I’d venture to say that Ashley probably knows more about horror fiction than you and I put together. You’ll certainly have a difficult time finding much info anywhere on Dick Donovan, Clotilde Inez Mary Graves and Barry Pain, but they’re all here, covered with the thoroughness and readability that illuminate nearly every entry.
That’s not to say I agree with all of Ashley’s views. He gives the Marquis De Sade an overly derisive (in my view) mention, apparently a writer “we could well do without”. The great Gustav Meyrink (THE GOLEM) is similarly underrated, noted only for his “grim view of life”, while HADRIAN THE SEVENTH author Frederick Rolfe is dismissed as one of the “more unsavory characters in English literature”. I can also quibble about the names Ashley omits, such as Edgar Jepson, Walter Masterman, Maurice Sandoz and Leo Perutz, all important figures in horror/fantasy fiction that are MIA in these pages.
Those complaints out of the way, there’s much to admire here. Quite a few worthy volumes are mentioned in the opening chapter’s indispensable chronology of weird fiction from 2000 BC to the “present” year 1977. The late-seventies publication date obviously renders this book incomplete by modern standards (so don’t expect entries for Dean Koontz or Clive Barker), but does lend a certain retro charm, particularly in Ashley’s dissertation of “new” authors like Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell (who’s billed as “one of the youngest recruits to horror fiction”). That also unfortunately means WHO’S WHO IN HORROR AND FANTASY FICTION is long out of print, but I can assure you that tracking down a copy will be well worth your while.