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ROBERT WEINBERG: The Horror "Know-It-All"
Including A Very Brief History of Horror
& a List of "Must Read" Horror FIction

December 1999
By Paula Guran

Pssst!

Wanna know about horror? (And science fiction and fantasy; maybe adventure, mystery and westerns, too...)

Ask Bob Weinberg.

Author -- Robert Weinberg has written fifteen novels (twelve of them horror), over thirty short stories, and eight nonfiction books.

Editor -- He's edited more than 130 anthologies of science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction.

Collector -- His collection of genre fiction material numbers over 25,000 items and is considered one of the finest in the world.

Bookseller -- For twenty-five years, Weinberg was president of Weinberg Books Inc., the largest science fiction retailer in the world. During that time, he became close friends with many authors, editors and publishers in the SF, fantasy and horror field.

Robert Weinberg Publisher -- As owner of Pulp Classics Press, he also published over seventy-five paperbound and hardcover books featuring stories by many of the top horror and fantasy writers in the field.

Insider -- In 1983 and 1990, he served as Chairman of the World Fantasy Convention and has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Convention for nineteen years. From 1994-1996, Weinberg served as vice president of the Horror Writers of America. At present, he is working on a special awards project for the Science Fiction Writers of America.

His knowledge of and ties to the science fiction, fantasy, and horror communities run about as deep as the Marianas Trench. When called upon to write the fabulous new retrospective HORROR OF THE 20TH CENTURY: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, he just read up a little on the early history of horror. Other than that, he wrote the text "pretty much straight through. I love this stuff, so this had to be the easiest book I ever wrote."

His personal collection of horror memorabilia provided the scores of illustrations for the volume (except for the movie posters which he doesn't collect.)

Weinberg has been actively involved in science fiction, fantasy and horror research for more than thirty years. His first book, THE HERO PULP INDEX was the first major nonfiction study of the pulp heroes of the 1930s and 1940s. His READERS GUIDE TO THE CTHULHU MYTHOS (co-written with Edward Berglund) is considered the definitive reference guide to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and authors who wrote in Lovecraft's style. His study, A READERS GUIDE TO ROBERT E. HOWARD, was the first nonfiction book ever published on Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian.

Illustrated History of 20th Century Horror In 1977, he wrote THE WEIRD TALES STORY, a detailed history of the most popular weird fiction magazine ever published. It won the 1978 World Fantasy Award for the best nonfiction book of the year. In 1983, he was awarded the Lamont Award, given to writers who have made major contributions to the study of American pulp fiction. Weinberg's BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF SCIENCE FICTION ARTISTS won the World Fantasy Award in 1988 for the best nonfiction book of that year. The book was also nominated for the Hugo Award given by the World Science Fiction Convention. In all, Weinberg has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award six times for his nonfiction contributions to the fantasy and horror fields.

More recently, he served as consulting editor for the PENGUIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR and Salem Press' five volume SURVEY OF FANTASY LITERATURE. In 1998, he was awarded the Bram Stoker Award (given by the Horror Writers Association) for editing the best anthology of the year, HORRORS: 365 SCARY STORIES.

Robert Weinberg fell in love with science fiction before he was a teenager. "In the late 1950s, I read 'The Colour out of Space' by H.P. Lovecraft and was afraid to drink water for a week," he says. "Once I realized it was only a story, I searched out any and all Lovecraft I could find. At the time, I was living in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. Newark had a terrific main library and I soon was taking out lots and lots of horror. I read all I could find by HPL, as well as other "Weird Tales" favorites. Newark also had lots and lots of used bookstores and I started collecting paperbacks and magazines (at the incredible price of 10 cents each or three for a quarter). By the mid-1960's, I was collecting Arkham House books and Weird Tales. In those days, prices were a lot lower and I was able to buy lots of stuff for low low prices. By the time I graduated college in 1968, I already had a fairly huge collection."

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A few of Bob Weinberg's favorites from his vast collection of pulps.

Weinberg's cramped college apartment was filled with hundreds of paintings and thousands of books. He majored in engineering and later in theoretical math for master's and doctoral programs. He eventually quit his job as a college professor and turned full focus on collecting and dealing genre-related art and books.

As owner of Weinberg Books in the 1970s, he discovered large collections of rare books and magazines fairly frequently. "I made my money back by selling off items I owned, and keeping items I didn't own. So my collection continued to expand. Fortunately, I'm a natural speed reader (around 2,000 words a minute), and have never needed much sleep. So, I read everything I could. Before the boom in horror in the mid-and late-1980s, it was possible to keep up with everything being published in horror, and I did. And, since I was running a book business specializing in horror and fantasy, I felt it was part of my job to read everything I could so I could recommend the best stuff to my customers. So, I pushed Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons, and all the other great authors who I encountered. I love horror fiction, so running a book business wasn't like a job, it was just fun."

Weinberg primarily collects science fiction, fantasy, and horror books, magazines, and artwork. (He also has a fairly large collection of western, mystery, and adventure fiction.) "I estimate that I have somewhere about 25,000 items in my collection. I own a complete set of all science fiction and fantasy magazines published in the English language, including a complete set of Weird Tales. I own approximately 4500 hardcovers, with nearly 2,000 of them signed by the authors."

"Collecting, as any collector will tell you, is more than a hobby. It's a way of life. I started collecting when I was 11, so have been buying items for my collection for over 40 years. Some of the items I'm most excited about: the original cover painting by Margaret Brundage for September 1937 'Weird Tales,' Virgil Finlay's first cover painting, done for 'Weird Tales,' February 1937. Inscribed books by H.G. Wells, Sax Rohmer, Stephen Vincent Benet (autographed to Robert Nathan), Isaac Asimov, and many many other famous writers. Original letters written by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and many others. The original manuscript for Robert E. Howard's first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword." and lots more."
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SF, horror, comic written by Weinberg; anthology edited by Weinberg.

With HORROR OF THE 20TH CENTURY, Weinberg managed to cover a great deal of territory in a succinct yet accurate way. History is shaped, of course, by those who write it. Were there things he found himself intentionally leaving out? Points of controversy ( yes, horror has its controversial points) he shied away from? "I wanted to write a concise history of the horror field so tried to keep my personal opinions out of the book as best I could. I felt on most material, I'd rather introduce readers to what they were about and leave them to make their own decisions. Having owned a book business for many years, I realized what I liked wasn't always what other people enjoyed and vice versa. So, by and large, I steered away from criticizing stuff I didn't like. What I did try to do was make it clear the stuff I really did like And hopefully I did just that."

HORROR ONLINE asked Weinberg to supply what he felt were the absolute essential facts to know about horror in the twentieth century:

"The early twentieth century was primarily focused on the English ghost story, as best written by M.R. James. He dominated the first few decades of the century. In the 1930s, H.P. Lovecraft focused horror on space and time and gave it a science fiction twist. Then, in the 1940s, Fritz Leiber brought horror back into the city, giving it a noir type look (long before noir was ever considered a category). EC comics put the grue in horror long before Clive Barker. Then along came Rosemary's Baby to make horror fashionable. From Rosemary to Stephen King the path is pretty obvious. King not only made horror fashionable, he made it a must for everyone. Dean Koontz and Peter Straub pushed the field even further. Anne Rice not only popularized vampires, but gave the Goth subculture a tremendous boost. R.L. Stine made horror popular for kids but the audience disappeared as they grew older. At the end of the century, horror is in tough times, but it will come back. It always does.

We also forced him to come up with a list of ten "must reads" for an understanding of horror? He admitted it was a hard choice and that the list might change from day to day, but supplied, in no particular order:

  1. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice
  2. SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King
  3. DARK FORCES edited by Kirby McCauley
  4. WATCHERS by Dean Koontz
  5. HE COLLECTED STORIES OF H.P. LOVECRAFT
  6. THE COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF M.R. JAMES
  7. CARRION COMFORT by Dan Simmons
  8. DRACULA by Bram Stoker
  9. OMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury
  10. WHO FEARS THE DEVIL by Manly Wade Wellman

  11. ...plus these five alternates:
  12. THE STAND by Stephen King
  13. DARK CARNIVAL by Ray Bradbury
  14. THE HAUNTING by Shirley Jackson
  15. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley
  16. THE EXORCIST by William.Peter Blatty
"I don't think you can just read ten books (or even fifteen)," he emphasizes, "to really get the full understanding of horror. How can you know horror without reading F. Paul Wilson, Joe R. Lansdale, or Karl Edward Wagner? And Algernon Blackwood or H.R. Wakefield or Henry H. Whitehead?"

What about the future of horror? What writers would he consider the "next wave?" "I'm not sure if you can call these people the next wave because they've all been here for some time," he says. "But I still think they write great stuff and don't get the credit they deserve: Thomas Ligotti, Doug Clegg, Terry Lamsley, Nancy Collins, Lucy Taylor."

Since he's gotten out of the book business, Weinberg doesn't keep up with horror fiction as much as he used to, "But, I still love horror and dark fantasy and read it as much as I can. I'm trying to take life a little easier these days so don't read as much as I once did, but I still love the field. And I still try to keep up as best I can."

Even though trying to relax a little more these days, he's definitely keeping busy. One project is writing CABLE, a monthly X-Men title for Marvel comics. Next summer, Marvel will be publishing a comic Weinberg created, DARKSIDE. He describes DARKSIDE as "action adventure with a horror background." He's also working on several nonfiction books, including ADVENTURE OF THE 20TH CENTURY for Collectors Press, consulting on a TV project with Zide/Perry Productions (producers of AMERICAN PIE, FINAL DESTINATION, and other hit movies).


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