I was in at the ground floor for the ascent of Edward Lee. I watched him climb the ladder the hard way, atop the Zebra paperback line of the nineties. He was certainly different than the rest of the pack. Lee went places the others did not dare to tread. There was abundant violence and humor, but Edward Lee always possessed writing chops that put most of the other paperback original authors to shame. By the time his final Zebra novel, Creekers, was published, Lee established himself as an important and powerful force in the horror genre.

Zebra Books fell in the mid-nineties, and Lee began publishing stronger material in the small press. I was an early Necro Publications customer, and I bought Header, Goon, The Bighead and others as they were published. I owned copy number six of Header, I believe.

By this time Edward Lee was the undisputed grossout king. It couldn't get any worse than The Bighead. Could it?

Stick around, dear reader. It got much, much worse.

Edward Lee didn't limit himself with disgusting fiction. He began publishing limited edition hardcovers with Cemetery Dance. By the turn of the century, he was doing some extremely interesting work. The Stickmen (absolutely no relation to the ghastly Edward Lee short story, "The Stick Woman") and Operator B dealt with alien conspiracies. I liked these books quite a lot, and I always wished he had continued writing these kind of stories.

There were a couple of police procedural serial killer books, written in collaboration with Elizabeth Steffen. Portrait of a Psychopath as a Young Man and Dahmer's Not Dead didn't skimp on graphic content, but they worked on other levels.

My favorite period for Edward Lee were the Leisure Books years. He did numerous titles for the sorely-missed paperback line from the two-thousands. Lee was forced to show a degree of restraint to fit the confines of the mass market, and I think the work was better for it. Restraint isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Leisure Books fell in the ugliest imaginable way, but the modern independent press was being born around the same time. He was able to write anything he wished. And he let his darkest and most hilarious fantasies out on the page.

There were some thoughtful books, like The Innswich Horror and Water Witch, but I didn't number them among my favorites.

Going Monstering was the one that really alienated me. By that point everyone and their brothers and sisters were trying to gross people out. If anything he went further than he did with The Bighead, but I was mostly unimpressed. The writing was very well done, but the unbelievably over the top situations became...boring.

Even John Waters, the Prince of Puke himself, stopped merely trying to sicken people after Desperate Living. He moved on with his seedy brand of satire. If you don't change, you begin to repeat yourself.

I bought and read White Trash Gothic. This book was the long-awaited return of the Bighead, among other Edward Lee characters. I found it to be a weary repetition of times past. Uninspired, laborious, and for me, a big letdown.

Times change, people change, and I didn't really consider myself an Edward Lee fan anymore. I did the extreme horror thing, and by the twenty-twenties, it no longer held much appeal for me. I yearned to return to the days when I discovered Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, and Charles L. Grant.

I mostly skip the whole New Exrtreme horror movement. I suppose I am missing out on some decent writers, but I'm always reading good stuff. No one can read it all, and I've become a choosier reader. I certainly do not mind explicit content in horror fiction, but I have little desire to be grossed out for the sake of grossout anymore. I skip the contests at cons and I generally pass on writers who label themselves as Splatterpunk.

I think back to the old days now and then, and when I saw Edward Lee had a new, stand-alone book out, I was curious. I took a chance with The Television.

Gone are the days of handsome books in stores. No more deluxe editions from Cemetery Dance or Necro. The Television has an ugly, cheap-looking cover.

I liked it much, much more than White Trash Gothic. Yes, Lee devotes a lot of pages to body fluids and ever more elaborate grotesque shenanigans. I found it not merely unnecessary, but tiresome.

However, the story of The Television is very good. Lee credits inspiration to classic horror writer M.R. James, and the story of occultists using a descendant of a warlock and a bewitched old TV to relive the most grueling events of human history is shrewd and very well done. Ramsey Campbell himself might employ such a plot device. Minus, of course, the disgusting elements of The Television.

Lee trades redneck humor for lowlife British trash, which is a nice twist. His writing is as professional as ever.

I'm not quite back on the Lee bandwagon, but I will consider reading him again.

Written by Mark Sieber

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