Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) was the leading American writer of weird fiction between Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. A prolific journalist and fierce satirist, Bierce brought a distinctly sardonic and misanthropic vision to his short fiction. After serving in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, he wrote dozens of tales of psychological terror using the war as a backdrop. Among these are such famous stories as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Chickamauga,” and “One of the Missing.” In these tales, Bierce etched with unsparing realism the fear, alarm, and apprehension that soldiers feel in the heat of battle.
Bierce applied his psychological acumen to tales of “civilians” as well. In such stories as “The Suitable Surroundings,” “A Watcher by the Dead,” and “The Man and the Snake,” Bierce pungently depicted the sensations of characters beset by fears of death. He also employed his keen analysis of human foibles in tales of the supernatural, such as “The Death of Halpin Frayser,” a hideous account of incest and revenants; “The Middle Toe of the Right Foot,” a chilling story of supernatural revenge; and “The Eyes of the Panther,” a tale of possible metempsychosis. Bierce also wrote such pioneering tales as “The Damned Thing,” about an invisible monster, and “Moxon’s Master,” which broaches the possibility of artificial intelligence.
A distinctive branch of Bierce’s fictional work are his political fantasies, where he utilizes his cynicism in regard to American political institutions and politicians in creating imaginary realms in the manner of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire.
This collection presents a generous selection of Bierce’s weird fiction, with introduction and bibliography. The volume has been edited by S. T. Joshi, a renowned expert on weird fiction. Joshi is the author of The Weird Tale (1990), The Modern Weird Tale (2001), and Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction(2012).