Frank Belknap Long: Great imagination, stilted prose

 If you read enough H.P. Lovecraft, you will bump up against the name of Frank Belknap Long.

 Long was a prolific American writer who produced horror fiction, fantasy, science fiction and more. He was among the first to play around with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos ideas, adding the short story “The Hounds of Tindalos” and others to the horrific mix. I enjoyed “Hounds” enough to keep Long’s name in my mind when browsing through used-book stores. He wrote a lot of cheesy science fiction and horror novels, and every now and then you can grab one for a couple of bucks.

 That is about what they are worth, from a reader’s vantage, at least judging by the handful I have found. A pulp collector may place more value on Long books in good condition, especially those with Frank Frazetta art on the covers. Indeed, the lurid titles and retro cover art would make pretty good posters for a geek’s den.

 But the tales themselves … 

 Long received plenty of accolades: World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. A reading of his novels shows why; he had a great imagination, thought in big mind-blowing terms and wrote in an era when adventure was the hallmark of science fiction.

 But, in my opinion, he often wrote about wooden characters speaking techno-plasma-garble dialogue. His wonderful ideas seldom come to real life. 

 Below are brief reviews of three of Long’s science fiction-horror novels, culled from entries I wrote at Goodreads. I have more Long books on my shelves, and I will give them a go. I will even pick up others if I encounter them at low, low prices, because Long does inspire — his imagination was wide open, and I like that. I just wish he’d had a writing partner who had listened to how people talk or seen people behave.

 Alas …

The Three Faces of Time

 This book is a little slice of 1950’s sci-fi cheese, from the retro depiction of a diver and a monster on the cover (which has nothing to do with the story, by the way) to the constant use of explanatory dialogue.

  It reads a bit like a “Twilight Zone” episode. This tale of time-traveling religious nuts who capture humans for bizarre purposes could have made a weird sci-fi movie back in the day. 

Fun and imaginative, but no believable characters and lots of babble conversations.

Journey Into Darkness

 This book is an odd mix of Lovecraft, Carl Jung and 1950’s sci-fi “B movie” dialogue. 

  Characters stumble upon bizarre, difficult-to-grasp situations and sort of intuitively figure out what is going on, and explain things to one another in info-dump conversations. Also, Long has no real idea how police investigations work, and it shows in this book. 

Still, it is a fun read if you can overlook such flaws.

Monster From Out of Time

 Frankly, this book blows, despite the giant time-traveling monsters and the modern humans thrust backward into an ice age. The plot actually is mighty thin, too much so even to carry the mere 127 pages devoted to it.

  Although it is supposed to be a gripping and tense adventure of survival in a strange world, it is the kind of book in which characters pause in the midst of great danger to lecture one another on the possible cultural differences between Paleolithic peoples and modern humans, or perhaps the proper dating of the wooly mammoth in the fossil record. It’s just not a good idea to sit and ponder how long a man might survive in extreme cold when there is a woman freezing to death and waiting for you to bring her a damned fur. 

It also is a world in which the savage barbarians kill big beasties on their frozen landscape, but don’t take home any of the precious meat, because I guess they prefer to eat snow.

The mutual admiration society bromance between the two male protagonists was a bit tough to take, too. 

I’ve read better by Frank Belknap Long, so I won’t give up on him, but the only thing I liked about “Monster From Out of Time” was the Frank Frazetta cover — which really did not depict an actual scene from the novel, but what the hell. 


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