There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Reading: Frank Belknap Long

It's hard to express my utter loathing and contempt for the craftsmanship of U.S. author Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994). I am a very forgiving reader; for years I worked at writing fiction and poetry, and I know how hard a job it is: how easy to wrong-foot yourself and how easy to fall short and fail. So I forgive. If I can forbear and persevere with [name deleted] and [name deleted], I cannot figure out why reading Long gets me so fired up.

"The Hounds of Tindalos" (1929) is an excellent example. Our narrator's comrade Halpin Chalmers is a an "explorer of the great suspected." He has figured out a way to  visit the distant using geometry.

"It will be sufficient for my purpose if you can form a vague idea of what I wish to achieve. I wish to strip from my eyes the veils of illusion that time has thrown over them, and see the beginning and the end."

It will not spoil the tale to report that Chalmers succeeds. But first, Long being Long, we must have an assault on the sound and sense of prose with lines like "He had extruded all the furniture" when what Long really wants to convey is that Chalmers has cleared his room of furniture in preparation for the "voyage."

Modern physics comes in for abuse aplenty from Long, using popularization as an excuse for solipsism:

....force and matter are merely the barriers to perception imposed by time and space? When one knows, as I do, that time and space are identical and that they are both deceptive because they are merely imperfect manifestations of a higher reality....

Lest the reader think "The Hounds of Tindalos" is cosmic horror about indifferent and all-devouring langoliers, it is not.  As Chalmers tells it, his goal is to "save our bodies and souls from a contamination unmentionable." Einstein only takes a pulp writer so far; the church too must shoulder its share of the burden.

"It will be sufficient for my purpose if you can form a vague idea of what I wish to achieve. I wish to strip from my eyes the veils of illusion that time has thrown over them, and see the beginning and the end."

Answered prayers? Halpin Chalmers certainly succeeds in his goal, but in a way he did not anticipate, though the reader can certainly see it coming.

....I never could have anticipated this. It is growing dark in the room. I must phone Frank. But can he get here in time? I will try. I will recite the Einstein formulate. I will--God, they are breaking through!

They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues-- ahhhh--"

Ahhhh, indeed.

The Space-Eaters (1928)

Our narrator Frank has a friend named Howard. Howard writers stories like "The House of the Worm" and "The Defilers." But he is frustrated at the genre straitjacket of the pulp market.

"Suppose there were a greater horror? Suppose evil things from some other universe should decide to invade this one? Suppose we couldn't see them? Suppose we couldn't feel them? Suppose they were of a color unknown on Earth, or rather, of an appearance that was without color?

"Suppose they had a shape unknown on Earth? Suppose they were four-dimensional, five-dimensional, six-dimensional? Suppose they were a hundred-dimensional? Suppose they had no dimensions at all and yet existed? What could we do?

"They would not exist for us? They would exist for us if they gave us pain. Suppose it was not the pain of heat or cold or any of the pains we know, but a new pain? Suppose they touched something besides our nerves—reached our brains in a new and terrible way? Suppose they made themselves felt in a new and strange and unspeakable way? What could we do? Our hands would be tied. You cannot oppose what you cannot see or feel. You cannot oppose the thousand-dimensional. Suppose they should eat their way to us through space!"

At which point the reader might give up. I did twice, before I could push ahead.

Glad I did. Once Frank's local acquaintance Henry Wells shows up, the story takes a turn for the better. While the story sticks to Frank's experience, a real atmosphere of strangeness is suggested. If only Long had made it the story, and not just its middle section.

The Horror from the Hills (1931)

No hills, and precious little horror.

Dark Awakening (1980)

...."The Deep Ones await their followers, and we must not fail to be present at the Great Awakening. It is written that all shall arise and join. We who carry the emblem and those who have looked upon it. From the ends of the earth the summons, the call has come and we must not delay.

The Ocean Leech (1925)

....There, under a shrouded moon, in the phosphorescent wilderness of exotic waters, we saw the law of man outraged by something mute, misshapen, blasphemous, and we saw industrious retching matter, brainless and self-sufficient, obeying a law older than man, older than morality. Here was life absorbing another life, and doing it forcefully, and without conscience, and becoming stronger and more exultant through the doing of it.

The Man with a Thousand Legs (1927)

....Several feet from where I stood, a monstrous jelly spread itself loathsomely over the dripping rocks, and from its veined central mass a thousand tentacles depended and writhed like the serpents on the head of Medusa. And growing from the middle of this obscenity was the torso and head of a naked young man. His hair was matted and covered with sea-weed; and there were bloodstains upon his high, white forehead. His nose was so sharp that it reminded me of a sword and I momentarily expected to see it glitter in the dim, mysterious light. His teeth chattered so loudly that I could hear them from where I stood; and as I stared and stared at him he coughed violently and foamed at the lips.

The Were-Snake (1925)

....Only in the desert does the darkness thicken, like whipped cream, and stream past with an audible whisper....

It Will Come to You (1942)

....The figure had the look of something that ought never to have been dug up. There was hardly any flesh on it, and its teeth were pointed like those of a beast of prey, and there was that about it which seemed to fasten on Cromer, as though it wanted to draw his brain out through his mouth, and suck all the marrow from his bones.

And that's about all I could stand.

26 August 2019

No comments:

Post a Comment