When I was a lad, and first getting into the works of H.P. Lovecraft and other weavers of weird tales, Frank Belknap Long’s name quickly entered my literary world. His story “The Hounds of Tindalos” was one of my favorites from the circle of Mythos writers I tapped into. Years of shopping at my favorite book store (Pro Libris on 3rd Street in Bangor, ME) netted me a lot of Lovecraft related books and collections by authors from that ever growing circle, including several by Long. Like so many of the books I hoarded, I never got around to reading them. Until now.
With “The Rim of the Unknown” I got a sampling of his work from the late 20s through the mid 50s. A few were clearly of a Lovecraftian bent, especially 1927’s “The Man with a Thousand Legs.” While others felt more like a Ray Bradbury pastiche, like “Fuzzy Head.” Many of the stores featured the Atomic Age fear (of nuclear annihilation) and hope (of a new, superior breed of humanity) that so marked the mid 20th century Science Fiction. Several of the stories had the Twilight Zone style “twist” endings (“The Cottage,” I’m looking at you!). And there were several stories with that 50s assumption that space flight would just be a thing we did; no big deal. He also wrote a lot about families and family dynamics. This seemed a bit odd, considering he was not a family man. He got married around the age of 60, but never had children.
My favorite stories were the ones that tended toward the weirder, more “big idea” Science Fiction side of the spectrum. “The Trap” was has a very Twilight Zone feel to its plot and resolution. But the core concept of the alien in it is something kind of special, and I think puts it firmly in the Lovecraft Mythos. At the end of the volume there are three companion stories that I really, really enjoyed. “The Great Cold,” “Green Glory,” and “The Last Men” were all written in the mid 30s, and all take place in an extremely distant future of the type envisioned in books like William Hope Hodgson’s “Night Land.” So far into the future, the Earth is nearly unrecognizable, and what we consider the “natural order” has been disrupted. In this case, Humanity has fallen, to be ruled over by alien (not extraterrestrial) intelligences descended from what we once saw as lowley. Each story looks at Humans living under the yoke of millennia of controlled breeding and institutionalized servitude, and how a thread of what makes us who we are might survive.
The thing I probably most came away with from this anthology is that Frank Belknap Long was, perhaps, not a great writer. He was creative. He was certainly prolific. But while I sit back and wonder why people aren’t reading Andre Norton, or Robert E. Howard, or some of the other really great talents of Weird, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror stories, I understand why Long may have fallen mostly into obscurity. His prose is acceptable, without being especially artful or impressive. Many of his tales have a very dated feel, not just in language, but in general concerns. This might work more as a glimpse at the psychology of the day than as a compelling read. Go read “The Hounds of Tindalos” (not in this volume), for sure. It’s great. Much of this...There’s a reason it’s forgotten. But for fans of the weird tale, for folks into this kind of fiction, it’s worth a read. You’ll find things to enjoy throughout.
-Matthew J. Constantine