The Black Bird’s tirade on Masters of the Weird Tale – Frank Belknap Long (2010)
I was looking forward to this massive collection of fave author, Frank Belknap Long’s work for a number of reasons. Instead, I was enormously disappointed for innumerable other reasons.
I’m going to venture outside the bounds of the normal book review. Gonna get up close ‘n’ personal with folks on this puppy! By the end of this sucker you might think I’m being a bit of a curmudgeon. But let’s get one thing straight out of the starting gate, people. I will always be a crusader for truths and ideals, especially where art (in this case literature) is concerned.
Shall we start at the beginning? In 1996-98 I was in talks with Fedogan & Bremer publisher Phil Rahman to edit a Frank Belknap Long collection. I sent Phil a proposal, and he agreed he’d pay me for my editorial work. I’d already been working on the texts of On the Threshold of Dimensions (Long’s title, mind you!) for a while, but hadn’t found a suitable home for the collection. I’d previously shown a bunch of my book proposals to Long’s former agent, Kirby McCauley, in New York, in 1994. I was already stoked on plenty of the books F&B had published by Donald and Howard Wandrei and Karl Edward Wagner. I’d hung out with him and his F&B cohorts Dwayne Olson and Scott Wyatt. Yeah, I was keen to proceed. I never got the chance. Unfortunately, Phil got embroiled in a messy divorce and subsequent poor health. My life was consumed with music, and by the time I was in a position to return to work on On the Threshold of Dimensions, Phil had ceased publishing and just about shuffled off this mortal coil. Poor guy. But not to worry… I still knew I could publish the book myself by print on demand methods when I manage to resurrect Tsathoggua Press from its untimely hiatus.
We now arrive at the events of 2008. Against my best judgment, I contacted one John Pelan in response to his newsgroup post asking for assistance. Pelan direly needed a number of Frank Belknap Long’s pulp stories to finish a collection he was editing for Centipede Press. (I use the term “editing” loosely because of the amount of errors in most of Pelan’s books). At the recommendation of my old pal Rob Preston–and again, not considering the possibility of being taken advantage of–I scanned five extremely rare Long stories directly from pulp mags I’d collected over the years. For the uninitiated, that means I nearly cracked the fragile spines on several valuable magazines from the 1930s. Their flaky pages also further disintegrated. I did this out of the goodness of my heart, not seeking personal gain. No, let’s clarify that further! I sent these rarities because I was dying to see a new collection by Frank Belknap Long in print, so that new readers might discover ole Belknapius’ knack for the written word. The yellowed pulps were fresh out of shipping container. They’d sailed from La La Land to Oz, and I savored the fragrant aroma of 1930s pulp dust like it was some addictive narcotic powder. The several items were rush emailed to Pelan, who in turn promised to send me one of his Midnight House/Darkside Press books per story scan, plus the eventual finished Long tome. Four years passed. I didn’t receive a single book I was promised. Gentle readers, I never asked for a cent for the service I rendered for Pelan. Still, I endured four years of Pelan’s excuses. Repeatedly sending him my address after doing copious internet searches to track the elusive character down.
Fast forward to January 2012, and I finally received a box containing three of the five books Pelan promised me. I hadn’t heard from him in over a year, so it was a surprise. There was no massive Centipede Long omnibus in the package, however, and I was forced to take matters into my own hands. I CCed publisher Jerad Walters on my last email to Pelan about why I still hadn’t been sent the Long book two years after its initial release. That did the trick. Walters replied to me, and arranged to send the FBL book post-haste. Wonderful! For that I’m thankful. It was all I truly wanted for the several days work I put into helping out with Frank Belknap Long: Master of the Weird Tale. I’m thanked in the end matter, along with old weirdist friends Marc Michaud (of Necronomicon Press) and editor extraordinaire Stefan Dziemianowicz, who likewise provided Long ephemerae.
Now, to what I’m not in the least thankful for. Quite the contrary. What I’m extremely disappointed in, truth be told! I lugged the gargantuan book home and lay down after dinner to devour the introduction as dessert. Gaudy, gilt-binding and slipcase created a deceptive exterior. The color gallery of FBL book covers in the intro had all the effect of sickly sweet icing. This led to the stomach turning cake laced with rancid cream. Right there in Pelan’s introduction was a large paragraph repeated twice in two separate sections, not to mention several other typos. Unimpressed! I own and have previously read all of the tales in the Centipede book, so I only stopped to read one at random. What did I find? Black and white place-holder pages for illustration color plate inserts. A major layout and printing defect. Now, I don’t know about you, folks, but I strongly feel a book with a $295 price tag had surely better be properly proofed and laid out, or I’m going to feel grievously gypped. Granted I didn’t pay for it, but others may. I strongly suggest you don’t. The previous banter doesn’t even take into account the fact that an uber limited edition of 200 copies isn’t going to piddle a piss in the ocean towards furthering the literary legacy of the late, great Mr. Long. Save your bread, readers. It’s better spent on securing secondhand copies of Long’s paperback collections The Early Long (also known as The Hounds of Tindalos), Odd Science Fiction and Night Fear.
To read Frank Belknap Long’s short story “Johnny on the Spot” and a brief bio, click here!