[The following is a reprint of a column which originally appeared in the February 24, 2005, issue of Hellnotes.]
Frank Belknap Long, Jr., had a long and prolific writing career, penning hundreds of stories and a number of novels in the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy (or scientifantasy, as Long himself put it). He was a frequent contributor to Weird Tales and other pulp magazine. He received the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 1978 and the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988.
Long was born on April 27, 1903 (some sources incorrectly say 1901), in New York City to well-to-do parents. His father was a prominent dentist, and the family lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Long’s interest in fantastic fiction started in his youth when he read the Oz books and works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and his idol, Edgar Allan Poe.
Long studied journalism at New York University for less than two years. His studies were cut short by a long hospitalization for appendicitis, after which he decided to pursue a career as a writer. He was able to do this for a while without the bother of having to earn a living as he stayed under his parents’ roof.
When he was 16, Long won an essay-writing contest in The Boy’s World, which led to his invitation to join the United Amateur Press Association. His first published work was “Dr. Whitlock’s Price,” which appeared in the UAPA journal United Amateur in March 1920. His next story, “The Eye Above the Mantel,” was published in the same magazine in March 1921. This tale, which involved ancient horror, other dimensions, and forbidden knowledge, caught the eye of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote Long a letter praising the work. Long’s prose-poem “At the Home of Poe” appeared in the May 1922 issue of United Amateur. His first book was A Man from Genoa and Other Poems (1926).
In 1922, the young Long met Lovecraft when the latter visited New York. This started a close personal and professional friendship that would last until Lovecraft’s death. Lovecraft’s admiration of Long was evidenced by his laudatory critical essay “The Work of Frank Belknap Long, Jr.” (United Amateur, March 1924). Long was often the first-reader of Lovecraft’s stories, and he was one of six writers authorized by Lovecraft to use his Cthulhu mythos and idea-book. He was the first person after Lovecraft to write a story in the mythos, “The Hounds of Tindalos” (1929). Long wrote a biography of Lovecraft, Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side (1975), which won a World Fantasy Special Award in 1976.
Long’s professional career started when “The Desert Lich” appeared in the November 1924 issue of Weird Tales, to which he would become a frequent contributor. He also sold many stories to the science fiction pulp magazines, starting in 1930 with “The Thought Materializer” in Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, followed by appearances in Astounding Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and others. His SF stories departed from the stereotypical SF of the era, which centered around gadgetry and gargantuan insects, as his themes were the environment, mankind’s treatment of the planet, and the human condition.
The golden age of science fiction began in 1939 when John W. Campbell, Jr., took over Astounding Stories, which became Astounding Science Fiction, and started a fantasy magazine called Unknown. Around this time, Weird Tales began to flounder and Long devoted himself almost entirely to science fiction. However, it took Long over two years to satisfy Campbell’s rigorous editorial policies and sell him a story. Long’s submission of “Dark Vision” to Astounding was instead published in the first issue of the fantasy pulp Unknown (March 1939). He finally got into Astounding with “Brown” (July 1941). In all, Long sold 12 stories to Astounding and ten to Unknown during the period of 1939 to 1950. He shared the pages with such masters of science fiction as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A.E. van Vogt.
In 1946, Arkham House published The Hounds of Tindalos, a collection of 21 stories which first appeared in the pulps. This collection was critically acclaimed in such literary venues as the New York Times. In 1949, Long’s first science fiction novel appeared, John Carstairs, Space Detective. This tale of Carstairs, who used alien plants as a means of foiling mysteries, combined a humorous tone and a hard-boiled detective style. The novel was actually a blending of six previously published Carstairs short stories.
In the late 1940s, the pulp magazine field began to shrink, and paperback science fiction novels and anthologies gained in popularity. The first such original SF paperback anthology, The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories (1949), included Long’s “Maturity Night,” and his stories appeared in many of these anthologies. His first paperback SF novel was Space Station No. 1 (1957), published by Ace, which sold 100,000 copies in the first six months, probably his greatest exposure to date. This was followed in 1962 by Mars Is My Destination. In 1963 and 1964, Long saw the publication of several books. Belmont reprinted Tindalos in a two-volume paperback edition; published It Was the Day of the Robot, a revised, expanded version of the earlier “Made to Order”; and put out an anthology that included a reprint of “The Horror from the Hills.” And Arkham reprinted The Horror from the Hills in book form.
Long married fairly late in life when he wed Lyda Arco in 1961. They had no children (“my children were all Martians” was the way Long described his progeny).
Long continued to write SF into the 1970s. His last SF novel, The Night of the Wolf, came out in 1972. From then until his death, he published a gothic novel, The Lemonyne Heritage (1975), the biography of Lovecraft, a memoir, and several stories in magazines and anthologies. His final published work was “Sauce for the Gander,” which appeared in the January 1988 issue of Astro-Adventures. At the time of his death, he was working on a novel-length version of his short story “Cottage Tenant” (Fantastic, April 1975).
Long made his final public appearance at the Lovecraft Centennial Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1990. He passed away in New York City on January 2, 1994.
Long’s novels and collections seem to be out of print but are readily available on the secondary market. Several in-print anthologies contain some of his stories, including Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and New Horizons (Arkham House).