Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Books of Blood, Vol. 4 by Clive Barker (1985): The Inhuman Condition

When the final three volumes of Clive Barker's Books of Blood were published in the United States, they were each retitled for a (seemingly random) story in the collection, and so Vol. IV became The Inhuman Condition. I assume it was because a different publisher, Poseidon Press, had the rights to those books and wanted to put them out in fancy little hardcover editions; no more of those déclassé paperbacks that cluttered up spinning metal racks at the local drugstore (although I'm sure that's still exactly where the above 1987 Pocket Books - art by Jim Warren - edition ended up).

No, it was high time for Barker to step up to the bestseller world of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Peter Straub, get him into the all-important literary and fantasy book clubs of the day. This was how he became not just another acclaimed paperback horror writer with a King-size blurb, but a brand-name author with huge publisher promotions behind him and TV and radio appearances - which Barker, not unaware of the origin of his name, took to like a natural.

Poseidon Press hardcover, 1986

I well recall the excitement I felt when I saw Barker's latest was in hardcover; the intent to build prestige for him worked on me and I started to really see him as a serious writer - or more importantly, that other people saw him as a serious writer. And the stories themselves are a solid, inventive, original bunch that more than justified the hardcover and the wider-spread readership that would bring. Right after this would come his major bestselling novels The Damnation Game (1986) and Weaveworld (1987).

With hints of Hellraiser, Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show (1990), the title story is an enigma ultimately about, of all things, evolution. A puzzling cord of knots stolen from a vagrant mesmerizes a young criminal; their unloosening begets raw-fleshed monsters. Classic Barkerian moment: when the first of the monsters hides in shadowed trees, the criminal says to it, "Show yourself... I'm not afraid. I want to know what you are." The playful and absurd "The Body Politic" is referenced on the dust-jacket for both editions of Condition: human hands take up arms against their oppressors and cleave themselves to freedom, scuttling in the darkness like errant crabs, eager to be away with their leader. Neat imagery - the fires escape [was] solid with hands, like aphids clustered on the stalk of a flower - and a cool twist ending; a good example of the author's more lighthearted weirdness.

Barker's own painting is featured on the paperback from his UK publisher Sphere; this happy fellow is obviously from "The Age of Desire," in which an experimental aphrodisiac maddens and arouses at once; no nook or cranny or cop is safe from this man's advances. This was one of Barker's tales that I read with glee in high school, passing it along to a couple other friends who bothered to read at all. Barker's repertoire has always included an unflinching and perverse sexuality but his approach is more Georges Bataille than the juvenile or mainstream t-n'-a that one usually finds in horror fiction.

It was a new kind of life he was living, and the thought, though frightening, exulted him. Not once did it occur to his spinning, eroticized brain that this new kind of life would, in time, demand a new kind of death.

Rather an odd one in the entire Books of Blood, "Down, Satan!" is a story only a few pages long, no dialogue, no characterization really. This one is more like a fable, a fable of Gregorius, a sickeningly wealthy man who has lost his faith and is determined to meet the Dark Prince face-to-face, and has built a suitable palace of horrors for just such a happening. Surely the Devil could not resist such a roost to call his own, hopes Gregorius. For God was rotting in Paradise, and Satan in the Abyss, and who was to stop him?

Set in the hinterlands of Texas, "Revelations" reveals the prosaic banality of the afterlife: no cosmic justice, just the shades of a murderess and her husband the victim who, on the anniversary of death, return to the scene of her crime. But that motel room is now occupied by an evangelist obsessed with (the comic-book terrors, fit to scare children with) St. John the Divine, and his suffering wife. In Clive Barker's imaginings, arousal extends into eternity...

2001 Pocket Books trade paperback

Barker's writing here shows much growth from earlier volumes of Blood; there is a more assured quality overall, his sentences are elegant, crackling with dry humor, and his tone is ironic, poetic, knowing. Characters witness strange and beautiful horrors that no metaphor can contain, or they are horrified to learn that a trite sentiment such as Give me your heart can become literal in a deadly flash. Barker upends horror tropes and brings new ones to the genre and demands readers keep up with his ideas. I say happily that The Inhuman Condition is an integral part of what made Clive Barker one of the premier horror writers of the '80s and '90s.

You never can tell what Barker's been smoking.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber (1978): Werewolf? There Wolf!

How does it feel to be ripped to pieces: will there be desperate agony or will some mechanism of the brain provide relief?

Total coincidence, but here's yet another novel that works in both the crime and the horror genres. Less well-known than its loose 1981 film adaptation with Albert Finney, Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen is a mainstream thriller through and through but with a strong evocation of, and rational explanation for, vampire and werewolf myths throughout history. The Wolfen are a superior species of wolf-like creatures who have till now hidden themselves from civilization. While certainly not evil by any means, the ferocity and intelligence with which they dispatch of their human victims lends them a malevolent yet fascinating nobility and grace.

Avon 1988 reprint

The police procedural aspects are in full effect from the start: detective partners George Wilson and Becky Neff are total opposites, a veritable Felix and Oscar of the police force who are much resented by their superiors; Wilson is an aging lazy slob with a real attitude problem, and Becky - well, Becky's a woman. And for mid-1970s New York City cops, that's practically a crime itself. Even Wilson seems to resent her, when he's not falling for her. The novel begins with two hapless police officers finding themselves face-to-face with the terrifying Wolfen in a city impound lot, and then torn apart before they can barely reach their weapons. The grisly attack baffles and sickens the police force, and Wilson and Neff get down to the exhausting business of tracking the killer. Of course they have no idea what they're up against.


Strieber

At a loss, Wilson and Neff enlist Ferguson, a zoologist from the Museum of Natural History; he does some serious research based on the clues they've given him and realizes these creatures were the impetus for the werewolf legend. More primitive people, coming into contact with the Wolfen, couldn't believe that animals so smart weren't part human... Ferguson begins to respect the Wolfen, and thinks he can communicate with them peacefully. You know how that's gonna go.

Now, if you can believe that these super-wolves can exist alongside mankind and yet not leave behind any trace of themselves, you're probably really gonna love The Wolfen. In fact I had a bit of a hard time suspending disbelief at first, but Strieber is skilled and convincing in presenting a fairly believable pack of intelligent and cooperative creatures and their thought processes. What makes the novel unique is this depiction of their furtive lives on the fringes of human society. There are some terrifically suspenseful moments when Wilson and Neff inadvertently come close to the Wolfen's lair in an abandoned building. Lots of police department and city politics may detract from the eerie fact that the two cops are now being stalked through the city by these "monsters," and high-rise apartment buildings are no protection. These animals know that the two humans are aware of them and it angers them. When the Wolfen ambush on Neff and Wilson fails, they go after Dr. Evans, the medical examiner to whom the cops revealed their suspicions:

Then they were on him, pulling and tearing, ripping full of rage, spitting the bloody bits out , angry that the two important ones had been missed, angry that this one also dared confront them with his evil knowledge. They had cracked open the head and plunged their claws into the brains, plunged and torn to utterly and completely destroy the filthy knowledge.

The paperback at the top (Bantam 1981) seems like the movie tie-in edition, while this bland and amateurish cover, the first-edition paperback (my copy, Bantam July 1979) basically meant the publisher was trying to appeal to the widest possible audience, people who wouldn't buy one of those down-market trashy-looking horror novels with their lurid paperback cover art. The Wolfen simply don't go after screaming blonde ladies as the pupils of those stupid cut-out eyes insist. That said, the book should still find a pretty wide audience because it is definitely a gripping, suspenseful, scary read; I found it compulsively readable. Strieber's first novel has a good balance between pulpy creature horror and investigative police procedural, between awe and wonder at the predatory perfection of the Wolfen and the stark inescapable fear their kind will always engender in that weaker and stupider species, mankind.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987): If You Want Blood You've Got It

My introduction to the disturbing real-life horror story that is the death of Elizabeth Short came in the form of James Ellroy's novel The Black Dahlia. I've been thinking about Ellroy since he's got this new TV series starting up on the history of Los Angeles murders and scandals, as well as my recent musings about the intersection of crime and horror fiction. The two genres delve into human depravity but approach it in different manners: crime is generally matter-of-fact in its dealings with violence; horror wants to reduce you to whimpers and overwhelm you. It's all in the intent.

The genres seem to split fans too: how many people deny The Silence of the Lambs is horror? And yet it's about a serial killer and a cannibal. But because it's concerned with the procedural aspects of tracking down criminals, and not solely trying to freak you out, it gets a pass on the horror label. Horror, to paraphrase Poe and Lovecraft, is about that singular frisson of terror itself. But The Black Dahlia thrives in both arenas.

I read The Black Dahlia for the first time in early 1991. Why did I choose to read it? I'd never read a crime novel before. In those days I was, like many young men, pretty much obsessed with Sherilyn Fenn and her character Audrey Horne on David Lynch's 1990/91 TV show, "Twin Peaks." Her noir-tastic photo from the previous summer's Rolling Stone magazine was one I couldn't shake.

Then when I saw the artist's (Stephen Peringer) rendering of Short on the cover of the Mysterious Press paperback of The Black Dahlia awhile later, I was struck by its similarity to Fenn. I had to read the book; it was that simple. And it turned out to be one of the most horrifying novels I'd ever read.

The following is a review I wrote of the book nearly 10 years ago for some long-gone website or another, and I think it's wholly appropriate for Too Much Horror Fiction...

The woman is severed, the two halves of her pale, bloodless body placed as carefully in a Los Angeles lot as one would hang a painting in an art gallery. Her face bears a split-open camprachico smile, battered sunken eyes, a pulped nose. Cigarette burns stubble her breasts, one of which is still attached by only a gristle of meat. Beneath the rib cage, nothing; she is disassembled. Her second half begins above her pubic bone, her legs spread in a necrophiliac's wet dream pose, an open gash like an arrow pointing towards her vagina. Her knees are broken and a triangle of flesh is missing from her left thigh. We can easily read the secrets she will never tell: days of unspeakable torture, and, in her portrait photos, of dreams deformed into horror. She will come to be known as the Black Dahlia, a young woman named Elizabeth Short, and her murderer will never be found.

Los Angeles, 1947. Two young pugilistic cops burning with ambition and haunted pasts, Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, become obsessed with the alluring murder victim. Glamor photos of her in tight black dresses with her pale blue eyes - as well as the gruesome images of the famous corpse she would come to be - become talismanic. Each finds his life in disarray because of it. Now all of the LAPD is on the case as the largest manhunt in the state's history gathers to find the murderer, but in the end only one man will be strong enough to handle (or, indeed, care) about the truth.

Ellroy rubs our noses in the grit and the dirt of investigating the murder of a beautiful girl on the skids; as Bucky and Lee roust lowlifes in LA's warzones you can smell the cheap liquor, the stench of bum urine, feel the California heat as it shimmers on the blacktop, your bourbon hangover gripping your skull like a vice as you try to slice through interdepartmental bullshit, the politics and the lies, to find out who killed a worthless two-bit beautiful piece of cheap Hollywood cooze (as Ellroy himself might put it).

The atmosphere is heavy with neon, rain-slicked streets at night and reeking bachelor pads, dive bars, cheap smut-movie sets, with sunlight filtering through venetian blinds, men and women frozen in a time we can only imagine as film noir. The dialogue is realistic, staccato, and filled with tough-guy slang of bebop jazz and cop-shop talk liberally peppered with the racist and sexist epithets of the period. The labyrinthine plot twists and turns, with a long jaunt to a filthy Mexico graveyard, where Bucky literally digs up his past; to the early Hollywood machinations of (real-life) Keystone Kops director Mack Sennett and mobster Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen. Lee Blanchard disappears, leaving Bucky to fend off three women: Kay Lake, who loved Lee; Madeleine Sprague, a Dahlia-lookalike; and the Black Dahlia herself, who even in death casts a spell over men.

Elizabeth Short's final hours are revealed in gut-wrenching detail that is true horror (She bit on the gag and blood from where I took the Joe DiMaggio to her teeth came out due to her biting so hard. I stuck the knife down to a little bone I felt, then I twisted it). The breathless climax is drawn out over the final 30 pages in a jagged wave of secrets uncovered and killers come forth. Ellroy completes the novel with the killer caught and in his wish-fulfilling conclusion, one of the saddest of all unsolved murder mystery cases is finally laid to rest.

This is a relentlessly intense pulpy crime novel, bursting at the seams with violence, perversion, macho aggression (and weakness), and the gutter-glimmer of a Hollywood buried beneath over 60 years of history. Ellroy gives you your money's worth, that's for sure, and The Black Dahlia a must-read for a horror-fiction fan. It is so dark it's virtually a horror novel anyway; horror not in the sense of Stephen King but in the direst sense of the word: awe at the depths to which humanity can sink and how it stains all our lives. It is only the first book in his LA Quartet, which comprises some of the bleakest, most ambitious, and most violent crime novels ever penned. Ellroy calls Black Dahlia his "Valediction in Blood" and it's easy to see why: as a boy, his own mother was killed by an unknown man, and here he has solved one murder for another. RIP.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Free Tor Horror Sampler (1986)

Found this cool little freebie unexpectedly the other day when out book-hunting. From what I could discover online, this Tor Horror sampler was given out at an American Booksellers Association convention in early 1986. And I was just wondering when Tor Books began their official horror line with the monster icon; the introduction states they would begin publishing three books in the line per month, starting in August 1986. I skimmed through a few of the 8- or 10-page excerpts and while nothing blew me away, I did add some to my to-read list.

I've read and reviewed a couple already: Song of Kali by Dan Simmons and The Orchard by Charles L. Grant; the latter book was all right while the former is a modern classic. Two of the offerings, Maggie Davis's Forbidden Objects and R.R. Walters's Ladies in Waiting, seemed promising despite having no familiarity with the authors whatsoever, and for some time I've heard good things about the novels of Chet Williamson and T.M. Wright. Of course Laymon drops a real turd as expected. But really, behold the cover art of these paperbacks! Really, really spectacular stuff. Dare I hope the contents are as satisfying?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Manse by Lisa W. Cantrell (1987): The Mayberry "Horror"

Inexplicably the winner of the 1987 Bram Stoker Award for best first novel, The Manse is that kind of maddening, meandering, monotonous horror fiction that isn't outright terrible but just middling, sitting there politely and inoffensively without a truly horrific moment to make it memorable. Hell, any kind of fiction that is this simplistic, colorless, and obvious is grating to one's critical faculties. I can't hate it yet I can't love or really even like it. Lisa W. Cantrell writes in a style that can at best be called "young adult lite" and the tepid plot abounds with by-the-numbers characters and dialogue in which everyone refers to each other constantly by their first names and says the most obvious thing possible. With that large text and margin size I hate that bloats a passable 275-page novel up to nearly 350, I really sense that Cantrell had a novella that her editor at Tor Books wanted to publish as a novel.

The manse itself is an imposing and creepy old house in which the local Jaycees hold their yearly Halloween haunted house fundraisers, in the small town of Merrillville, North Carolina. The very fact that I'm typing "Jaycees" in a horror-fiction review is setting my back teeth on edge and boring me out of my skull all at once. But apparently the "vibe" of all the people scared in that house by the props and costumes and lights and smoke set up by the... Jaycees has somehow awakened an old evil and now the manse is actually haunted, like, for real. And people are disappearing, for Chrissake! Won't anyone listen?! Dammit!

Cue small-town folk à la King who all know each other, as well as an attempt to build an atmosphere of quiet, whispering horror that is really more like a description of a haunted house on a Halloween greeting card. The story doesn't get up and running till a hundred pages in. There's a fiery climax during one of the haunted house tours, children get pulled into funhouse mirrors - that wasn't bad - but then comes the half-hearted "twist" ending; oh, God, how lame those are, so expected and unimaginative. The cover art, by Bob Eggleton, is in the malevolent-yet-ridiculous Halloween style, although that title font that Tor loved to use is kind of all right. But the artist should have simply depicted this terribly scary manse itself on the cover - so people would know what the fuck a "manse" is.

Thinly written and indifferently paced especially in the opening chapters when an author should want to hook readers, I found it difficult to even skim the pages just to be done with the book and place it back on my shelf. How The Manse beat out Clive Barker's grim and inventive The Damnation Game or a Steve Rasnic Tem novel for the Stoker Award is a real puzzler.

I don't know if Cantrell got any better as a horror author - I could find out if I wanted, as I've also got a copy of the sequel, Torments - but she hasn't published anything since the mid-1990s and I could find nothing about her on all the internets. I supposed The Manse would make an okay book for a young and/or inexperienced horror reader, but for an adult man who's been reading horror fiction much of his life? Yeah, no; The Manse is a miss.

This did not happen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Graham Masterton: The Paperback Covers

After reading The Manitou just before the New Year, I made a resolution to read more Graham Masterton in 2011. Thanks to readers of this blog who have recommended Masterton's specific books enthusiastically, I've added various titles to my to-read list. I knew he'd written dozens, but going by reviews on various fan sites, I didn't know how beloved most of them were. So with that in mind - and the fact that today is Mr. Masterton's birthday - behold the terrific covers of merely a fraction of his output. The novels are mostly from Pinnacle and Tor Books, his American publishers throughout the '70s and '80s respectively; you can see the change in illustration styles over the two decades. Can't wait to start tracking these down...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cellars by John Shirley (1982): Well, New York City Really Has It All

Cellars (Avon May 1982) is the first book I've read by John Shirley, a multi-talented author and musician who has published novels and short stories not just in the horror fiction field but also in crime/suspense and science fiction. SF icons like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling have named his early works as influential on the legendary cyberpunk movement, although Shirley certainly never became as famous or as widely-read as those two. Shirley had actually been a singer in a punk-rock band and since his background was in that kind of counterculture, it's no surprise that his second horror novel, an Avon Books original, is also seen as a precursor to - you guessed it - splatterpunk.

I'd heard of Shirley for years, but his books have only recently become widely available in mass-market paperbacks; his 1992 novel Wetbones and his 1997 collection of short horror stories Black Butterflies have been republished by Leisure Books. Both apparently fall into the "graphic horror" category; Cellars has its share of gore and many think it paved the way for Clive Barker and the like, as well as today's extreme horror writers. With a grim view of human nature, a concern for urban fringe characters who've fallen through society's cracks, and the whole "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" attitude - an attitude which Shirley displays much more effectively and believably than the splatterpunks - I can definitely see how Shirley must have inspired Skipp and Spector and David Schow. I can't imagine something like The Light at the End or The Kill Riff without it.

Cellars begins with the investigation of a series of what appear to be ritual murders, bodies flayed open in abandoned New York City subway stops or dirt-strewn basements of old apartment buildings. Bizarre scribblings accompany the bodies and the investigating cop, weary Cyril Gribner, calls in Carl Lanyard. A skeptical journalist for a trashy occult tabloid who had once been an assistant professor of anthropology, Lanyard is in New York to interview Madelaine Springer, a hopeful, beautiful actress with unwanted psychic powers. When Lanyard identifies the phrases as probably ancient Persian, and referring to the malevolent deity Ahriman, the action proper can begin. Well, all right! Darian Trismegestes, Lanyard's boss at the tabloid, offers him an oddly huge amount of cash to hang around and write about the investigation.

Lanyard is an interesting character, a divorced, somewhat troubled man, a definite skeptic but still seeing strange dark shapes swirling around and who heard voices as a bullied kid. Is his skepticism preventing him from seeing what's truly going on? Gribner sees quite a bit of what's really going on when he realizes his nine-year-old nephew who's living with him may also be involved (finding his nephew in the bathtub listening to a strange growling coming from the drain is a chilling moment). Then there is Joey Minder, a pompous theater and film producer with Madelaine under his thumb, who is deeply involved with the occult world and sees human sacrifice as a way to gain unlimited power. Don't they all.

2006 edition

 Shirley's style only hits a few sour notes; his writing is smooth and assured, and the dialogue rings true. He has a detailer's eye for the the gritty, nonsupernatural dangers of New York City streets of 1981 and the attendant drug trade, criminal youth, abandoned buildings and miles of subways drenched in graffiti, and filthy homeless people - less like a horror novel and more like big-city crime fiction, although at times his penchant for adding a mildly askew, hallucinatory effect to these descriptions reminded me of Ramsey Campbell. He's walked these mean streets and the authenticity is palpable. But at 300 pages Cellars feels a bit overlong; some pruning could have worked well in the middle of the book to make it more of the intense, shuddering experience Shirley seems to want it to be, quick and dirty and raw and unblinking. (Cellars was partially rewritten and republished in 2006).
Shirley is a punk, punk, a punk rocker

The graphic quality of the ritual murders and the environs seems less intended to shock or upset than to simply pull back the curtain and deal honestly with human depravity. In that sense Cellars also has more in common with crime fiction than with horror. But then Shirley's cult members aren't just psycho; in the end they're right. The Blessed People - many of whom are monstrous and bloodthirsty children who swarm through the sewers - are worshiping not a figment of their deranged imaginations but a monstrous creature that actually lives below the city, below the subways: the Head Underneath. I just love that name, which hints at some sociopathic child's fantasy. Once this guy appears at the wonderfully gross and sadistic climax, there's no doubt Cellars is a vintage horror novel without apology. But then punk rock means never saying sorry.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long (1946): Hunt You to the Ground They Will

While countless horror writers have contributed works to Lovecraft's immortal Cthulhu mythos, it is Frank Belknap Long (pic below) who was the very first to write such a story after encouragement from Lovecraft himself. One of Lovecraft's close friends and correspondents, Long's "The Hounds of Tindalos" first appeared in the March 1929 issue of Weird Tales. These nightmarish creatures became part of Lovecraftian mythology and were used by other writers in the field such as Ramsey Campbell.


I first read the story in high school, thanks to a beat-up paperback of August Derleth's Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Vol. 1, furtively passed to me during some droning lecture or another in the auditorium. With other works by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, J. Vernon Shea, Derleth himself, etc., it was a good intro to the Lovecraft circle. But it was always Long's tale that somehow stuck with me; read, if I recall correctly, in high-school detention hall (did a lot of horror-fiction reading there, which was actually the cafeteria).

Original Arkham House hardcover, 1946

"The Hounds of Tindalos" themselves are extra-dimensional entities who move slowly through outrageous angles of space/time - not the curves - and seek to consume men who, like Chalmers, the rebel "scientist" whose misadventure the narrator relates, discover the abyss before life itself. Aided by a drug he claims was used by Lao-Tse to discover the Tao, Chalmers finds his way to this fourth dimension and is terrified by these "hounds," whom he describes thusly:

All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies... They scented me. Men awake in them cosmic hungers... But they are not evil in our sense because in the spheres through which they move there is no thought, no moral, no right or wrong as we understand it... There is merely the pure and the foul. The foul expresses itself through angles; the pure through curves.

And chaos ensues as Chalmers vows to return and then meets either the hounds again or the Doels - I have no idea who they are, Long simply inserts a reference to them. Are they the Lovecraftian dholes? Perhaps. As in the other stories here, Long also invokes ancient Greek myths, but it's been awhile since I've dipped into Hamilton's Mythology, so I was glad for the refreshers he provides. Chalmers' final writings include a hilarious "ahhh" as if he were transcribing his own screams! Oh, Lovecraftian cliches, how we love them so...

Belmont Books, 1963 (contains only 9 stories from original hardcover)

I picked up this science-fictiony style collection in a great used bookstore in Hollywood; it doesn't even list Long's name on the spine, as it only reads The Hounds of Tindalos: "Science Fiction Masterwork." I have never seen anything like that on any other book. Personally I really dislike this cover; there are no astronauts in this collection, one-eyed or not. Just seems like some artwork the publisher had lying around the office, just waiting to be used. It contains about half of the stories from the original 1946 Arkham House hardcover; from Jove in 1978 came its second paperback reprint as part of the "early Long" series, which included some perfectly grotesque cover art by Rowena Morrill (see top). Publication history gets confusing but I believe the other half was republished in paperback form in The Dark Beasts, which has a cool Edward Gorey cover.

As for the other short stories herein, I must say nothing really jumped out at me as much of anything special; a lot of standard-issue pulp product, decently written but certainly not deathless. "The Space-Eaters" is somewhat atmospheric and has a character who is obviously Lovecraft himself, but it seems to be part of that "Christianizing" of the mythos, reducing the drama to simplistic good vs. evil battles - despite Long considering himself an agnostic and sharing Lovecraft's skepticism of religious claims. "Dark Vision," has a young man who can read the thoughts of others, finding minds are cesspools of maggoty hate and carnality and revolting spite. In "Fisherman's Luck" a Greek god with a love of pranks returns; "The Black Druid" concerns an evil overcoat. Weird Tales completists will probably enjoy these stories the most.

Despite nearly 70 years as a prolific author, Long died in abject poverty in 1994.