Friday, March 10, 2017

Monster From Out of Time by Frank Belknap Long

Everywhere Dorman's gaze traveled there were great drifts of blowing snow and in the far distance a gigantic wall of ice extended half across the plain, with boulders at its base so large that he would have mistaken them for small hills if they had not differed so drastically in shape.
In our last episode we read a paperback edition from Popular Library with a cool Frank Frazetta cover of a short novel written by an associate of H. P. Lovecraft--let's do it again!  Last time was 1940's The Creature From Beyond Infinity (AKA A Million Years to Conquer) by Henry Kuttner; today it's Frank Belknap Long's 1970 novel Monster From Out of Time.  I am often disappointed in Long's work, but I bought this baby for the cover and as a souvenir from a strange used book store where the owner was very chatty and seemed to be making up the prices right there at the register, ignoring the Post It notes stuck to each book.  (And good news that was, too, as those Post It note prices were pretty high.)

In the Prologue to Monster From Out Of Time, two Mexicans, an old man and his daughter Tlacha, are watching the employees of an American company dig up their fields looking for uranium and valuable minerals.  Tlacha complains that the Americans are ruining their farm land, while her father seems content with the fees the Yankees have paid him.  Then there is an earthquake and Dad is swallowed up by a crack in the ground!  From another crack a giant monster emerges, and a blinding glow--Tlacha falls unconscious and when she wakes up she is in a field of ice and snow!

Chapter One introduces us to two American archaeologists who are down in the Mexican jungle to look at ruins, David Dorman and Joan Raines.  When they see some Indian fishermen jump in their harpoon-gun-equipped boat to attack the monster that came out of that crack (the thing is bigger than a whale and has taken to the waters of the Gulf), they jump in the boat with them!  These gringos live for adventure!  The monster glows and the archaeologists, after odd visions of shifting landscapes, find themselves on a frozen plain bordered by a glacier--they too have been sent back in time to the Ice Age!

They soon meet Tlacha (I don't think Long gives Tlacha a last name) and her American boyfriend, Harvey Ames, one of the engineers from the gringo mining company she was criticizing back in the 20th century.  The four take up residence in an igloo built by Ames, and wear skins from animals killed by Ames.  But don't think Ames is doing all the work--when a monster appears Dorman shoots it (with Ames' pistol.)

After two weeks of igloo living, Raines is kidnapped by a local, a hairy man with a "cruel, thin-lipped face."  Dorman, Ames and Tlacha follow their prints in the snow and after encountering some prehistoric beasts are reunited with Raines when they too are captured by the kidnapper's tribe. This tribe of primitive humans has embraced as their leader a 20th-century man--this guy has our heroes thrown in the arena to fight a giant lizard.  (Don't ask why these Pleistocene people built an arena out of ice or why a lizard is living in this subzero environment.)  The tribe's leader turns out to be Tlacha's brother, who is mentally ill.  (I think we are supposed to think he has been driven insane by dreams of reviving the glories of the empire of the Aztecs and the humiliations visited on Mexico by the gringos.)  After Ames and Dorman kill the lizard, Tlacha grabs Ames' pistol and kills her brother.  Then, for no discernible reason whatsoever, our four protagonists are transported back to the 20th century.

This book is terrible.  The plot is feeble, the characters are lacking in any personality, and there is no sense of excitement or fear or even interest.  Very little actually happens in the story: it feels like Long had a target of 128 pages, and instead of filling the 128 pages with sex and violence or his opinions about anything even remotely interesting (the way our pals Ted Sturgeon and Bob Heinlein were liable to talk our ears off about politics, religion, the structure of the family and stuff like that), he filled those pages with extraneous detail and conversations about utterly mundane topics and peripheral matters.  When Dorman and Raines are in the fishing boat that is chasing the monster, instead of trying to transmit to us the thrills of such a dangerous and bizarre encounter, Long gives us several pages of David and Joan's argument over whether or not it is safe for David to stand in the boat so he can get a better look at the monster.  We get a detailed description of the igloo and of all the miscellaneous junk in Dorman's pack, but none of that stuff ever matters to the plot; we learn all about it and then it is forgotten.

Each scene is too long, and many sentences are too long, like Long was just trying to augment each sentence's word count.  This sentence, for example:
But the moon had passed behind some medium-dense clouds directly overhead, and the light that filtered down was the opposite of bright.
"Medium-dense" is twice as many words as "dense," and "the opposite of bright" is four times as many words as "dim."  Did  Long outsource this thing to his round-headed buddy Chuck?    

Long is definitely not the only person to blame for this disaster, as the book does not seem to have been edited.  In the Prologue a guy named Harvey Ambler, one of the American engineers, is mentioned.  This is obviously the same guy who, when he appears in Chapter Five, introduces himself as Harvey Ames.  On page 22 we get this phrase:
...dangling from his arm was a dun-colored sun helmet which he had taken off because he couldn't stand the heat which it generated.
Obviously a hat does not generate heat, but capture it.  These kinds of mistakes, and the many typos in the book, are distracting and even insulting, suggesting to the reader that Long and Popular Library have put no effort into this piece of work for which they expected us to pay 60 cents.    


Shoddy and boring, a frustrating waste of time.  Wikipedia suggests that in the 1970s Long was just mechanically producing books of little value (like seven Gothic romances under a transparent pseudonym) because he needed the money.  Well, I guess I can understand that--I've done some things and even written some things for money I am not exactly proud of.  Monster From Out Of Time is for Frank Frazetta fans and Frank Belknap Long obsessives only!

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