(I will note here that I have already read and blogged about four stories that appear in The Early Long: "Death-Waters," "The Space-Eaters," "The Hounds of Tindalos," and "The Elemental.")
"The Ocean Leech" (1925)
"The Ocean Leech," like eight pages here, tells the story of the repeated attacks of a huge gelatinous cephalopod on an ocean-going sailing vessel--the thing has long tentacles with suckers, and snatches sailors and pulls them overboard, feeding on them by dissolving them as it drags them across the deck. The story is narrated by the ship's captain. Long describes in gruesome detail the process of men being pulled to their doom, their heads banging on stairs and getting stuck in the scuppers, and of the process of being dissolved. Gross! More intellectually compelling is the fact that the monster's victims do little to resist--something about the monster's chemical secretions seems to hypnotize the sailors so they actually take pleasure in being devoured! Only one man, a man described as a "stoic," fights the monster, saving the narrator and driving off the creature for good. When the captain admits he "enjoyed" being dragged from his cabin by the creature, the stoic seaman says "I saved you from yourself!" Long appears to have written here an allegory about how men are often destroyed by their own base sensual desires, but can overcome such temptations with strength of mind and save themselves and their fellows.
(Is there any chance this gooey monster that sucks in men and devours them is a symbol for the vagina?)
Well-structured and paced, with effective images and a surprising philosophical/psychological level, "The Ocean Leech" is much better than I have come to expect from Long. Thumbs up!
...every cell of an animal body contains tiny centers of radiation called radiogens, which have a temperature of six thousand degrees centigrade....their excess heat is dissipated by the water in our tissues....the product of a hotter and more concentrated sun, its [the microscopic alien's] radiant energies are not damped....
Michael O'Hara is an Irish immigrant to New York, a graduate of Dublin University. As a youth he was a sensitive poetic type who wrote perfect horror stories, stories only sensitive sophisticated people could truly appreciate! But today he's a gray-haired 34-year old gossip columnist, in fact New York's most successful gossip columnist! As we might expect of an Irishman, O'Hara staggers home drunk one night. He finds in his bed the dead body of a beautiful young man in ancient Greek attire--it is his beautiful sensitive younger self! A mysterious and bitter voice tells O'Hara that he killed this sensitive young man because O'Hara "could no longer abide his dreams!" In the morning O'Hara tells himself it was all the product of booze or just a nightmare, but at his office where he's banging out another gossip column he discovers evidence that the dead body of his younger self really was in his own bed last night! Then he has hallucinations of monsters and dies. On the sheet in the typewriter before which O'Hara's corpse sits his editor sees the last lines O'Hara would write, some bilge about "the silver lark" that "takes wing" below the "cliffs of Inishowen;" the editor looks away, and when he looks back the page is now blank!
Just a bunch of boring and obvious junk poorly riveted together to produce a tedious and irritating clunker--quite bad. It is understandable that this story meant a lot to Long, who as a youth (as H. P. Lovecraft tells it in his correspondence) was an aesthete who wanted to devote his life to poetry and only churned out hack genre fiction to make a living, but "The Peeper" is just no good at all, absolutely failing to provoke any human emotion or provide any psychological insight or present any effective horror images.
"The Ocean Leech" is a good story, and much of the non-fiction material in the book will be entertaining to the classic SF fan, so if you can look at The Early Long for free, as I have, it is worth your time. But it is hard to recommend "The Flame Midget," and impossible to recommend "The Peeper," to anybody who doesn't already have some deep abiding interest in Long or the history of Weird Tales and Astounding.
More crazy stories from magazines printed before you were born in the next episode of MPorcius Fiction Log!