During the Second World War H.P. Lovecraft’s friend and fellow writer Frank Belknap Long penned a series of pulp entertainment science-fiction tales of one John Carstairs. Carstairs was the Curator of the Interplanetary Botanical Gardens… and occasional Botanical Detective. Young, but dapper and eminent. As you might expect, weird and wonderful mobile plants feature heavily. As such, I guess the hero’s spectacle-wearing probably serves both for the close-inspection of leaves and flowers, and as useful eye-protection against venom, deadly pollens and trailing stingers. Long was likely drawing on his own real-life fascination with the rearing and keeping of fancy fish (see the Lovecraft letters), and possibly an affection for the many hothouses of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Perhaps, after Lovecraft’s death, he later also raised a collection of carnivorous plants?
The series ended along with the war in summer 1945.
A few years after the end of the war, as paper rationing eased, it was partly collected in a nice 1949 hardback. I’ve colour-shifted the hardback jacket toward red, as I can’t believe a publisher of the late 1940s would issue a boys’ book in pink. It must have faded.
In 1959 it was issued as a cheap British paperback, to launch a branded series of fantasy reprints, and with a cover keyed to both the ‘six-gun cowboy’ and Superman crazes of the time. So I find that my statement a few posts ago, that Long only ever had the two Panther paperback collections here in the UK, was wrong. He also had this.
A L.W. Currey page for the book describes the contents as “a fix-up novel”, so I’m guessing new linking passages might have been added?
The tales obviously don’t satisfy hardcore detective-story buffs, if one review is anything to judge by. But a decade ago pulp fan Jerry House reviewed the one-volume reprint of this series…
For me, the great thing about these stories is the sheer inventiveness of the many vegetative creatures that Long has created. Their diversity is stunning. As a writer, Long could blow both hot and cold, and there’s far more heat here than cold. This may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but if you like pulp — and say ‘to heck with a lot of logic’ — give this one a try.
Sounds fun. The series is partly free at Archive.org, if you want to sample some. In order:
“Plants Must Slay”. (also found in the anthology Saint’s Choice of Impossible Crimes)
“Satellite of Peril”.
“The Ether Robots”. *
“The Heavy Man”. *
“The Hollow World” (long novella)
* = not in the 1959 reprint book, according to the TOCs. None of the missing are in The Early Long, and only “Wobblies in the Moon” is in one of the ebook ‘megapacks’ on Amazon.
Ramble House currently has the full set in ebook for $6, though regrettably not on Amazon. The page blurb for this states that “The Heavy Man” and “Wobblies in the Moon” had been left out of the 1949 book. But the table-of-contents for both print editions has “The Heavy Man” and “The Ether Robots” as being left out. Can the TOCs for both have been astray? The ebook’s new introduction also states that “the second and third stories were reversed in sequence”. Who knows? Anyway, the ebook has the order correct, and I’ve followed its TOC order in the above links.
The ebook introduction by Richard A. Lupoff is also interesting for a brief insight into Lovecraft. Lupoff recalls one long rooftop conversation with Long…
Our conversation drifted to other topics. These included his friendship with Lovecraft, and the relationship between Lovecraft and his arch-nemesis, the German-American agent George Sylvester Viereck. “It took only the mention of Viereck’s name and Howard’s face would turn beet red, his neck would swell until you thought he was going to burst, and he would practically foam at the mouth!”
One wonders what might have caused such resentment? Viereck was a Massachusetts writer who became a notorious ‘agent’ of the German state. Most likely it was his First World War pro-German publishing activities that would have set the Anglophile Lovecraft against him…
During the First World War he edited a German-sponsored weekly magazine, The Fatherland with a claimed circulation of 80,000. In August 1918, a lynch mob stormed Viereck’s house in Mount Vernon [a suburb of New York City], forcing him to seek refuge in a New York City hotel. In 1919, shortly after the Great War, he was expelled from the Poetry Society of America.