Birthday Reviews: Frank Belknap Long’s “Willie”

Birthday Reviews: Frank Belknap Long’s “Willie”

Cover by William Timmins
Cover by William Timmins

Frank Belknap Long was born on April 27, 1901 and died on January 3, 1994.

In 1976, Long was nominated for three World Fantasy Award for his study Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside, his collection The Early Long, and received his second Lifetime Achievement nomination. He would eventually receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Award in 1978 and form the Bram Stoker Awards in 1988. In 1977, he was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame.

“Willie” first appeared in the October 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. It was reprinted in 1979 in Night Fear, a collection of stories by Long. In 1999, August Derleth included it as an example of a time travel story in New Horizons: Yesterday’s Portraits of Tomorrow. It was also reprinted in 2010 in the Centipede Press volume Frank Belknap Long, part of its Masters of the Weird Tale series.

Although the story is called “Willie,” the central character begins by thinking of himself as simply “Twenty-ninth Century Man.” He eventually learns that he is known as Agar, although he also has the identity of Monitor 236, a position of responsibility and dignity. Despite all of these identities, he is never quite clear who he is or how he fits into the primitive society in which he finds himself in. He does know that it is his responsibility to protect the people of the city.

The city is surrounded by savages, Prowlers, who launch an attack shortly after the Twenty-ninth century man arrives. He manages to fend them off with some assistance from the citizens themselves and the automata that exist in the city. The story suffers from the protagonist’s lack of awareness. Rather than use it as a means of providing the reader with the information they need about this strange world, it distances the reader from the events, making it hard to care about a culture which is so slowly, and partially revealed.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology New Horizons, by August Derleth, Arkham House, 1999.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Busines at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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