Friday, November 10, 2017

FFB: The Best of Robert Bloch

I was asked to be on a panel celebrating Robert Bloch at the recent World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio.  I was a last-minute appointee, subbing for Peter Straub, who was unable to attend, so I figured I'd better do a quick refresher course.  What better way to do that than with The Best of Robert Bloch from Ballantine books?  After all, it has several of my favorite Bloch stories in it, including my #1 favorite, "That Hellbound Train," which also turns out to be Joe Lansdale's favorite.  I'm not surprised, as he has good taste in fiction.  Most of the time.  I read the story back in the very late 1950s in an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and it knocked my socks off.

I'm also fond of "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," but only in a nostalgic way.  It's been so imitated since its publication  in the early '40s that it no longer has the same punch, and I'm a lot more sophisticated as a reader than when I first ran across it in some anthology or other.  I'll bet that if you gave the story to a kid the same age as I was when I first read it, though, he'd love it.

I read a lot of Bloch's work in the low-rent digests of the '50s, including Super Science Fiction, which is where "Broomstick" first appeared.  For some reason I remembered it pretty well, even though it's not really Bloch at his best.  Very few stories from the low-rent digests made it into this collection, but I'm glad this one did.

"The Movie People" is another of my favorites.  I like to believe it could happen.

A lot of these stories have Bloch's patented snapper at the end, like the one in "I Like Blondes."  Reading too many in a row isn't recommended.

Bloch liked wordplay, so you have to watch out for it, especially in a title like "I Like Blondes" or "The Man Who Collected Poe."  As a collector myself, I naturally enjoyed that one. 

All these stories are fun, and I think that the Ballantine "Best Of" series is just plain great if you're interested in the history of SF.  I have all of them except maybe one or two.  Great stuff.

Table of Contents:
Robert Bloch: The Man Who Wrote Psycho by Lester del Rey
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper 
Enoch 
Catnip 
The Hungry House 
The Man Who Collected Poe 
Mr. Steinway 
The Past Master 
I Like Blondes
All on a Golden Afternoon 
Broomstick Ride 
Daybroke
Sleeping Beauty
Word of Honor
The World-Timer 
That Hell-Bound Train
The Funnel of God
Beelzebub 
The Plot is the Thing
How Like a God
The Movie People
The Oracle
The Learning Maze 
Author's Afterword: "Will the Real Robert Bloch Please Stand Up?" 

6 comments:

George said...

Like you, I read Robert Bloch back in the Sixties. Loved the books of his work published by Pyramid. And Ballantine Books published plenty volumes of THE BEST OF series, but this Bloch volume is one of the best of the best.

Jerry House said...

Bloch was one of those rare writers who could hook you while you were in junior high school and could continue to entertain and thrill you many decades later. I can never tire of his writing. Even his Lefty Feep stories still tickle me.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Indeed. Great stuff. I've read several of his collections.

george ibarra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
george ibarra said...

Bloch was great when i was younger, easy to absorb and fun to read. It's a lot harder to read him now.
Tastes change
That being said, there were stories where he excelled, and this collection has several.
Great reminder, thanks, Bill

Todd Mason said...

I don't have too much difficulty in reading Bloch's better work either as a child or now, and I'm not alone; usually even his minor work is at worst easy to take. For the purposes of WFC as well as getting a better sense of his range, adding SUCH STUFF AS SCREAMS ARE MADE OF, one of the few Del Rey horror releases (1978) and a similar survey of his horror and suspense short fiction that was slighted or overlooked in the BEST OF volume (in favor, as you note, Bill, of some pleasant but minor twist-ending sf and fantasy stories)...both together a better selection if less comprehensive than the SELECT STORIES volumes (which in their turn were republished in paperbacks riddled with typos and grossly mislabeled THE COMPLETE STORIES OF ROBERT BLOCH. I generally can't recommend that set, at very least in the pb edition.