Vintage Treasures: The Best of Robert Bloch

Vintage Treasures: The Best of Robert Bloch

The Best of Robert BlochRobert Bloch — who died in 1994 at the age of 77 — had a lengthy and enviable career as a dark fantasy and horror writer, producing over 30 novels and hundreds of short stories.

Of course, all of that was overshadowed by his greatest success: the 1959 novel, Psycho, adapted by legendary director Alfred Hitchcock as perhaps his most famous film.

But there’s a lot more to Robert Bloch than just Psycho, as most fans know. Bloch was one of the earliest members of the Lovecraft Circle and Lovecraft was his early mentor. Bloch began writing to Lovecraft in 1933, after discovering his stories in Weird Tales, and his first professional sales to the same magazine a year later — when he was only 17 — were heavily influenced by him. Bloch even used Lovecraft as a (doomed) character in his 1935 short story “The Shambler from the Stars.” Lovecraft returned the favor, killing off his character “Robert Blake” in “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936), which he dedicated to Bloch.

Bloch gradually expanded his correspondence to Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and others laying the groundwork for what would eventually be known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Together, they built on Lovecraft’s work, kicking off a tradition that is still very much alive today.

Bloch didn’t just hobnob with the Lovecraft Circle — in 1935, he joined The Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of pulp fiction writers including Ralph Milne Farley, Raymond A. Palmer, and Stanley Weinbaum. Around the same time, he became friends with C.L. Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner. Man, those pulp writers sure stuck together.

After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, Bloch continued writing for Weird Tales, but also expanded to other markets, including Amazing Stories, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, F&SF, and many others. Real notice came with his early story, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” which originally appeared in Weird Tales in 1943 and became one of the most reprinted fantasy tales of the 20th Century.

Bloch’s first published novel was The Scarf (1947), followed by Spiderweb (1954). But it was his short fiction that really brought him critical acclaim during the period, including “The Man Who Collected Poe” (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, 1951), “The Past Master” (Bluebook, 1955), and his Hugo-award winning “That Hell-Bound Train” (F&SF, Sep 1958)

In 1977, Lester del Rey selected Robert Bloch to include in his monumental Classic Science Fiction series, reprinting the best short fiction of the most acclaimed SF and fantasy writers of the early 20th Century. The book included 22 stories spanning over three decades, from 1943 to 1974.

The Scarf Robert BlochHere’s the back cover copy:

The Wizardry of Robert Bloch

“Enoch”
A creature sat on his shoulder and whispered in his ear… “Kill!”

“The Past Master”
Why did he have to buy — or steal — all the world’s great art… by tomorrow?

“The Movie People”
Up there were shadows on the screen, posturing on a back-lot Babylon or on a ghost-town set… or were they looking at you?

The man Who Collected Poe
He had first editions, bizarre and unique mementos, unknown works… and something more!

“That Hellbound Train”
The service beats Amtrak — but the terminal is something else again!

These and 17 other demonic diversions — including the now-classic “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” — are a fiendish fest for all mavens of the macabre and addicts of the macabre, served up by the Shah of Shudders, himself… Robert Bloch!

More than a touch of Forrest J. Ackerman in that final paragraph… makes you wonder if Del Rey was hiring him to do marketing copy.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

Contents

Robert Bloch: The Man Who Wrote Psycho, by Lester del Rey
“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” (Weird Tales, Jul 1943)
“Enoch” (Weird Tales, Sep 1946)
“Catnip” (Weird Tales, Mar 1948)
“The Hungry House” (Imagination, Apr 1951)
“The Man Who Collected Poe” (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Oct 1951)
“Mr. Steinway” (Fantastic, Apr 1954)
“The Past Master” (Bluebook, Jan 1955)
“I Like Blondes” (Playboy, Jan 1956)
“All on a Golden Afternoon” (F&SF, Jun 1956)
“Broomstick Ride” (Super Science Fiction, Dec 1957)
“Daybroke” (Star Science Fiction Magazine, Jan 1958)
“Sleeping Beauty” (Swank, Mar 1958)
“Word of Honor” (Playboy, Aug 1958)
“The World-Timer” (Fantastic, Aug 1960)
“That Hell-Bound Train” (F&SF, Sep 1958)
“The Funnel of God” (Fantastic, Jan 1960)
“Beelzebub” (Playboy, Dec 1963)
“The Plot Is the Thing” (F&SF, Jul 1966)
“How Like a God” (Galaxy, Apr 1969)
“The Movie People” (F&SF, Oct 1969)
“The Oracle” (Penthouse, May 1971)
“The Learning Maze (The Learning Maze, 1974)
Author’s Afterword: “Will the Real Robert Bloch Please Stand Up?”

You can see my first entry in this series, The Best of Murray Leinster, here, and find all of our recent Vintage Treasures articles here.

The Best of Robert Bloch was edited by Lester del Rey and published in November, 1977. It was 396 pages in paperback, priced at $1.95. Unlike many others in the series, I don’t believe this one had a hardcover Science Fiction Book Club reprint.

So far we’ve covered the following volumes in the Classics of Science Fiction line (in order of original publication):

The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
The Best of Fritz Leiber
The Best of Henry Kuttner
The Best of John W. Campbell
The Best of C M Kornbluth
The Best of Philip K. Dick
The Best of Fredric Brown
The Best of Edmond Hamilton
The Best of Murray Leinster
The Best of Robert Bloch
The Best of Jack Williamson
The Best of Hal Clement
The Best of James Blish
The Best of John Brunner

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Joe H.

“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” scared the bejabbers out of me the first time I read it.

Aonghus Fallon

“Enoch” is a great little story and still creeps me out. I came across it in an anthology of horror stories years ago and only read it again recently. That’s when I discovered it had been written by the same guy who wrote “Psycho”. Not that surprising really, given how the two (“Psycho” and “Enoch”) are very similar in terms of the mc – ie, a mammy’s boy is forced by a mysterious voice inside his head to do terrible, terrible things….

Aonghus Fallon

Pretty much sums ‘Enoch’ up, although I think the little guy scurries around on top of the mc’s skull(or inside it, Bloch is suitably vague)…

Re: ‘and something more!’ You can’t really lose with a hook like that.

James McGlothlin

John,

As always, thanks for the vintage treasure posts. A lot of my vintage buys have been informed by these posts in the past few months. I just tracked down a “near fine” copy of this Bloch book for under $20. Thanks!

Dave T

Back in 1978 David Gerrold and I edited the Starlog SF Yearbook. It was my idea and I actually edited the whole thing (though David was listed as editor because he was the Big Name–which was fine). For the section titled In Memoriam I wrote Robert Bloch and asked if he would do the honors (Kerry O’Quinn, Starlog publisher had given me a budget and so I was of course paying authors). Bob agreed and turned in well over a thousand words on three people who had passed away in 1978: J. Francis “Mick” McComas, co-founder of F&SF; Eric Frank Russel, and Leigh Brackett. It was a marvelous piece, bookended with how the field had begun so small when everybody knew everybody else and it was a big deal when someone died — and today (1978) when hardly anyone noted the passing of folks like Hugo Gernsback or Raymond Palmer.

I quote a brief passage from Bloch’s In Memoriam:

“I well remember the 1952 World Science Fiction Convention banquet in Chicago. Here as toastmaster, I shared the podium with Gernsback and we visited for several hours before I introduced him as ‘the father of science fiction.’ Not to be outdone, he participated in a presentation to Raymond A. Palmer as ‘the son of science fiction.’ The proceedings were witnessed–and heartily applauded–by the likes of Anthony Boucher, John W. Campbell, E. E. Smith, Ph.d., Cyril Kornbluth, Willy Ley, Charles Beaumont, E. E. Evans, and Rog Phillips.

“Where are these immortals now?

“Gone, all of them.”

After Bob got the check for his piece, he wrote back to express his thanks and that Mrs. Bloch would no doubt enjoy spending it on several bags of groceries.

I wish you could read the whole tribute, the way Bloch sets it up and places death in perspective. Maybe I’ll just transcribe it into the computer, set it up, and post it at Tangent Online. I probably, technically, don’t have the rights, but I seriously doubt anyone would jump my case for reprinting something I commissioned and edited from over 40 years ago–and a short piece of non-fiction as well. Whaddya think?

Aonghus Fallon

I think that would be a great idea, Dave – I for one would be very interested in reading it.

Dave T

Already decided to get with Bud, John. He and I have been in contact over a number of other matters in the recent past, so I’m sure he can point me in the right direction. Shouldn’t be any problem getting permission, but it is the Right Thing to do.

James McGlothlin

>I enjoy doing [Vintage Treasure posts] but they’re not nearly as popular as, say, our New Treasures series. According to site traffic records, these posts are read by about 1/100th the number of people who read those – and sometimes less.

That’s interesting. My personal perusal habits on this site are just the opposite: I hardly ever read any of (or the whole of) the New Treasure posts but read (completely and sometimes repeatedly) the Vintage ones, often returning several times to see comments.

James McGlothlin

John,

As much as I prefer the vintage stuff, I am trying to acquire a taste for the newer stuff.

I’m currently reading the Solaris Fearsome Journeys anthology and I have to say that I do love both James Enge and Saladin Ahmed. Hopefully I’ll work up to reading newer stories on Black Gate at some point.

Just for the record: I feel pretty much at home with new (as well as vintage) horror authors. I regularly read Nightmare Magazine.

[…] of my ongoing look at Lester Del Rey’s Best of… paperbacks from the 1970s, I wrote a brief piece on The Best of Robert Bloch. In the Comments section, Tangent editor and uber-fan Dave Truesdale […]

[…] gotten used to introducing these vintage Best Of collections — as I did recently with The Best of Robert Bloch and The Best of Murray Leinster — assuming that most readers have no idea who they […]

James McGlothlin

After getting The Best of Robert Bloch last week, I just finished the last of the book today. I liked it very much!

“Enoch” and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” were mentioned as favorites here in the comments. I can see why. They were both creepy tales. However, I also found “Catnip” and “The Hungry House” to be exceptionally scary as well. I take that to be quite a feat with the latter story because I find most haunted house stories to be not all that scary. “The Hungry House” was definitely creepy. It ranks up there with Shirley Jackson’s novella The Haunting of Hill House.

I had never read “Catnip” before. But while reading it I remembered that I had seen a televised episode of this story. I couldn’t remember where at first. It took me awhile to track down on the internet but I finally figured out that it had been an episode of Darkroom, an 1981-82 Twilight Zone-like show where James Coburn played the Rod Serling-like narrator and host. (Funny enough, Marlon Brando’s sister played the old lady in “Catnip”.)

Overall I found The Best of Robert Bloch to be very similar to old Twilight Zone stories, also very reminiscent of Ray Bradbury classic tales. Most of these stories were published in the 50s and 60s and there’s very much a Cold War-ish fear or mood in several of the stories.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. I can see why Bloch was so popular in his day. He had a good (and creepy) imagination.

[…] any of the previous volumes we covered in this series: The Best of Henry Kuttner, The Best of Robert Bloch, and The Best of Murray […]

[…] of Science Fiction line I’ve discussed here (starting with The Best of Murray Leinster, The Best of Robert Bloch, The Best of Henry Kuttner, and The Best of C M Kornbluth.) I believe it may also have been the […]

[…] The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum The Best of Fritz Leiber The Best of Henry Kuttner The Best of C M Kornbluth The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of Robert Bloch […]

[…] The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum The Best of Fritz Leiber The Best of Henry Kuttner The Best of C M Kornbluth The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of Jack Williamson The Best of Robert Bloch […]

[…] The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum The Best of Fritz Leiber The Best of Henry Kuttner The Best of C M Kornbluth The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of Jack Williamson The Best of Robert Bloch […]

[…] The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum The Best of Fritz Leiber The Best of Henry Kuttner The Best of C M Kornbluth The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of Jack Williamson The Best of Robert Bloch […]

[…] these authors included Joseph Payne Brennan, Manly Wade Wellman, and Lovecraft Circle members Robert Bloch and Frank Belknap Long. (As far as I know Brennan and Wellman were not in contact with Lovecraft […]

[…] of C M Kornbluth The Best of Philip K. Dick The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of Robert Bloch The Best of Jack Williamson The Best of Hal […]

[…] in July I did a Vintage Treasures article on The Best of Robert Bloch, the second in my series on Lester Del Rey’s Classics of Science Fiction. In doing the […]

[…] looking at the 1977 release The Best of Fredric Brown, edited by Robert Bloch (who had his own entry in the series eleven months after this one, which I discussed back in […]

[…] started with the Vintage Treasures article on The Best of Robert Bloch I wrote back in July, the second in my series on Lester Del Rey’s Classics of Science Fiction. […]

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