Thursday, May 14, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: BLOOD RUNS COLD and PLEASANT DREAMS by Robert Bloch

The Contento Index:

Blood Runs Cold, stories by Robert Bloch (Simon & Schuster, 1961, $3.50, 246pp, hc); Also in pb (Popular Oct ’62).
· The Show Must Go On · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Jan ’60
· The Cure · ss Playboy Oct ’57
· Daybroke · ss Star Science Fiction Magazine Jan ’58
· Show Biz · ss EQMM May ’59
· The Masterpiece · ss Rogue Jun ’60
· I Like Blondes · ss Playboy Jan ’56
· Dig That Crazy Grave! · ss EQMM Jun ’57
· Where the Buffalo Roam · ss Other Worlds Jul ’55
· Is Betsy Blake Still Alive? · ss EQMM Apr ’58
· Word of Honor · ss Playboy Aug ’58
· Final Performance · ss Shock Sep ’60
· All on a Golden Afternoon · nv F&SF Jun ’56
· The Gloating Place · ss Rogue Jun ’59
· The Pin · ss Amazing Dec ’53/Jan ’54
· I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell · ss F&SF Mar ’55
· The Big Kick · ss Rogue Jul ’59
· Sock Finish · nv EQMM Nov ’57 

Contents of the original edition, courtesy the Contento Index...
Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Arkham House, 1960, $4.00, 233pp, hc)
  • · Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
  • · The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53
  • · The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
  • · I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr ’56
  • · Mr. Steinway · ss Fantastic Apr ’54
  • · The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar ’57
  • · Catnip · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
  • · The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov ’47
  • · Hungarian Rhapsody [as by Wilson Kane] · ss Fantastic Jun ’58
  • · The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb ’53; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
  • · The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr ’51
  • · Sleeping Beauty [originally published as“The Sleeping Redheads”] · ss Swank Mar ’58
  • · Sweet Sixteen [originally published as “Spawn of the Dark One”] · ss Fantastic May ’58
  • · That Hell-Bound Train · ss F&SF Sep ’58
  • · Enoch · ss Weird Tales Sep ’46

And (courtesy of The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website) of the much later 1980 Jove/HBJ paperback edition (with stories included in more recent collections removed, and some from his unreprinted first collection, The Opener of the Way, Arkham House, 1945, added):

Sweets to the Sweet
The Dream-Makers
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
I Kiss Your Shadow
The Proper Spirit
The Cheaters
Hungarian Rhapsody
The Light-House
The Hungry House
Sleeping Beauty 
Sweet Sixteen 
The Mandarin’s Canaries · ss Weird Tales Sep ’38
Return to the Sabbath · ss Weird Tales Jul ’38
One Way to Mars · ss Weird Tales Jul ’45

Perhaps oddly, it was originally rather difficult for me to find an image of the hardcover edition of Blood Runs Cold, only the fourth collection of Robert Bloch's short stories, his second after the success of the film adaptation of Psycho would saddle him with an identifier-phrase for the rest of his life (and one often advertised on his books, as with the Popular Library paperback edition above, in type larger than his name is set in). I've in fact never seen the "Inner Sanctum Mystery" edition (as opposed to a photo) from Simon and Schuster, as far as I know, but the paperback is fairly common, even 47 years later. And if that isn't Janet Leigh swallowing her fist on the cover (I don't think so), Popular Library sure hoped you'd think it was.

The first collection he published in the wake of Psycho the film, with Arkham House, was Pleasant Dreams (1960--see the little photo for its cover), which is a clangorous book, perhaps the best non-retrospective collection of Bloch's career, and for some reason has never gotten a true paperback reprint...Belmont, that low-rent pb publisher, in 1961 did a Very abridged 10-story version that took its title from the hardcover's subtitle, Nightmares, and in 1979, Jove (formerly Pyramid) offered an somewhat abridged version of Pleasant Dreams which managed to cite three of the dropped stories on its back-cover copy (perhaps the stories were left out because "Enoch," "Mr. Steinway," and "That Hell-Bound Train" were still in print in the 1977 Ballantine collection The Best of Robert Bloch, but that's a sorry excuse). Even without those three stories, Pleasant Dreams is a fine collection...but not so much better than Blood Runs Cold as to justify the large discrepancy between the asking prices of the two books, particularly the paperbacks.

It's also odd that before I picked it up again, I remembered Blood Runs Cold as primarily a suspense-fiction collection, versus Pleasant Dreams as a mostly-horror assembly. PD is nearly all horror, and Blood is mostly suspense fiction...but the newer book is eclectic, including the gentle fantasy "All on a Golden Afternoon," three sf stories (and one borderline sf/fantasy satire of the sort Playboy was always happy to publish, "Word of Honor"), one in each of Bloch's usual modes when approaching science fiction: ultraviolet humor and heavy metaphor ("Daybroke") and somewhat less gallows humor and slightly less heavy metaphor ("Where the Buffalo Roam") with the last a fine grim twist/joke-story (with no metaphoric freight to speak of) I won't spoil here by naming, along with a straightforward horror story ("The Pin"). But most of the collected works here are tales of very bad behavior in the (then) here and now, with a few historical fictions mixed in.

You get Bloch's best suspense short story, by me, "Final Performance," with the brilliant one-sentence opening paragraph "The neon intestines had been twisted to form the word Eat." That the resonance of that line will be amplified by the end of the story is just one of its masterful aspects...and it's notable that Bloch, presumably, sequenced the charming "...Afternoon" as the next story after this one. Anyone who's read Bloch realizes that his characters are often as doomed as any of those in Cornell Woolrich or Jim Thompson's work, but Bloch is often cool and keeping a certain distance from those often not-so-beautiful losers, which (along with the strong streak of humor that runs through most of his work) has often kept him from being considered properly among his peers in crime fiction. But as he demonstrates even with another, brief joke story of sorts, "The Show Must Go On," he can put you into the mind of the deranged as well as anyone who's written in these fields, and with "Show Biz," he gives you some very professional, very ugly folks you don't ever want to meet. "I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell" is, along with "Lucy Comes to Stay," the most obvious antecedent to Psycho the novel among Bloch's works, and as such suffers in comparison with the novel, but the story is still worth reading and not just for its historical importance.

It was after reading "The Big Kick," I think, that my friend Alice asked me, "Bloch doesn't seem to like the Beats very much, does he?" It's true that a number of his villains are countercultural (as are a similar number of his heroines/heroes and innocent victims), but even more are very conventional-seeming people who have simply lost or never developed compassion; Bloch disliked his monsters, but like most of the best crime (and horror) fiction writers could help you understand them and their actions.

The students of Bloch, from Richard Matheson to Joe R. Lansdale, from Stephen King (who needs to brush up on his lessons) to Gahan Wilson, have gone on to give us work that sometimes rivals that of the unassuming, genuinely and unnecessarily modest, revolutionizer of at least two fields of writing (Bloch and Fritz Leiber were the acolytes of H.P. Lovecraft who took what was most important about HPL's work and developed it further, and did so in much better prose than Lovecraft cared to strive for). Bloch is the Hammett/Hemingway/Heinlein figure in horror fiction, the one who turned the field back toward the lean and straightforward prose Bierce and the Edwardians had been moving toward, and incorporated developments in psychology and psychiatry in his portrayals of existential terror. And he gave the literary world the kind of human monster who might need our help, but whom we definitely needed to control.

Blood Runs Cold is a good slice of Bloch's work in his early years as already a past master.
A typical subtle Jove package (better than some); the edition I have

For more Friday "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog


David Cranmer said...

"Bloch is the Hammett/Hemingway/Heinlein figure in horror fiction" is right on the money. I've never heard it put in those words but is so true. I'm never disappointed with a Bloch short story and I have plenty in various Hitchcock collections and old pulp magazines I own.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I often have trouble finding the covers. I think I've only read Psycho by Bloch.

George said...

Patti, PSYCHO is the tip of the Bloch iceberg. His short stories, especially "That Hell-Bound Train," are first-rate.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Really fantastic and insightful review. I've only read "The Scarf" which I really liked, and I've wanted to read some of his stories, so I think I'll track down "Blood Runs Cold" and "Pleasant Dreams" if I can.

And you're right about the first line of "Final Performance" - hah! Fiendishly wonderful. Can't wait to read the whole story.

As far as novels go, I also have "The Will to Kill" on my shelf. What are his other essential reads?

Todd Mason said...

"Train" is one of his best...there are dozens, including "Final Performance" and "Sweets to the Sweet" (which leads off the paperback version of PLEASANT DREAMS), "The Weird Tailor" (adapted by Bloch himself for the best episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted tv series THRILLER, though the title pun of the story appearing in WEIRD TALES was lost in that context), any number of others. In fact, even it its abridged state (and notwithstanding the inclusion of the minor "Sweet Sixteen," also in the hc original), PLEASANT DREAMS remains one of the two non-career-spanning volumes of Bloch's I'd recommend to the beginning reader, along with BLOOD RUNS COLD. Though several others will do nearly as well...though I'd avoide the overly Lovecraftian first collection THE OPENER OF THE WAY at first, even if one wanted to pay the ridiculous prices for it.

David--thanks. Even more than Leiber and Theodore Sturgeon, and John Collier and Shirley Jackson, though they too, I think this is fair assessment of Bloch's influence...certain his friends Henry Kuttner and Ray Bradbury (the latter also an assiduous student of Sturgeon) seemed to take his example to heart, as Bloch shook off his early Lovecraft-pastiche approach (Bloch was a teen when he became one of the corresponding friends in the "Lovecraft Circle," after all, unlike Leiber, already an adult when he joined in shortly before HPL's death). THE LOST BLOCH and such are fine collections to look into...though I'm particularly glad to have the original FANTASTIC ADVENTURES issue that features Bloch's THE DEAD DON'T DIE, with its illustrations that playfully make the protagonist Bloch himself; someday I hope to see the reportedly Not-Bad/Mezzo Mezzo television film made from this...the novella itself is excellent. Perhaps that will be my forgotten book-like thing some week soon!

Cullen Gallagher said...

Curtis Harrington made a pretty good movie out of THE DEAD DON'T DIE.

Oh, I also read the Hard Case Bloch double-novel, both of which I liked a lot.

Todd Mason said...

Let's see, Cullen--THE PORTABLE BLOCH should include, at least:

(--I'm fond of NIGHT-WORLD but I'm not sure it's up to those)
...and I'd even suggest, as above, THE DEAD DON'T DIE is worth seeking out in one obscure form or another.
THE STAR STALKER was originally going to be the first of a trilogy or at least a triptych of novels, the inability (for reasons that are obscure to me at the moment) to go forward with that project was heartbreaking to Bloch.

Contents of collections:
Well, the Citadel reprint of THE SELECTED STORIES OF ROBERT BLOCH, which makes a point of omitting some of Bloch's most important stories due to their availability elsewhere, I believe, is shamelessly mis-retitled THE COMPLETE STORIES OF ROBERT BLOCH...not by a longshot, nor is it even the best retrospective, which I suggest are the two-pronged Ballantine/Del Rey collections THE BEST OF ROBERT BLOCH (1977--mostly fantasy and sf, with some horror) and SUCH STUFF AS SCREAMS ARE MADE OF (1978--mostly horror and suspense). But there are few collections of Bloch that aren't worth reading, even if some of THE OPENER (as noted) and the heavily sfnal ATOMS AND EVIL (1962) are not my first choices among his work. But he never lost his touch...for example, the late collection FEAR AND TREMBLING includes the notably weak "Freak Show," but also the brilliant "The Yougoslaves"...among much other worthwhile fiction.

And even his early Lovecraftian fiction evinced his sense of humor, and he encoraged it in HPL, too, as with the stories in WEIRD TALES in which each had the other killed...albeit Lovecraft called his doomed character "Robert Blake" (David Lynch probably approves, at least).

Todd Mason said...

Indeed, it's the Harrington tekefilm I hope to see some day.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Why did I spend so much time reading the literary novels of the last half of the last century when I could have read writers like this?

Todd Mason said...

Because it's tough to read an non-literary novel?

Nothing non-literate about Bloch. Even if Donald Barthelme did enjoy joking about Fredric Brown, the "distance" between the kinds of folks who were publishing in PARTISAN REVIEW and MANHUNT wasn't ever that great, and even less between THE PARIS REVIEW and FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION or EQMM...those who contended otherwise had a vested interest in one sort of snobbery or another, or otherwise felt the need to be willfully ignorant. Carol Emshwiller is another writer whose work I've been meanting to do in this series, and she's an example of someone not writing in any way vastly differently for EPOCH and for F&SF, NEW WORLDS and NEW DIRECTIONS. R. A. Lafferty another example, debuting more or less simultaneously in NEW MEXICO REVIEW and FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION. I can go on (as is obviou by now...).

Todd Mason said...

An non-literary? It's hard to read a semi-literate blogger, too...or at least one as usual in too much of a hurry.

Happily for her, Shirley Jackson was favored by Harold Ross and co., so she was "literary" and coul make a buck...SATURDAY EVENING POST wouldn't've cottoned to her much, and she'd be "stuck" with WEIRD TALES and her kids noted that her fine "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" wouldn't sell anywhere she'd submit it too, till Tony Boucher, legendary cf reviewer and writer, took it for F&SF. I suspect Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" follwed a similar path (only that would've been Robert Mills or Avram Davidson at F&SF, by then). Like that.

Todd Mason said...

The fact that William Faulkner, presumably drunk, threw a tantrum when he lost the Ellery Queen award to the brilliant Manly Wade Wellman in 1946, I think suggests just how Very Very Vast the chasm between the "literary" and the "commercial" isn't.

Also notable that neither man was most at home in crime fiction, though both were comfortable.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe I read middle-brow? The novels of Alice Adams, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Ann Beatty, John Updike, Russell Banks, Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, Tobias Wolfe Richard Yates, etc. If I read crime fictio, which I did a lot, it was Freeling, Sjowal and Wahloo, MacDonald, Simenon, Rendell, Marsh, Sayers, Tey, etc. None of these pulp writers.
This whole cast of characters eluded me.

Todd Mason said...

Well, if that was John D. MacDonald, or Ross Macdonald, you read at least one pulp writer. By which I mean, someone who wrote for the pulp magazines. at least on occasion (JDM more than RM). I think Georges Simenon wrote for the close French equivalents, but most of the others mostly got better-paid from early on.

Yeah, I'd say Dwight Macdonald (they're everywhere!) might call most of those writers, fairly or not, Midcult. I tend to call most of what they have written "contemporary mimetic" ficton, though Atwood has written some science fiction and (my favorite of hers I'ver read so far) the metafictional romance LADY ORACLE, Updike initially wanted to be a mystery writer (decided he had no talent for it, and I understand his terrorist suspense novel is one of his weakest, though can't say yet for myself) and has written fantasies repeatedly over the decades (Judith Merril took one or two short ones for her BEST SF annual, and of course there's THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), Louise Erdrich has frequently written fantasies.

Meanwhile, the likes of Jim Thomspon came essentially too late for the pulps...and you seem to have been reading Charles Willeford for years. Did you really miss out on Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Johnson (who was barely a pulpster, having contributed at least once to ARGOSY when it was it was just devolving from king of the pulps to low-rent ESQUIRE analog), among all the other major pulp crime fiction writers, aside from JDM?

For that matter, Edward Hoch got his start in the last of the cf pulps...did you ever read EQWM and/or his BEST DETECTIVE/MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR volumes back when?

C. Margery Kempe said...

No one should have to read Updike for any reason and I don't recommend it. I have Kierkegaard's quote on my web page for a reason -- I hate all these boxes we get put into in order to market our words. I just hope the internet brings from freedom from all this marketing trash and allows good readers to find good writers. Of course all over the internet I see SF readers savaging F readers and romance readers savaging erotic romance readers, so maybe there's no hope anyway and my present obscurity should continue and keep me out of the fray, LOL.

Good review, Todd -- Bloch is a good one.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Kate. As usual, the typos and infelicities are now nagging at me. Writing these in the dead of night after work doesn't help one bit.

Updike can be awfully Adorable, when not (at his worst) both cloying and misogynist (what novel could I be thinking of?), but I do like his better prose. And those little digs you cite (SF v. F, romance v. erotica) sadly predate the internet, of course...just took gathering at cons and/or bars, or mailing the fanzines, to make the interchanges more difficult than in the Now A Go Go era we find ourselves in.

Bloch was a genius and a gentleman and never expected others to either fact as a given.

Todd Mason said...

or even, to take either fact as a given.

Todd Mason said...

Wow, so I've sent along to Bill Contento this, about the differences between the original PLEASANT DREAMS and the Jove mass-market paperback: doesn’t seem to include this variant:

Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Arkham House, 1960, $4.00, 233pp, hc)

· Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
· The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53
· The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
· I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr ’56
· The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar ’57
· Catnip · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
· The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov ’47
· Hungarian Rhapsody [as by Wilson Kane] · ss Fantastic Jun ’58
· The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb ’53; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
· The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr ’51
· Sleeping Beauty [“The Sleeping Redheads”] · ss Swank Mar ’58
· Sweet Sixteen [“Spawn of the Dark One”] · ss Fantastic May ’58
· That Hell-Bound Train · ss F&SF Sep ’58
· Enoch · ss Weird Tales Sep ’46

Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Jove HBJ, 1979, $1.75, 252pp, mm)

7 · Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
17 · The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53
49 · The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
63 · I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr ’56
85 · The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar ’57
95 · The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov ’47
117 · Hungarian Rhapsody [as by Wilson Kane] · ss Fantastic Jun ’58
129 · The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb ’53; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
147 · The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr ’51
171 · Sleeping Beauty [“The Sleeping Redheads”] · ss Swank Mar ’58
187 · Sweet Sixteen [“Spawn of the Dark One”] · ss Fantastic May ’58
209 · The Mandarin’s Canaries · ss Weird Tales Sep ’38
223 · Return to the Sabbath · ss Weird Tales Jul ’38
241 · One Way to Mars · ss Weird Tales Jul ’45
--so the paperback drops four stories, perhaps/probably because they were included in the recent Ballantine/Del Rey retrospectives (“Catnip” in SUCH STUFF AS SCREAMS ARE MADE OF, the other three, “Enoch,” “Mr. Steinway” and “That Hell-Bound Train” in THE BEST OF RB—although those three are cited in the back-cover copy on the Jove paperback!), and adds the last three stories from THE OPENER OF THE WAY.

Todd Mason said...

OK, correction already...not only is the Jove edition in the Contento index at
but also, "Catnip" is not in SCREAMS, but the BEST OF.

And it was a decently adapted for the US tv series DARKROOM.