Friday, April 7, 2017

FFB: THE EIGHTH STAGE OF FANDOM by Robert Bloch (Advent: Publishers 1962; Wildside Press 1992)...and "The Other Side of the Bloch" (OMNI magazine, October 1994)

The first, Advent: Publishers edition

Wildside Press 1992 reprint
The Eighth Stage of Fandom is a collection of Robert Bloch's writing for fanzines, the personal and amateur magazines published by fantasy and sf fans (and soon after by others, including mystery and suspense fans, comics aficionados, rock music people and most enthusiastically punk rockers, and by the 1990s, basically anyone who felt like producing a 'zine; blogs and other social media scratch this creative/communicative itch for many these years); the fantastic-fiction fanzines grew out of the newsletters of early fan clubs, and some influential early fans, notable among them H. P. Lovecraft, being enthusiastic participants in amateur press associations (APAs), originally devoted to people who loved the actual production, the layout and typesetting, of newsletters, back in the heroic days of page makeup through lead slugs in heavy trays. Fandoms took on the APA model of trading their magazines with each other as well as making their fanzines available to non-publishers/traders.

Most fanzines are and were primarily written by their editor/publishers, but from the beginning of the form, at the turn of the 1930s, the more ambitious fanEds (as in editors) would solicit contributions from others. Some fanzines over the decades have been very elaborate productions, with professional grade appearance and lithography (or better than many professional magazines at times) while many were more or less legibly mimeographed (or spirit-duplicated or ditto'd or hectographed--and eventually photocopied) single-sheets or short simple letters...and some of the mimeographed (etc.) fanzines were also rather impressive-looking, sometimes managing multicolored, clear illustration and handsome typography. But the content was usually king, and few were more widely sought for their contributions to fanzines than Robert Bloch. This book being a sample of what Bloch and editor Earl Kemp were happiest with among his contributions written for love and no money, a practice Bloch was moving away from in 1962 as his literary career now also included a flourishing screenwriting career, and he had less time and energy for contributing as widely and formally as he had. (He became famous from about this period onward for sending postcards, white with red borders and with a small letterhead line, to comment on fanzines and the like, often packed with his small, neat handwriting...I received one in response to sending along our five-person collective magazine (in*sit). 

The view of what was best, as collected in 1962, is an interesting mixed bag; some of it (notably pieces from Fritz Leiber's latest 1940s bohemian fanzine of sorts New Purpose) is satire of the world at large that would not've found a likely home except in the most critical of critical reviews ("Second Coming" is made up entirely of the New York Daily News or its imitators' headlines over the several weeks of the return of Jesus Christ, and his ignominious fate, for example). Others are good bits of film criticism, including a keen dissection of Jack Webb's Pete Kelly's Blues and interesting notes not solely on the marked differences between British and US films from the '30s through the mid '50s, but also on how Bloch had been one of the relative few to watch easily available 1930s UK films (as they were often offered as the second features in the screenings he'd attend, though much of the audience would leave after the usually American first feature), and how so many fellow Yanks were now seeing those and more recent UK films thanks to syndication and network broadcast on US television. The tone is usually humorous, whether in a heavily metaphorical recasting of fannish life (and Harlan Ellison's devotion to spectacularly large issues of his fanzine Dimensions--even the title presaged Dangerous Visions and the troubles with its second sequel volume) in the terms of the typical Fallen Woman story so popular in fiction and drama at midcentury (Ms. Ellen Harlinson eventually finds redemption with Fuggheads Anonymous in "I'll Fry Tomorrow"), or in reaction to the ad copy for a "7-foot rocketship" cardboard toy, which makes its pitch to the children with the promise of the satisfaction they'll feel after they drop atomic bombs on their adversaries from their zap gun-armed craft--Bloch wonders if the market can be expanded twith kits for lynching, the bloodier sports and those profiting from them, or corporate crime. And some of the matters addressed are rather recondite--Bloch was writing most of these for a fannish, insider audience, so that knowledge of who Claude Degler was or why a reference to Who Sawed Courtney's Boat is a laugh line is helpful at times; a supposed transcript of a meeting of an editorial cabal in the early '50s refers to one editor, apparently of a paperback line, whose name I don't recognize. But even without helpful annotations, most of this will be fairly clear to most readers; references to Sensitive Fannish Faces re often self-explanatory.

And Bloch steps away even from the bitterly satirical at times, as when he praises the cartooning work of William Rotsler (he makes a good case in comparing it to that of James Thurber and some of his New Yorker colleagues) or when noting how few seemed to mark the passing, much less the accomplishment, of Weird Tales magazine, which folded, in its first run of just over three decades, in 1954. (As a title, the magazine has been revived with greater or lesser success several times over the succeeding decades. might yet publish another issue in its current spectral condition; Bloch, having been one of its chiefest contributors and one who's work came to maturity in its pages, takes fandom to task with laudable restraint.)

A book worth having, though not the first choice for the reader new to Bloch. It does seem odd that's been 25 years since the publication of the Wildside edition, with a new afterword by Harlan Ellison to go with a revision of Wilson "Bob" Tucker's introduction to the first edition, from thirty years previously.

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

1954 issue of Harlan Ellison's Dimensions, featuring rather smudgily-typed contributor names Poul Anderson, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Julian May Ditky (she published her fiction as Julian May), Marion Zimmer Bradley, (I believe) Dean A. Grennell, David English, Ray Schaeffer, Jr., Phyllis D. [illegible], David Ish (whose "The Fantasy People" was fiction about fans which was published in the paperback literary magazine New World Writing) and Gregg Calkins.

An earlier issue, under its earlier title:

Bloch's farewell to his readers...I used it as part of a display in the bookstore I worked in at the time of his death... (as archived at this OMNI site).

The other side of the Bloch 

by Robert Bloch

I've been ranting and raving about it for years, but now I'm going to do something about the overpopulation problem, personally.
I'm going to die.
Sitting here at my desk just as I've sat every workday during the past 60 years, it's hard for me to believe that this is not just another story opening designed to attract reader attention. But this time it's fact, not fiction.
Not that the subject matter is all that new to me. For most of those 60 long years of a professional writing career I've been dealing with death and dying. Scores have perished in my murder mysteries and suspense stories, hundreds more succumbed in my fantasy tales, entire populations were wiped out in my speculative fiction, and nobody can total the body count of my supernatural horror work.
But that's my job. I roll a piece of paper into the typewriter, load it with words, and the words kill people. Only this time when I do it, I'm killing myself, and it's not just a story anymore. It's real.
I'm going to die.
The problem is, I'm not ready yet. I'm not prepared. Like most of us, I suppose, I've a tendency to procrastinate, to put off things until tomorrow, or sometime in the near future. And now, all at once, the doctors tell me there won't be very many tomorrows, and the future they foresee is very near indeed.
Granted, the medical practitioners aren't always infallible in their prognoses, and today's high tech isn't necessarily of more value than yesterday's tender loving care. Dr. Fu Manchu may not have been your choice for a family physician, but at least he made house calls.
In his absence I've had to rely on the machinery and mechanics of internists, gastroenterologists, and oncologists. They would be only too happy to dispel false tumors, but instead all agree that I've got a real one. And it's got me. They're all pretty cagey about exactly how much time I have left--months, weeks, days?--but every one of them agrees it might be a good idea for me to switch to instant coffee.
Having lived a long time, it's difficult now to accept that stalling and inertia have cheated me of so many of life's simplest pleasures. I never mastered the art of producing a piercing, attention-getting whistle. I never was able to snap my fingers--or wiggle my ears.
I have never operated a computer or seen the light at the end of the carpal tunnel. I've missed out on learning how to play a musical instrument, or even a guitar. I'm hopeless in sports, never gotten into gaming, haven't done hard drugs or knowingly ingested garlic into my system. I have never molested a child, or vice versa. I've owned dogs, cats, canaries, and other pets without harboring carnal desires for any of them. I once attempted sex with a Playboy centerfold, but her staples got in the way.
These are some of the things you think about when you know you're going to be dead soon.
And because you're scared.
Damn right I am. And I think anyone who isn't afraid of dying is crazy, unless he or she has found a way around the problem. Becoming a vampire might be nice, but how do you go about it?
I tried, but can't say I had much success. All that my long-distance phone call produced was, Thank you for calling Castle Dracula. We're sorry, but all of our blood-suckers are busy right now. If you will leave your name and blood type we will return your call as soon as possible.
So much for modern technology, and maybe it's just as well they didn't call back. Come to think of it, a vampire's existence isn't all that easy, and who wants to sleep in an evening dress instead of pajamas? Besides, I don't want to live forever--just long enough to be around for George Burns's 100th birthday.
All right, enough of that. Let's get real. Get a life. Get a death.
Just what do we know about death, anyway? Not as much as we think, most of us, because it isn't something we're supposed to think about.
I'm no exception. In spite of my professional preoccupations, there's very little I ever bothered to learn about the actual rigors of mortis. But now that I've a personal interest in the subject, I decided it was high time to find out what to expect. Here's what the experts offered:
When you die, your heart stops. But the brain is still technically alive for three or four more minutes. Digestion occurs for the next twenty-four hours. Blood remains viable for several hours, then settles downward so that the body's downside is darker and more mottled; if the body lies face upward, the face is pale. Rigor mortis takes place in from two to six hours, depending on circumstances, and reverses two or three days later. By this time the stomach is bloated with gas. The flesh decomposes, the veins and skin turn blue, purple, green, and black. The softer tissue turns to jelly, the cornea of the eye is no longer clear, the eyes begin to melt in their sockets. The skin pulls away from the lips, leaving a grin. Bacteria thrive, worms feel no horror, only hunger. Maggots are moving mouths, devouring decay.
I'm going to be cremated.
But in the end, forensic details aren't important. The body is just an exterior; the real me is interior. What happens there?
And according to a million different religions, you don't stay inside after you're dead. The me part comes out, and you have a choice of another million versions telling you what becomes of it. Who looks after its welfare, who protects it? Here's an answer picked at random:
In northern India, in the cemetery of Bodhgaya, is Kshetrapala, the Guardian of the Dead. A demon with blue skin, a yellow face, bristling orange hair, three bulging red eyes, and a four-fanged grin, he is clad in a corpse skin and a tigerskin loincloth. He is mounted astride a huge black bear, carrying an axe in one hand and a skull-cap of blood in the other.
So much for your security guard. On the other hand, if you're dead inside as well as out, who needs this kind of protection? And think of the hassle you'd get with the animal lovers after they heard about tigerskin loincloths and riding on bears.
If legend hasn't got the answers, maybe it's better to try history. After all, when you get right down to it, history is really just one long death report.
Sample: In China, in 1640 A.D., the warlord Chang Hsien-Chung killed 30,000,000 people in less than a year in Szechuan Province alone. The entire area was transformed into a mountain range of body parts--hands, feet, heads, torsos.
Sound incredible? Yes, but if you read it again it sounds pretty dull, too--dull and meaningless. We don't know who Chang Hsien-Chung was, and not knowing, we can't really care. History has reduced him to the same anonymity as that of his 30,000,000 victims, and they too remain statistics rather than human beings whose sufferings we can share. Aside from the health hazard provided by those mountains of cold cuts, there's nothing here for us to care about. We don't know what happened, or why, and it's not likely any of that vast army of victims will return to give us any answers.
Call Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory and ask if he can restore any of those body parts to life, and all you'll get is a recorded message. Sorry, but we don't have that information at the moment. Our Fritz is down.
Not much information, and no consolation here; not from forensic medicine, organized religion, or disorganized corpses in history.
So where to learn the lessons about dying and how to die? In the end (a term which is no longer just a figure of speech to me), I must return to my own roots--fiction and drama, the areas in which I've lived and worked all these years.
It seems to me that the British and the Americans are the real masters of deathbed drama, though they had to learn their techniques through trial and error. A good example would be Lord Nelson's last words to a captain when mortally wounded at Trafalgar: "Kiss me, Hardy." Obviously this line of dialogue would have been much more appropriate coming from the mouth of Stan Laurel.
But practice makes perfect, and perfection was reached in the film Citizen Kane as Orson Welles whispered "Rosebud" as a last word, revealing himself to be a sledophile.
Though not all of us can expect the sentimental sendoff of a Little Nell or get yanked to heaven by stagehands who pulled the stunt (and ropes) for Little Eva, there are easier examples to follow.
Nobody ever died better than the British in the early days of sound film. Most of them breathed their last in luxury: a clean double or king-size bed in a handsomely furnished bedroom of a town house, a country manor, or even a noble palace. Generally propped up on pillows, and extremely well-lighted, the moribund usually had time to deliver bits of wisdom and philosophy before quietly expiring--all this, mind you, without a single tube or wire dangling from their bodies. Way to go! Nowadays it seems like most people perish more messily, by taking a bullet in the belly and falling off a platform or high balcony in a warehouse; if driving a car, they either explode in a fireball or crash through a plate-glass window.
Of course, they aren't given much of a chance to prepare. In less violent times--and fiction--many of the characters had enough advance notice to compose themselves before starting to decompose.
There were several popular approaches to the theme, in print and on screen. One was the "Now I can really appreciate" reaction, knowing that one was seeing or doing something for the last time ever. Then there was "If only I could go back and tell him/her/it how sorry I am." But perhaps the most popular was the "One last time" theme, in which blackface vaudeville performers sang about seeing their dear old Mammy down in Virginny while secretly yearning to visit their dear old bank account over in Switzerland.
But never mind. Vaudeville is dead, and I soon will be, and doing shtik about Swiss banks doesn't help me when I'm frightened. Of feeling pain, and of not feeling anything at all. Of what I know and of what I don't know.
One would think that after a long lifetime, I'd at least have learned a little something to pass on to future generations, a little counsel, advice, or just plain common sense.
But all I've learned is that sense isn't necessarily a common commodity. And experience has taught me only what it teaches everyone in time: lend and you lose a friend; today's confidant becomes your enemy tomorrow because you know too much; when it happens to somebody else it's comedy, but when it happens to you it's tragedy.
A few years ago I put down some of what I know in an autobiography. But Once Around the Bloch was not primarily intended to be an instruction manual. Writing my autobiography was fun. Living it was not always that entertaining.
Actually, I was writing in self defense. As a longtime fantasy writer I was aware of my eminent colleagues in the field, and while I couldn't compare my work to that of an Edgar Allan Poe or an H. P. Lovecraft, I did share one thing with them in common--a vulnerability to the biographers who could come up with their own version of a life-story after its subject was no longer around to dispute what was said. I preferred to tell the truth as I saw it, rather than be Griswolded like Poe or DeCamped like Lovecraft.
At the time I naturally had no way of knowing that there'd be few other opportunities left for me to add to what I'd written, so there was a lot I omitted. I didn't have much to say about personal or political beliefs and convictions, and after what's happened to me now, this seems probably like the last chance I may have to express those sentiments.
Funny thing is, at the moment these things no longer seem all that important. Practically all I can offer by way of philosophy is that I think human beings are wonderful on the individual level; it's when they act as a group that the mob becomes a monster. As to personal attitude, I'm an elitist; the Founding Fathers may have sincerely believed that all men are created equal, but apparently none of them bothered reading the New England Journal of Medicine to find out about genes.
I don't think I suffer from delusions of grandeur about my own status. All my career has been spent as an entertainer in the ranks of what is currently labeled "pop culture."
I can handle that, but as an elitist I refuse to equate my work with tagger graffiti, the designer-label art displayed on 50-pound bags of steer manure, or the noises emitted by Snoop Doggy Dog.
Dealing with such trivia is scarcely a hot-button item with me, but putting such statements down on paper helps distract from my stomach-churning awareness that pain hurts more than anything, only so much sand can be fitted into an hourglass, and that somewhere there's a toe-tag with my name on it.
Reminds me of a story about another entertainer: master showman and egomaniac P. T. Barnum. During his final illness he told a reporter the thing he most keenly regretted about dying was that he'd not be around to read any of his obituaries. The reporter went to his boss, the editor of the New York Evening Sun, and the next day they arranged to run a big four-column spread about the old man. Barnum was so pleased when he saw it that he perked up and lived for several more weeks.
Maybe that's why I'm writing this, hoping I can stick around long enough to get a reaction from the news. Or maybe it's because I've spent the last six decades writing for an audience and it seems natural to write one more time, if only to say goodbye.
Once word gets around--once the cat is let out of the body-bag--people will start calling to inquire how I am. Actually they won't all be all that curious about me; what they'll really want to know is about a visitor called Death.
Death will be coming to our house for an indefinite stay, but while he's there this unwelcome guest must be treated as a member of the family.
And that's what will make the callers curious. What's it like, living with Death twenty-four hours a day? Does he make special demands on our attention, interfere with household routine, disturb my comfort, change the ways I eat or sleep? Do we worry about him constantly, keep him first and foremost in our thoughts night and day?
Right now I can't give full answers to these questions but expect to be able to do so soon. Very soon. One thing is already clear--we don't look forward to having him around. And we'll be anxious for him to depart, except that when he leaves he won't go alone.
He won't go alone, but he won't take all of me with him, either. A part will still remain behind, until paper crumbles, film dissolves, and memories fade.
Who knows? By the time these things happen, you and I, somewhere or someplace, may meet again. Anyway, it's nice to think so.
See you later.
I hope.


Jerry House said...

Thank you, Todd, for giving us a week of Bloch. It's been great fun.

Todd Mason said...

Thank you, too, Jerry...and everyone else who has participated...

Mathew Paust said...

Been too bogged down with disease-based lethargy to read any Bloch. No excuse, I know, really. And fandom? Have avoided it, scrupulously, since the Capt. Midnight decoder ring I ordered back in the day got "lost in the mail." My bitterness hath no boundaries.

Todd Mason said...

Some things are more forgivable than others...

Jerry House said...

That OMNI piece stayed with me for years. Thanks for including it, Todd.

Todd Mason said...

Me, too. I used it as the centerpiece of a memorial display in the bookstore where I was working at the time.

Walker Martin said...

I was at the NYC Paperback convention organized by Gary Lovisi when the news came out that Robert Bloch had died. Mike Avallone prior to the news was his usual wise cracking self, telling jokes and autographing copies of his books at the show. When he learned the sad news he was struck dumb and couldn't believe that Bloch was gone.

I saw Robert Bloch at an early Pulpcon in the 1970's. He was a great GOH and full of life, another wise cracking author who loved a good joke.

Todd Mason said...

He loved a bad pun as well as a good one. Thanks, Walker.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

A wonderful and informative tribute to Robert Bloch. Thanks, Todd. It's going to take me a while to read all this stuff on a writer I have never read.

Todd Mason said...

Read some excellent Bloch fiction first, then, Prashant!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I will, Todd. I have plenty of good crime-sf-fantasy-horror writers to read.

Anonymous said...

The name on that DIMENSIONS cover that you couldn't make out looks to me as though it may be "Alexis A. Gilliland" -- but was he doing fan writing back then? His isfdb entry shows only a letter to PLANET STORIES as an earlie publication, but of course there's huge amounts of fanzine stuff that the isfdb doesn't index. Just a thought.

Denny Lien

Todd Mason said...

We all do, Prashant!

Denny, looking at it with fresher eyes than at that point, I'd say it's Dean A. Grennell, which would certainly make sense. Phyllis Iconou or something like that rings the faintest of bells for the other I couldn't quite make out. As to whether Alexis Gilliland was contributing to fanzines in the latter ' wouldn't surprise me, but I'm not sure he was...not long after, if he wasn't. FANCY 3 suggests he might've gotten seriously into fandom after the DC WorldCon in '63.

Yeah, it's remarkable what does and doesn't make it into the ISFDB and FMI, and similar part-time labors of love. Thanks!