"The Beautiful People" by Robert Bloch: An Appreciation by Mikal Trimm
When I was a kid, my parents--young, impetuous fools that they were--thought that anything pleasing to them, in whatever format available (although not pornography, let it be said, I don't want overly-vehement Social Services agents knocking at their door), would be quite all right for their child as well.
Bad Mommy! Bad Daddy!
Back in the days of the Drive-In--the theater of the commoners, the Palace of the Po' Folk--they'd think nothing of taking their five-year-old son to all-night horror fests. Friday the Thirteenth (whenever it came up, seasons be damned) and Halloween served as Prime Movie-Going Experiences. Hammer films and low-budget monstrosities of a more American vein; "Night of the Living Dead" in its original, made for outdoor-screen glory; "The Exorcist"... Well, let's not talk about "The Exorcist", shall we?
No, that's an utter lie. I wasn't even born then. I first saw "Psycho" at a much later age. Loved Hitchcock. Loved the movie... until that horrid 'So, Bob...' ending where the doctor explains Norman's actions in great Freudian detail. Ecch.
Still, Robert Bloch was a Drive-In kind of writer. In all the best ways.
Once I'd run the gauntlet of onscreen mayhem, my parents apparently believed that anything I read would be far less--oh, shall we say adventurous--than what I'd already been subjected to in the wonderful world of film depravity.
They were right, and oh, so wrong.
Beheadings. Eviscerations. A woman murdered and used as a ventriloquist's doll. Nasty doings and twists, twists, twists! Bad Bloch!
See, my folks figured that words--just sentences on a page--couldn't possibly be as bad as a little girl getting down with a cross, say.
Again, they were right. Again, they just didn't get it. They were readers themselves, by the way. They read nightly--Hitchcock Magazine, horror novels, not much else. Sometimes they'd let me creep into bed with them, even though I should by all rights be asleep, just as long as I was reading.
Reading was a good thing.
Robert Bloch was a good thing.
If this 'appreciation' seems more about me than the writer (and the editor, lest we forget) I've come to praise, let me be blunt: those of us who want to carry out the grand old writing tradition are nothing without those who influenced us. Robert Bloch's stories led me, in strange and sometimes faltering paths, to writers like Saki, Roald Dahl, Theodore Sturgeon, and even Ray Bradbury (he and Bloch both did pastiches of Lovecraft, don't you know?)
"The Beautiful People" (originally titled "Skin-Deep", as you'll notice in the notes after the story) is neither the best, nor worst, story Robert Bloch wrote. Frankly, it's a moot point.
Bloch is Bloch. As Sturgeon is Sturgeon, Bradbury is Bradbury, etc. You don't judge the Masters on a story-by-story basis. You take their weight as a whole--their output more precious than gold, and far less common.
I want to thank Ellen for putting one of Robert's stories up at SCI FICTION as a classic. When I spent a short time as an editor myself, I took on the task of finding 'classic' stories to republish, but without anything approaching a budget, we had to delve into the realm of 'public domain' to find worthwhile fiction. Meanwhile, I wanted Bloch. I lusted for a Bloch story. C'est la vie.
Ellen did it. I'm not even sure that this story 'fits the bill' for SCI FICTION, but I don't really care. She did it. I want to hug her for bringing a piece of his work to new readers (although I'm sure she'd be very uncomfortable if I grabbed her suddenly at WFC, say...) For many people, Bloch is just the guy who wrote "Psycho." If, in fact, the name rings any bells at all. That is an utter shame.
Bloch is Old School. Get in, do the damage, get out. No clutter. Just story.
Yay, and hallelujah.
Thank you, Robert Bloch.
Thank you, Ellen Datlow.
And thank you, the SCI FICTION that was...
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