The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"More Spinned Against …" by John Wyndham: An Appreciation by Kathryn Allen

I found "Light of Other Days" at SCIFICTION when I could recall neither the title nor the name of the author but remembered the story and "slow glass." I found new stories people were talking about, and old stories I'd never read or had forgotten, and I browsed whenever I really needed a treat. Losing SCIFICTION won't destroy my life, but it will make my internet less interesting and enjoyable.

So I'd like to appreciate "More Spinned Against . . ."

John Wyndham is a name that crops up in conversation about SFF less often than I'd expect -- except that I know I don't usually include him in a shortlist of my own favourite writers. Odd, because I've read most of what I can lay my hands on, enjoyed doing so, and his stories tend to stick in my mind. The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, Chocky . . . it's years since I read them but I could give a better account of their plots than of others I've read more recently and, while I'm very bad at putting short fiction to author (hence googling for "Light of Other Days"), I'd recognise more than a few of his short stories if I came across them.

"More Spinned Against" isn't the title of a collection (unlike "Consider Her Ways") but it's a charming story that manages to surprise me even though I know going in that when you make bargains with gods, or devils, or other supernatural creatures something always goes wrong . . . take up the ferryman's pole (or any other mythical figure's burden) and you'll be rowing a long time. I know the myths and fairy tales . . . and yet the ending I get is still a less expected one, a pleasing surprise because I've been suspecting the wrong pitfalls. Not by a cheat, or false leads, but by masterful sleight-of-hand.

Looking back from the last line I can see that the story led me to this ending and nowhere else, but managed to provide me with a gorgeous dawning of realisation in the last few paragraphs. A broad beaming smile as the pieces fell into place. I like a story that can do that.

And while he does that magic Wyndham gets in some characterisational digs at a certain level of middle-class English society that's recognisable fifty years on. Something to think about.

It's a neat little story that's bigger on the inside than the outside, and John Wyndham's a writer whose influence on SFF (in the UK especially but we're not so very much of an island when it comes to literature) has been broader and deeper than I believe he's credited with.

But maybe the best thing about "More Spinned Against" is that it's fun. Entertaining at the point of sale. A small but delicious treat.

In all those ways, it's also like SCIFICTION.

Link to Story

"The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford: An Appreciation by Rajan Khanna

It was probably a boring day at work, at a job that I had already come to loathe, when I first clicked on the link. I had recently discovered SCI FICTION, and immediately recognized it as a source of quality speculative fiction, bookmarked for easy access. I don't remember if I was particularly in need of something of quality that day, or just trawling for some kind of distraction, but when I began reading Jeffrey Ford's Empire of Ice Cream I realized I'd found something that surpassed and transcended all my expectations.

The Empire of Ice Cream begins, as many of Jeffrey Ford's stories begin, firmly entrenched in the mundane, the every day, in a world both familiar and comforting. Yet we're confronted with a character, William, who is anything but ordinary, for he has synesthesia, a condition where senses are somehow shuffled, where sounds have color and flavors have textures, where "the number 8...reeks of withered flowers."

William's story alone, his attempt to cope with his condition, to fit in, would have been enough to keep me interested and satisfied, but Ford layered the story, introducing elements of music - William's penchant for the piano, his love of Bach, the subtle element of the fugue which gains significance later in the story. As a piano player, one who always played for personal reasons rather than performance, I was drawn in. Like William, I played as another form of expression, a way to translate feelings and sensations into something else, my own form of artificial synesthesia.

I was already entranced, so the moment where the story crossed the line, where the elements of the fantastic started to bleed through, took me by surprise, like finding a hidden door in a house that you love, and having it open onto a magical place. There, with William at the Empire of Ice Cream ice cream parlor, the other movement of the story begins, building at last to a stunning crescendo that fades, in the end, like a subtle but sweet aftertaste.

I won't say any more about the story--it deserves to be read, not retold--but I will say that for me, this story marked a defining moment as a reader and a writer. I was never big on short fiction as a younger man, and at the time I was just beginning to explore it, still unsure of the form. Many of the stories I'd read were enjoyable, but would fade rather quickly after they were done. The Empire of Ice Cream stayed with me for a while afterward. In the end, it was my coffee ice cream, the jolt that opened up a window into another world, a world I fell in love with, a world of stories that had weight and substance, that lingered on the tongue long after they were finished. Like William, I was for the first time experiencing something I hadn't before, and I'd acquired a taste for it. I consumed it eagerly, enjoying its sweetness, its fullness, and the slight chill that accompanied those sensations.

Proving I wasn't the only one who liked it, The Empire of Ice Cream was nominated for the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, and a Sturgeon Award and won the Nebula in 2003. Despite all that richly deserved attention, this story will always have particular personal significance for me, and I am grateful to Jeffrey Ford and Ellen Datlow for allowing me the opportunity to read it.

Link to story.

"Bears Discover Smut" by Michael Bishop: An Appreciation by Elizabeth Bear

Michael Bishop's "Bears Discover Smut" is a farce, a fantasy, a fable, a story of social and personal change that, not incidentally, also happens to be a sort of responsorial to Terry Bisson's award-winning 1991 farce, fantasy, fable, and story of social and personal change, "Bears Discover Fire." (The Bishop story is dedicated to Bisson.) But it also stands on its own quite beautifully as a tail of loss and failure and unrecognized hypocrisy--both a parable of tolerance, and a dissection of false faces.

"Bears Discover Fire" is the story of Uncle Bobby, a 60-year-old man concerned with his dying mother, in a world where bears have, as the title suggests, discovered fire. The bears of the title are mostly backgrounded, irrelevant to the narrator's life except in terms of a background curiosity, a type example of the manner in which the true marvels of the world are lost in daily concerns and the everyday need to get the children fed and the dishes washed.

Use of fire is perhaps the strongest Western symbol of civilization--even of intelligence. Our classical gods of home are gods of the hearth and the forge, and we speak popularly of the mastery of fire as the defining moment that separates humans from the animal kingdoms. (Coyotes will reportedly put out small fires, in the obvious coyote-approved fashion, but their mastery of Kipling's Red Flower is generally considered to be of a different order--more practical in the short run, perhaps, but less visionary.) H. Beam Piper gives us the "talk-and-build-a-fire" rule of thumb for determining the intelligence of alien species; Prometheus gives us fire from the gods.

Fire is humanity, on a deep cultural level.

As the bears evolve a sort of civilization and community, Uncle Bobby attempts to protect his mother, accept her going, and ease her passage from the world--while simultaneously struggling to civilize his nephew, to teach him practicality and logic--and morality, as well. As the human culture seems to be slipping inexorably into barbarism, the bears are founding a society. "Looks like bears have discovered fire," Bobby's brother Wallace drawls at the end of Bisson's story, a dry anticlimax that condenses the story's many complex ironies into a final, crowning indictment of the willful blindness of so many of its characters. Bears have discovered fire. And people have lost it.

"Bears Discover Smut," on the other hand, offers the revelatory sentence in the first scene:

"Well," said Snooky, "looks like bears have discovered cheesecake."

"Smut, you mean."

"Call it what you like. It keeps me in beans and grits." Snooky shook his head. "I just never thought a dumb beast would stoop so low."

And by contrast to Uncle Bobby and his domestic concerns, Tommy Kyle, the narrator of "Bears Discover Smut," is a self-described hypocrite. A Testifier--a conservative preacher--with an illicit smut habit and a tendency to minister to the waitresses at girlie-themed restaurants in preference to the poor or misguided, a father and husband who avoids his wife and two children while mouthing platitudes about "sacrifice." He is as unlike Uncle Bobby in as many ways as it is possible to be, while still remaining a white, Southern, socially conservative male. Additionally, the Eponymous Bears of "Smut" are far more central to the plot than those of "Fire," and they are genetically engineered--a created, even imposed social change rather than an organic and natural evolution.

That contrast is helpful, I think, to a rounded understanding of the story. Because while the evolution--and I choose that term advisedly--of "Fire" is elegiac and inexorable, the process by which the protagonist of "Smut" is forced to adapt to change is a sort of personal and political catastrophism--deeply appropriate to a fire and brimstone preacher.

The Smut Bears are portrayed as animalistic, grunting, licking and chewing on the centerfolds of girlie magazines. Where the Fire Bears are noble savages, the Smut Bears are nasty and brutish, a despised slave class facing intense legal and personal discrimination. They move through human society, but they are not protected, and Tommy Kyle doesn't think that they have souls. "Bears die forever," he says, "and probably deserve to."

He has no evidence for this conclusion, however, beyond rhetoric, and for this reader, it's suspicious that his justifications serve to assuage whatever scraps of conscience he maintains. He refuses responsibility for his own failings--"I love my wife. I love my children. But Satan and our fun-worshipping society-—deviltry and greed in evil cahoots-—have conspired to drag me sinward, and that summer I often stumbled toward it."--and places the blame instead on anyone and anything he can locate. Bishop provides in the character of Tommy Kyle a powerful portrayal of hypocrisy and sanctimony, and he doesn't stint in bringing it to its inevitable conclusion, as he slowly alienates (in all senses of the word) his family and his ministry. It's significant in the symbolic structure of this story that Tommy Kyle at one point speaks of men and women as separate species. In this metaphorical scaffolding, his comments on the bears as "animalistic," his refusal to admit that they could have souls (even when his freshly unemployed brother-in-law appears at his church with the bear who took his job in tow, seeking his ministry), and his addiction to smut (like the titular bears) coupled with his comparison of his wife to a different species make it very plain that Tommy Kyle considers himself a sort of elite, and he's comfortable using the rhetoric of racism, sexism, and oppression to enforce that position.

Other characters see him more clearly, however. Minerva, a hostess at one of the strip clubs Tommy Kyle attends services at, points out his likeness to the grubby male bear who seems to follow him through the story, from blue newstand to smutty bar, until, in the end, proving the catalyst of Tommy Kyle's self-provided ruin... and his eventual salvation, in reduced but far more honest circumstances.

Like "Fire," "Smut" is a story that works because of its layered ironies and deft symbolism. Tommy Kyle the liar and hypocrite finds himself, eventually, reborn into a bearish existence, and in that existence--where he, fallen, finds himself living on the same level as the animals whose humanity he has so consistently denied--he comes to an understanding of himself as human. It's a lingering image, and a powerful one; a story of redemption through loss without sugary overtones.

And when Tommy Kyle finds a sort of tattered decency by accepting and transcending the truths he sought to deny, he also becomes sympathetic, a transformation of a more evolutionary sort.

Bears Discover Smut

"The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Home From the Stars" by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold: An Appreciation by Timothy Mahoney

The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Home From the Stars
by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold

Ever since my earliest reading of chapter books when I was in second grade, I have been drawn to the Science Fiction genre, and the fantasy worlds where my imagination could fly. Starting with the Tom Swift series, onto Robert Heinlein's juvenile fiction stories, ever deeper into his later works that made me ask questions and seek answers. L. Ron Hubbard, vocalizing his distaste for government in the Mission Earth Dekology, must also be included on this list.

Five years ago, I stumbled onto's SCI FICTION section, where I have been able to deeply feed upon the wondrous works of both masters and novices. It has given me stories of dread, and lighthearted fare. It has caused me to think, and to suspend belief. One of the most universal questions posed in these and many other great stories, is the question of Love. What defines it? What drives it? What drives us to it, or away from it?

"The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Home From the Stars" is a tale about love. Bruce Diedrich Was a Federal Agent with a job. After 6 years on the same assignment, his feelings for Kelly MacInnes grow. But in the very instant where he must decide between saving Kelly and saving himself, he saves himself. Some will call him a coward, and some will say he allowed Kelly to make her own choice.

Kelly had made her choice 12 years before, choosing to believe in her husband no matter the cost. In never doubting him, she added her life to the cost. We have seen the two sides of love, and one of many possible outcomes. We must ask ourselves 'Do I love and trust this person beyond all reason? Even if it costs me my life?' This is the hallmark of a great story, and one I will carry with me all of my life.

Link to story.

"House of the Future" by Richard Butner: An Appreciation by Michael Kelly

Richard Butner's "House of the Future" is a seemingly simple tale of young Eddie Herring and his fascination with a modern "wing-shaped" house perched near the end of his street. The house was built in 1959, more than 40 years before the story takes place, and was an architectural experiment. Most considered the house an eyesore, but Eddie sees beauty and potential in it. Eddie quietly rails against the uniform, cookie-cutter houses with their artificially green lawns that dot his street, his world. Butner, it seems, in his own quiet manner, is saying we should look at things with a fresh childlike innocence. We should try and see the beauty in everything. And, perhaps, we should experiment more, try to break the chain of uniformity. Eddie himself, when he begins to investigate the house, seems transfixed with the past. Everyone wore suits and ties and smiled all the time.

Young Eddie, much like the house, doesn't fit in. His father has left them, and Eddie only sees him on weekends. At school he chums around with the "horsey girls." While the other boys are playing football, Eddie is sketching horses.

The prose is smooth and elegant. The type of writing that you don't really notice until much later, perhaps months later, when you realize the tale is still haunting you. "House of the Future" is reminiscent of much of Charles Beaumont's work. To me, there is no higher compliment. Take this line, for example:

"Do you want to know what 1959 was like, Eddie Herring? It was all Barbie Dolls and pantyhose, that's what 1959 was like."

It is simple, effective, and memorable.

Many other themes run through the story. Eddie feels a sense of abandonment because his father has left them. One of the "horsey girls," Anne, becomes a close friend to Eddie, and we get a glimpse of Eddie's burgeoning teen sexuality. It is a nostalgic and melancholic meditation. And, as evidenced by this paragraph, there is a certain sad streak running through the tale:

Like the fantasy I shared with all my classmates, that we'd grow up to be rich or famous or both, all of us doctors and actors and Presidents of the United States. When, if you thought about it, we'd mostly just end up as plumbers and insurance salesmen and maybe if we were lucky we'd own an insect extermination business like the guy Mom dated. Those other fantasies would never happen, the same way that Mom and Dad would never get back together.

Yet the story never becomes cloyingly sentimental. Eddie Herring is a curious, complicated kid. His inquisitive nature imbues the tale with a sense of wonder. At the end, when Eddie confronts the past, we hope he'll make the right choice. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And we are free, like Eddie, to make up our own minds.

And this is a beautiful tale. It is everything a good story and good writing should be.

All Best Wishes
Michael Kelly
Fiction Editor, ChiZine

Link to story.

"The Heat Death of the Universe" by Pamela Zoline: An Appreciation by Alison Page

The Heat Death of the Universe by Pamela Zoline

Is there such a thing as a female voice? If so, this story is written in such a voice. The voice of futile resistance. Nothing happens, except that the universe winds down eight hours further. Sarah Boyle expends her human intellect and capacity for grief on tidying a house. Pamela Zoline acknowledges the Universe. It's beautiful, but not very comforting.

There are many definitions of entropy: 'the probability of encountering a particular micro-state within a closed system'. As things become more disordered they become less predictable. Ordered systems, as Tolstoy said about happy marriages, are all the same. Tidy houses and healthy children approach similarity. Sarah Boyle, like this planet's bubble of life, expends energy to resist entropy. She is not thanked for her effort. But then, neither is the biosphere.

Through resistance to entropy all states become more similar, more like California.

All topographical imperfections sanded away with the sweet-smelling burr of the plastic surgeon's cosmetic polisher, a world populace dieting, leisured, similar in pink and mauve hair and rhinestone shades. A land Cunt Pink and Avocado Green, brassiered and girdled by monstrous complexities of Super Highways.

Eventually entropy wins. Is this a happy ending? Zoline asks us why we continue to resist. Why we prefer Ajax to Dust.

Poised in what has become a solid cube of light... the dust is indeed the most beautiful stuff in the room

But entropy is death. It is cancer and starvation. It is the woman growing old. With every paragraph and word, Zoline acknowledges the necessity and futility of our resistance to the winding down of life. The metaphors are nested like Russian dolls, a lesson in infinity.

What colour are Sarah Boyle's eyes?

the promising fat, unnatural blue of the heavy tranquilizer capsule; the cool mean blue of that fake kitchen sponge; the deepest, most unbelievable azure of the tiled and mossless interiors of California swimming pools.

The blue video colour of a TV, tuned to a dead channel.

Link to story.

(Alison Page)

"The Being of It All" by Carol Emshwiller: An Appreciation by Tom Barlow

Tom Barlow

"The Being of It All"
by Carol Emshwiller

The protagonist and her little dog hear, in the thunder echoing through the mountains, a charge to "Do, be, proclaim. Become more than just your father's son." Typical God talk; light on specifics, heavy on the verbs, and patriarchal.

The shy young woman struggles with the charge; was it, perhaps, a wrong number? After all, the message refers to a son, not a daughter. She asks for clarification, but of course God can't be bothered to respond. She decides to accept the charge to be as she can be.

Emshwiller uses 1st person present tense to great effect in this story, quickly establishing our intimacy with the naïve, shy main character. The use of magical details adds to the fable-like quality of the narrative.

The line-level construction is delicious. For example. "I'll change my outfit. I'll not only wear my big black hat, I'll buy a red and white striped shirt. I'll get matching striped socks. I don't have to dress that way all the time. I can rest now and then and be my shy self when I'm wearing my gray and tan outfits."

Emswiller also drops in nuggets of insight, crafted in the unsophisticated voice of the character. For example, when considering the bold aggression of her dog (also female)--"It's all about her. How could I not see that? I always think everything means me. It's me, me, me, all the time. That's what makes a person shy. If it's not me, then what's to be shy about?"

Humor is an important component of the story, especially as it reveals character. The business about dressing her dog in a red jacket, to match the bold outfit she has bought for herself in an attempt to live up to her charge is hilarious.

This story is delightful in the spareness of its descriptions, its folksy tone and the charm of the narrator. The humor is sharp, the scenes crisp, and the resolution thought provoking in its open-endedness.

A great read by a master of the craft.

Link to story

"Descending" by Thomas M. Disch: An Appreciation by John Schoffstall

Gentle reader beyond the screen: if you have not read this story, do so before reading on, for here there be spoilers.

"Descending" is a horror story. Superficially, it is about a man who takes the 'Down' escalator in a department store and finds he can't get off. More deeply, it is about credit and debt, and the lure of jam, jam, jam today. Credit cards, second mortgages and other easy ways to leverage ourselves into trouble are common nowadays. But in the early 1960's, when "Descending" was written, many people didn't even have one credit card. Easy 'revolving credit' was a new element in the interface between the individual and the world of commerce and consumption. Like the psychological manipulation by advertising that Kornbluth and Pohl explored in the 1950's, and the intellectual property, privacy, and bioscience issues that crop up in sf stories today, easy consumer credit was an interesting and potentially dangerous new social force in the early 1960's. In this sense, "Descending" can be seen as social science fiction. It is significant that the protagonist reads Thackeray's Vanity Fair through much of the story, a novel whose anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, is also an unprincipled exploiter of credit, much to the damage of those around her.

But on its deepest level, the theme of "Descending" is more general than social criticism: it is tragedy, the story of a fall, of an individual who tumbles out of society for any reason, and the lies he tells himself to ease the pain of falling. The protagonist's descent, first socially and economically, later physically, down the endless escalators, mirrors any behavior that has escaped from our control: alcohol or drug abuse, sexual or gambling addiction, pathological collecting, and so forth. Like the addicted individual who loses friends, jobs, alienates his family and ultimately may wind up homeless, the protagonist of "Descending" has exploited others to maintain a dysfunctional existence, and now finds his links with the rest of humanity broken beyond repair. His own brother won't return his letters; he is unable to find employment: "He had been a grasshopper for years. The ants were on to his tricks." Every contact with other human beings he has in the course of the story
is purely economic. He is the economic man gone awry, and he meets his doom in the temple at which he has worshiped, a department store.

The prose is flawless. Often it is simple and transparent, but sometimes it rises to elegance: "He whitened the sepulchre of his unwashed torso with a fresh, starched shirt and chose his somberest tie from the rack." This sort of bold wordplay is typical of Disch, and one of the things that makes his prose, as well as his storytelling, so enjoyable. The storytelling is relentless. First strangeness, then menace, then fear, then horror, no let-up, no relief, no requiem, no cavalry at the end. Disch tramps all over the motherhood statement. The emotion of 'hope', as a response to crisis, is frequently lauded in popular media; Disch shoots it dead. At the end we find the protagonist, near death, still lying to himself that he might have escaped.

One of the reasons for this story's impact is that Disch always takes his protagonist seriously, and always respects him. This does not mean he likes him or admires him. Disch makes it clear the protagonist is an awful failure, who has made bad, self-indulgent life choices. But Disch never makes fun of him for it. Fate is cruel to the protagonist, but the author never is. This reduces the distance between the reader and the protagonist. We are not led to sneer at him, but to sympathize with him, and perhaps see aspects of ourselves in him, disturbing as that may be to us. "Descending" can be taken as a morality tale, a series of Hogarth paintings of the Spendthrift's Progress, in which the true horror is that with little effort we may imagine ourselves in the Spendthrift's place.

"Descending," published in 1964, was among Disch's first professionally published stories. For the product of a writer in his early years, it is astonishing in the excellence of its prose and structure. Its unrelieved bleakness is typical of Disch's early work. His later stories and novels would find at least a few rays of light in the world, but in the clarity and cleverness of this story's prose, its lack of sentimentality, its clear-sighted, unblinking look into character, "Descending" is a fine specimen of Disch's work, and points the way towards the future of his writing.

Link to story.

"The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale" by Ursula K. LeGuin: An Appreciation by Christopher Barzak

"The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale"

Appreciation by Christopher Barzak

I’ve been reading Ursula LeGuin’s fiction since I was a teenager. She is the author whose work I continually turn to in both dark times and light. She is the kind of author who has the ability to change voices, genres and vision whenever it pleases her to do so, which I’ve always admired and, as I began to write my own stories over the years, modeled myself after. There tends to be a trend in professional circles where authors are expected to write in the same style, to write the same sort of stories over and over, as if it is their brand name or signature style. All that is great—-I love many of those sorts of authors—-but I find my relationship with those authors begins to plateau at some point in my reading of their work. With LeGuin, though, I’m always prepared to be surprised.

In “The Flyers of Gy” LeGuin has written a story that is reminiscent of both the invisible cities created by Italo Calvino crossed with the precise observation of the material world found in an anthropologist’s notebook. It is full of dreamy fantasy, but it also contains a logical intelligence that forges the fantasy into something as solid and sharp as a sword. In this story, LeGuin imagines a society of feathered beings who once possessed the racial quality of wings, and along with those wings, the ability to fly. But as this imaginary society is described, we learn that at some point in their evolution, wings and flight left them. Now it is only in rare cases that a child, when they hit puberty, grows wings and becomes a flyer of Gy. These beings have their own subculture, which LeGuin also describes, and in her description of those flyers who live in a culture that no longer flies, we see glimpses of our own world, of people who live outside what our society has deemed normal and natural.

LeGuin has always specialized in the outsider, the intellectual, and the revolutionary. At this moment in history, I find her work more compelling than ever. We need voices like hers to show us light in the dark. Thank you, Ursula LeGuin, for writing this and many of your other stories that have brought us a seeking mind in times when we are told by our leaders and culture to distrust thinking people. And thank you, Ellen Datlow, for publishing "The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale," in Scifiction.

Link to story

"The Beautiful People" by Robert Bloch: An Appreciation by Mikal Trimm

Robert Bloch: A Love Letter

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!

Such fun!

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...

Link to story