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Bloch, Robert

Entry updated 11 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1917-1994) US author very much better known for his work in Fantasy and Horror – and also for his associational work, of which there is a sizeable corpus – than for his relatively small amount of sf; in the genres of the fantastic other than sf, he was a seminal modernizing figure, and he repeatedly applied one line of insight – the Blochian revelation that the sick protagonist in the foreground of a tale intricately manifests a larger world similarly (and more comprehensively) malign – with consistent ingenuity. He was a writer of the fantastic who saw that, in its essence, the fantastic was a kind of handwriting on the wall of the world, an opening to a sense of vastation (see Horror in SF). His best known single title, Psycho (1959), from which Alfred Hitchcock made the famous film (1960), precisely applies this pattern of insight; though its sequels in the Psycho sequence – Psycho II (1982), not related to the 1983 film sequel of the same name, and Psycho House (1990) – are perhaps less effective as fiction, they rigorously intensify that the world, in the end, is a psycho house. But none of these fictions are in any sense sf.

Bloch began as a devotee of the work of H P Lovecraft, who treated him with kindness. His first published story was "Lilies" for the semi-professional Marvel Tales, Winter 1934; his first important sale, "The Secret in the Tomb" (May 1935 Weird Tales), appeared in the May 1935 Weird Tales. In this magazine – and in Fantastic Adventures, where he first published (1942-1945) the 17 Lefty Feep comic fantasy stories assembled with two much later additions as Lost in Time and Space with Lefty Feep (coll 1987) – he published most of the over 100 stories he wrote in the first decade of his career. His first book-length volume, collecting much of his best early fantasy and horror and published by Arkham House, was The Opener of the Way (coll 1945; 2vols as The Opener of the Way 1976 UK and House of the Hatchet 1976). This and other collections – many of them confusingly titled – have fortunately been superseded as overviews of his career by The Selected Stories of Robert Bloch sequence beginning with The Selected Stories of Robert Bloch Volume Final Reckonings (coll 1988) [for confusing series details see below].

It is quite likely that Bloch's use of the term Inner Space, in his 1948 World Science Fiction Convention (see Worldcon) speech, was the first formulation of the concept later articulated by J B Priestley and J G Ballard; but though the speech was printed in the Torcon Report, issued by the convention committee, his use of the term was only later recognized. During this period and afterwards, Bloch remained an active sf and fantasy fan; a collection of fanzine articles, The Eighth Stage of Fandom (coll 1962), edited by Earl Kemp, was assembled for the 1962 World Science Fiction Convention. His best-known story from this time was Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (July 1943 Weird Tales as "Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper"; 1991 chap); much later he amplified his treatment of the fog-shrouded Jack the Ripper phenomenon of 1888 in The Night of the Ripper (1984). After the 1940s he continued to produce a wide variety of material, though somewhat less prolifically than before. Much of his later work, after the success of Psycho, was in Hollywood. His numerous collections published from 1960 combined old and new work, so that much of his pre-World War Two work became widely available towards the end of his life. Some of these volumes feature sf stories, though rarely exclusively. Titles with some sf include Bogey Men: Ten Tales (coll 1963), Atoms and Evil (coll 1962), Tales in a Jugular Vein (coll 1965) and Ladies' Day/This Crowded Earth (coll 1968), the last containing two sf novellas: "Ladies' Day'", a Sleeper Awakes tale, is set in a post World War Three world where women are dominant (see Women in SF); This Crowded Earth (October 1958 Amazing; 2012 dos) is a Dystopia set in a world crushed by Overpopulation. Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography (1993), a humorous, self-deprecating memoir, demonstrates how conscious he was of the implications of his best work.

Bloch's output of sf proper was comparatively slender, but a story like "One Way to Mars" (July 1945 Weird Tales) cleverly opens the psychotic resonances of his best work into a multivalent vision of the nature of space for humans: for it is also an Appointment in Samarra. A good proportion of his sf is comical, less disturbingly perhaps than the comic tenor of some stories that ultimately have no exit but terror. The stories assembled in Atoms and Evil (coll 1962) are representative. He was awarded a 1959 Hugo for Best Short Story for his supernatural fantasy "That Hell-Bound Train" (September 1958 F&SF), and was given a Special Award in 1984. Sneak Preview (1971) is set in a domed "Holywood" (see California; Keep), where brainwashing and Virtual Reality intermesh toxically. In 1975 he received the first World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. [JC]

see also: Wilson Kane; Machines; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Religion; Robots; SF in the Classroom; Science-Fiction Five-Yearly; Sex; Sociology.

Robert Albert Bloch

born Chicago, Illinois: 5 April 1917

died Los Angeles, California: 23 September 1994

works (selected)



Selected Stories

The Lost Bloch

The Reader's Bloch

individual titles

collections and stories


about the author


previous versions of this entry

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