Robert Bloch’s FEAR TODAY — GONE TOMORROW collection is annoying because Bloch’s such a good writer. When his work falls short, it’s a lot more frustrating than when a total hack writes something bad.
The best story in this collection is probably “The World Timers,” a satiric piece about how rejiggering who people are allowed to sleep with could create utopia. The worst is easily “FOB Venus,” which while it was a familiar enough theme at the time (women really run things) still comes off highly misogynist (women are taking over! They have all the power! OMG, and the terrible reason is …).
Though even in that one, the sequence of events is nicely constructed, for whatever that’s worth. And while message stories (or “western union” as I sometimes call them) aren’t my cup of tea, Bloch manages to make his way more readable than most. But not readable enough.
The ones I’m particularly focusing on are “The Hungry Eye,” in which a cynical stand-up comic who thinks he’s a realist discovers what reality really is; “The Gods Are Not Mocked,” in which a small-time drug dealer and cynic learns that cultural icons do not like being parodied; and “The Funnel of God” in which a man searches for truth, discovers most truth-seekers are phonies, and therefore the world is irredeemable and must be destroyed. The third of these made a huge impact on me when I first read it, as I’d rarely seen such sweeping, cynical satire before (I know now that says more about my reading habits than anything else). The other two disappointed me, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Rereading, I figured it out. Bloch, who was in his forties when he wrote these (they’re almost all from the 1960s) comes off like a cranky old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Kids these days, with their stand-up comedy, their drugs and premarital sex, their bumper stickers, their jejune cynicsm, their mockery of squares and cultural icons—which is apparently much less worthy of respect than Bloch’s mockery of the mockers. Not that youth doesn’t sometimes deserve mockery, whether it’s Beatniks or ironic hipsters (who would fit quite comfortably into “The Hungry Eye”), but I don’t think making fun of Smoky the Bear or Dracula is in itself an offense for which someone should be struck down (as happens in “Gods are not Mocked”).
“The Hungry Eye” seems to suggest that the conventional square lifestyle would pass Bloch’s muster, but “Funnel of God” doesn’t even manage that. Everyone sucks. People who live for sex and sensation are shallow. People who claim to be fearless truth seekers are all self-deluded. Nobody’s ever willing to look at the truth honestly. And this is a massive, massive failure on humanity’s part, to the point the Black Skelm can’t see any point to keeping the human race going.
I’m reminded of Edmund Burke’s quote that “A conscientious person would rather doubt his own judgment, than condemn his species”—that is, if you can’t find any good in human beings anywhere, possibly the problem is you (as with James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen).
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