So, right up front, there’s some doubt about the name of this story. It is consistently called “The Hell-Bound Train” wherever mentioned in The Hugo Winners, Volume I. Wikipedia credits it as “That Hell-Bound Train,” matching the folksong from which it takes its name. Isfbd.org agrees with Wikipedia.
Robert Bloch is perhaps best known as the author of Psycho, the novel on which Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller of the same name was based, and of Psycho II, the novel on which Richard Franklin’s less-famous thriller of the same name was… not based.
Bloch’s work nearly always includes elements of horror, but he is known for science fiction stories as well, including the Star Trek episodes“Wolf in the Fold,” about Jack the Ripper, “Catspaw,” about the fabled civilization whose science is so advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic, and “What Are Little Girls Made of?”, about the killer androids created by a dread (and dead) civilization.
No surprise, then, that his first-and-only Hugo-winning short is not really a science fiction story, but a variation on Faust and many other tales of mortals trying to outwit the devil.
(Or…Why I Don’t Like Fantasy, Explained, Part One)
I don’t like fantasy.
“But all fiction is fantasy… waaaaaah…”
Stop that. You know what I mean. Well, maybe you don’t. I know what I mean.
I mean Tolkein. Conan the Barbarian. Shanara. Xanth. Hell, I have trouble getting into Heinlein’s Glory Road, although I’ve read it three times. All good works, but I don’t like their flavor. Except Glory Road. (What is “Fantasy?” Stay tuned next week.) For whatever reason, I’ve just never cared for fantasy.
So, when I sat down to read the latest entry in Isaac Asimov’s The Hugo Winners and realized it was largely fantasy, I read with an extra critical eye. As a result, I gained some insights about what elements fantasy as a genre often contains—or does not contain—that make it a problem for me.
Review: The Darfsteller by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
It’s been a while since I blogged. When I started blogging weekly, a decade ago, I did reviews of books, comics and movies, with occasional essays on overall themes from science fiction and popular culture. I also occasionally talked about politics and social issues. In the years following my father’s death, I talked about the house that he had started building in 1967 and my work to move it toward completion.
Around 2019, life… happened. It took turns I did not expect, many of them. While I kept writing, I didn’t have the energy or the confidence to continue sharing my thoughts with the world.
Now, I’m trying to get back to blogging. I’ll start by doing what I used to—reviewing what I’m reading. Here goes.
I picked up The Hugo Winners, Volumes 1 & 2 at a used bookstore in Liverpool, PA about two weeks ago. It was the only book I picked out that day. That is unusual for me, but I had a six-year-old—my grandson—dancing about my feet as I browsed, wailing that he was hungry, that he was bored, that I needed to help him explore the crawlspace in the bookstore’s basement. He had already picked out a book for himself—The Encyclopedia of Chess—and his work there was done. In the interests of keeping my shins and wrists intact, I picked out one book I did not yet own (I was pretty sure) and headed to the checkout.