Thursday, August 16, 2018

"A Toy for Juliette" (1967)

Robert Bloch's turn at the Dangerous Visions open mic comes with a long backstory and a surprise sequel. Bloch, who is probably best known today for writing the novel on which Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is based. was an early acolyte and correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft. In 1943, Bloch published one of his most famous stories, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," which imagines the legendary London serial killer as an immortal being who must kill women periodically to live on. In many ways the story made Bloch's career. It was often anthologized and often imitated. With that in mind, almost 25 years later, editor Harlan Ellison asked Bloch to write a story for this collection about Jack the Ripper in the future. This story is the result. However, in his lengthy introduction to the story—which is actually longer than the story itself, and includes direct input from Bloch—Ellison admits it wasn't the story he had been thinking of. It is certainly solid in terms of psychotic cruelty, sadism, etc., which Bloch was good at. Practically clinical, in fact. Still, Ellison had his idea and asked Bloch's permission to do his own version of Jack the Ripper in the future, and also asks him to write the introduction for it (you can see that these story introductions and afterwords are a lively and integral part of the collection). That's the next story in this special two-part episode, which Ellison counsels us to read in tandem—the whole thing, both introductions, both stories, and both afterwords by the Ellison/Bloch tag team. More on that next. "A Toy for Juliette," meanwhile, is basically a chamber drama with a time travel sideshow involving sadists. Or psychopaths or sociopaths—always get those two mixed up. It's post-apocalyptic times in the future. Not many humans on the planet. Juliette and her grandfather are hunkered up in some stronghold, from which Grandfather time travels, collecting specimens from the past. Bloch goes a bit far in suggesting they include Amelia Earhart and other famous disappearing people. Once Juliette gets hold of them she tortures them to death. The story spends a considerable amount of time on her methods. Then Jack the Ripper shows up as a specimen—he's another famous disappearing person, of course (conceivably, Grandfather could get around to the Zodiac killer as well). "A Toy for Juliette" is a creepy and unpleasant story, and totally professional. We'll see what Ellison had in mind for the Jack the Ripper scenario next.

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

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