(Found) I am looking for a sci-fi short story I read in my childhood about the meaning of life


New Member
Nov 25, 2023
In the story, life consists of going through rooms in which you have to pass tests in your childhood to prepare yourself for life. If you fail a test, you get swallowed by the ground. The main character passes all tests and is eager to start life. When he leaves the last classroom, he finds himself in a corridor which he thinks will lead him to his life. As he walks along the corridor, he sees rooms where other adults gather to pursue activities that the main character regards as meaningless, eg working out, collecting money and competing for women. He only stops in one room where people meditate. In his meditation, he hears a voice encouraging him to move on and not be distracted by rooms along his way. So he keeps going until he sees a white light at the end of the corridor. He thinks this is where life starts, but when he reaches the end of the corridor, a guard stops him and blocks his way. The guard says: “This WAS your life.” The main character is swallowed by the ground.

I would love to find the story. Can anybody help?
I can't help you myself with this story -- though I'd like to read it having read your summary -- but I can move the thread over To Book Search where our more learned denizens hang out just waiting for puzzles like this to appear!
I can't help you myself with this story -- though I'd like to read it having read your summary -- but I can move the thread over To Book Search where our more learned denizens hang out just waiting for puzzles like this to appear!
Yes, thank you!
Thank you; yes, it is "The Learning Maze", and I have an old paperback copy of "The Best of Robert Bloch" that contains it. (Cover art of the Hell-Bound Train.)

I appreciate the find on that too, because I knew that I had read it and could not find any clues not packed away with old paperbacks.

Story: Jon remembers from earliest infancy being taken care of by automated Feeders and Changers.

Not all his companions learned as quickly as he did. Some of them seemed uninterested in watching the screens and absorbing the information they provided. If this indifference persisted, the servo-mechanisms noted it and took action.
The action was simple and direct, but startlingly effective. The mechanism merely focused its blank-faced attention on a lazy or noncompetitive youngster and then, with a quick gesture, reached up and pulled a switch on the side of its metal head. Suddenly, without warning, the ground directly under the child parted and he fell into the dark opening below. Sometimes there was a scream, but usually it happened too quickly for that---for, in an instant, the gaping hole was gone again as though it and the child it had swallowed no longer existed.

"Screens" and servo-mechanisms taught the children, and later conditioned adults further, conditioning people into traditional gender roles, starting race wars, awarding "nubile females" to men who accumulated the most metal disks (apparently representing coins or money).

Jon finds his way through the mazes of life and finds a room with meditation and contemplation -- and finally realizes those are not ends in themselves, but to be used in living.

He concludes that the Maze was to teach and refine a person (apparently male only, by the conditioning -- Bloch is calling out actual social conditioning) to become fully human and break out into the real world.

But when he arrives at the end and sees natural light, not the artificial cavern light, and challenges a servo-mechanism to let him pass, the servo pulls the switch on Jon.
Thanks so much!!! I did not expect at all to receive a reply on this and so soon! You are amazing. Now I only need to find a way to read it again. It seems to be out of print on all big online book stores.
Identify the anthology and you will likely find it on eBay or resold through Amazon.
I think this is probably "The Learning Maze" (1974) by Robert Bloch. It has only been published in collections, but it's very memorable.
Thank you again for this find. It is maddening to have read something and be unable to find it again.

Tuffel1968, because of the Internet Archive, this anthology, which seems to be unavailable, The Best of Robert Bloch, which later was printed in several volumes, is available online.

"The Best of Robert Bloch" paperback archived, with the cover art of That Hell-Bound Train, also in the anthology, is on Internet Archive.