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The Eye of Argon is Watching You Masturbate
April 13, 2007 10:25 AM   Subscribe

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.
"Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!" returned Grignr.

I cannot believe that I once considered my life complete having never been exposed to SciFi convention mainstay and possibly Worst Science Fiction Story Ever Written, The Eye of Argon. Previously mentioned on Metafilter in comments, it is time for Jim Theis' magnum opus have its day in the Blue. If you can make it through the story without laughing (most can't), there's always the MST3K'd version to attempt as well! (via)
posted by robocop is bleeding (92 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reads like Terry Goodkind.
posted by boo_radley at 10:35 AM on April 13, 2007


A [adjective] [adjective] [noun] [verb, past tense] the [adjective] [noun], as two [adjective] [plural noun] [verb, past tense] nearby, eager to [adverb] [verb] the [adjective] [adjective] [plural noun] from their [adjective] [noun].
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Truly a work of genius.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2007


the mst3k'd version is almost unbearable. but damn if the eye of argon doesn't bear up to repeat readings. it never stops being funny.
posted by shmegegge at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Dan Brown.
posted by adamrice at 10:52 AM on April 13, 2007


"Enough of this! Away with the slut before I loose my control!"

Seeing the peril of his position, Grignr searched for an opening.
Riight. I think it's an allusion to that part in R&J where Mercutio is all like, "Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?" and Tybalt, "saw that he might be in trouble, and thus realized he must think of a response."
posted by Firas at 10:53 AM on April 13, 2007


crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

Awesome.
posted by brundlefly at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


LET IT BE KNOWN that this day, an entry from the ancient Mystery Usenet Theater 3000 archive made its way to the front page of Metafilter!

In internet terms, this is like two horsemen of the apocalpyse have already come by your house, and Famine is in the wings saddling up.
posted by JHarris at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2007


Thank you for delivering this missive from the Vault of Misery. I would like to add that this demonstrates my theory that qualities such as "good" and "bad" are not opposite points on a line, but rather, a circle.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2007


I first saw this in 97, 98 maybe... happy days.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2007


First I've heard of this. Thanks.
posted by mauglir at 11:01 AM on April 13, 2007


Benjamin, I'm not entirely sure that it's a circle. Can something that was so bad it's good be so good in that way that it becomes bad again? (My theory is that it's a bit like molecular quantum! You fill something in the bad level with so much energy that it jumps a level, changing the whole system's attributes.)
posted by Firas at 11:01 AM on April 13, 2007


The flickering torches cast weird shafts of luminescence dancing over the half naked harlot of his choice, her stringy orchid twines of hair swaying gracefully over the lithe opaque nose, as she raised a half drained mug to her pale red lips.
Wow.

Just wow.
posted by dersins at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2007


I have fled, panting and bleeding and alone, across the spaceways to crash land - barely alive and terrified - on the first neutral planet I can find. I have but little time and must pass along my tale so that hope may yet live against the Norgolian Empire. Without word of what I have discovered, they will surely rule the Galaxy for millenia to come.

Stumbling from the hills where I have crashed - known, I will learn, as "The Ozarks" - I bend all my efforts to learning the language and communications technologies of this place. They are just approaching the singularity stage, and still have only slow means of widespread communication and electronic messaging. Desperate to get my news out, I stumble upon a subculture of their literature which may meet my needs.

In this "science fiction", much is discussed that could well be news of the larger galactic struggle if I did not know it to be invention and guesswork. I will tell my story here - surely the reality behind it will lend it a power no fiction can match. Surely, capturing the popular imagination it will outlive my broken dying body, and be preserved as more advanced communication technologies arise. Someday, decades from now, it will be tranlated to electronic media. From whence, it will leak into the neighboring starsystems and be recorded - or at least be known to these "humans" when the Norgalians arrive as they surely must.

Studying these "science fiction" stories and the speech patterns of the humans near my crash site, I eke out the story with the last of my strength, kept going only by the emergency medications in my ships locker. I know not how closely I have emulated the language, but I think I have come close. Surely the story is powerful enough to overcome any akwardness of its telling, and it will be preserved for future generations to achieve its end.

My final act is to mail this story so critical to the fate of all free races of the galaxy to the local journal of this "science fiction", breathe a prayer that my tale may reach ears that can understand its improtance, and expire.
posted by freebird at 11:06 AM on April 13, 2007 [10 favorites]


I cannot read that. How come I can enjoy it's-so-bad-it's-amusing filmmaking but I just can't read horrible writing like this story?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:08 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reads like R.A. Salvatore, but with talent.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Neal Stephenson.

*ducks, but means it*
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:14 AM on April 13, 2007


"Aye! The ways of our civilization are in many ways warped and distorted, but what is your calling," she queried, bustily?
posted by schoolgirl report at 11:17 AM on April 13, 2007


Well, he was 16 when he wrote it.

I don't think anything I wrote when I was 16 would be very much better.
posted by empath at 11:18 AM on April 13, 2007


Grignr.

Barbarian 2.0?
posted by weston at 11:18 AM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Firas, I believe that your theory has merit. I think that I might use it in the event that I am backed into a corner and need to defend myself using ADVANCED SCIENCE. It is worth noting, however, that my theory can be diagrammed by repeatedly drawing a circle on someone's forehead with a marker. Does your theory stand up to this level of elegant simplicity?
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 11:26 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reads like Neal Stephenson.

HA!
posted by COBRA! at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2007


After investing a big chunk of my day reading the entire thing, I think there is a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead-style story to be told about the always present and constantly disembowled characters of First Soldier and Second Soldier.

First Soldier seems always doomed to take offense, ever cocky and sure of his own power. Second Soldier's curse is to always watch the death of the First, knowing that he shall soon be dispatched in an even more graphic manner. Doomed to an never ending spiral of red shirted misfortune, the two wait out the day when the foretold and glorious Third Soldier shall arrive and free them of their shoddily-written literary shackles.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2007 [9 favorites]


The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. "Vámonos, amigos," he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:32 AM on April 13, 2007


The Grandfather stops reading
THE KID: What? What?
GRANDFATHER: There's blotching. You don't want to hear it.
THE KID: I don't mind so much.
He gestures for his Grandfather to read.

GRANDFATHER: Okay.

The thing was gone forever. All that remained was a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up. Shaking his head, his shaggy mane to clear the jumbled fragments of his mind, Grignr tossed the limp female over his shoulder. Mounting one of the disgruntled mares, and leading the other; the weary, scarred barbarian trooted slowly off into the horizon to become a tiny pinpoint in a filtered filed of swirling blue mists, leaving the Nobles, soldiers and peasants to replace the missing monarch. Long leave the king!!!
posted by hal9k at 11:50 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


> Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell

Young fellow, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you now wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

posted by jfuller at 11:57 AM on April 13, 2007


Well, he was 16 when he wrote it.

Yes, it's actually amazing it coheres into anything resembling a narrative at all, given the author's age.

This made my day.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:00 PM on April 13, 2007


A job or so ago, when I was sneakin' around trying not to have my boss notice that I had basically nothing at all to work on for days at a stretch, my buddy sent me a link to this. I spent several ensuing hours savoring the deliciously bad prose, interspersed with piquant bits of smart@$$ness, trying desperately to keep a straight face and not blow coffee out of my nose. (Painfully hot coffee at that.) Thanks for the memory, robocop.
posted by pax digita at 12:17 PM on April 13, 2007


I can tell it's been a long day because I almost tried to tell AZ he spelled "friscillating" wrong.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:18 PM on April 13, 2007


The writer's balls must have been huge. If I had ever written anything like this I'd have burned it before any other living soul saw it. I.. I think I'd rather have some webcam capture of me having sex being laughed at on Youtube than something like this.
posted by Talanvor at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2007


And wait just a damned second, how in the world does the wench go from having sagging nipples to "a firm produting busts" (plural? four breasts?)?! OMGWTFBBQ!
posted by Talanvor at 12:31 PM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Neal Stephenson.

/Chucks a half-brick at Terminal Verbosity

*ducks, but means it*


Damn! You can't hide forever! The man wrote Snow Crash. That alone absolves him whatever came after. *cough*Cryptonomicon*cough*
posted by quin at 12:34 PM on April 13, 2007


Jesus. It sounds like the fake passage Owen Wilson was reading from his character's book in "The Royal Tenenbaums."

The soldiers surrounding Grignr fell to their knees with heads bowed to the stone masonry of the floor in fearful dignity to their sovereign, leige.

"Explain the purpose of this intrusion upon my chateau!"


Okay, that's where I lost the "no laughing" challenge.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:38 PM on April 13, 2007


Hold on a second. You can throw around any sort of accusations of 'worst writing EVAR', but only if you concede that it's always possible to do worse if you explicitly set out to do worse. Witness: Atlanta Nights, in which individual authors of chapters write independent of knowledge of other chapters, and when one of them backs out, they just feed the rest of it into a lexical analyzer and have it use that as the basis for the last chapter. Tremble.
posted by Mayor West at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2007


I pretty much love it, but then again, I own all of the Conan/Kull books.

(Yes, I laugh while I read them...)
posted by Liosliath at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2007


If you haven't been to a science fiction convention lately, you may not know what this masterpiece's place is.

There is nearly always a session where it's read out loud. People who attend the session take turns reading, and each one gets to read until they start laughing, at which point they're booted and replaced. (Of course, having the audience laughing while you're reading it makes that all the more difficult.)

The writer's balls must have been huge. If I had ever written anything like this I'd have burned it before any other living soul saw it.

He was a kid. He was 15 when he wrote it. Cut the guy some slack; you gonna tell me you never did anything when you were 15 that you didn't regret later?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:06 PM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Dan Brown.

The Dan Brown Code
posted by kurumi at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2007


you gonna tell me you never did anything when you were 15 that you didn't regret later?

I killed a man in Reno just to watch him blotch things up.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Dismiss your hand from the hilt, barbarbian, or you shall find a foot of steel sheathed in your gizzard."

I... I'm speechless.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:29 PM on April 13, 2007


I killed a man in Reno just to watch him blotch things up.

Be it told that indeed did I lift the heavy sword of Goljolnraldnr, and with its rough-hewn, yet shimmering edge, did smite a fellow traveler, in a senseless and barbaric act, and when at last the life-force ebbed from his growing-pale frame, I marveled at the spectacle of his corporeal waning, in and of itself.

You know, that's harder to do than it seems.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bah.

I've read worse.
posted by ELF Radio at 1:39 PM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oops, whilest travelling at length across the dust-strewn and tractless expanse of Reno, of course.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:39 PM on April 13, 2007


From ELF's link:
"He was smoking a Cuban cigar and drank a beer while he flirted with the girls."

Whoa, switched tenses thrice in one sentence! This guy's good.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2007


Oh, how I yearn to crush my ample, firm, sagging bosom against the rock hard, massive, bronzed chest of Grignr! But then again, blotches make me degenerate into a leprosy of avaricious lust.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:42 PM on April 13, 2007


It's in print, too.
posted by mcwetboy at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2007


Metafilter: Thou hast need to occupy your time, barbarian.
posted by escabeche at 2:06 PM on April 13, 2007


As he swung aside the arched portal linking the chamber with the corridors beyond, a maddened, blood lusting screech reverberated from his ear drums. Seemingly utilizing the speed of thought, Grignr swiveled to face his unknown foe. With gaping eyes and widened jaws, Grignr raised his axe above his surly mein; but he was too late.

If Neal Stephenson had written it, the whole thing would be written in the present tense, there'd be multiple pages describing the axe, Grignr, the unknown foe, or both would be Catholic, and whole scene would later be revealed to be an unintentional reenactment of a mythological battle between the ancient Norse gods Loki and Balder.
posted by gsteff at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


ELF Radio: Wow. That's The DaVinci Code?! Left Behind is better than that!
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on April 13, 2007


The Eye of Argon, revisited
posted by Sullenshady at 2:47 PM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Neal Stephenson.

It does so have an ending!

I'd love to find scans of the original photocopies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:48 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


This story is such a perfect fit for my a Markov-text generator, that I wonder if that was how it was written in the first place. Maybe a Burroughs-esque cut up involving hundreds of cut-rate barbarian novels tossed in a blender, plus the drugs, plus the goat.

All directions, her bare body being molested in the face of the altar, her arms about her protectors neck, mumbling, kill it! Then the gem gave off a blinding glow, then dribbled through Grignr's fingers in a sickly gluelike substance. By the surly beard of Mrifk, Grignr kneels to no avail other than to keep him busy and distract his mind in energetic contemplations. With blood. the entire chamber was encompassed in the grim orifice of death, wretch!

Possibly makes more sense than the original.
posted by pandaharma at 2:49 PM on April 13, 2007


"Seeing the peril of his position, Grignr searched for an opening. Crushing prudence to the sward, he plowed into the soldier at his left arm taking hold of his sword, and bounding to the dias supporting the prince before the startled guards could regain their composure. Agafnd leaped Grignr and his sire, but found a sword blade permeating the length of his ribs before he could loosed his weapon."

This reminds me of the kind of style I often see among non-native speakers of English who try to hint at a bigger vocabulary by using the "thesaurus"-function in Microsoft Word.
It would probably be interesting to do a corpus analysis on this text; my guess would be that the author is so in love with using synonyms and hates repetitions so much that every lemma^ apart from stop words^ would show up only once or twice in the whole text.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2007


Your Argonizer, Please!
posted by gamera at 3:05 PM on April 13, 2007


Apparently, some tiny publisher in Oregon once issued an edition on fluorescent green paper. I'd kind of like to have one of those.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:30 PM on April 13, 2007


Metafilter: Crushing prudence to the sward.
posted by boo_radley at 3:37 PM on April 13, 2007


dersins, to be fair, I think that particular sentence can be saved. The image is good, isn't it? Like something made of 300's color tones.
posted by Firas at 3:42 PM on April 13, 2007


pandaherma, is that automatically generated? Awesome!
posted by Firas at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2007


This is much better than Stephenson. Not only does something actually happen, but there's an ending.
posted by stavrogin at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I found the script for my next musical.

Cut the guy some slack; you gonna tell me you never did anything when you were 15 that you didn't regret later?

I agree. I did something about 15 minutes ago that I regret. I mean I thought "nappy haired" meant how your hair looked after a nap and "ho" was something gardeners used. Jeeeeze. People are SO sensitive.
posted by tkchrist at 4:27 PM on April 13, 2007


Not only does something actually happen, but there's an ending.

There are Stephenson books where nothing happens? You must've read different books than I have... Also, to be fair (and certainly being fair isn't really the point here), the "no ending" complaint doesn't apply to the Baroque books. They actually have an ending. That ties up all the plot threads. And is entirely satisfying.

I know. Few were more surprised than me.

Sure, it takes 3000 pages to get there, but...

PS: Grignr for president '08.
posted by sparkletone at 4:49 PM on April 13, 2007


Reads like Terry Goodkind.

This is more accurate than the Stephenson bashing. However, there's a noticeable lack of Randroid-ism in the story, thus making it not a perfect match for Goodkind.
posted by sparkletone at 4:50 PM on April 13, 2007


Try reading it out loud for some serious tongue gymnastics. The words trip onto the tongue like boulders. Hilarious. I read the entire thing as a bedtime story over a period of weeks to the nut that introduced me to it. Funny accents are not optional. Tone of high drama is required.

Chapter 3 1/2 is especially good:

Expertly chisled forms of grotesque gargoyles graced the oblique rim protruberating the length of the grim orifice of death, staring forever ahead into nothingness in complete ignorance of the bloody rites enacted in their prescence. Brown flaking stains decorated the golden surface of the ridge surrounding the alter, which banked to a small slit at the lower right hand corner of the altar. . . . Encircling the marble altar was a congregation of leering shamen. . . . Glaring directly down towards her was the stoney, cycloptic face of the bloated diety. Gaping from its single obling socket was scintillating, many fauceted scarlet emerald . . .

:)
posted by Listener at 5:12 PM on April 13, 2007


Try reading it out loud for some serious tongue gymnastics.

I remember reading somewhere that group readings were somewhat common at sci-fi conventions, at least for a while. You'd pass around a copy of it, reading aloud until you started to laugh. If you cracked up, you had to pass to the next person.
posted by sparkletone at 5:17 PM on April 13, 2007


"There are Stephenson books where nothing happens?"

Quicksilver. I guess I'm still a little bitter about wasting my time on that book. 600 pages in and I gave up.

I did like Snow Crash, though.
posted by stavrogin at 5:23 PM on April 13, 2007


Metafilter: Thou hast need to occupy your time, barbarian.

Well played.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:15 PM on April 13, 2007


I have never managed to read it all without cracking up. "Many fauceted scarlet emerald" gets me every time.
posted by rifflesby at 6:42 PM on April 13, 2007


Aw, the ancient Mystery Usenet Theater 3000 archive, hosted by that one guy at UMinn alongside his Freakazoid fan page. Today, MSTing has a 20-line wikipedia article, up for removal as non-notable. And so another relic of our shared Usenet heritage vanishes forever, unnoticed by the modern bustling world.
(Mournful wood flute)
posted by ormondsacker at 6:47 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is rather a shame. I used to waste countless hours reading MSTed fanfics when I should have been working. Even wrote one myself, based on a truly abhorrent pornographic Battle Angel Alita / Devil Hunter Yohko crossover I'd found, and which no one will ever, ever see. I mean, I got some fairly funny jokes in, but I'd never subject anyone to reading the original fanfic, not even my worst enemy.

It's terrible to imagine that fanfic writers of the future might blithely churn out their horrors, with no risk of being publically mocked this way.
posted by rifflesby at 7:10 PM on April 13, 2007


I loved all Stephenson's books until "The BROKE... er ... Baroque Cycle. I kept reading waiting for the key to the cypher. And then I realized. Aw. God Damned it. He's just making shit up.

And I agree this does read like Terry Goodkind. Terry Goodkind always reminds me of this cursed trip to Florida visiting the in-laws. First off the only times we had gone down there was for Funerals. My mother-in-law recognized that it was a serious drag and offered to get a room at a B&B on the beach rather than staying with them. Which would have been Awesome. But the post-hurricane damaged Floridian idea of B&B was only a slight improvement on the bullet riddled quonset hut set in a UN refuge camp in Central Africa. There was no AC. And the place was built out of concrete blocks and the windows only opened like 2 inches. It was like being a POW sent to the cooler. BRUTAL. (Plus the airlines lost our bags - likely ended up in said UN camp.) So on top of that the beach was closed to swimming becuase of the hurricane damage and the raw sewage it churned up. Did I mention the raw sewage? Which wasn't a problem really becuase I got a sinus infection from the TOXIC FUCKING MOLD in the B&B any way and couldn't smell. Which was also blessing since the food in that town was deep fried dirt.

At least , I thought, AT LEAST I will be able to read. So I went to the ONLY bookstore in town.

It was all a crazy mixture of New Age/Christian Reading, Diet books (that apparently, judging by tonnage, nobody there reads) Dr. Phil, Rush Limbaugh, Romance Novels, and... Terry Goodkind.

The lady told me they didn't carry much Science Fiction because "it hurts the children." Seriously.

That was fucking it. Not even any Western novels or Pulp Mysteries. So I got Terry Goodkind. "How bad could it be?" I thought.

I don't know if it was the Toxic Mold, the blood borne parasites from the raw sewage on the beach outside, or my slowly hardening arteries from choking down fried dirt, but after about three chapter my eyes simply refused to work. They processed light and form and motion. I could "see" in the conventional sense. But any words were rejected by the gatekeeper on my optic nerve. I had ask my wife what those octagonal red signs said at the end of intersections.

Terry Goodkind gave me Word Blindness— it's like Snow Blindness. So for three more days I just sat and stared at the putrid brown waves of sewage in a state of Floridian Autism.
posted by tkchrist at 7:12 PM on April 13, 2007 [8 favorites]


ormondsacker: I remember that site too! Its URL, in case it's ever returns from its digigrave, was pinky.wtower.com. It had a nice picture of Pinky (of The Brain fame) on its root page.
posted by JHarris at 7:19 PM on April 13, 2007


If I recall correctly, Mike Neylon was the guy who hosted Web Site #9. I'd like to shake that man's hand.

If only I'd had the presence of mind to archive that web site back when it was live. There doesn't seem to be a resource like that left anymore.
posted by Durhey at 10:31 PM on April 13, 2007


Dude! tkchrist, that's a horrifying (and hilarious) story. I believe Vonnegut (RIP) once described that state as being "catatonic with disgust." I have to say though, had I been in that position, I'd have gone with a romance.

Anyway, being familiar with Robert E. Howard's Conan and Kull stories, I think it's pretty obvious what Theis was trying to do in The Eye of Argon. It's funny, too how successful Theis actually is. And yet, the Kull and Conan stories are awesome. The Eye of Argon is awesome too, but ... differently so.
posted by wobh at 11:31 PM on April 13, 2007


Durhey: The MSTing Mine has several dozen salvaged MST3K treatments, of wildly mixed quality. Without a rating system it's probably not worth randomly slogging through the crap, but old-timers may find some they remember fondly.

For instance, Grignr, meet Mernix.
(Note: This is somewhat geekier than I was ever planning to be on Metafilter. Also, Goodkind sucks.)
posted by ormondsacker at 12:09 AM on April 14, 2007


If you haven't been to a science fiction convention lately

/me jams on brakes with both feet
posted by trondant at 6:43 AM on April 14, 2007


If I recall correctly, Mike Neylon was the guy who hosted Web Site #9. I'd like to shake that man's hand.

Ah yes. For what it's worth, there still seems to be a site there, but it just says "test".

If only I'd had the presence of mind to archive that web site back when it was live. There doesn't seem to be a resource like that left anymore.

I checked archive.org, and apparently their crawler stopped indexing just before the msting's depth, possibly because the site used a cgi script to serve them. I've not checked all the snapshot dates, but it seems likely they're gone.

They could perhaps be salvaged from Google Groups, which maintains extensive Usenet archives.
posted by JHarris at 7:51 AM on April 14, 2007


A couple years ago we got new bookshelves and I had to move a few thousand (no, I'm not exaggerating) books to a new home. When I started moving all my old pulp-fantasy classics I did a little experiment. I'd read the first page and see if the stuff that ruled my world as a teenager would still have some kind of impact. John Carter of Mars was laughable, Doc Savage wasn't much better, Lovecraft was a disappointment, it went on and on. Finally I picked up Robert E. Howard. It was one of the Conan books, with the old Frazetta cover. I meant to read just one page - half an hour later I looked up and I was two chapters in and couldn't stop. REH was no Hemmingway but goddamn he could spin a tale.

I spend a fair amount of time in the fantasy/SF community online. And one author is subject to more ridicule, scorn, and parody than any other: Terry Goodkind. One of the George RR Martin boards has even raised Goodkind mockery to an art-form.
posted by Ber at 11:42 AM on April 14, 2007


I think they made a cartoon of this already.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:18 PM on April 14, 2007


Quicksilver. I guess I'm still a little bitter about wasting my time on that book. 600 pages in and I gave up.

Except tons of things happen in Quicksilver. By the end of just Quicksilver, the characters and the world around them are vastly different than they were at the start! That the Royal Society shit can be a bit dry is a problem of a different sort. I can totally get behind "I don't care about any of the things happening," but saying nothing happens is just hilariously, vastly wrong.

I had to really struggle to get through the non-Jack-and-Eliza parts of Quicksilver the first time through. Luckily, Daniel's chunk of the plot becomes much more interesting in the second and third books, but I never had any trouble reading about Jack or Eliza (Jack in particular gets into some hilariously crazy shit in the later volumes.)

Giving up 2/3 of the way through Quicksilver, complaining that nothing happens, is like giving up on Lord Of The Rings because "nothing happens" in Fellowship. Admittedly, Stephenson takes three LotR-length volumes to tell his story, but, well...

Thematically, change (in people, in technology, in the world in general) is central, if not the central theme. Quicksilver, et al., do a wonderful job of conveying the feeling of subtle powerful change over time and the only to get that feeling is length. I suppose one could try a jarring time jump, or a montage of some kind... But I really don't see either of those conveying the same feeling.

I like Confusion, and System Of The World quite a lot more than Quicksilver, but without Quicksilver to set them up, it wouldn't work. In the end, I think it's more than worth the effort to plow through Quicksilver (obviously). There's even an actual, conventionally satisfying ending waiting for you when all's said and done!

I find it amusing that a comment defending the length of Stephenson's Baroque books is itself not exactly brief.
posted by sparkletone at 1:42 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


tkchrist's experience with Goodkind is much like mine. In as much as it involved being stuck on a family-related vacation with nothing else to read. I had the first two Goodkind books with me and ... that was it. Nothing else. And no reasonably close bookstores to save me, and since I wasn't old enough to drive at the time, I couldn't go hunting for one on my own.

How I managed to get through the first two without my eyes actually melting out of my head is a miracle.

When I speak of painful boredom on vacations, that is just about the only time I am being literal about the "painful" part.
posted by sparkletone at 1:50 PM on April 14, 2007


I agree, sparkletone.
posted by brundlefly at 3:19 PM on April 14, 2007


Sparkletone, in a brief time the Hobbits in lotr went from pleasant, contented little things that want nothing in life to desperate people on the run from pure evil in order to save the world by running toward pure evil.

In Quicksilver, there were plenty of points where I thought something would happen, but nothing did and the story plodded sullenly on. Opens with a mysterious guy watching a witch hanging... oo, what's going to happen? Nothing. It moves on to the next scene. Isaac Newton is caught sketching Daniel Waterhouse in his sleep... oo, is he hinting at something sexual? Dunno, nothing happens. Someone is murdered and Daniel Waterhouse witnesses it. Oo, drama, right? No, nothing happens to anyone. A powerful noble lets Daniel Waterhouse know that he and his family have syphilis. Does anything dramatic happen? Does anyone find out? Dunno. Nothing happens. Daniel's father is apparently murdered by arson. Who cares, though, because there is no followup. Daniel doesn't even seem to give a shit. Daniel Waterhouse's ship is wrecked and the crew and passengers are thrown overboard. Does anything happen? Dunno, that's where I stopped reading. I just assumed that I would be disappointed again.

This isn't about length or dryness. I love the unabridged Les Miserables with the lengthy tangents. Tolstoy, Hugo, Melville. I have no problems reading books that other people think are too long or dry. I don't even skip the chapter about time in Ada or Ardor. I finished Ulysses, for god's sake, but I couldn't finish Quicksilver.
posted by stavrogin at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2007


I once threw a Better Than Sex party, asking guests to bring something better than sex (my group of friends and I were on this kick of throwing parties with ridiculous themes and then mostly ignoring the themes). Most people brought desserts, as intended, but one friend brought The Eye of Argon as her contribution, and we ended up reading the whole damn thing in shifts. You think it's funny now, try reading it aloud to a group who are all hysterically laughing, while completely toasted.

Personally, my favorite part of the text is the fantastical breast imagery.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:28 PM on April 14, 2007


Personally, my favorite part of the text is the fantastical breast imagery.

Isn't that our favorite of ... well... everything?
posted by tkchrist at 9:41 PM on April 14, 2007


Sparkletone, in a brief time the Hobbits in lotr went from pleasant, contented little things that want nothing in life to desperate people on the run from pure evil in order to save the world by running toward pure evil.

Over the course of Quicksilver:

- Daniel Waterhouse goes from being the son of one of the most infamous Puritans in 17th century England, on the fast track to a life as a minister, to a budding scientist. He witnesses the Great Plague of London, and the Great Fire. He befriends guys like Newton and Robert Hooke. He ends up tiring of both the feuds between Newton and Leibniz and the political life he's ended up with and he flees to America. He starts a family there, and a failed university while he continues to work on Science. Enoch Root arrives and summons him back to England. It seems he's not done with Newton, Leibniz, or politics.

- Jack Shaftoe goes from being a syphilitic vagabond to... a syphilitic vagabond who's in love with Eliza. He gets some money, loses some money. At one point he lops off a French nobleman's hand, and this has huge consequences throughout the rest of the series. He ends up pissing off Eliza by inadvertently getting into the one business she can't stand: slave trading. She chucks a harpoon at him, wounding him, and he sails off on his boat of slaves, intending to make amends once he's done with the voyage. Instead he ends up an oar slave on a pirate galley, and is mad from aforementioned syphilis.

- Eliza goes from being a young girl abducted into slavery to a virginal harem slave. When the Grand Turk who owns her fails to take over Vienna, the virgins are ordered killed, but just as she's about to die, Jack blunders in and ends up saving her. They have several adventures together across Europe. She has a knack for economics. Also, she's pretty hot. This endears her to various nobles. She too makes friends with Leibniz.

There's pirates and swashbuckling and several really bad jokes, and a sex scene just as awful as any of the bad jokes. At one point, Jack's syphilitic hallucinations cause a hilarious and debauched musical to break out.

Shit happens, yo! That's just the Big stuff that I can remember off the top of my head not having read the books in over a year. There's all sorts of other stuff that plays into who these people are, what their lives are like, and how they relate to each other.

On a macro-level, it leaves out the huge changes the world goes through over the course of Daniel's life (further change, etc., taking place over the course of the rest of the series).

In Quicksilver, there were plenty of points where I thought something would happen, but nothing did and the story plodded sullenly on.

I feel like kind of a pedantic shit-heel for responding point by point, but there's no clearer way to respond to here, I guess.

Opens with a mysterious guy watching a witch hanging... oo, what's going to happen? Nothing.

Holy shit! It's Enoch Root! The same Enoch Root as we see in Cryptonomicon! What's he doing in the 1700s? We find out what's up with him later. More immediately, he finishes traveling to see Daniel, whom we find is considered something of an odd duck by other American scientist types. Enoch Root delivers a letter to Waterhouse calling him back to his native England, and Waterhouse departs. In flashbacks we find out how he got to be a scientist, why he left England, and get a good idea as to why he's being called back.

Root arriving on Daniel's doorstep is a hugely significant event.

It moves on to the next scene. Isaac Newton is caught sketching Daniel Waterhouse in his sleep... oo, is he hinting at something sexual? Dunno, nothing happens.

It's very likely sexual (later there are hints of Newton having a 'relationship' with someone else who becomes a close hanger-on). Mostly it establishes what sort of (deeply odd, and kind of a dick) guy Newton is. I mean, the guy shoves needles into his eye, so he can bend it and test how that changes the way his eye refracts light. That Newton, what a card!

This event isn't particularly significant on its own, but along with numerous other scenes it firmly establishes the character of Newton, and Daniel's relationship to him. Almost all the events that take place play into later stuff. I swear.

Someone is murdered and Daniel Waterhouse witnesses it. Oo, drama, right? No, nothing happens to anyone.

This one in particular is really off. The incident is brought up again, and again both in Quicksilver, and in later books. Nothing happens to the noble because it was a drunk noble murdering a Nobody, if I recall.

Daniel's failure/inability to stand up and turn in the murderer demonstrates a certain sort of cowardice that helps define Daniel's relationship to power and nobility (especially that particular noble and the other people involved in that night's events!). It definitely informs his later political life.

A powerful noble lets Daniel Waterhouse know that he and his family have syphilis. Does anything dramatic happen? Does anyone find out? Dunno. Nothing happens.

I'm a little fuzzy on the details of this particular plot line, and don't have the books at hand. I'm fairly positive the syphilitic nobles and their syphilis end up coming up again, and their crazed-by-syphilis antics cause a lot of political trouble (mostly to do with lines of succession I believe, since the syphilis screws up a lot of that).

Daniel's father is apparently murdered by arson. Who cares, though, because there is no followup. Daniel doesn't even seem to give a shit.

This is just patently false. The "no followup" and the "doesn't seem to give a shit" parts. The Daniel's-father-got-blowed-up bit is pretty spot on. Both Drake's life and death have an incalculable influence on Daniel and the person he ends up becoming. Drake, and his relationship with Daniel, informs just about every aspect of Daniel's life, from his ideas on religion and politics to his interest in science, and is the cause of quite a lot of guilt on Daniel's part.

As I recall, Daniel mourns his father, but in the end, is also somewhat glad to have the weight of obligations to his father lifted from him by his father's explosive demise. Without his father sending him off to learn to be a minister, he never would've fallen in with those rascally Natural Philosophers. And after Drake's death, there's no one around who would prevent Daniel from becoming the Natural Philosopher he wishes to be. Given Daniel's relationship with Newton, and many other events, the entire world of the books would be different had Drake not lived and died as he did!

I just assumed that I would be disappointed again.

Possibly. Again, I'm not faulting you for disliking the book, or finding it not to your taste. That's totally understandable. But saying nothing happens is plain old demonstrably false.

Quicksilver is the hardest to get through the first time, IMO. But it pays off in spades. I couldn't put the latter two books down once I got to them.
posted by sparkletone at 10:55 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


PS: Holy shit, was that ever longer than I intended it to be.
posted by sparkletone at 10:55 PM on April 14, 2007


I don't think anything I wrote when I was 16 would be very much better.

A friend of mine and I wrote a novel together my senior year of high school. It's no great work of literature, but I humbly submit it is better than "The Eye of Argon."
posted by kindall at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2007


A friend of mine and I wrote a novel together my senior year of high school. It's no great work of literature, but I humbly submit it is better than "The Eye of Argon."

Two new MeFi projects!

1) To group-write a novel which is better than Eye of Argon.

And more difficult:

2) To group-write a novel which is worse than Eye of Argon.
posted by sparkletone at 12:05 PM on April 15, 2007


Well, I could always try reading it again. I don't even remember Jack Shaftoe or Eliza.

I might skip a lot of stuff this time.
posted by stavrogin at 6:51 PM on April 15, 2007


Sparkletone, I have been working on that effort on Mefi for months now.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:29 PM on April 15, 2007


Let us not forget Nickolaus Pacione

"Words cannot be thing enough to describe the dream that I had from the prior night. As from the thoughts of horror come from the fingers, the words I draw from the dream -- appear on an eerie glow of a word processor. In the sense of where it would be the sense of one's mind while it is written in the pages."

Oh yes, he's serious, and I believe English is his first language too.
posted by tomble at 10:10 PM on April 15, 2007


Oh, Terry Goodkind. Remember, he's not REALLY writing fantasy, his publishers just insist on pigeonholing his SERIOUS BUSINESS NOVELS as such. Ignore the evil chicken...

As for group-reading-aloud-as-con-game, I've heard that the Venom Cock is the new Eye of Argon.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 4:01 AM on April 16, 2007


The Eye of Argon meets William Burroughs: The Cut-Up Eye.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2007


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