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Winner of the Jay T. Rikosh award for excellence
December 1, 2009 12:15 PM   Subscribe

No mere transcription can give the true flavor of the original printing of The Eye of Argon. It was mimeographed with stencils cut on an elite manual typewriter. Many letters were so faint as to be barely readable, others were overstruck, and some that were to be removed never got painted out with correction fluid. Usually, only one space separated sentences, while paragraphs were separated by a blank line and were indented ten spaces. Many words were grotesquely hyphenated. And there were illustrations - I cannot do them justice in mere words, but they were a match for the text.
The Eye of Argon (prev.), long hailed as the worst sci-fi story ever written, is at last available online in all its original glory.
posted by Paragon (64 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, the dreams of the 16 year old Sci-Fi fan, flush with power wrought from an out-dated dictionary. If the original is too much, Wikipedia has a plot summary.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Die-hard MST3K fan that I am, I couldn't even finish the first page. Deliciously awful. Thanks for this. :)
posted by xedrik at 12:26 PM on December 1, 2009


I haven't read this in a full gadzoinks of years. I had forgotten how troubling sixteen year old Jim Theis' inner landscape was.

Unrelatedly, here's one of my favorite sentences: "His hands reached out clutching his urinary gland as his knees wobbled rapidly about for a few seconds then buckled, causing the ruptured shaman to collapse in an egg huddled mass to the granite pavement, rolling helplessly about in his agony."
posted by Kattullus at 12:30 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Lotta gold in there. * shudder *
posted by everichon at 12:35 PM on December 1, 2009


I've tried reading The Eye on three separate occasions, and never been able to finish.

Some day, perhaps today, I'll succeed.
posted by lekvar at 12:35 PM on December 1, 2009


When I was new and fresh to the depths of IRC, having my hand virtually held by older, nerdier, male friends who astoundingly didn't take advantage of my naivete, I managed to cut through the invisible nerd barrier and make my very first real internet friends by recording myself reading the first page of Eye of Argon out loud, with voices. I was the one who could go the longest without cracking up.

Somewhere, floating in the moist pools of forgotten data, is my rendition of "The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid."

Just thinking about it makes my crimson life fluid rush around my veins faster.
posted by Mizu at 12:37 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


It has an ending! I've never read the ending!

... Wow. That was somehow even *more* disappointing than the version with the last page left off.

Yay?
posted by kyrademon at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2009


"After all, a man cannot slink from a heavily guarded palace while burdened down by the intense bulk of a squatting statue, providing of course that the idol can even be hefted, which in fact was beyond the reaches of Grignr's coarsing stamina."

Well, duh.
posted by Evangeline at 12:49 PM on December 1, 2009


Metafilter: With each hiss of hideous pucker the thing increased in size.

(am I doing it right?)
posted by Ratio at 12:51 PM on December 1, 2009


I'M REALLY HAPPY FOR YOU JIM THEIS, AND IMA LET YOU FINISH FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, BUT SQUIRRELKING IS THE BEST AWFUL SCIFI AUTHOR OF ALL TIME! ALL TIME!
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:51 PM on December 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Last time we read this there were three of us and we just had to bail on "A tightly rung elliptical circle or torches" and go on to the next sentence.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2009


The really unfortunate part about The Eye — and this is alluded to in the Wiki article — is that the author (now deceased) took the mockery rather personally.

On one hand, yeah, he sent it out for publication and in some sense I suppose that makes the work fair game, but I do wonder whether the rather unkind reaction to a 16-year-old's earnestly-meant work discouraged him from ever trying again, when perhaps he would have done a better job of it.

The 1970 OSFAN interview with Theis may be of interest to some.
The two issues of OSFAN that I have are replete with amazing typos, spelling errors, runtogether words and missing punctuation in a manner that will be familiar to readers of "Eye of Argon". I suspect that the vast majority of the errors in "Eye of Argon" were in fact not the author's fault, but were committed by the person (uncredited) who typed the stencils for OSFAN, who appears to have been a sloppy typist and rather sparing in the use of corflu. [...]

OSFAN: I am personally pruod of your story for OSFAN10, in the sense, that it is more than I could have done. Also the fact that when they were kidding you about it, you took it so well. I think you should be given a pat on the back for such good sportsmanship. You showed real character.

THEIS: I didn't know that.I mean, it was easier than showing bad character and inviting trouble.
By 1985, he had apparently had enough:
The guys on [Hour 25] used to read "Eye" periodically and mock mightily. The author was rather hurt that his story, which he wrote out of love (however misplaced) for the Howard genre, was so hooted at. He said he would never write anything again. [...]

Jim Theis (pronounced "Tice"), 30 years old at the time of the interview in 1984, wrote The Eye around 1970, when he was about 16 years old. He now has a degree in Journalism. He still collects books, comics, German swords, but no longer writes fiction.
In a way it strikes me as a little similar to what happened with Larry Walters (better known as "that guy who got arrested for flying over LAX in a lawn chair"): it's a funny story on the surface, but there's a fairly sad ending if you care to look. Sometimes people don't realize how much publicity they're buying themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:59 PM on December 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


"It's hard for me to dog on any writer who actually gets something finished and published," MCMikeNamara sighed.

"the questionable punctuation and capitalization. And spelling. Does it not bother you", his conscience questioned?

"I suppose so," Admitted MCMikeNamara. "But not as much as the crazy dialogue attribution verbs. Whatever happened to "said'"?

"But lots more people have paid for Stephanie Meyer books than have ever heard of this", his soul remembered.

And the salty flow of tears spouted from their glassy dilated eyeballs in infinite torture, a plea for the whole of humanity.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:05 PM on December 1, 2009 [17 favorites]


mccarty.tim: I'M REALLY HAPPY FOR YOU JIM THEIS, AND IMA LET YOU FINISH FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, BUT SQUIRRELKING IS THE BEST AWFUL SCIFI AUTHOR OF ALL TIME! ALL TIME!

I hate to break it to you, tim, but it was a parody fanfic. The author revealed himself on SA a while back; it's what the 'Wedemeyer' on his official page refers to.
posted by flatluigi at 1:06 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up.
posted by brundlefly at 1:07 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the thread where he talks about it.

It's a few months old so you might not be able to read it, though.
posted by flatluigi at 1:08 PM on December 1, 2009


"at last" available online? I found out about (and first read) the Eye back on the FidoNet sci-fi board... love to see a Flash adaptation by the person who made the How Is Babby Formed video.
posted by jtron at 1:11 PM on December 1, 2009


Awesome. I'm gonna go swap this with my wife's recently completed NaNoWriMo draft.

She'll get the joke, right?

Right?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:12 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is there a formal name for the idea that adding lots and lots of gratuitous adjectives will somehow make it more literary? And wasn't there a post a few years ago about some author who took this to its extreme, with huge paragraphs full of never-ending lists of adjective after adjective for every person, thing, or event in the story.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2009


I admit I cracked a smile at the line about an "opaque nose" but other than that it's just bad writing. Bad writing isn't funny. I've spent way too much time editing bad writing to laugh at it.

Bad writing is especially not funny when the writer gets published and makes buckets of money off of his/her bad writing AND YES I AM LOOKING SQUARELY AT YOU DEAN KOONTZ.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:18 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, seeing the thing as it was printed reminds me of the stack of Alarums & Excursions reprints that I have. (It's a classic RPG – at that point, pretty much D&D – APAzine that had a lot of influence in the early days.) These were run off on mimeographs from stencils that were created by typing into tissue-thin paper; typos had to be fairly massive before you'd bother to fix them, which makes sense of the wretched grammar. For want of a better explanation, this is what people had before there was an Internet.

And jtron: it's not that the text is finally available, it's that this is an original printing with the correct typos, the ending and the art.
posted by graymouser at 1:20 PM on December 1, 2009


Fans of this may also enjoy The Gonterman Shrine.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:21 PM on December 1, 2009


Is there a formal name for the idea that adding lots and lots of gratuitous adjectives will somehow make it more literary?

Are you thinking of purple prose?
posted by graymouser at 1:21 PM on December 1, 2009


...wasn't there a post a few years ago about some author who took this to its extreme, with huge paragraphs full of never-ending lists of adjective after adjective for every person, thing, or event in the story.

This one,
Rhomboid?
posted by Floydd at 1:22 PM on December 1, 2009


You know what's missing, there? A link to the screenplay version. Please, please tell me there's a screenplay version.
posted by davejay at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2009


NaNoWriMo

No matter how many times I read this word, it still comes out in Flanders.

"Hi-diddly-ho! I see you're writing your NaNoWriMo, neighbor-ino!"
posted by explosion at 1:29 PM on December 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm gonna go with Peter Chimaera, no the first by any means, but surely the best:

John Stalvern waited. The lights above him blinked and sparked out of the air. There were demons in the base. He didn't see them, but had expected them now for years. His warnings to Cernel Joson were not listenend to and now it was too late. Far too late for now, anyway.
John was a space marine for fourteen years. When he was young he watched the spaceships and he said to dad "I want to be on the ships daddy."
Dad said "No! You will BE KILL BY DEMONS"
There was a time when he believed him. Then as he got oldered he stopped. But now in the space station base of the UAC he knew there were demons.
"This is Joson" the radio crackered. "You must fight the demons!"
So John gotted his palsma rifle and blew up the wall.
"HE GOING TO KILL US" said the demons
"I will shoot at him" said the cyberdemon and he fired the rocket missiles. John plasmaed at him and tried to blew him up. But then the ceiling fell and they were trapped and not able to kill.
"No! I must kill the demons" he shouted
The radio said "No, John. You are the demons"
And then John was a zombie.
posted by Science! at 1:31 PM on December 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


"at last" available online?
I should have elaborated: for the first time, there is a PDF online of the original printing, with the original illustrations, formatting, front and back cover, and frontispiece.
posted by Paragon at 1:36 PM on December 1, 2009


But not as much as the crazy dialogue attribution verbs. Whatever happened to "said'"?

You mean like this little gem?:
"You"; ejaculated the Ecordian in a pleased tone.
posted by Kabanos at 1:37 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I'm gonna go swap this with my wife's recently completed NaNoWriMo draft.

Soon to be eponysterical.
posted by tommasz at 1:37 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Floydd, that was indeed the one I was trying to remember. The Eye of Argon has nothing on Silk and Steel in the cringe awards
posted by Rhomboid at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2009


IYCK!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2009


I'm all for having fun with this. But I gotta say, when he was 16 years old he wrote a 25 page story and submitted it for publication. That was more than I had accomplished at 16, unless you want to count getting high and listening to Led Zeppelin.
posted by marxchivist at 1:45 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


It seems appropriate that this is right next door to the thread where you can see Dickens' original manuscript for A Christmas Carol.
posted by EarBucket at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Eli Cash's Lord of the Rings
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:14 PM on December 1, 2009


Bad writing is especially not funny when the writer gets published and makes buckets of money off of his/her bad writing AND YES I AM LOOKING SQUARELY AT YOU DEAN KOONTZ.

Hey, I'll have you know the Dean Koontz novels I devoured in middle school made for some awesome acid fodder in my twenties. Twilight Eyes? Running around an apartment complex, seeing other residents as the goblins in their human form, just be cool, keep it together, nobody knows you're the only real human here, they all think you're one of them, maintain, maintain.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:23 PM on December 1, 2009


Yeah this is totally how I'm doing it for this year's Metafilter novel project.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:25 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


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.

You beat me to it Senor Cardgage
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2009


"All that remained was a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up."

I love this story more each time I read it. It's actually better than some of Roland Green's Conan stuff.
posted by HopperFan at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going with Samuel R. Delany's assertion that it's a hoax. Yeah, I know, I can spot a Photoshop job from three miles away in the dark and whatnot, but something about it strikes me as being just a little too twee in the way that fans making fun of other fans have.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2009


Maybe there's an unwritten rule about having two of these in one post but...

MetaFilter: far too late for now, anyway.
posted by doubleozaphod at 2:33 PM on December 1, 2009


maybe I just don't know enough about the situation, but this makes me sad to think about.
posted by past at 2:35 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


No matter how unintentionally funny the manuscript is, I really feel bad for Theis. I said and did and wrote some remarkably silly and awful things when I was that age, and every time I think about it I'm grateful that most of it has been lost in the depths of time or to pre-archive bit rot. I think that one of the ugliest things about living in the future is the death of forgetting. I can only imagine what 15 minutes of fame on Encyclopedia Dramatica, archived in perpetuity for all your future ex-friends to find, does to your view of humanity.
posted by hackwolf at 2:51 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I so want a game that gives me the option of powering-up to a 'palsma' rifle. It'd be even better than the chicken launcher .wad for Doom. Shoot a demon with one of those and watch it turn into a quivering wreck; head bobbing slowly, hands quivering uncontrollably, unable to move at any pace greater than a slow, shakey, shambling stroll while holding itself upright with its zimmer frame…

It'd be like participating in a LARP at the local shopping centre on a Friday…
posted by Pinback at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2009


I'm with Kadin2048. The sad thing isn't that Theis wrote a horrifically bad fantasy story - the sad thing is that one bad story is all he will ever be known for. Lots of authors screw it up the first time out, then improve with later works.

But there is a certain value in reading bad prose. (For the author, that is, but probably not the editors who are exposed to mountains of it.) Like an inoculation, the really bad stuff can help to immunize you against making the same kind of mistakes. Or at least, when you do come up with a sentence like "the enthused barbarian swilveled about, his shock of fiery red hair tossing robustly in the humid air currents as he faced the attack of the defeated soldier's fellow in arms" you can recognize it as a Theisism and make the appropriate changes.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:58 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"at last" available online? I found out about (and first read) the Eye back on the FidoNet sci-fi board...

jtron, this isn't just the text, this is a full PDF facsimile of the original typewritten document.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2009


Science!: "I'm gonna go with Peter Chimaera, no the first by any means, but surely the best:"

I'm going to be a spoilsport again and say that Peter is also not a real fanfic writer. He showed up in squirrelking's thread I posted above. :(
posted by flatluigi at 3:02 PM on December 1, 2009


I wrote a 30+ page story about orcs for a writing contest in middle school, and it was one of the winners. I just pray that no one ever finds it.
posted by HopperFan at 3:03 PM on December 1, 2009


The wikipedia article says the authenticity of the ending is disputed. The PDF would seem to validate it...
posted by anazgnos at 3:06 PM on December 1, 2009


I believe that it's real. This whole business of faking things so other people can laugh at how ironic you are are is more of a modern thing, made possible by the instant mass feedback of the Internet.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:11 PM on December 1, 2009


My high school peer group had its own Jim Theis. The amount of giggles we could get out of dramatic readings of the phrase "the vile aroma of burning flesh" was nigh-infinite. Sixteen's a bad age for that kind of thing.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:14 PM on December 1, 2009


Yeah, I hope no one ever finds my junior high Michael Crichton wanna-be short-stories about toothy creatures.
posted by brundlefly at 3:21 PM on December 1, 2009


Having been in a screenwriting group that pulled its membership from a community college, I can assure you people don't stop writing like this just because they turn 20, or 30, or in some cases 40.

This was a few years back, but even today I can say the phrase "like a ton of fucking concrete" or "ripped off his cheek-flesh" and my friends who were in the group with me will be on the floor laughing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:26 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


An interesting side-note: the images from the facsimile copy are signed by Jay T. Rikosh, which seems to validate the authenticity of the final page (and explain where the 'Jay T. Rikosh award for excellence' comes from).
posted by Paragon at 3:40 PM on December 1, 2009


Thanks, Floydd, that was indeed the one I was trying to remember. The Eye of Argon has nothing on Silk and Steel in the cringe awards

That'd be one one of John Norman's Gor books, right?
posted by acb at 4:45 PM on December 1, 2009


If SquirrelKing isn't real, then how do I even know if Valve didn't make Half Life as some big metajoke?
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:11 PM on December 1, 2009


flatluigi: "Science!: "I'm gonna go with Peter Chimaera, no the first by any means, but surely the best:"

I'm going to be a spoilsport again and say that Peter is also not a real fanfic writer. He showed up in squirrelking's thread I posted above. :(
"

I'm planning on reading that, too busy now, but is evidence provided?
posted by Science! at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2009


If Jim Theis worked as a journalist shouldn't it be fairly easy to corroborate his existence? I haven't done any heavy Googling but I find no online traces of him. The author section on the Wikipedia page has some weird, unsourced information, such as the date he died. I'm fairly certain it's not a hoax, but it would be nice to see if more information could be found on Jim Theis.

Incidentally, I tracked down where the March 26th date came from and it was added to the now deleted Jim Theis wikipedia page by user Timvasquez, who has stopped editing Wikipedia. The change references a St. Louis obituary. Can anyone track down this obituary? The edit also mentions a social security number which can be looked up in the Social Security Death Index which does belong to a James Theis who turned seventeen in 1970.

As I said, I'm fairly certain that Jim Theis is real and the author of The Eye of Argon, I'm just curious if more can be found out about his life.
posted by Kattullus at 8:52 PM on December 1, 2009


Kattullus, if you really are curious, the logical place to look would be figuring out who else was contributing to OSFAN at the time. These things had very small print runs and were usually fairly closely knit circles of people. It's likely that some other contributor(s) to OSFAN knew who Theis was and whether or not this was someone taking the piss. A Google search reveals that the editor of Hard Science Tales would be someone who contributed to the zine back in the day when "Eye of Argon" would've been put out.

FWIW, Delany's theory seems totally wrong to me. "Eye of Argon" is painfully sincere, and doesn't switch tone every paragraph like the classic exercise in writing a story by passing it from one author to the next. Every sentence screams out: "I have am the possessor of a thesaurus and I'm not afraid loath to use wield it!" If it weren't authentic it'd be a masterful imitation of genuine mediocrity.
posted by graymouser at 9:09 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The excessive adjectives are probably due to H.P. Lovecraft's influence, which is funny because that wasn't so much done for style as because he was getting paid by the word.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:05 AM on December 2, 2009


Fans of this may also enjoy The Gonterman Shrine.

I'm friends with the guy who ran the Gonterman Shrine and most of the contributors. I had no idea it was still around, they did it in like 2000-2001. He probably doesn't even know it's still around.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:48 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


The excessive adjectives are probably due to H.P. Lovecraft's influence, which is funny because that wasn't so much done for style as because he was getting paid by the word.

Do you have a cite for this? I've read Joshi's massive and often unflattering biography of Lovecraft and I don't remember this coming up. Lovecraft's amateur pieces have that same style and he wasn't getting paid for those at all.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:36 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, I was probably misremembering something China Mieville said.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:59 AM on December 2, 2009


RIP, Jim..

Thanks for the laughs. Oh, the laughs...
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:39 PM on December 2, 2009


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