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Is This The Worst Book Ever?

4 February 2012

From The Huffington Post:

What I’m going to do before telling you about the epic stinker “Moon People” by Dale M. Courtney is issue a blanket sic statement for the duration of this article. I think that’s important to say before we move forward. Anyway, this is how chapter one of Moon People by Dale M. Courtney opens . . . :

This story begins on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in the 12-grade level. Now he’s been here about 5 years and has become kind of partial to a young lady by the name of Cheral Baskel a local restaurant owner in Daytona Beach. At the moment Cheral’s preparing her restaurant for another Shuttle launch at the cape and everyone always gathers at her place because you can see the launch real good at her place. It’s also on the water and its real close to the cape and she really decks the place out.

You probably have questions. That’s understandable. The wonder of “Moon People” is so great, its folly so staggering, that it jams a reader’s ordinary thought process onto a weird separate track that the brain was never meant to use (also sometimes called an “aneurysm”). It’s only through a careful construction of its pieces that we begin to understand the magnitude of what Courtney has created.

And that’s what makes “Moon People” worse than previous claimants to the Worst Book Ever crown (“How to Avoid Huge Ships,””Dildo Cay,””Microwave for One”)–its terribleness extends the way a far-reaching, deep-down conspiracy reaches.

So, let’s start at the beginning. and work our way down the rabbit hole. This is the big kahuna.

“Moon People” is a self-published book from Xlibris released in 2008. (It’s important to note that if you type “xlibris” into google, the fourth suggestion is “xblibris scam”, not to mention that a whole bunch of not-nice things get tossed Xlibris’s way online.) It’s a galactic adventure story with a romance thread to boot. It follows David Braymer, who goes from school teacher to outer-space hero (don’t ask how that transition happens) while stationed on Lunar Base 3, where he finds himself in the middle of the aeons-old war between the benign extraterrestrial Powleens and their malignant enemies, the Arcons.

. . . .

The prose astounds. It is something to be studied (I’m sure you have, but if you haven’t, click the “Look Inside” link on Amazon for the book). Sentences start, seem like they’re going somewhere, but then dead end, calling to my mind The Escalator to Nowhere from The Simpsons. It’s a grammatical train wreck, but somehow Courtney’s spelling is fairly impeccable. At times, it seems like the prose is sniffing around the general area of coherence, only to plunge into complete nonsense (“they woke up starring at each other with a big smile on each other faces”), sort of like the way you would if you had to ad-lib a presentation about dinosaurs, knowing only what you knew about dinosaurs from elementary school. It’s the quarter-competent storytelling going on here that makes the reader’s brain itch, basically having the same effect as “If it wasn’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

Before you start worrying too much about how bad indie books will ruin things for everyone, check out The Worst Books of All Time.

Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Warnings

27 Comments to “Is This The Worst Book Ever?”

  1. Oh, this is nothing. I’ve judged writing contests and have no doubt some of those folks went on to publish their “works”, in flagrant disregard of pleas from others for them to take uo knitting or discover their inner piano player.

    • Utterly and completely agreed. I’ve judged competitions too, and this is far from the worst.

      And, frankly, as I read though books which are a century or more old, it’s not even the worst of what you could find in published books (although I do have to say the very worst there were generally self-published, even though they were often sold in real bookstores and yes, you can still find them in archives).

      What I would call this is the most amusingly bad, or colorfully bad. There is actually a _voice_ in that story, and the inadvertent errors are at least entertaining.

      Below this is sheer droning grayness. If your imagination can stand it, imagine the above bit of writing written in the most convoluted academic prose possible. So academic, that you aren’t sure it’s a story at all — you know, with characters and settings — for several pages. And also you suspect there is some extremist political message there, but you can’t tell what it is.

      No no no. That’s far from the worst. But the worst isn’t really interesting to talk about.

      • I dunno — the Eye of Argon is really, really bad. Really bad. Trancendentally bad. So bad, that science fiction cons often have readings of it, where each person in the audience takes turns reading it out loud, passing it along when the reader can no longer manage to keep a straight voice.

        I’ve never gone to a reading, but I have tried to read it out loud. Without cracking up. It’s hard!

        • ABeth:

          If you can crack up while reading it, it’s not that bad.

          People who have read the slush pile generally don’t know how bad it can get, because they are allowed to stop reading when it is that bad.

          However, if you’ve judged contests or been a writing teacher, or been a script analyst, you have to read every danged word of every danged manuscript. And think about it and rate it according to a rubric.

          Trust me, once you’ve done that, you know Eye of Aragon is just plain not that bad. There are much lower depths.

          • Oh, I dunno…

            http://www.rdrop.com/~hutch/argon says: 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.

            And a sample paragraph: A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.
            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.

            It gets worse.

            (Wiki claims that the linked version above has some typos not in the original, and suggests http://ansible.co.uk/misc/eyeargon.html is more accurate.)

            • Seriously, ABeth, that’s not bad at all. Heavens, when I would see something like that, I was relieved. It was great compared to what I was seeing. Hey, it was coherent! It was a scene!

              Typos, cliches, and purple prose are seriously not the worst you can find. Not anywhere NEAR as bad as what you see as a teacher or contest judge. (And whoever considered a bad mimeograph of a sloppily typed manuscript to be anything remarkable… well, they never read the slush back in those days. You might not have liked seeing them, but you got them every day.)

              Manuscripts like that are just unsophisticated and easy to make fun of — basically easy targets, but nowhere near the worst.

  2. The great thing about sampling is: we read the first paragraph and we go, “No, not for me.” :)

    The review amuses, as it attempts to approach Twain’s greatness when decrying Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/hns/indians/offense.html), but is not quite as polished. I give it a B, since “starring” doesn’t actually count as “impeccable” spelling.

  3. I couldn’t get past the first line. It made my brain hurt (and then cry for mercy when I tried to go on).

  4. Thank you very much! I loved the sample :) but I honestly thought that self-published books couldn’t qualify for the Worst Book title. What’s the point? I’m sure there’re some self-published books around that are much worse than this. But who would have time to look through them all?

  5. I don’t know what to make of that GoodReads 100 Worst Books list.

    • That list seems more designed around “books I hated/disagreed with politically” than the actual quality of the writing. I mean, I ended up disliking where Philip Pullman took the His Dark Materials trilogy, but the first book was excellent.

      • Well, that’s kind of implied I think. It’s common to talk about things being better or worse while ignoring the fact that those words mean nothing on their own. For “better” to have any meaning, X must be better FOR or AT something. Book A is better than B. For what? Propping up the table leg? Inducing sleep? Of course it just means they liked it more.

        People also talk in cliches or set phrases a lot. They say X was really well written but can’t explain what they mean by it, because they’re just repeating a phrase they pulled at random out of the “complimentary statements about books” box in their head. I don’t mean that as a putdown either, we all take mental shortcuts all the time in life. We couldn’t function otherwise.

    • Maybe it says more about the GoodReads voters than the books, Josh.

      • Even then it seems kind of scattershot. It’s more of a “Books on the NY Times best seller list that I hated” list.

        • Clare K. R. Miller

          Well, the more people who read a book (and hate it), the higher it’s going to get on that list. Anyone can add or vote for books. And there are four thousand books on the list.

          • Perhaps you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the “Twilight” books. At least “Moon People” has the enormous redeeming feature of making me feel better as a wordsmith–if “Moon People” gets pub, perhaps my work can get faintest glimmer of attention. I just need to make it as awful as possible.

            Also, reading just the title “Moon People” makes the song “Short People” run through my head…

  6. Holy cows on crack. That was just…just…0_o

  7. If makers of book lists were required to uphold the standard their lists lambaste authors for violating, they’d call it a “List of Books I Hated,” as Josh suggests, rather than a “100 Worst Books” list.

  8. It gives the sense of something that might have been “written” by a machine.

    • I know it sounds that way, but it sounds even more like what freshmen/sophomore college students will give you. (I was getting prose like that before the personal computer was common — mostly hand written.)

  9. It has the syntax of some of my more interesting blogspam. Perhaps English was not his first language? But you have to give the Guy points for Creativity in his Capitalization. Loved the reviews over on the Huffpo article.

    I agree that “Worst” books list looks more like “books I disagree with/had to read for a bad class in high school.”

  10. Both Moon People and Eye of Argon sound like something written by a very young person, likely a teenager. I have seen stuff that looks and sounds very much like this written by 7th or 8th grade students. This is also why I’m not a big fan of ridiculing bad books of this kind without knowing something about the author. Because there’s a pretty good chance that you inadvertedly discourage a budding teen writer who might have gotten better and perhaps even really good in time.

    As for the other bad books mentioned in the article, Dildo Cay suffers for its title (probably unintentionally hilarious since the book was published in the 1940s) and bizarre plot summary. But I can’t for the life of me understand what is so funny about Microwave Cooking for One? Microwave cook books were common in the 1980s and cooking for one books have been around for a while as well, so what’s so bad about a combination of both?

    As for How to Avoid Huge Ships, the title is indeed bizarre, but there may be some sense to the book itself (which no one seems to have read). Because accidents of large ships colliding with or running over small ships keep happening. My father used to work for a shipping company. Some time in the 1970s, he was sent to Portugal, because a freighter operated by his company had showed up in harbour with hull damage and a leak. When they investigated the damage they found planks of wood still sticking in the damaged hull and a dead man who had not been a member of the crew in the cargo hold. Turned out that the freighter had run over a fishing boat somewhere off the African coast and nobody on board noticed anything other than a dull thump in the middle of the night. The dull thump was entered into the ship’s log, so it was possible to determine what had happened. With a story like this in mind, How to Avoid Huge Ships suddenly doesn’t sound so funny anymore.

    • Thank you for this comment, Cora. As fun as it is for those of us who “know better” to mock writing like the samples above, the laughter and the don’t quit your dayjob ribs can sometimes feel mean-spirited to me. I mean, sure, it’s funny and they did put it out there, but at the same time…did any of us start out writing better than that?

      One of the more amazing transformations I’ve seen came in a hard-knocks prose/style seminar I took in college. One young man started writing about as badly as the Argon stuff–not ungrammatically or incoherently, just full of overblown descriptions and cliches. And we were hard on him. I cringe to think about what the rest of us did to his first few weekly papers in edits. But he was a trooper, and he stayed with the class and got better every week, until by the end of the semester he was in the top half, possibly even top quarter, of writers in the class.

      I am much less forgiving of a NYT bestseller who writes, capitalizes, or punctuates that way…and they exist, at least in romance.

      But…the above samples are also why I disagree with Dean Wesley Smith’s advice to publish your practice writing and let readers decide. No…there needs to be a certain minimum standard reached first, methinks.

      • It’s clear that these writers skipped DWS’ recommended step of letting a trusted first reader have a look at the manuscript and point out where they needed to fix a few things before putting their work out there…

      • “As fun as it is for those of us who “know better” to mock writing like the samples above, the laughter and the don’t quit your dayjob ribs can sometimes feel mean-spirited to me.”

        Thanks, Lily. That’s exactly how I feel when I read this stuff. If feels, frankly, like sophomores sneering at freshmen for not being as sophisticated as they are.

        In the meantime, for all the “don’t quit your day job, ho ho ho,” cracks, it is worth pointing out that much worse writers have actually made good money writing fan fiction and selling it underground. And wasn’t that “Eye of Argon” a bestseller?”

        Very often those “unsophisticated” writers write the way they do because the sophisticates are not writing stuff they like. And there’s a whole, disatisfied audience out there waiting for them.

  11. Dear Lord, is Dale Courtney a Vogan?

    “During a reading of Grunthos the Flatulent’s ‘Ode To A Small Lump Of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning,’ 4 of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been ‘disappointed’ by the poem’s reception.” (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) “Moon People” definitely approaches that level of lethal badness. :D

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