Monday, 23 September 2013

John Jones's Dollar by Harry Stephen Keeler

On the 201st day of the year 3221 A.D., the professor of history at the University of Terra seated himself in front of the Visaphone and prepared to deliver the daily lecture to his class, the members of which resided in different portions of the earth.

Thus begins the opening line from a short story by the infamous Harry Stephen Keeler, dubbed by many as the worst writer ever. However, as shocking as it may sound, this line does not live up to his reputation. I have seen worse by him, as in the racist opening line of The Riddle of the Travelling Skull. For a sci-fi story it almost does all that it needs to do: establish setting, which is important if your story takes place in a different time and/or planet. It also establishes a character. But there is no conflict, and as this is a short piece, it should get to a problem as soon as possible, as the the writer is running out of time and space as soon as the first word begins.

The instrument before which he seated himself was very like a great window sash, on account of the fact that there were three or four hundred frosted glass squares visible. In a space at the center, not occupied by any of these glass squares, was a dark oblong area and a ledge holding a piece of chalk. And above the area was a huge brass cylinder; toward this brass cylinder the professor would soon direct his subsequent remarks.
Is this the face of bad writing?

This is paragraph two. This is not good. Describing the fantasy world in minute detail before giving the reader a reason to care? Even though this story is short, I never did finish it.

The title is weird, too, in respect to the opening paragraphs and genre.

But what do you expect from a man who was insane? At least his mother thought so, as it was she who submitted him to the Loony Bin Review.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

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