The Bulwer-Lytton Prize

I was remiss in not posting about this last week, so, only a week late, I post now that the winners of the 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest were announced, with little fanfare and even less financial reward for the efforts of those writers who felt able to put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, and apply their minds to tortuous, lengthy, prose of only a single sentence, running for word after word, in a … oh sod it, you get the idea.


The winner was Garrison Spik (pronounced “speak”) of Washington, D.C. with this entry:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”

There are many dishonourable mentions too. Some of my favourites:

Joanne watched her fellow passengers – a wizened man reading about alchemy; an oversized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch – there was a story here, she decided.

(from a Tim Ellis of Haslemere, U.K.). Or perhaps you prefer Edo Steinberg’s effort, all the way from Beer-Sheva, Israel:

Our tale takes place one century before the reign of Alboin, the Lombard king who would one day conquer most of Italy and who would end up being murdered by his own wife (quite rightfully, I’d say, since Alboin made a drinking cup out of her daddy’s skull and forced her to drink from it), when our little Sonnebert was seven years old.

David Potter’s entry (Nagoya, Japan) was only runner up in the spy section:

The KGB agent known only as the Spider, milk solids oozing from his mouth and nose, surveyed the spreading wound in his abdomen caused by the crushing blow of the low but deadly hassock and begged of his attacker to explain why she gone to the trouble of feeding him tainted milk products before effecting his assassination with such an inferior object as this ottoman, only to hear in his dying moments an escaping Miss Muffet of the MI-5 whisper, “it is my whey.”

Finally, my favourite, the winner of the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award, Stefan Croker (of Bury)

Upon discovering that Miles Black, the famous phrenologist from Yorkshire was going to take up yodeling to lonely goats in Bali, James White decided to balance four planks of wood on a beer keg and call it an abstract work of art in the style of a famous fourteenth-century architect, just going to prove that people will read any old garbage if they think there will be a good pun at the end of it.

As it’s a Friday, this seems like a good excuse to solicit suggestions for the worst (fictional) first sentence to a scientific paper (abstract or introduction, but remember that the abstract has to be less than 300 words). I know you can do it – indeed for some of you it can be used as a cheap form of therapy.
I’ll try and write an entry later but I have to revise a manuscript now, so I don’t want to contaminate myself.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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6 Responses to The Bulwer-Lytton Prize

  1. Henry Gee says:

    Can I start with “It was a dark and stormy night”?

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    Only if it gives sufficient citation to the current literature.

  3. Kristi Vogel says:

    Several years ago I read Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni, as I was interested in Rosicrucian history and mythology (weird family connections, don’t ask). In the context of Victorian literature (of which I’ve read quite a bit), it wasn’t especially bad, nor was it especially good.
    Apparently Bulwer-Lytton
    was a follower of Jeremy Bentham, which reminded me of Bentham’s auto-icon at University College London, and the amusing tales I heard about the “adventures” of Bentham’s head. Perhaps those tales are just told to gullible Americans?

  4. Maxine Clarke says:

    I was just reading a characteristically fun post on the excellent blog FSP which ends thus:
    Maybe I should encourage my writing-challenged students to write short stories and poems, and this will help ease them into their science writing. As long as their manuscripts and thesis chapters aren’t haiku or horror stories, this might be a way to make writing less of a difficult obstacle. And as long as our scientific writing doesn’t become total fiction, we might all become better writers in the end.

  5. Mike Fowler says:

    I love to hate reading “Ever since the time of Darwin (1859)…”
    But I absolutely love George Orwell’s advice in Politics and the English Language (take it from “A scrupulous writer…”) which is also great advice for schmientists

  6. Bob O'Hara says:

    I agree, Mike – references to Darwin (1859) should be banned outside of the history of science.
    I’ll read the Orwell essay fully later – I’m writing something now, and skimming through it has started to worry me about my own style. But if you aren’t already aware of it, Orwell’s diaries are now appearing online, as a blog.
    Oh, beautiful. From Orwell’s essay:

    A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.

    I’ve read papers like that too.