By Travis Tea
Free Download (pdf)
Lulu Press Version
Travis Tea Website
Atlanta Nights may be the worst novel ever written. That was deliberate. It was a sting to prove that PublishAmerica -- who claimed to be a legitimate book publisher -- was actually a vanity press that would accept anything.
Over thirty science fiction authors* wrote chapters in one crazy weekend, with only the skimpiest of outlines, with the goal to write as badly as possible. No one knew what anyone else had written. Characters changed hair color, description, and even race and even sex from chapter to chapter. Cliffhangers in one chapter were never resolved. A character wakes up in the middle of the book and realizes everything was a dream. Another character is dead, then alive again. The sun sets in the East. There are penguins in the Sahara. There were two chapter 12s. Chapters 4 and 17 were identical. There was no chapter 21. Chapter 34 was randomly generated by a computer.
Editor Teresa Neilsen Hayden put it best:
"The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts."Then the whole mess was sent off the PublishAmerica, who wrote about their high standards and how science fiction writers couldn't write well enough to be accepted by them.
They accepted it.
Of course, word got out immediately. PublishAmerica then suddenly withdrew their acceptance, saying they discovered one chapter (Chapter 34) was gibberish. Which means they didn't even read it through**.
The story became an Internet sensation when it was announced in early 2005. It led to all sorts of jokes and strangeness.
- The manuscript was made available for free, but there were also paperback copies at Lulu.com (all proceeds go to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund). The author is listed as "Travis Tea."***
- The book was blurbed by some well-known authors, in on the joke, often in terms that were hilariously ambiguous.
- "Atlanta Nights is sure to please the reader who enjoys this sort of thing" -- Raymond F. Feist
- "I stayed upright reading it." -- Jane Yolen
- "Don't fail to miss it if you can!" -- Jerry Pournelle
- The book is being taught in creative writing classes as a guide of what not to do.
- A special, ugly-purple-cover hardback edition was produced as a fundraiser, signed by most of the authors, and auctioned off as a fundraiser.
- Science fiction conventions have had Atlanta Nights midnight readings, the goal -- like with readings of the legendary Eye of Argon -- is to get to the end of a chapter without cracking up.
- It has its own page on TV Tropes, listing a few of the many cliche types used.
- "Manwithoutabody" has posted an overly dramatic reading of all the chapters on Youtube. Here's the chapter I wrote:
Of course, film options are gambles; there a good chance that there will be no film. Saltzman is using a page on Kickstarter.com to raise a budget. If you want to be part of film history, think about making a pledge.
It will be worth it for the Penguins.
* I was one of them.
** To be fair, very few people have managed to read it all.
***Say it out loud. Some of the writers involved included Alan Steele (who had to get completely drunk to be able to write his chapter), Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, James D. Macdonald, Adam-Troy Castro, Kevin O'Donnell, and many others (see Wikipedia article).