Lunch Date: Bringing the worst novel in the world out for a salad

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today? Atlanta Nights, a novel that was crowdsourced by nearly three dozen science fiction writers.

Where’d you go? Sprout on the ground floor of the Smith Tower.

What’d you eat? I had the South by Northwest salad, which has all the ingredients you'd expect (steak, romaine, salsa, a cilantro-lime dressing) and some you wouldn't (chili-roasted sweet potatoes).

How was the food? It was great. Sprout is my favorite downtown stop for salads; they're not too heavy and not too light — even the Cobb — and the ingredients are always super-fresh. For about ten bucks, you can get a salad that feels like a meal, but which doesn't feel too weighted down with cheese or goopy dressings.

What does your date say about itself? Adam Rowe at Barnes & Noble's Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog explains that the book was written as a way "to expose 'traditional publisher' PublishAmerica as a vanity press." Rowe says:

The sting operation, organized by author and vanity press-buster James D. Macdonald, aimed to create a book designed to be disturbingly bad. He rounded up a host of co-conspirators, among them some of the most popular (and even award-winning) writers in the genre; Sherwood Smith, Adam Troy-Castro, Allen Steele, and Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb) were among those who contributed chapters under intentionally vague guidelines. No one knew any details about the plot, character backgrounds, or even where their chapter would fall in the book.

In the final draft, chapter 21 was missing, replaced by a second chapter 12. Chapter 4 was identical to chapter 17. Chapter 34 was entirely generated by a software program. Reading Atlanta Nights is like experiencing an art project: the text might be justified to the center or to the right at a whim, and page 119 is entirely blank for no discernible reason.

You can read the whole book online for free.

Is there a representative quote? Try this on for size:

The Atlanta sun slanted low in the west, rain showers predicted for later that afternoon, then clearing. Bruce Lucent looked from the side window of his friend's shiny Maserati sports car as they wheeled their way westward against the afternoon traffic.

"I'm glad you could give me a ride," Bruce Lucent muttered, his pain-worn face reddened by the yellow sunlight. "What with my new car all smashed and all."

His old friend, Isadore, shook his massive head at him. "We know how it must be to have a lot of money but no working car," he said, the harsh Macon County drawl of his voice softened by his years in Atlanta high society. "It's my pleasure to bring you back to your fancy apartment, and we're all so happy that y'all is still alive. Y'all could have been killed in that dreadful wreck." Isadore paused to put on the turn signal before making a safe turn across rush-hour traffic into the parking lot of Bruce Lucent's luxury apartment building. "Y'all'll gets a new car on Monday."

"I don't know how I'll be able to drive it with my arm in a cast," Bruce Lucent shoots back. "It's lucky I wasn't killed outright like so many people are when they have horrid automobile wrecks."

"Fortunately, fast and efficient Emergency Medical Services, based on a program founded by Lyndon Baines Johnson the 36th President of the United States helped y'all survive an otherwise, deadly crash," Isadore chuckled.

Will you two end up in bed together? I think so, yes. I've never read something more equivalent to the kind of cheesy thrill you get from a so-bad-it's-good movie like The Room or Showgirls. Half the fun of reading Atlanta Nights is imagining the writers making themselves laugh as they type it out. Some of the lines are so incredibly dumb that they demonstrate real sharpness, like the one about "Andrea who never came on time unless she happened to be laying on someone’s watch during sex." It takes a lot of work to craft a line that terrible. I can't read Atlanta Nights all in one sitting, but as a work of comedy it's a unique thrill.