Thursday, October 2, 2008

Comic 483: Number of Boring Chart Comics:Shittiness of Webcomic

Fiction Rule of Thumb

This comic is pretty pathetic. Obviously there's no art of any kind, and it joins such illustrious chart-comics as 290, 231, 418, 252, and probably a bunch of others.

Also it's patently false. The forums are full of counterexamples, some of which I read and some of which I didn't, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't. The king of word-making-up is Shakespeare I understand, who in addition to the word "eyeball" made up tons of other words and also, in a Lord of the Rings coincidence, "the crack of doom" at least according to my high school copy of...I want to say...macbeth?

Anyway, this was lazy, phoned in, and a disappointing attempt to mock the fantasy / sci fi genre in a pretty standard way.


  1. the alt text of the original comic makes no sense either. given the graph, when you have no made up words in your story the marginal cost of making one up is high (the probability that your book is good goes down a lot). however, if you already have a few (say, five) made up words, the marginal cost of making some more up is lower (the probability does not decline as much). assuming there is a niche market of people that like books with made up words in them, we should expect an equilibrium where most authors don't make up any words, and a small number go all out and make up as many as possible. it would be dumb for anyone to make up only five.

  2. This is a good point. A book with one made up word (I'm trying to think of an example but nothing springs to mind) is probably not that much more likely to be bad than a book that uses all old words. But there it is in the chart. I would say Randall doesn't understand charts but he probably does, I suspect he was just lazy on this one.

    Two great books with lots of made up words:

    Cat's Cradle

  3. Anonymous above has a good point- what kind of sci-fi or fantasy author would invent five words but no more?

    If the author is trying to give the impression of a self-contained fictional world with its own language, there should be lots of made-up words.
    If he's not doing that, surely there shouldn't be any made-up words at all?

    Carl: I've never read Cat's Cradle, but I think 1984 is a great example.
    The way the "newspeak" is so dumbed down that people can't even express their views in a meaningful way- all they can say is "Big Brother is ungood!"
    I mean, it's not just made-up words for the sake of it, it fits perfectly into the context of the novel.

  4. I think someone just checked out Brisingr and wanted to vent.

  5. It was lazy and phoned in just like Obama's response to the economic crisis--MCCAIN '08!!

    (Only kidding.)

    Does that mean "number of words made up by author" ever, or just for the book? I mean, I have made up a fair number of words. Indeed, many a conversation has come to, basically: "what is the most appropriate thing to tack on to make this bizarre noun into a horrifying adjective?"

  6. I am also reminded of Dave Barry's observation that "the badness of a movie is directly proportional to how many helicopters are in it" from Dave Barry Turns 50. Just sayin'...

  7. going to have to be a naysayer again. it's _probability_, not a categorical statement that all books with words made up in them are bad. for every cat's cradle and hamlet and lord of the rings there's a vast ocean of terrible sci-fi and fantasy.

  8. And also a vast ocean of trashy romance and crappy thrillers. The sci-fi/fantasy genre is no worse than most, it's just that when it's bad, it's bad in a really dorky way.

  9. right, but also keep in mind it isn't just bad scifi and fantasy, it's bad books which make up a significant number of words. which i think i can get away with stating are objectively worse than similarly meritless books which do not make up a significant number of words.

  10. Yargh. Just cuz he used the word "probability" does NOT make the comic funnier. It is still just a graph, and not even really "funny because it is true."

    Wow, I just went to check out Digg and see how this comic fared...

    Apparently some hardcore Randall fans have thumbs-downed everyone that said anything remotely bad about the comic, or that even tried to disagree with it.

    My favorite, though, is this:

    snowblind113 on 10/01/2008 Below viewing threshold. -5 diggs
    Worst xkcd period.

    1 Reply —
    asdfasfd on 10/01/2008 +2 diggs
    The author is male...

  11. Maybe you should write better comics, you know, so people don't have to suffer through XKCD. Yeah.

  12. Maybe you should get Ebert to direct an artistic video game movie first.

  13. What the fuck. The new comic. What the fuck.

    I guess the last poster comic sold well. Way to be subtle there, Randall.

  14. Hahahahaha Anonymous just pulled the "WELL I DON'T SEE YOU DO ANY BETTER" card! IT IS ON NOW. Man, Carl totally didn't see that coming. He was just cold sitting there, writing complaints because he was jealous or something, and then suddenly BAM. This anonymous guy just up and snuffs him with 'you should write a better comic, man.' I don't want to be Carl right now but I SO WANT TO BE THAT FLY ON THE WALL. FOR THAT FIGHT.

  15. Ah, craptastic, I wrote a whole long reply to all of you and then it didn't post. fucker

    ok. let me try to rewrite all that:

    Anon 1 - True, but it's not like when you go to a library or bookstore you are drowning in an ocean of bad sci-fi and fantasy novels. It's not like it's hard to find the good ones, because the good ones are printed in much higher numbers and last longer. Basically yeah, there are bad books out there, everyone knows it, why is that funny?

    Jay - Yes. And as we know, xkcd is all about proving you are a nerd. So it has to be sci-fi and fantasy, because nerds have never heard of anything else.

    Anon 2 - You are wrong. There is nothing worse about a bad sci-fi novel as compared to a bad romance novel. And sci-fi and fantasy are, I am sure, much more likely to make up words (not many aliens or crazy made up weapons in Romantic Love On Passion Beach 2: Return of The Passionate Romantic Beach). Thanks for trying though.

    Anon 3 - Agreed, and those comments are hilarious. Also they are a great example of having to shift your thinking...when you first read the first comment, it makes sense (the word "period" is used for emphasis, clearly). But then you read the second one and you are like "wtf?" and you go back and reread the first comment and figure out that they had understood "period" as "that girl thing" and thus, Humor Is Achieved. Does that explanation make sense? It's important to get it if you want to understand a lot of comedy.

    Anon 4 (use names, at least usernames, people, it's so much easier!) I have thought about this but I think the blog is enough work for now. If people are suffering through xkcd I can recommend Dinosaur Comics, Achewood (Great Outdoor Fight book just came in the mail!) and also I am enjoying this comic Daisy Owl a lot right now. If you want me to I can recommend about 15 more sometime.

    Alt- yes, thank you. Well put.

    Jay - I will get to the Depth comic in good time. Probably means I won't talk about the in-browser video game one but that was kind of boring anyway.

    Rob - You can't tell, but I've been both trembling and pissing my pants in terror ever since Anonymous figured out my one weakness - a crippling inability to write my own humorous material. NOOOOOO.......

    now post correctly this time, blogger, you damn fool

  16. "A book with one made up word (I'm trying to think of an example but nothing springs to mind)"

    Got me thinking - am I mistaken, or would Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land be a pretty good example? Its neologism, 'grok', made its way into several dictionaries. I don't have a copy handy so can't say whether it's certainly the only made-up word in that one, though. ("Water brother" doesn't count.)

  17. While the graph is badly done, the idea that the more words made up by the author directly equates to how much the book sucks is true.

    Real bad science fiction and fantasy has a tendency to use made-up words for things that already exist. (The old "Call a rabbit a schmeerp" issue) If it's a sword, call it a sword. If it shoots magical lightning, then you can call it something else.

    He should be more clear that the book only proportionally suck if the made-up words are exact synonyms of real words, rather than absolute words with new meanings.

  18. Nit-pick here, but we're actually not really sure how many words Shakespeare made up. Sure, he used a lot of words that aren't attested before in the English language, but at least some of those are almost certainly a product of his writing so damn much, and writing for the average (read:stupid) person and much more likely to use vernacular than other writers.

  19. point taken, but I think my general argument is still ok on that matter.