When I Was Seventeen

“When I was seventeen, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past thirty-three years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

— Steve Jobs


The Eye of Argon

If you’re into F&SF, you might have heard before of “The Eye of Argon” — called by some the worst story ever written. I, personally, have been hearing about it for years, almost always in the context of people renewing the ridicule heaped upon this tale, and breathlessly declaiming its wretchedness in ever-loftier ways, and excitedly announcing “Eye of Argon” literary salons where people try to read it without laughing, and on and on.

And you know what? I am fucking tired of hearing about “The Eye of Argon,” because I am even more especially tired of all the inside-fantasy schadenfreude bullshit that surrounds this tale. I have seriously had enough.

Here’s what you need to know. “The Eye of Argon" was written in 1970 by a guy named Jim Theis when he was sixteen years old. He was writing from the perspective of someone who’d grown up on and loved pulp fantasy, and who dreamed of telling the stories he loved in his own voice. And like many beginning writers, he made grave mistakes in the way that words as we read them translate to the page during all our initial attempts to write them down. But he was sixteen years old, and fantasy was something he loved and believed in, and he was brave enough to put his story down on paper, and brave enough to send it out into the world and to dream that people would read it. And for all that, he’s been laughed at for forty-five fucking years now.

Jim Theis did something he loved. He did something that most others will never do — that most others haven’t got the guts to do — and people laughed at him.

Oh, Jim Theis actually died, like, ten years ago. Hasn't stopped people from laughing at him, though.

Is “The Eye of Argon” a bad story? Yes. Yes, it is. But when people can look upon the efforts of a sixteen-year-old kid to engage in the bravery of creation, and to add something to the genre he loved, and their only response is to laugh at him, then they should seriously fuck off.

Or, you know, write their own stories. If they're up to it.