In 1981, Jove Publishing debuted a “No Frills” series of books. This consisted of four books, each of which was supposed to represent a generic version of a genre (science fiction, western, mystery, and romance). Each book featured a generic cover, styled after the generic packaging for foods.
And to complete their genericness, the names of the authors weren't revealed. But the Internet, of course, has subsequently tracked down who they were. As posted on Bill Crider's blog:
Terry Bisson, who was one of the instigators of this project, reports:
Mystery was written by Clark Dimond, a men's mag editor/writer who also wrote for comics.
The Romance was written by Judy Coyne (former Glamour mag editor) nee Wederholt
The SF was written by John Silbersack, SF editor and now an agent.
The Western was by Vic Milan (SF author)
We were working on a No-Frills Besteller (by me) and A No-Frills movie (by film critic David Ansen) when the series was dropped.
My partner selling the series was Lou Rosetto who went on to found WIRED magazine.
So what were the plots of these 'generic' novels? Here are some summaries I was able to find online:
Science Fiction (via Goodreads)
"A space cadet is called to the commander's office at the moon academy. His father is the lone known survivor of the Pluto colony, and asks for his son to join him in the search for what happened. They assemble a crew and blast off to Pluto, where they stumble upon few clues but several surprises."
Western (via Goodreads)
"It begins when Kid Smith arrives in town and almost immediately finds himself in a bar room brawl. He’s soon menaced by the town’s two factions. Those wearing black hats are led by a corrupt judge and those wearing white hats are led ….by a corrupt mayor. Both want their hands on the widow West’s land but Smith has taken a shine to her and vows to protect her and her property from the two no-good skunks and their henchmen."
Romance (via NY Times)
'''Romance' is complete with everything the cover claims - a kiss, a promise, a misunderstanding, another kiss, a happy ending -plus an alarming trial marriage condoned, nay, arranged by the Mother Superior of a Virginia hunt-country convent."
Mystery (via Bill Crider)
"The story itself is pure pulp, with corpses piling up at an amazing rate. The unnamed first-person private-eye narrator is given a mysterious cassette tape. Someone's killing to get it because although to the p. i. it sounds like a song, it has the power to cloud most men's minds. Most women's, too. Whoever has the tape can control the world."
William A. Gold of Australia had the dubious distinction of being named the least successful writer ever in the 1975 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. To my knowledge, Guinness never awarded this record to anyone else.
Gold gained the title because, as of 1975, he had written at least eight novels and 100 short stories, but none of them had been published, despite his best efforts. His writing had only ever earned him 50 cents from an article published in the Canberra News.
I've only been able to find the titles of two of Gold's book. One of them was John Lewis Seeks a Mission, which he submitted to the Adelaide Advertiser $2000 Literary Competition in 1966. (Obviously, he didn't win.) The other was One Best Seller: A Satire on the Publishing Game. The Sydney Morning Herald described this as dealing with "the adventures of author Eric Bellamy, literary agent Lawrence Templeton, and the latter’s attempts to get Bellamy’s novel, Sibelius on Sunday, published." Gold eventually self-published this novel in 1984. (and it's available for purchase from some used book stores in Australia.)
One of the great mysteries in American literature is the title of Herman Melville's 1851 novel, Moby-Dick. Or is it Moby Dick? Should the title be hyphenated, or not?
The first American edition had a hyphen in the title. But confusingly, inside the book the whale was referred to as Moby Dick, without a hyphen — except for one single time, on page 609, when the name was hyphenated because it spanned two lines.
There have been many subsequent editions. Some of them have a hyphenated title. Some of them don't. It seems to be totally random. But because that first edition had a hyphen, scholars consider that to be the correct spelling. So the title of the book is Moby-Dick, but the name of the whale is Moby Dick.
But why the hyphen? There's a number of theories. Perhaps Melville just liked hyphenated titles. One of his earlier works, White-Jacket, was also mysteriously hyphenated.
Or perhaps the hyphen was a mistake. Supporters of this theory note that the title was changed at the last minute, from The Whale to Moby-Dick, and the title change was communicated to the printer by Melville's brother, Allan. So maybe Allan made a mistake, and it was never Herman's intention to hyphenate the title?
We'll never know. It'll always be one of those mysteries that literary scholars love to debate. (such as here, here, and here).
Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta was the first-ever do-it-yourself or interactive novel. It was published in French in 1962, and an English translation followed a year later. The novel came in a box, as a set of looseleaf pages. Readers were instructed to "shuffle them like a deck of cards" before reading, so that chance would decide the order of events in the narrative.
image source: Newsweek - Oct 28, 1963
In 2011, Visual Editions came out with an elegantly boxed new edition of the work (available on Amazon). As well as an iPad version of it that automatically shuffles the pages.
The story is a flimsy wisp of a thing, really no more than a jumble of fragments. The setting is Paris during the German occupation. The central character is little glimpsed and never named. He has a mistress called Dagmar, a depressed wife (I think) called Marianne, and a young German au pair whom he rapes during the course of the novel, before being injured in a serious car accident.
Coe noted that the British Library had two copies of the original novel, "both, I'm sorry to say, diligently bound by over-zealous librarians (though at least each copy has the pages bound in a different order)."
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.