5 Awful Works by Great Artists

by Tom Ingram

No one can be at the top of their game all the time, including writers. For normal people like us, when we make mistakes, a customer gets a burnt burger, or maybe all their canned food ends up in one bag. But when a writer makes a mistake, they’re smugly mocked at Razzie ceremonies for years afterwards. Whether through inexperience, apathy, or strong drink, the best writers in all media have produced works of fiction that are painfully bad. Here are some of the worst.

Hot Space (Album)

Who created it?

Queen, one of the greatest rock bands of the seventies. They’re best known among rock fans for the song Bohemian Rhapsody, although We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions are probably their best-known songs overall. The four members of Queen were masters of their respective instruments, and throughout the seventies they consistently released strong albums. They’re known for their grand, bombastic numbers with hundreds of overdubbed vocals and broad, wailing guitar sounds. The lyrics were rarely about anything in particular, but they came up with a number of catchy hooks.

What is it?

Remember Disco? It’s the single most hated musical genre in the history of mankind. It died around 1979, and isn’t lamented by anybody. Three years later, Queen came out with a new album known as Hot Space. Somebody, presumably under heavy sedation, thought it would be a good idea to make this one a disco-themed album. The result is as you’d expect.

How bad is it?

Let’s see:

Yeah. That bad.

24 Season 4 (TV Season)

Who created it?

All right, so the crew of 24 can hardly be considered great artists, but nonetheless if you think back to the turn of the millenium, 24 was pretty goddamn cool. The first two seasons are some of the greatest television ever made. The star of the show was Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, who needs no introduction. Chuck Norris is a poor man’s Jack Bauer. Jack Bauer died for his country and lived to tell about it–twice. Jack Bauer kills people. After two years the show became a little hit and miss, but it was still pretty good overall.

What is it?

Until the fourth season, that is, when the show plunged into previously untold depths of badness. Imagine the theft of a nuclear warhead, train bombings, several government conspiracies, the kidnapping of a major government official, a terrorist attack on nuclear reactors, a massive power outage and ensuing civilian unrest, the American invasion of the Chinese consulate, the near-death of the president, the theft of the nuclear football, and an attack on the fucking Internet. Now imagine all of these things happening in the space of a single day, all as part of a single terrorist plot. Does your head hurt yet?

Some of these things popped up in earlier seasons of the show, but for some strange reason the writers decided to take everything bad a terrorist could possibly accomplish and roll it all into the space of a single season. On top of that, beloved characters from the beginning of the show go mysteriously missing, and their replacements are introduced as if they’ve always been there, leading to a strange feeling that you’ve missed an episode.

With all the conspiracies going around, the show stops being serious and just seems cartoonish. The only way you could take it less seriously is if they threw in a musical number.

How bad is it?

This is the season that killed the show, quality-wise. Season 5 was a brief reprieve, with a tense, if a little over-the-top, plot, but after that the show became a ridiculous shell of its former self, where long-dead government agents can mysteriously come back to life, politicians are invincible, and Bauer’s entire family somehow turns evil without him noticing.

Mr. A (Comic Book)

Who created it?

Ditko is a legend in the comic book world, known as the writer who created Spider-Man, and had a hand in the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and countless others. Ditko’s later characters at Charlton comics provided the basis for Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the greatest graphic novel ever written. When he’s properly restrained by a collaborator, his writing is brilliant, almost unparallelled in the field.

What is it?

Mr. A was a line of comics that Ditko published in an independent book known as witzend. Following the standard template, the awesomely-named Rex Graine is a reporter who doubles as a superhero. That’s where the interesting part ends.

You see, Ditko is an Objectivist, someone who shares the beliefs of Ayn Rand. In theory, Objectivists are defined by an extreme “get off my lawn” point of view, arguing in favour of small, if any, government and low taxes. In practice, Objectivists are a bunch of friendless geeky whiners who won’t shut up. Ayn Rand produced four novels, maybe one of which (a) was readable and (b) clocked in at less than thirty pounds. Other authors who made movements in her direction include Terry Goodkind and Robert A. Heinlein, and in all cases, it did not bode well for their work. Objectivists talk a lot, tend to be impractical, uncompromising, and focused on a single issue. And they talk. A lot.

At the end of your typical Mr. A issue, Mr. A confronts the villain and gets into a tense, heated…argument. They talk, exchange rhetoric, retort, counter-retort, riposte, and then the villain discovers the error of his ways and falls into the black abyss of non-absolute morality. Mr. A could be a morally complex anti-hero in the hands of a less politically-motivated writer. Instead, he became a mouthpiece for Randian politics and philosophy.

How bad is it?

Riveting.

The Stars, Like Dust

Who created it?

Isaac Asimov is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He’s best known for his fiction–he had a hand in the creation of science fiction as we now know it–but he was a prolific nonfiction writer as well, publishing over five hundred books and an untold number of shorter works. He has famously published in every top-level category of the Dewey Decimal system save one. Asimov’s work popularized the modern concept of robots, and just about everybody knows his famous three laws. In tracing the history of science fiction, Asimov is perhaps the most significant name.

His sideburns have accomplished more than you ever will.

What is it?

This was one of Asimov’s first few novels. The year was 1951. Science fiction had technically been in existence for over a hundred years, but nobody recognized the early sci-fi as such and the contemporary stuff was mostly pulp crap. Although Asimov is a literary pioneer, some of his work does fall into the comically bad pulp space opera mold, and nothing fits the bill quite as well as The Stars, Like Dust.

The incompetence and bastardry of the main character make him difficult to sympathize with. Bizarre and unnecessary plot points pop up out of nowhere and promptly disappear. People die for no reason, and the big reveal at the end turns out to be idiotic. Apparently an army was building up its forces secretly near a major population centre, and nobody noticed.

How bad is it?

Saying this is Asimov’s weakest novel doesn’t quite do it justice. However, the following tidbit comes close to explaining the sheer awfulness:

Throughout the novel, there is a subplot about the main character’s father searching for a weapon that would defeat the evil galactic oppressors creatively named the Tyranni. The main character learns that the weapon is actually a document. At the end of the book, he finally finds the document, and reads it out loud. Guess what the last line of the book is?

A quote from the US Constitution. That’s right, the book is just a shaggy dog story as an excuse for arrogant American jingoism. I should note that this wasn’t actually Asimov’s idea. Like many things that happened to his works, it was thrust on him by an editor. He was unhappy with it, which probably led to his disinterest in the story.

Titus Andronicus

Who created it?

Motherfucking Shakespeare.

What is it?

This was probably Shakespeare’s first tragedy. It’s been described by the Reduced Shakespeare Company as his “Quentin Tarantino phase”. Titus Andronicus is horrifically violent. So much so that one critic, S. Clark Hulse, actually tabulated all the violence and calculated that there was one atrocity per 97 lines. The plot and poetry are really nothing to write home about, and there’s no indication that the violence is intentionally overblown (the way Tarantino’s is), so the whole thing is very hard to swallow.

How bad is it?

It’s so bad that even hardline Stradfordians are willing to make an exception just this once, and argue that Shakespeare did not author it. Titus Andronicus is such a piece of shit that scholars are willing to rewrite history to avoid associating with it. That degree of badness takes a special kind of talent that only a master like Shakespeare can achieve.

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