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The Clown-Infested Manuscript

Pulpwood Proofing by Rodney Schroeter

The Clown-Infested Manuscript or How the Human Brain Has Not Yet Been Rendered Obsolete

The title of my first column in this series, “A Thousand Fops,” might have conjured up sugar-plum visions of a gigantic ballroom filled with men in tuxedos, each holding a martini in one hand, sipping it with pursed lips, and holding a monocle in the other hand. With pithy comments like, “I say!” and “Jolly good, ole chap!” each looks askance at the other, and wonders if his neighbor might be the Scarlet Pimpernel, or Zorro, or someone of that ilk.

This column’s title refers to my most recently-finished proofreading project, The Compleat Adventures of The Suicide Squad, by Emile C. Tepperman (forthcoming, as I write this).

The characters of the title are three G-Men, each one a loose cannon as ferociously tough as Dirty Harry. Now, they don’t work in a circus. And they’re not called on to solve any crimes in a carnival (that’s another project I worked on, for another column).

But there were clowns all over. The manuscript is crawling with them! They kept coming, and coming, and coming… as if the manuscript were a little Volkswagen…!

Now, I am not one who thinks clowns are creepy. I know such people. And I’m usually able to suppress the little derisive laugh that wants to break free, belch-like, when someone jitteringly describes their own personal hellish coulrophobia. But after finishing this manuscript, well–I can almost sympathize.

It would be a cheap, completely unjust shot for me to blame this on the OCR program. No, I readily admit that programs like this are incredible time-savers. I’d hate to think of keying all the source material for these projects. Computer programs like this have greatly enhanced our civilization’s ability to get things done.

So the OCR program saves us an incredible amount of time. But it can’t be held personally responsible when it scans a not-the-clearest photocopy, made from a text page that’s not-too-sharp in the first place, sees the letter “d” with a slight break in it, and interprets it as a “cl”.

That’s where the human brain comes in. Specifically, my human brain.

It’s my job to walk through the result of that scanned text, keeping my eye on what’s happening in the story, until I–oof!–grunt!–THUD–stumble clown-like over something like the following examples. Please savor the sweet visual implications of each.

“His eyes gleamed. He was to be caught between two fires here. If he tried to go up, the gunner on the next landing would get him. If he tried to go clown, the gunner on the first floor would get him.”

“The hallway was still thundering with gunfire. The gunner on the next landing was firing burst after burst clown the stairs.”

“The girl reached clown and turned on the ignition, and got the coupe going. It was cramped driving with the wounded and bleeding gunman slumping against her.” (Better a bleeding gunman than a creepy clown.)

“One of the thugs reached over to the bar and picked up a half-full whiskey bottle. He raised it by the neck, started to bring it clown in a smashing blow to Johnny’s face.” (Background research for this article uncovered some exciting recipes for sugar glass bottles, by the way.)

“He was swaying on his feet, and there was sweat on his face. Blood seeped through his coat on the right side, and also clown his right trousers leg. But he held himself erect.”

“The car came careening clown the street, and Dan Murdoch opened up with his revolver.” (Maybe it was a Volkswagen?)

“Far below, over the river, he caught the lights of a ferry, crawling across the Jersey shore like an immense, squat tortoise. An excursion boat, brilliantly illuminated, was working clown the river. Life, and gaiety, and music. While up here on the bleak cliffs above the city, there was stalking peril and lurking death.” (How could it be anything other than life, and gaiety, and music?)

“Time passed in that room, with each second ticking slowly, like an aeon of time. If only one of those men should decide to shoot, that would be the end of Stephen Klaw. He would go clown, taking with him many of these rats. But he would be dead.”

“They couldn’t face hot lead in the open. Half of those remaining on their feet went clown under the first volley from Kerrigan and Murdoch. The rest screamed in panic and turned to flee. They barged into panic-stricken patrons, stumbled over tables and chairs, as they gave way to blind terror.”

“Kerrigan and Klaw once more raised their guns. Murdoch thrust Martha Gray behind him, and threw clown with both revolvers on the hurtling roadster.”

“This latter one was holding a small, sawed-off sub-machine gun, with the foreshortened muzzle poking out of the window straight at Klaw. His face was clown low, sighting along the barrel, and his finger was on the trip.”

“Kerrigan scowled, and nodded. ‘I thought so, when we drove up and saw the shade clown.’”

“He leaned forward and pushed open the pane of glass which separated them from the driver’s seat. ‘Take us clown to police headquarters!’ he ordered crisply, and slid the pane shut again.”

“‘Go on clown there, you heels, an’ check on the water pressure, an’ don’t argue!’” (We all know how that’s going to turn out, as he looks into the nozzle. “Everything normal, sir–GLUB-DUB-FLUB-BLUB!!”)

“Something swished viciously clown past his shoulder blades, and then there was a dull thwack as a knife-point embedded itself in the veneer of the wooden bench upon which he had been sitting.”

“Hand over hand he climbed clown to the window below.”

“He plopped the Boston bag clown on the desk. It was so heavy it almost cracked the glass top.” (To say nothing of his wooden head.)

“Slugs smashed clown into the hall, burying themselves in the bodies that lay there.”

“Klaw held the blind aside, his automatic ready, as the ghostly shapes came clown the fire escape ladder from the roof.”

“There was nothing but darkness clown below.”

Gasp! Sputter! Choke! You know, sometimes reading a lot of this type of pulp fiction at one sitting can get a little intense! But I’m not sure this type of comic relief improves anything.

Thirty-nine clowns in this manuscript. And not a single one of them of the carnival species. Sounds like a lot, but let’s be fair to our friend, the OCR program: The same manuscript had 932 instances of the word “down”, which were translated properly.

Decades ago, there was much fear-mongering from Luddites who claimed that the computer would render the human mind obsolete. Despite the incredible improvements in computers since then, that fear no longer seems to be common. The sophistication and capability of the human mind is still safely ahead of the smartest artificial intelligence.

I believe a partial explanation for this lack of progress in AI is that the science of epistemology–the study of the nature and validation of knowledge–is still in its infancy. Or, perhaps, it has retrogressed the past couple of centuries. If significant advances are made in epistemology, we might someday see OCR programs smart enough to do the proofreading; we’d undoubtedly also see the same kind of magnificent advances in the social sciences (which currently are anything but “science”) that we have seen, the past centuries, in applied science (technology).

In the meantime, I’m happy to contribute to cultural advancement–or, more likely, slow its decline somewhat–by helping to proofread.

Rodney Schroeter
Wisconsin, March 5, 2009

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Posted by on March 7, 2009 in Schroeter, Rodney

 

Pulpwood Proofing

A Thousand Fops or How I Got Into the Proofreading Biz

by Rodney Schroeter

At the 2004 Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show, I was on a mission.

Obviously, I was looking for pulps, originals, books, and any other miscellanea that struck my fancy. But my mission went even beyond that.

I’ve been to every annual Windy City show since it started in 2001. In the years since, I’ve picked up lots of small-press publications that reprint the kind of pulp fiction that makes me smile, clench my teeth, widen my eyes so that the whites show all around, and chuckle insanely, causing my wife to wake in alarm and order me to turn off the light.

And when I did finally turn out the light, I could not easily fall asleep. It was rage that kept me awake. The seething resentment that had built up, causing my skin temperature to rise, as I read publication after publication.

All those typographical errors!

How could they publish books with all those typos? Didn’t anyone actually read them before the manuscripts were sent off to the printer in Timbuktoo?

I don’t think the science of psychology is advanced enough to explain why I developed my razor-sharp ability to catch errors as I read. (Actually, I don’t think psychology is advanced at all, but that’s another rant.) Part of it has to do with my decision to master the English language. (I haven’t done that, quite yet.)

I think, also, that my error-catching mindset is due to the fact that I deliberately chose to never mentally skip over errors. I remember a nice lady that my mother knew, when I was ten, lending me some science fiction paperbacks. Even back then, I didn’t let the publisher get away with anything; I circled and corrected each error with my orange-ink cigar-pen before I returned them to her.

In contrast, most normal people would shrug it off. An error? OK, I know what it should be; let’s move on. But for me, it’s like tripping over a carpet.

Thus, at the 2004 Windy City convention, I stopped at each publisher’s table, gave them a spiel about how I could help improve their product, and submitted a business card. I’d also put an ad in the show’s program and here, for posterity, it is:

Publishers!

You put a lot of work into your book or periodical. But your publication’s attractive, professional look is all too easily undermined–made amateurish and substandard–by only a handful of typos.

I can help! My eagle eye, and mastery of the English language, make my proofreading skills and ability to spot typos unsurpassed.

And I’ll do it for free!!–the first time I work with you. Thereafter, you’ll find my fees so reasonable, my services so invaluable, that you wouldn’t consider going to press without first subjecting your manuscript to my stern scrutiny.

Have a project in the works? Please e-mail me!

Rodney Schroeter
Proofreader
sreels@execpc.co
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Several publishers offered polite, “We’ll let you know” responses. As I walked down an aisle in the dealers’ room, one such publisher caught up with me. “Come to think of it,” he said, “I do have something you could work on.”

I returned to the tables of Dr. George Vanderburgh, owner of the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box press. I have asked him just what the Dickens that phrase means, but he simply responds with a cagey smile that it’s a reference to a Sherlock Holmes adventure. (Dr. George is a serious Sherlockian.)

“I have this project that needs proofing,” he said, bringing forth two thick spiral-bound manuscripts from one of his boxes. It was The Compleat Adventures of the Moon Man, written by Frederick C. Davis. I’d never heard of the character; working with Dr. George would prove to invaluably enhance my knowledge of pulp authors and characters. (Another recent tremendous boost to my pulpwood education is Robert Sampson’s 6-volume work, Yesterday’s Faces, which I’ll write about at some point.)

“Can you have this done in a month?” Dr. George asked. I thrust out my chest and said, “Sure!”

It was no idle boast. Proofing that nearly 800-page set of 38 stories was about all I did for the next few weeks, but I got her done. The absolute worst aspect of that job: I did not have the source material. So I was left guessing on a lot of mysterious typos, which will no doubt lead to pulp fiction historians, centuries from now, sneeringly making light of my work on that edition.

Dr. George has provided me, for subsequent projects, with that much-needed source material, so I have been able to check the input whenever that wacky OCR program has garbled up the output beyond all recognition.

And those subsequent projects? Here they are, to date:

(Most are part of a series called Lost Treasures from the Pulps, edited by and/or with input from Robert Weinberg and other collectors/pulp historians.)

2005, The Compleat Adventures of the Green Ghost, by G.T. Fleming-Roberts. Edited by Garyn Roberts. 2 volumes.

2006, The Compleat Great Merlini Saga, by Clayton Rawson. 2 volumes.

2006, The Compleat Park Avenue Hunt Club, by Judson P. Philips. Edited by Garyn Roberts. 2 volumes.

2007, The Other Seabury Quinn Stories, by Seabury Quinn. 2 volumes.

2009, The Compleat Saga of John Solomon, by H. Bedford-Jones. 3 volumes.

2009, The Macabre Quarto, by August Derleth (jointly published by the August Derleth Society and Arkham House). 4 volumes.

2009 (forthcoming), The Compleat Adventures of The Suicide Squad, by Emile C. Tepperman.

Incomplete and unpublished, The Strange Ocean Vistas of Philip M. Fisher.

In-process, The Compleat Adventures of Luther McGavock, by Merle Constiner.

In-process, The Compleat Adventures of Satan Hall, by Caroll John Daly.

Finally: In case you’re wondering, “What’n’e heck does that title refer to?” Well, that was one of the most interesting boners the OCR program pulled on my most recently-completed project, The Suicide Squad. The output: “a thousand fops”. The input? “a thousand Japs”. (This was published during World War II, so that kind of thing was OK then.)

Rodney Schroeter, in Wisconsin