It was like trying to think about the square root of minus zero.
HARRY STEPHEN KEELER (1890-1967) is one of the strangest writers who ever lived. In his time, he was pegged as a mystery novelist who also wrote some science fiction. Today, if you’ve heard of him at all, it’s as the Ed Wood of mystery novelists, a writer reputed to be so bad he’s good. Actually, no genre, nor “camp,” can much suggest what Keeler is all about. Take some typical Keeler situations:
Largely because of the Nevins articles, Keeler acquired a cult following among those who could find his books. That was no given, for everything Keeler wrote had been out of print for years. Editions issued by E.P. Dutton and Phoenix Press are prized collector’s items among the few who know, or care, who Keeler is. Only about 2,000 of the later Phoenix Press titles were printed. Only a fraction survive. Keeler never made it into paperback. Many of the Keeler books you find are hardcover reprints for the commercial lending library market (way back when, people paid to rent books the way they rent videos now).
Keeler took the webwork novel seriously enough to turn out a detailed manual on webwork plotting, complete with insanely confusing diagrams. Did anyone actually read this and try to use it?
These are funny in a subtle way: You get the impression that if a stupid person was trying to come up with “funny” names, he might come up with these names — which are funny because they fail to be funny. You’re laughing at the idea that someone would think these names are funny, rather than at the names themselves.