Cultural Gutter: The Challenge of the Challenge from Beyond


In 1935, Fantasy magazine contracted five of the most popular pulp magazine authors to write a round-robin style story, with each contributing a page or two before passing it on to the next author. On The Cultural GutterThe Challenge of the Challenge from Beyond looks at how these five accomplished professionals created something about as good as a fourth grade class undertaking the same assignment.

Even though it has never produced anything but the worst, even by the standards commonly set by nine-year-olds, elementary and middle school teachers still persist in making their classes participate, at least once a year, in a round-robin writing exercise. You know the one. The first kid is charged with writing a paragraph or two in a story, then hands it off to the next student to continue, so on and so forth until it reaches an inevitably awful conclusion and probably involves Batman or the teacher or at least one student in the class as characters. And inevitably, at least half the finished product will be one young writer un-writing what the previous did, either because the previous writer backed everyone into a corner or the next writer just didn’t like it or didn’t read it. What this is supposed to teach us is unclear; the message I took away from it was “teamwork and collaboration produces awful results.”

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