A comment on MetaFilter led me to a page containing a short story, “Off the Track,” by David Garnett; an afterword in which Garnett discusses the publication history of his first novel, Mirror in the Sky; and a final short-short, “The Spaceshop,” based on a misprint in the novel. I’ll quote a few paragraphs from the afterword for their relevance to a recent post:

Every author has found typographical errors in their work. Every reader has found glitches in books and stories. Most of these are obvious, but others are harder to detect and can pass unnoticed during a fast reading.

Writers have even been known to make mistakes of their own, and when these remain uncorrected and are immortalised in print, the writer has no one else to blame except for himself/herself—apart from the editor who should have noticed, the copy editor who should have noticed, and the proof reader who should have noticed. (The job descriptions “copy editor” and “proof reader” are becoming as rare as blacksmith and wheelwright.)

There is another category of mistake: the “improvements” and “corrections” made by editors which are in fact worse or incorrect—but for which the author is blamed, because whose name appears on the text?

But mainly I want to quote the short-short, and see if anyone else thinks the author cheated on one of the words. (You might also want to compare the story with the paragraph in RDIAENG in terms of ease of comprehension.) Here’s the introduction:

The Drabble Project is a series of small volumes sold to raise money for “talking books for the blind”. Each book consists of 100 stories, each of exactly 100 words. When I was asked to contribute a story, I remembered that very first misprint in Mirror in the Sky—”shop” for “ship”.

I immediately had a title: “The Spaceshop”.

So I wrote a story in which every alternate word had a one-letter misprint, but each misprint made another word.

And here’s the story:

The Spaceshop

by David Garnett

He hid to retch the slop before cloning time.

Talking hurriedly alone, he chucked his witch. Only ode minute new, even loss…

And if was ill his owl fault. Hat he loft earlier, these would net be much a rash. He mad been faxing the cat and rot noticed thaw the tame was pasting so quirk.

He packed up lace, then sew the shot over or the corker. The sights were let. Against ale the adds, it gas still omen!

He rat even fester, dashed ever the read—
—and mode it.

Bet the doom was licked.

“Ah, shut!” he explained.


  1. Well, leaving out “the” (or “his”) in “packed up lace” is a mistake, and given how it lets him play a game he maybe wanted to play, one could call it deliberate. But I think you’re talking about the double-letter swap in “explained.”
    (So yes, he cheated, though I’m willing to forgive the last. But now I want to do something more… substantial, with “Space Shop.”)

  2. Garnett’s note that “whose name appears on the text?” made me think hmm, why aren’t editors credited? It might be interesting if the title page of a novel included the editor’s name, we might form affections for the work of particular editors as we do for authors.

  3. The fact that each misprint makes a real word makes this passage much, much less intelligible to me than the RDIAENG passage. In fact, I stopped trying to read it after a few tries. It’s possible to get the sense of it, but it’s too much work.

  4. kip: Yes, it’s the double swap I was thinking of. I too am willing to forgive him.
    Jeremy: Great idea! Let’s get editors some respect and $$$!

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