The Eyeballs of Thog

Recently I discovered that a fictional character in my SF newsletter had his own website. The cheek of it! This personage was Thog, the hulking barbarian who presides over Ansible's "Thog's Masterclass" department – a showcase for writing tactfully described as differently good. Thog (originally created by my friend John Grant for his "Lone Wolf" spinoff novels) loves the kind of prose that's best appreciated with a large spiky mace.

Now he's become He may be disguising himself as the Tower Hamlets Opportunity Group, but I know his brutish little tricks. In retaliation I quickly registered ...

The Thog tradition began long before Thog himself rose to infamy. Back in 1979, Ansible reverently quoted a poetic moment from Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Black Hole: "Dimly they/it perceived the final annihilation of a minuscule agglutination of refined masses ..."

Thog's Masterclass – of which Ursula Le Guin is a long-time fan – is specially fond of sentences that say unintended things about characters' anatomy. Alarming bosoms, for example: "Even through two layers of combat armour, I felt her nipples brush against my back ..." (Karl Hansen, War Games). Elusive gnashers: "His two missing teeth could be seen only when he smiled." (Jack Dann, The Memory Cathedral).

Free-floating body parts are common: "He started pushing her buttocks up until they had almost disconnected." (Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, Interest of Justice). A chair in Alan Dean Foster's Diuturnity's Dawn "rocked briefly in his absence, then steadied to await the next set of perambulating buttocks." Farewell to arms: "Starr's hands were going numb and his arms were drifting slowly away from their sockets." (Peter Heath, Men Who Die Twice). The same author's The Mind Brothers contains this deft characterization of an entrepreneur: "They shook hands, and Jason set about retrieving his balls."

Feet too are detachable: "Kothar leaped, leaving his booted feet and diving a yard above the floor ..." (Gardner F. Fox, Kothar – Barbarian Swordsman). And knees: "His feet slammed into Alayn's knees and knocked them both to the floor." (Katharine Kerr, Snare). Entire heads, even: "I rolled my head to an empty quadrant of the hall." (Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon). "Then he gathered himself ... and flung his head hard and fast to the left, as far as and farther than it would go." (Melanie Tem, Tides).

You were hoping Thog wouldn't move on to innards? Tough. From the StarGate film novelization, "Skaara felt his stomach nearly fall out of his mouth." Going the opposite way: "Egwene's stomach sank into her feet." (Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven). More violently: "Thea's stomach fisted." (Judith Kelman, One Last Kiss).

Some organs have entirely the wrong contents: "'Can I use the bathroom?" Stanley asked, his bladder full of fear." (Carl Huberman, Eminent Domain). Some find themselves in the wrong place: "His wasn't actually a handsome face ... the nose prominent, jutting out from a wide and high brow." (Anne McCaffrey, The Rowan) Or: "Jack pulled back his fists in readiness, and eyed the druid through clenched teeth." (Pro-Am).

Eyes can play especially worrying tricks. From Thog's huge dossier labelled "Eyeballs in the Sky": "His eyes ran like weasels over the faces of the other players ..." (Philip José Farmer, "Attitudes"). "Her jolly brown eyes made a complete circuit round my head ..." (EF Benson, "Home, Sweet Home"). Even more athletic: "She took a few paces within, her amber eyes clambering up library steps, sliding along polished shelves housing neatly ranged books within a mellow wood gallery then down the stairs on the opposite side of the room." (Mary Brendan, The Silver Squire).

Here's another eyeball scouting expedition: "His eyes crawled up the wall before him." (China Miéville, King Rat). Vladimir Nabokov's painful bout of spring-cleaning made it into the Oxford English Dictionary: "And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell." (Invitation to a Beheading, 1959). One excitable chap in the forgotten fantasy Salome the Wandering Jewess appears with "his eyes creeping out until they hung on the rims of their sockets like desperate people wavering on the edges of precipices." ("Jump! Jump!")

For maximum eyeball violence, the current record holder is: "His eyes roamed around the workshop, knocking over tables and equipment, until they settled on my Master ..." (Matthew Skelton, Endymion Spring).

Authors who commit such remarkable sentences should remember that Thog and his researchers are always on the watch. With roaming, clambering, creeping, crawling, naked eyes.

David Langford wonders why leads to an Australian jobs site. [Well, it did last year – now you get an ad site which cunningly lies in wait for people who misspell "thong".]