The Turkey City Lexicon

Nope, it’s not a new Michael Chabon or Stephen King novel. Or a travel guide to the Near East.

The Turkey City Lexicon is a brilliant little primer put together in the ‘80s by an Austin writer’s group of the same name. I've run across the Lexicon in numerous workshops and classes. It provides a memorable shorthand language for discussing problems (mostly) typical to science fiction and fantasy stories.

So, for instance, you could quickly diagnose a work as suffering from a bad case of Dennis Hopper syndrome. Can you guess what that is?

Dennis Hopper in Waterworld

The list covers everything from word choice to plot structures to tropes. You can check out the entire Lexicon on the SFWA site, but here are a few of my favorite terms:

Useless ornament in prose, such as fancy sesquipedalian Latinate words where short clear English ones will do. Novice authors sometimes use “gingerbread” in the hope of disguising faults and conveying an air of refinement. (Attr. Damon Knight)

The Cozy Catastrophe
Story in which horrific events are overwhelming the entirety of human civilization, but the action concentrates on a small group of tidy, middle-class, white Anglo- Saxon protagonists. The essence of the cozy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off. (Attr. Brian Aldiss)

The Shaggy God Story
A piece which mechanically adopts a Biblical or other mythological tale and provides flat science-fictional “explanations.”

Mrs. Brown
The small, downtrodden, eminently common, everyday little person who nevertheless encapsulates something vital and important about the human condition. “Mrs. Brown” is a rare personage in the SF genre, being generally overshadowed by swaggering submyth types made of the finest gold-plated cardboard. In a famous essay, “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown,” Ursula K. Le Guin decried Mrs. Brown’s absence from the SF field. (Attr: Virginia Woolf)

In a workshop setting, I was once told a story of mine had a lot of Eyeball Kick, which, as it turns out, is a good thing. What flaw (or desirable quality) have you been guilty of? Have you seen one of these lexical baddies in a story recently?

For your viewing pleasure, I've included a classic Shaggy God story:

Twilight Zone episode "Probe 7, Over and Out"
It's actually an Adam and Eve story, a subset of the Shaggy God Story.


Colene Murphy said...

Man, I need to check out that site! Thanks! (love the Waterworld reference)I'm always afraid of "coincidences" being too perfectly timed or having things too cozy.

Angie Smibert said...

Yikes, I screwed up the link to the lexicon. It should be fixed above, but, just in case, the SFWA link is

Jen said...

Cool! I'm heading over to check that link out now :D Thanks for pointing it out.

Tere Kirkland said...

Love Turkey City Lexicon almost as much as I love T.V. Tropes! Talk about a time-suck.