Now computers are writing fiction – is this the death of publishing?

Expect my August sales figures as well as a new story in the next few days. But for now, here is another linkdump. And sorry about the melodramatic headline, but if it gets me views and people who buy books, I’m not above melodrama.

Chuck Wendig offers 25 things you should know about self-publishing. Some great and measured advice there.

I’ve linked to the New York Times report about a gentleman in Singapore who has published 600000 books before. Now Philip Palmer, the man behind one million books (the New York Times got the figure wrong), speaks out at Passive Guy’s blog.

Apparently, the New York Times got more than just the number of books wrong, because it appears that Mr Palmer is not a spammer but runs a legitimate company compiling and repackaging information on niche subjects. It’s not a business model I can really identify with, but if it makes him money than great for him.

Mr Palmer is also working on a software program that automatically generates fiction based on lots of parameters and has already written one for poetry. There is a video demonstration here.

The first association that popped into my head was, “Wow. That’s just like the novel and song writing machines George Orwell mentioned in 1984.” Indeed, the novel and song writing machines generate cheap entertainment for the proles. The heroine, Julia, operates one of them. I always viewed those novel writing machines (they do porn, too) as a take on the plot wheel developed by British thriller author Edgar Wallace (I wrote an article about him several years ago) and similar plotting systems. If you’ve ever wondered why the same elements keep popping up in Wallace’s fiction again and again, this is why.

Meanwhile, Mr Palmer’s software program strikes me as a souped up and customisable version of story generators like They fight crime! or The Brainstormer, to list two of my favourites. I can imagine playing around with this for an afternoon and having a lot of fun, just like I sometimes use the generators to spark ideas. They fight crime! just gave me a great urban fantasy idea and I wasn’t even looking for one.

Do I feel threatened as a writer and occasional poet by the existence of such a program? No more than I feel threatened by automatic translation programs as a translator. Human language is incredibly complex and AIs are not nearly developed enough to grasp all its nuances. These programs, whether for translation or writing, have their purpose, but they cannot replace a human and they won’t anytime soon.

I also linked to the “publishing is dead and the sky is falling” article by Ewan Morrison from the Guardian in my last post. Now Passive Guy, Joe Konrath, Holly Lisle and Dave Freer offer their responses. Even the Guardian itself published a response by Lloyd Shepherd who believes that the death of books is greatly exaggerated.

On a related note, Nathan Bransford wonders whether self-published authors will need a publisher at all in the future, once they have hit it big. I suspect the answer will differ from author to author.

More end of publishing as we know it handwringing at the Wall Street Journal. And while they’re at it, the Wall Street Journal quickly declares American literature or rather the study of same dead as well.

I always find it stunning how entrenched the idea of an absolute canon of great books still is in the US, considering that Americans were the first to dismantle it more than forty years ago. Besides, I have serious problems taking someone seriously who believes that the best American novelists of the 20th century are Willa Cather and Theodore Dreiser. I grant him Willa Cather, though she’s not the first or even the seventh choice that comes to mind. But Theodore Dreiser? Seriously?

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2 Responses to Now computers are writing fiction – is this the death of publishing?

  1. Pingback: The dominance of US storytelling modes, the implications for international writers and other links | Cora Buhlert

  2. Pingback: More publishing doom and gloom, another bestseller and July sales figures | Pegasus Pulp

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