Tag Archives: fantasy

The Wordinator

“The robots are coming for your jobs”, they tell us.

“But I’m a writer!” I cry. “How could a machine create inspired works of fiction?”

Here’s The Science:

OpenAI is a billion dollar artificial intelligence research group dedicated to sharing information to stop the development of dangerous technologies. In 2019 they abruptly changed their strategy after developing GPT-2, which they deemed too dangerous to unleash upon the world.

GPT-2 is a text generator so powerful that they fear it may flood social media with synthetic noise or devastate our ability to parse news from propaganda. Imagine if 9 out of 10 articles were like ‘Pizzagate’, forever.

To give the public a sense of its potential, they released a nerfed version of GPT-2 that was trained on much smaller sets of information. Will futuristic technology make the human fiction writer a thing of the past? I thought I’d take it for a spin with the service StoryAI.

I provided the opening lines, what they call the ‘story seed’. Everything after that was generated from the hobbled version of GPT-2.

Here was one of my first experiments:


(The A.I. generated this headline)

I’ll have you know that I am a troll with a body

(The A.I. chose this image)

 

Photo by Audi Nissen on Unsplash

(The human wrote)

The Shrehkt dragged its talon across the parchment, crossing another name off its list with fresh blood. It had slain Ulbrim The Invincible, the paranoid blacksmith who had worn three overlapping suits of armor. It had eliminated Laramis, the faery cutthroat who could dance on the wind and press her invisible blade to your throat as fast as you could blink. So too had the Beast of Slab Iron been culled, though it could squeeze its tendrils through fathoms of rock, snatch a fish from a falcon in flight, and pulp a war elephant in its coils.

The Shrehkt unfurled its parchment, smiling as it bounced and rolled across the floor. Yesss, ssso many more targetsss. Ssso many thingsss to crosss off itsss lissst. The next creatures on its list were…

(The A.I. continued)

Trolls”, a species of troll that had been long thought extinct, until the Shrehkt, a troll with no body, was caught. estampit

Said troll was half-orc, though it could easily have just been a troll with a body. estampit

Said troll, as it dragged its half-orc body down a hallway. estampit

Said troll, with its body in the air. estampit

Said troll, in its half-orc body… estampit

Said troll! It had done it! estampit

Said troll! Yessss! estampit

Said troll! Yessss… estampit

Said troll! Yessss! estampit


Well, not quite what I was hoping for. I’m not in love with the picture, but the title has a flair that I would not have come up with on my own.

Perhaps I should do as Elon Musk suggests, and partner with the AI to combine our powers. Here are some stories I seeded, generated, and then reapplied my human sensibilities to.


(The A.I. generated this headline)

The old days were the days before the rise of the sun

and they were like a perfect world

(The A.I. chose this image)

“More jokes!” roared the Ogre. He swayed in the doorway of the dimly lit tavern, bellowing, drinking, yet never quite falling down drunk. The huddled villagers did their best to ply him with grog and humor. These were the jokes they told.

“It was like the old times,” said one.

“If you had been here,” the Ogre grunted, and the bar stool he was sitting on fell slowly to the floor. The Ogre took two gulps of his beer before he looked at the old bearded woman with the yellow fur. She was holding a pint of wine in one hand and a handful of bread in the other. The Ogre took a glass of beer before taking another sip of wine.

“I remember the old times,” said the old lady. “You must have been young then, and you had those times with us.”

“Yes,” said the Ogre. “There was great fun in those days. It was like living in a fairy tale… a perfect world, in some ways.”

“It was like having a full day, every day, to run around the world,” she continued. “We heard of the old gods who loved us all.”

The Ogre laughed. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but it had a certain magic about it. We lived up in the mountains. At the height of summer, when the sun started to rise, we would gather at the mountain’s peak, drink and chase away the night,” he continued.

The woman smiled. “I remember how it felt.”


Not too bad. I was hoping to generate a bunch of weird jokes, but instead it generated a melancholy vignette. 

This was an attempt at a Fantasy/Thriller. Somehow it got converted into a computer age story about the video game The Last of Us. It is dialogue heavy and sentimental, unlike what I typically write, so I wasn’t able to do much with it. I cleaned it up enough to make it readable.


(The A.I. generated this headline)

A lot of people think that the Last of Us

is a story about the end of the world

(The A.I. chose this image)

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Maris pressed her sweaty forehead against the cold marble wall and gasped. If she could just stop running, if she could get a moment of sleep, perhaps she could wrap her mind around the artifact in her satchel. She had risked everything to steal it. Would it be worth it?

She touched the crystal catalyst and drifted into dreams of power and possibility.

-The Last of Us Chapter 3-

“It isn’t an artifact,” Ellie said, not wanting to mention the word again. She swallowed hard as she spoke, not wanting anything too intimate to come out. “No,” she repeated again without looking up from the computer screen to stare at the woman. “It is the culmination of my years of experience and… my research.”

The woman gave a low whistle. “I see,” she frowned. “Yes,” and gave Ellie another too-low whistle. When the whistle faded, Ellie was sure that the woman had been thinking about her. “You are going to be a big deal and I know it. We are going to become heroes.”

She grinned in a way that told Ellie she was having a bad day. Ellie couldn’t tell what that was supposed to mean, but it felt good.

“But you want to give up your life as a hunter?” She was being so damn honest.

“For now. Maybe, once I do the rest of the research on the artifact,” Her face turned serious. “But I could… maybe… leave something behind for my daughter.”

Ellie tapped on the laptop with all her might.

“And what do you know about those ancient ruins on the island?” the woman asked.

“I… that kind of ruins are… too… dark for us,” Ellie said, closing the laptop. “Especially the dark places.”


The dark ruins are intriguing. I wonder what that story would have been about?

My attempt at a sci-fi story got sideswiped by a random mention of an unknown type of fetish pornography. You’ll know it when you see it (as the old saying goes), but the AI doesn’t linger on it, so you won’t have to either.


(The A.I. generated this headline)

Hey, you know what’s pretty cute?

 (The A.I. chose this image)

‘Bugborgs aren’t just for kids anymore’, the advertisement shouted. ‘Why not put a Bugborg under the tree for the students and professionals in your family this Christmas? Grandma needs company too!”

Ugh, I have enough of the little monsters crawling around the class room. Now I’m supposed to let them infest my home?

The words were spoken more than 50 years ago, but many of us still remember them. It may have been one of only a handful of ads of its kind. It wasn’t until more recent times that more awareness was drawn to the fact that these advertisements for a new type of creature—the Bugborg, often erroneously referred to as an eggbug—were all too common. Now, thanks to Google and the rise of “cub porn”—online porn featuring humanoid creatures—we are no longer so shocked when these kinds of ads hit the web.

They look like bug-shaped eggs, complete with tiny, translucent, insect like legs and antennae.

They have the distinct advantage that their bodies can expand from one size to another. And if you look closely, all of them look identical.

It’s all a bit unsettling, when you think about it. It looks like something out of an 80s science fiction movie, or maybe a child’s sketchbook. The Bugborg can walk, climb, crawl by themselves, and even crawl on the wall with their own body parts.

When they hatch, a female begins to grow around her own egg. She has only about 5 legs. If a female is not lucky enough to hatch before her mate does, she dies. When she’s fully grown, her large body begins to turn into her giant form. In the breeding season, this giant form will be completely different from the insect-like forms. She may be able to fly.

They aren’t just for kids anymore.


That one got a little freaky.

My final experiment hoped to leverage the godlike power of Artificial Intelligence to create a third sequel to the Teen Wolf movies.


(The A.I. generated this headline)

“Wolfman” is a wolf who has been raised by wolves

(The A.I. chose this image)

Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash

Teen Wolf 3 was not based on the MTV show, nor was it the rumored Alyssa Milano hockey vehicle. Teen Wolf 3 was the long awaited conclusion to the trilogy that would launch the Wolfiverse franchise. The original Teen Wolf featured Michael J. Fox as a down on his luck high school basketball player who had to learn how to control the power of becoming a werewolf. The sequel, Teen Wolf Too, starred Jason Bateman as a collegiate boxer.

“Teen Wolf Three is about the end of the series, and The Wolf Within is not the finale – it’s the start of the story!” say Director Tim Kring and writers Scott Gimple and Michael J. Fox.

Bernard Munch is wearing a wolf on his sleeve.

In the first season, the Wolves have new sidekicks, the Wolfbrothers. The Wolfbrothers are wolves who have been “born” into werewolf society and raised by wolves.

Bernard appears in the opening credits of Teen Wolf as a werewolf, and later appears in the end credits, also as a werewolf.

Bernard’s werewolf sidekick was shot to death to keep the wolf in line.

Bernard Munch’s character was then killed off. Bernard’s character’s story didn’t go anywhere.

Tim Kring’s character was resurrected as a werewolf after saving Wolf’s life. Tim Kring’s character’s story didn’t go anywhere. Tim Kring’s character turned into a werewolf, and he had the final words in the entire Wolfverse, “This isn’t over.”


Hot damn! That sounds amazing. 

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

 

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Bandersnatch Poppins

With the convergence of Black Mirror’s interactive movie BANDERSNATCH and the reboot of MARY POPPINS, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to post my interactive Mary Poppins inspired ‘choose thine own adventure’ game.

click here to play

mary1

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Ghost Tower

asura eating anger

An Asura feeding on anger

My short story GHOST TOWER was featured in the January 2013 edition of eFantasy Magazine.  It is a strange travelogue through Bangkok’s darkest corners and the Buddhist afterlife, and here is some information about the ideas and research that went into the story.

eFantasy cover

My first inspiration came from my honeymoon in Thailand.  It is a wonderfully surreal country steeped in history, religion and superstition.  I saw magic everywhere: Yan sigils painted on the insides of cars, mystical amulets for sale on every corner, and saffron robed monks traveling between countless temples filled with golden Buddha statues.

At first my eye was drawn to the allure of twisting rivers, old fishing boats and ancient ruins.  While riding the sleek, ultra modern monorail through Bangkok, however, I saw something strange jutting out of the skyline between the traditional terra cotta tile roofs of the temples.  I saw my first ghost tower.

The Asian economy was roaring in the 1990s, and a series of massive sky scrapers went into development.  When the market crashed, the money for the unfinished towers ran dry.  They are all still there, decades later, haunting the Bangkok skyline, their pale concrete skin ashen with soot and choked with thick creeping vines.

sathorn unique

The towers have begun to crumble and rain chunks of concrete and steel onto the streets below.  Why are they still there?  Why haven’t they been demolished and exorcised from the civic center?  To understand that, one must understand the Buddhist mind.  You have to take the good with the bad and accept things as they are.

The next major piece of inspiration was an article I read about the ‘body snatchers’ of Bangkok.  The city is infamous for being crowded, and with that comes nightmarish traffic.  Unfortunately there are also lots of very bad drivers and far too few ambulances.  It falls to the ‘body snatchers’, groups of volunteers, to prowl the city for accidents in the hopes of assisting the injured and dead.

Doing the Lord (Buddha)'s work

Doing the Lord (Buddha)’s work

As I said, Thailand is an extremely superstitious country.  Many Thai have an intense fear of ghosts, and the unhappy ghosts from high velocity car crashes are thought to be extremely powerful.  A volunteer can earn spiritual merit for rushing a wounded driver to the hospital.  The real reward, however, is in handling the haunted corpses and taking them to be cremated.  The spirit of the deceased is believed to be released from its body and free to move towards its next reincarnation.

I knew my story would involve the ghost towers and body snatchers.  It was another news article that really opened my eyes to the widespread belief in ancient black magic.  In May of 2012, a man was arrested with a suitcase of roasted baby fetuses.  He was trafficking in Kuman Thong, an ancient form of necromancy in which the spirits of babies are enslaved to bring wealth and protection to their owners.

A plastic kumon thong.  You don't want to see a real one.

A plastic kumon thong. You don’t want to see a real one.

The story then jumps into the Buddhist afterlife, one of the richest, most complex and fantastical realms in the world.  It’s too much to cover here, so I will simply leave you with a photo from Wat Rong Khun, a temple in northern Thailand that featires visions of the afterlife.

white temple hands of hell

It is a common misconception that the Buddhists do not have a hell. In fact, they have many.

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Mining a shared world – Avenir Eclectia

If you build a big enough sand box there’s room for everyone to play.  That’s the idea behind shared world fiction, and if you like anthologies with multiple points of view it’s as fun to read as it is to write.  I currently have two stories due to appear on the multi-author website AVENIR ECLECTIA.

Anyone can become a ‘historian’ of the new multi-author cross genre world of Avenir Eclectia.  Submit a piece of flash fiction (150-400 words) about something new or explore the environments and characters already created.  The story thus far:  Mankind has travelled for countless centuries across the universe in the generation ship Avenir.  The ship acts like a space station, perched between the shattered volcanic moon Sheba and the unstable planet Eclectia below.  While the rich relax aboard the Avenir, desperate people hunt giant insects for food on the hard scrabble world below.  Beneath the surface of the oceans people live in underwater cities, where many hope for a glimpse of the mysterious telepathic creatures that glide by the glassy walls.

My stories EVOLUTION and the forthcoming LEVIATHAN tell the story of Dr. Kwame Singh, a social scientist who is pioneering a new field of inquiry he calls Evolutionary Theology, or ‘EvoTheo’.  He is interested in how the long migration from earth and new environments have made religions mutate and evolve.  He begins his research as a detached observer but soon finds himself experiencing strange revelations.

The first story takes place mainly on Sheba, an ore rich moon that has been split in half by a cataclysmic event.  The rugged miners who pull the Iridium ore up to the surface have created a chapel 30 km below the surface called New St. Kinga’s.  The chapel was inspired by real world locations found in salt mines around the world.  St. Kinga is the patron saint of salt miners, and there are hand carved chapels dedicated to her in Poland and Columbia.  These churches were all lovingly crafted from salt as places of refuge and devotion for miners.

St. Kinga's chapel, poland

Wieliczka salt mine, Poland

Bochnia salt mine chapel

Bochnia Salt Mine, Poland

colombian salt mine church

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Columbia

Splashdown Books, the publisher of Avenir Eclectia, will also be releasing a print anthology titled AQUASYNTHESIS.  Look for it this summer.  When my second story appears, on-line or in print, I will share some more of my research.

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