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I have apparently forgotten how to Thursday and my schedule is all awry. While I get myself sorted out, here are the Nebula Award winners:

2021 Nebula Awards Winners – Locus Online

As mentioned in a previous post, some of the nominees are free-to-read. The short story winner is open access (and is told primarily through its 93! footnotes):

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather“, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/21)

Enjoy!

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Photo by Tina Xinia on Unsplash

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I spent a good part of the day cooking and am pleased with the results. (Bread times four, duxelles times giant bowl, roasted mushrooms times big ziplock, plus a couple gallons of soup.)

Now the couch and Murderbot are calling. If you’re looking for something new to read, you might check out the 2022 Locus Awards Top Ten Finalists. Winners will be announced June 25, 2022.

For the full list see the above link, but for free reads check out the novelette and short story categories (bold links are pay to play, but the rest are open access):

NOVELETTE

SHORT STORY

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Photo by Ai Takeda on Unsplash

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Some of my time today was taken up by story edits, so I thought I could use a bit of help on the blog post today.

You may have heard the fuss around OpenAI’s GPT-3, a new AI that can generate impressive results with text and code. (Here’s an explainer, or you can think of it as the world’s most sophisticated auto-complete.) I decided to test out an open-source version called GPT-J by asking it to create a list of ten speculative fiction books.

* Disclaimer: I am an untrained hack playing with a system that (in some hands, at least) is giving the Turing Test a run for its money. Cue hilarity.

My new assistant was happy to help, if sometimes a bit, um, off base. After tweaking the prompt, settings, and iterating several many times to get around the length limitations, here is the result:

Original Prompt (My comments in brackets and bold, all else from GPT-J):

List 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Result:

List 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. 1984 by George Orwell

3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

4. The Shining by Stephen King

5. The Stand by Stephen King

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’ve been reading a lot of speculative fiction lately, mostly dystopian and post-apocalyptic, so I decided to put together a list of ten of my favorites. It’s probably a bit more of a guilty pleasure than an accurate reflection of my reading habits, but these are all books that I’ve really enjoyed and can’t wait to reread. I’ll probably be back to add some more to the list.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The first fantasy book I ever read and it’s still one of my favorites. I picked it up when I was 14 or 15, and I’ve read it a few times since. It’s a story of good versus evil, with good triumphing over evil. [geesh, spoiler alert] I read the trilogy in order, though I’d recommend reading the prequel, The Hobbit, first if you haven’t already.

2. 1984 by George Orwell

Orwell’s dystopian novel about a future where the government has full control over the citizens. It’s written in the form of a diary entry by an unnamed character, so you don’t really know who it’s talking about. It’s probably my favorite dystopian novel and the one I’ve read most often. I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while, but I haven’t found the time yet.

3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

This book is about a teenage boy named Alex who is doped up on hallucinogenic drugs. He gets in trouble with the police, and when the drugs wear off he goes berserk and starts brutally attacking people. He’s a classic anti-hero. [I saw the movie. don’t want to see/read it again]

4. The Shining by Stephen King

I haven’t read this one in a while, but I remember enjoying it. It’s about a writer who gets trapped in a hotel during a blizzard, with an evil presence in the hotel. It’s got a great story and a lot of twists and turns, but it’s also very scary.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

Another Stephen King book I haven’t read in a while, but I remember enjoying it. It’s about a virus that’s being spread by a zombie-like virus, and the only way to stop it is to kill every single person. [admission: haven’t read it, but even I know this isn’t quite on the money]

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is a dystopian novel about a future where women are subjugated to the men. The story revolves around a woman named June, who becomes pregnant and has to go through an arranged marriage with a man named Nick. [I mean, sort of? on the money about “the men” though]

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is one of my favorite science fiction novels. [I can tell, see below] It’s about a time traveler from the future who is stuck in the past, and the only way he can get back to the future is to find the way to his home world. [eehhhh, close enough]

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve read this one before, and I loved it. It’s about a group of hobbits and elves [um, kind of?] who go on a quest to destroy an evil ring. It’s not just a simple story about good and evil, but a story about friendship and loyalty. It’s a great fantasy novel. [truth]

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

[not speculative, but at this point we’re just going with it]

This is a bestseller in Sweden [and everywhere else], and it’s the first in a trilogy. It’s about a journalist who is hired to investigate a crime in Sweden, and the story is told from the perspective of the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist.

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is the second in a trilogy, and it’s about a girl named Katniss Everdeen who gets sent to the Hunger Games to be a tribute, where she has to fight and kill other contestants in a fight to the death.

I’m a big fan of both dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was excited when I found this book at a used book store. I’d been wanting to read it for a while, and I was happy to find it for a reasonable price. 

[So, errors but it’s really not terrible so far, although it’s often almost right enough to be problematic if you’re not careful; now here’s where it goes off the rails]

The story is told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl named Charlie who has to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I’m not a big fan of the Hunger Games series, but I did enjoy this book. It’s a story about the dangers of technology, and it’s one of the few dystopian novels I’ve read that I actually enjoyed. It’s about a man named Anthony, who has a terminal illness and is given the chance to be frozen in a cryogenic chamber and wake up later.

The story is told in the form of a journal entry by the protagonist, Richard. He has a wife and son, and he’s trying to cope with his son’s death, as well as his own imminent death. The story revolves around Richard trying to make sense of what has happened, and trying to cope with the loss of his son.

I read this book in one sitting, and I’m still thinking about it. [me too, GPT-J, me too]

I’m sure there’s a tech explanation for what happened there, but for now I’ll just be amused. 

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In earlier tests, GPT-J did a pretty good job of identifying both science fiction and more generally speculative fiction, but did get a few things wrong.

Examples:

9. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

This is a novel set in a virtual reality world called the Matrix. It’s a world in which you can literally “hack” reality.

It’s a brilliant book. It’s set in a future where virtual reality is the new reality. But it’s a bit like the movie Snowpiercer. Snow Crash is a bit like a cross between Snowpiercer and Snow Crash.

It’s really, really, really good. I can’t recommend it enough.

[just, yeah]

7. The Stainless Steel Rat by John Creasey [nope, that was Harry Harrison; it didn’t know that Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War either]

Also, from some of the earlier versions of this experiment GPT-J seems to have a serious thing for H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Here’s an example:

Prompt:

Complete this list of 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Result:

2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

3. The City and the City by China Miéville

4. The Iron Heel by Jack London

5. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

8. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Ok, then!

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I will say that all of this took a great deal more time than actually, I don’t know, writing the list myself. That said, even this tiny glimpse shows off the system’s enormous potential. 

So (aside from “Generative Pretrained Transformer”) what does GPT stand for? 

GPT-J has thoughts:

A: GPT stands for Genuine Personal Testimony.
A: GPT stands for GNU Parted Table. It’s the name of the backend to which I’m referring to when I say that I’m talking about the “system” and not the “table.”
A: GPT stands for “grandparents’ primary teacher”. I created the term to describe those teachers who start a conversation with students and parents as if they are a student’s grandparent. It’s a term I use to describe teachers who have the experience of a parent.

Me, I say it stands for generate, proof, and for the love of The Time Machine, please think.

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Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

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Maybe it’s time to stop asking “Why is this hard?” and start asking “When is it easy?” Then do more of that.

Just me?

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Photo by Ja San Miguel on Unsplash

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“You say you’re ‘depressed’ — all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective — it just means you’re human.”

― David Mitchell

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Photo by Jelle de Gier on Unsplash

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Today, another free installment from Anthropocene’s Climate Parables series.

Dodging the Apocalypse | Mark Alpert

Yo, fellow defenders of our beautiful planet, happy Monday and happy Earth Day! What a crazy week, right? I’m guessing you’ve heard about my adventures in New Mexico; they were all over the freakin’ news. So first let me send a shout out to you, my loyal listeners, for your amazing support of this graying environmental correspondent. Without you, I’d probably still be in jail.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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What’s this, what’s this? I have just discovered that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has a video interview series with interesting authors like Ann Leckie, Ken Liu, Karen Lord and more. It’s called Narrative Worlds and is hosted by author Kate Elliott.

I now know this because I follow Martha Wells (Murderbot and much more), and she is heading for the interview chair this Sunday the 24th.

Busy on Sunday? Me too, probably, but good news, SFWA archives the series.

Here’s Season 1 and Season 2.

Have I listened to these yet? I just discovered they existed five minutes ago so no, I have not. The list of authors is impressive, however, and I expect good things.

Also Murderbot.

If you’re into science fiction and fantasy and are curious about what’s goes on in a writer’s head, check out this series.

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Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

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One day a little country girl bunny with a brown skin
and a little cotton-ball of a tail said, “Some day I shall
grow up to be the Easter Bunny: you wait and see!”
Then all of the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses,
and the Jack Rabbits with long legs who can run fast,
laughed at the little Cottontail and told her to go
back to the country and eat a carrot.
But she said, “Wait and see!”

— Du Bose Heyward, Majorie Flack (ill.), The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes 1939

When it comes to life’s challenges, may you (like my favorite Easter bunny) be “wise, and kind, and swift.”

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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A brief excerpt from a work in progress (and no, this isn’t about the Whippersnapper):

“As I’ve stated, Miss Winter, your grandmother’s will is quite specific.” He cleared his throat and straightened his back with an ostentatious thrust of the shoulders. “She made you her primary heir. Except for cash distributions to your relatives and a few minor items like your father’s bronzed baby shoes and so on, you are to receive all of her possessions. This includes the house on Willow Lane and all of its contents, the car, as well as a bank account that will allow you to maintain the house in good order.” He smiled smugly, as bearers of news they expect to be well-received tend to do. Little did he know.

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression, seven children, her husband’s early death, a (rumored, but still) alien abduction, and a long line of vicious Siamese guard cats named Fido. She was as hard-nosed as they come. And she didn’t give anything away, ever.

I could feel the walls of her trap closing in on me, but couldn’t see them yet. I just hoped that it wasn’t too late to escape.

“Ok,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “And I get all of this for the low, low price of…?”

“The stipulations are quite clear, Miss Winter. If you follow the letter of the will all rights and responsibilities to her things will become yours, but for that to happen you must officially take possession.”

Ah. Here it was, the sticking point.

He shuffled the papers around a bit, looking for the relevant section of text. “If you do not move into the house and reside there on a permanent basis for a period of at least one full year from today, the day after her death, all goods and monies will revert to my protectorship and be liquidated, funds to go to the largest right-wing fascist group in the state.” He looked up at me with a wry expression. “The final amount would be… considerable.”

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“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

― Scott Adams

Nothing finished today but I live, as always, in hope.

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Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

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