NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

Friday 19 December 2014, 11:26 pm   //////  

There were so many excellent novel generators, and generated novels, last month for NaNaGenMo (National Novel Generation Month).

I thought a lot of them related to and carried on the work of wonderful existing literary projects — usually in the form of existing books. And this is in no way a backhanded complement. My own NaNoGenMo entry was the most rooted in an existing novel; I simply computationally re-implemented Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt (or at least the parts of it that were most illegible and computational), in my novel generator Megawatt (its PDF output is also available). For good measure, Megawatt is completely deterministic; although someone might choose to modify it and generate different things, as it stands it generates exactly one novel. So, for me to say that I was reminded of a great book when I saw a particular generator is pure praise.

Early in month, Liza Daly’s Seraphs set a high standard and must have discouraged many offhand generators! Liza’s generator seeks images and randomizes text to produce a lengthy book that is like the Voynich Manuscript, and certainly also like the Codex Seraphinianus.

Allison Parrish’s I Waded in Clear Water is a novel based on dream interpretations. Of course, it reminds me of 10,000 Dreams Interpreted (and I am pleased, thanks to my students from long ago, to have the leading site on the Web for that famous book) but it also reminds me of footnote-heavy novels such as Infinite Jest. Let me note that a Twine game has already been written based on this work: Fowl are Foul, by Jacqueline Lott.

I found Zarkonnen’s Moebius Tentacle; Or the Space-Octopus oddly compelling. It was created by simple substitution of strings from Moby-Dick (one novel it clearly reminded me of), freeing the story to be about the pursuit of an octopus by space amazons. It wasn’t as polished as I would have liked (just a text file for output), and didn’t render text flawlessly, but still, the result was amazing. Consider how the near-final text presents the (transformed) Tashtego in his final tumult:

A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its unnatural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Lazerbot-9 there; this spacebat now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the plasteel; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged robot beneath, in her death-gasp, kept her hammer frozen there; and so the spacebat of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and her imperial beak thrust upwards, and her whole captive form folded in the flag of Vixena, went away with her spaceship, which, like Satan, would not sink to transwarp till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Sean Barrett wrote two beautiful generators (at least) – the first of which was How Hannah Solved The Twelve-Disk Tower of Hanoi. Deliberate, progressing, intelligent, and keeping the reader on the edge of her seat – this one is great. But, that generator (drafted by November 9) wasn’t enough, and Barrett also contributed (only a day late) The Basketball Game, an opera generator that provides a score (with lyrics) and MIDI files. It’s as if “I got Philip Glass!” indicates that one is rebounding.

Eric Stayton’s I Sing Of takes the beginning of the Aeneid as grist, moving through alternate invocations using WordNet. I like the way different epics are invoked by the slight changes, and was reminded of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Sam Coppini’s D’ksuban Dictionary, although also just a text file, is a simple but effective generator of a fictional language’s dictionary. Less like the Devil’s Dictionary, more like the (apparently unpublished) lexicon of Earth: Final Conflict. I’m sure literary works in D’ksuban will be forthcoming soon.

Ben Kybartas’s Something, Somewhere is wonderfully spare and evocative – more Madsen than Hemingway.

Finally, Thricedotted’s The Seeker is an extraordinary concrete novel in the tradition of Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing. The text, based on wikiHow, is good and serves well to define a protagonist who always wishes to do right, but the typographical framework is really excellent.

These are just a few comments before NaNoGenMo goes as stale as a late-December pumpkin. I hope you enjoy tis work and other work that was done last month, and that you keep an eye peeled for further novel generators – next November and throughout the year.

A “Trope Report” on Stickers

Tuesday 16 December 2014, 5:59 pm   //////  

Not literally on stickers, no. This technical report from the Trope Tank is “Stickers as a Literature-Distribution Platform,” and is by Piotr Marecki. It’s just been released as TROPE-14-02 and is very likely to be the last report of 2014. Here’s the abstract:

Contemporary experimental writing often directs its attention to its writing space, its medium, the material on which it is presented. Very often this medium is meaningful and becomes part of the work – the printed text transfered to another media context (for instance, into a traditional book) would become incomprehensible. Literature distributed on stickers is a form of writing that is divided into small fragments of texts (a type of constrained writing), physically scattered in different locations. One of the newest challenges in literature are books with augmented reality, AR, which examine the relation between the physical (the medium) and the virtual interaction. Sticker literature is a rather simple analog form of augmented reality literature. The stickers have QR codes or web addresses printed on them, so the viewer who reads/sees a random sticker in the public space can further explore the text online. The viewer can read other parts of the text on photographs (the photograph being another medium) of other stickers placed in different locations. The author will discuss the use of stickers throughout literary history, beginning with 20th century French Situationists, through different textual strategies applied by visual artists and ending with literary forms such as the sticker novel Implementation (2004) by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg or Stoberskiade (2013). The author shall try to explain why writers decide to use this form, how the text is distributed and received and how the city space is used in such projects.

Megawatt

Saturday 29 November 2014, 1:13 pm   //////  

Megawatt coverThe fruits of my National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) labors are now online; the Megawatt generator is available as a single 350-line Python file, while the novel it deterministically generates can be obtained as a PDF, megawatt.pdf or in epub format, megawatt.epub. From the program’s docstring and from the preface to the book:

Megawatt is the title of both a computer program, the source code to which you may be reading, and the output of this program, which in many ways is like a standard novel and which you may instead be reading. This note appears at the beginning of both.

The program Megawatt is based on passages from Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt, first published in 1953 but written much earlier, when Beckett was aiding the French Resistance during World War II.

The novel Megawatt leaves aside all of the more intelligible language of Beckett’s novel and is based, instead, on that which is most systematic and inscrutable. It does not just recreate these passages, although with minor changes the Megawatt code can be used to do so. In the new novel, rather, they are intensified by generating, using the same methods that Beckett used, significantly more text than is found in the already excessive Watt.

(Please note: The following information is handy if you want to, for instance, modify the program and generate a PDF or epub yourself. You don’t need to do this to read the novel. You can download it in PDF: megawatt.pdf or in epub format: megawatt.epub.)

To produce the novel in markdown format, run megawatt.py (a Python 2 program) with TextBlob (a text processing library) installed.

% python megawatt.py > megawatt.text

To produce PDF and epub documents, use pandoc:

% pandoc -V geometry:paperwidth=5.5in \ 
    -V geometry:paperheight=8.25in \ 
    -V geometry:margin=.7in -o megawatt.pdf \ 
    megawatt.text
% echo '% Megawatt' > info.txt
% echo '% Nick Montfort' >> info.txt
% pandoc -o megawatt.epub info.txt megawatt.text

Megawatt was written/generated for the second NaNoGenMo (National Novel Generation Month) in November 2014, and is free software.

World Clock Punches in on The Verge

Wednesday 26 November 2014, 4:45 pm   //////  

Some kind comments about World Clock and NaNoGenMo in the article “The Strange World of Computer-Generated Novels” by Josh Dzieza.

Nick Montfort’s World Clock was the breakout hit of last year. A poet and professor of digital media at MIT, Montfort used 165 lines of Python code to arrange a new sequence of characters, locations, and actions for each minute in a day. He gave readings, and the book was later printed by the Harvard Book Store’s press. Still, Kazemi says reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing.

“Even Nick expects you to maybe read a chapter of it or flip to a random page,” Kazemi says.

There were many great generated novels last year, and are already many great ones this year. I don’t think among this abundance that World Clock is a very good poster boy for NaNoGenMo. Still, my experience with the book does make a strong case for having your generated novel translated in (or originally written in) Polish.

NaNoGenMo 3000!!!!

Sunday 2 November 2014, 8:26 pm   /////  

Er, sorry. I exaggerated a bit. It’s actually just NaNoGenMo 2014. But that’s still really cool.

“Spend the month of November writing code that generates a novel of 50k+ words.” As is traditional, the event occurs on GitHub.

Zegar Światowy, the Polish World Clock

World Clock in Polish, displayed World Clock (book, code) has now been published in Polish. The translation is by Piotr Marecki, who translated the underlying novel-generating program and generated a new novel in Polish. ha!art is the publisher, and the book appears in the Liberatura series, which also includes some very distinguished titles: The Polish translations of Finnegans Wake and of Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, for instance.

The Polish World Clock on the shelf

Updated 10:01 — Time Still Ticks

Tuesday 9 September 2014, 1:15 am   ////  

Lance Olsen and Tim Guthrie have updated their classic and palindromically-titled electronic literature work, 10:01.

This piece was included in the first Electronic Literature Collection and the first edition can still be seen there. Since it offers links out to the Web, and some of these became stale since the piece was first published in 2005, the prolific and edgy experimental writer Olsen and developer Guthrie have revised the piece for the Web for 2014, also reworking a few other elements. One is still able to select among movie patrons to read their perspectives. The piece is a companion to the print-novel version of 10:01, published by Chiasmus in 2005.

I cannot explain how apropos it is that I blog about this after returning from an AMC theater.

The audience is listening! Check it out.

Senderos que se … Intimate, Infinite

Tuesday 19 August 2014, 10:33 pm   /////  

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Robert Yang’s latest is a first-person-shooter version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths.” With a lovingly off-kilter translation (befitting its “original”) and with visuals and (quite minimal) interaction that suits the experience, this is an extraordinary set of linked mini-games, well worth the short amount of time it takes to get through them, and worth offering at least a bit for this pay-what-you-will game.

Check out Intimate, Infinite.

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

Thursday 31 July 2014, 9:45 pm   //////  

The latest technical report (or “Trope Report”) to issue from the Trope Tank is TROPE-14-01, “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock by Nick Montfort:

My Winchester’s Nightmare: A Novel Machine (1999) was developed to bring the interactor’s input and the system’s output together into a texture like that of novelistic prose. Almost fifteen years later, after an electronic literature practice mainly related to poetry, I have developed two new “novel machines.” Rather than being works of interactive fiction, one (Nanowatt, 2013) is a collaborative demoscene production (specifically, a single-loading VIC-20 demo) and the other (World Clock, 2013) is a novel generator with accompanying printed book. These two productions offer an opportunity to discuss how my own and other highly computational electronic literature relates to the novel. Nanowatt and World Clock are non-interactive but use computation to manipulate language at low levels. I discuss these aspects and other recent electronic literature that engages the novel, considering to what extent novel-like computational literature in general is becoming less interactive and more fine-grained in its involvement with language.

This was the topic of my talk at the recent ELO conference. Share and enjoy!

This Interview with Harry Mathews

Friday 11 July 2014, 9:52 pm   //////  

…is really excellent. Anyone interested in Harry’s work, or, more broadly, the Oulipo, should read it. Thanks, of course, to Barbara Henning for doing the interview and EOAGH for publishing it.

Computational Narrative and Games (Special Issue)

Monday 23 June 2014, 11:39 pm   ///////  

A special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (TCIAIG) is now out — I mention it because I was one of the editors, and the issue deals with computational narrative and games.

Here’s the link to the computational narrative and games issue. It was edited by Ian Horswill, Nick Montfort and Michael Young. And here’s what is in it:

Guest Editorial
Horswill, I.D; Montfort, N; Young, R.M
p 92-96

Social Story Worlds With Comme il Faut
McCoy, J. ; Treanor, M. ; Samuel, B. ; Reed, A.A. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.
p 97-112

Versu—A Simulationist Storytelling System
Evans, R. ; Short, E.
p 113-130

A Computational Model of Narrative Generation for Surprise Arousal
Bae, B.-C. ; Young, R.M.
p 131-143

Automated Story Selection for Color Commentary in Sports
Lee, G. ; Bulitko, V. ; Ludvig, E.A.
p 144-155

Skald: Minstrel Reconstructed
Tearse, B. ; Mawhorter, P. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.
p 156-165

Designing User-Character Dialog in Interactive Narratives: An Exploratory Experiment
Endrass, B. ; Klimmt, C. ; Mehlmann, G. ; Andre, E. ; Roth, C.
p 166-173

Personalized Interactive Narratives via Sequential Recommendation of Plot Points
Yu, H. ; Riedl, M.O.
p 174-187

Lessons on Using Computationally Generated Influence for Shaping Narrative Experiences
Roberts, D.L. ; Isbell, C.L.
p 188-202

A Supervised Learning Framework for Modeling Director Agent Strategies in Educational Interactive Narrative
Lee, S.Y. ; Rowe, J.P. ; Mott, B.W. ; Lester, J.C.
p 203-214

Shall I Compare Thee to Another Story?—An Empirical Study of Analogy-Based Story Generation
Zhu, J. ; Ontanon, S.
p 216-227

Analysis of ReGEN as a Graph-Rewriting System for Quest Generation
Kybartas, B. ; Verbrugge, C.
p 228 – 241

Thoughts from INT7, Day One

Tuesday 17 June 2014, 5:22 pm   ///////  

(These pertain to Intelligent Narrative Technologies 7, and specifically today’s presentations. Perhaps, if you’re here, you will laugh. If you aren’t here, my regrets.)

Why do I get a dialog wheel ... but not a combat wheel?

Can a computer program ... get people running?

When is a dragon ... not a dragon?

Why can one be selfish ... but not otherish?

Isn't Blender dangerous enough ... without Curveship attached to it?

Scott Rettberg in Purple Blurb this Monday

Friday 25 April 2014, 4:57 pm   ////////  

Purple Blurb

MIT, room 14E-310

Monday 4/28, 5:30pm

Free and open to the public, no reservation required

Scott Rettberg

Scott RettbergThis Monday (2014-04-28) Purple Blurb is proud to host a screening and discussion of narrative video art work done in collaboration with Roderick Coover, including The Last Volcano, Cats and Rats, Three Rails Live, and Toxicity. (The last two are combinatory pieces; Three Rails Live is a collaboration between Coover, Rettberg, and Nick Montfort.) These pieces deal with personal and global catastrophes and are written across languages, with one of the voices in Cats and Rats in (subtitled) Norwegian. They continue Rettberg’s work on novel-length electronic literature projects and his frequent collaboration with others.

Scott Rettberg is Professor of Digital Culture in the department of Linguistic, Literary, and Aesthetic studies at the University of Bergen, Norway. Rettberg is the project leader of ELMCIP (Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice), a HERA-funded collaborative research project, and a founder of the Electronic Literature Organization. Rettberg is the author or coauthor of novel-length works of electronic literature, combinatory poetry, and films including The Unknown, Kind of Blue, Implementation, Frequency, Three Rails Live, and Toxicity. His creative work has been exhibited online and at art venues including the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, Palazzo dell Arti Napoli, Beall Center, the Slought Foundation, and The Krannert Art Museum.

More about Purple Blurb

Lance Olsen in Purple Blurb, Mon 5:30pm

Sunday 6 April 2014, 12:36 pm   //////  

“Lance Olsen is at the center of every discussion I have about the contemporary landscape of innovative and experimental writing.”

-Bookslut

Lance Olsen

Lance Olsen

April 7, 5:30pm

MIT’s Room 14E-310

Experimental writing & video

Including a reading from his recent book [[ there. ]] and video from his Theories of Forgetting project.

Lance Olsen is author of more than 20 books of and about innovative writing, including two appearing this spring: the novel based on Robert Smithson’s earthwork the Spiral Jetty, Theories of Forgetting (accompanied by a short experimental film made by one of its characters), and [[ there. ]], a trash-diary meditation on the confluence of travel, curiosity, and experimental writing practices. His short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies. A Guggenheim, Berlin Prize, N.E.A. Fellowship, and Pushcart Prize recipient, as well as a Fulbright Scholar, he teaches experimental theory and practice at the University of Utah.

Read the Bookslut interview about Lance Olsen’s [[ there. ]].

More on the Purple Blurb series.

Purple Blurb takes place on MIT’s main campus in Building 14, the same building that is the home of the Hayden Library. 14E-310 in in the East Wing, third floor, across the courtyard from the library entrance (do not enter the library to get to 14E-310).

Purple Blurb is free and open to the public, no reservation required.

From Finnegans Wake as Read by Samuel L. Jackson

Monday 20 January 2014, 2:03 pm   ///  

Now by a commodious vicius of recirculation – go the fuck to sleep.

World Clock in Print & for Sale

Wednesday 18 December 2013, 2:54 pm   //////  

World Clock, Nick Montfort

My novel World Clock, generated by 165 lines of Python code that I wrote in a few hours on November 27, 2013, is now available in print.

World Clock tells of 1440 incidents that take place around the world at each minute of a day. The novel was inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s “One Human Minute” and Harry Mathews’s “The Chronogram for 1998.” It celebrates the industrial concept of time and certain types of vigorous banality which are shared by all people throughout the world.

The code has been online, along with a PDF of the book’s text, since late November. The Python program that generated this novel is available under a free software license. Anyone may make whatever use of it; generate your own novel with the unchanged code, if you like, or modify it to produce something different, for instance.

The book World Clock is for sale to local and remote customers from my local independent bookstore, the Harvard Book Store. (No direct relationship to the university of the same name; they both happen to be located in Harvard Square.) The book is printed on the Espresso Book Machine in the store – to the amazement of onlookers. The apparatus has been dubbed “Paige M. Gutenborg.”

The 239-page paperback can be purchased for only $14.40, which is the low, low price of only one cent per minute.

World Clock's title page

Video of Nanowatt Online

Tuesday 3 December 2013, 2:55 pm   ///////  

A single-loading VIC-20 demo (3583 bytes) presented on November 30, 2013 at Récursion in Montréal. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin (nom de nom, mcmartin, baud 1). This video is of the demo running in the Trope Tank at MIT on December 3, 2013.

Tagged on YouTube as Commodore VIC-20, Samuel Beckett, Electronic Literature, Computer (Musical Instrument), and Demoscene. See also the fuller story about Nanowatt with links to executable code.

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