Golem and My Other Seven Computer-Generated Books in Print

Dead Alive Press has just published my Golem, much to my delight, and I am launching the book tonight in a few minutes at WordHack, a monthly event run by the NYC community gallery Babycastles.

This seems like a great time to credit the editors and presses I have worked with to publish several of these books, and to let you all know where they can be purchased, should you wish to indulge yourselves:

  • Golem, 2021, Dead Alive’s New Sight series. Thank you, Augusto Corvalan!
  • Hard West Turn, 2018, published by my Bad Quarto thanks to John Jenkins’s work on the Espresso Book Machine at the MIT Press Bookstore.
  • The Truelist, 2017, Counterpath. This book was the first in the Using Electricity series which I edit, and was selected and edited by Tim Roberts—thanks! Both Counterpath publications and my book from Les Figues are distributed by the nonprofit Small Press Distribution.
  • Autopia, 2016, Troll Thread. Thank you, Holly Melgard!
  • 2×6, 2016, Les Figues. This book is a collaboration between me and six others: Serge Bouchardon, Andrew Campana, Natalia Fedorova, Carlos León, Aleksandra Ma?ecka, and Piotr Marecki. Thank you, Teresa Carmody!
  • Megawatt, 2014, published by my Bad Quarto thanks to Jeff Mayersohn’s Espresso Book Machine at the Harvard Book Store.
  • #!, 2014, Counterpath. Thank you, Tim Roberts!
  • World Clock, 2013, published by my Bad Quarto thanks to Jeff Mayersohn’s Espresso Book Machine at the Harvard Book Store.

The code and text to these books are generally free, and can be found on nickm.com, my site. They are presented in print for the enjoyment of those who appreciate book objects, of course!

Generative Unfoldings, Opening April 1, 2021

Generative Unfoldings, 14 images from 14 generative artworks

Generative Unfoldings is an online exhibit of generative art that I’ve curated. The artworks run live in the browser and are entirely free/libre/open-source software. Sarah Rosalena Brady, D. Fox Harrell, Lauren Lee McCarthy, and Parag K. Mital worked with me to select fourteen artworks. The show features:

  • Can the Subaltern Speak? by Behnaz Farahi
  • Concrete by Matt DesLauriers
  • Curse of Dimensionality by Philipp Schmitt
  • Gender Generator by Encoder Rat Decoder Rat
  • Greed by Maja Kalogera
  • Hexells by Alexander Mordvintsev
  • Letter from C by Cho Hye Min
  • Pac Tracer by Andy Wallace
  • P.S.A.A. by Juan Manuel Escalante
  • Seedlings_: From Humus by Qianxun Chen & Mariana Roa Oliva
  • Self Doubting System by Lee Tusman
  • Someone Tell the Boyz by Arwa Mboya
  • Songlines by Ágoston Nagy
  • This Indignant Page: The Politics of the Paratextual by Karen ann Donnachie & Andy Simionato

There is a (Screen) manifestation of Generative Unfoldings, which lets people run the artworks in their browsers. In addition, a (Code) manifestation provides a repository of all of the free/libre/open-source source code for these client-side artworks. This exhibit is a project of MIT’s CAST (Center for Art, Science & Technology) and part of the Unfolding Intelligence symposium. The opening, remember, is April 1, 2021! See the symposium page, where you can register (at no cost) and find information about joining us.

Amazing Quest Q&A

Amazing Quest should be completely open to the interpretation of players, to their appreciation of it, and, if they choose, to their rejection of it.

I refrained from discussing anything about the game during the IF Comp. Now that it’s over, I am glad to answer some questions that have arisen—with the earnest hope that my answers don’t preclude people from coming up with their own interpretations and responses.

These aren’t really frequently asked questions, but they are all actually questions that have been asked at least once. When I quote directly, the quotations are from anonymous feedback from IF Comp players. Whether quoted or in paraphrase, all of these are real questions or responses that I’ve gotten.

Q: Are you trolling? Making a joke? Playing a prank?

A: No.

Q: Why did you enter this thing, which isn’t very much like IF as we understand it, in the IF Comp?

A: Because I hoped some people would enjoy it and be provoked by it (in a positive way) when they encountered this game in the context of the Comp. That may have only happened twelve times, based on the ratings that were greater than 5, but perhaps I provided some interest and joy to these twelve players that outweighed the other players’ confusion and disappointment.

Q: As a computer program, what exactly is Amazing Quest?

A: A quasi-spoiler here, but: it is a 12-line Commodore 64 BASIC program, with each line being of the maximum length that can be typed in: 80 characters, using all keyword abbreviations and other shortcuts. That makes it the maximal Commodore 64 BASIC program that will fit on one screen. On the second half of the last logical line (line 11), which is the last physical line of the screen, I included a sort of informal all-permissive free software license.

Q: Is this an experiment?

A: I don’t find it interesting to produce any IF, other digital games, other digital literature, or other digital art, unless what I’m doing is an experiment. So, of course.

Q: Is this a parody?

A: I don’t consider it to be, since you’re asking me. If you have thoughtfully considered the game and that’s what you take away from it, I respect your view.

Q: What am I supposed to do when playing this?

A: Since you’ve asked me, I’ve tried to explain this quite explicitly in the introduction: “If you allow your imagination to help you elaborate each stop on your journey, and if you truly get into the mindset of the returning wanderer, Amazing Quest will offer you rewards as you play it again and again.” You can read that, and the game, however you want, but I’d say that Amazing Quest prompts you to imagine, from the standpoint of the main character. So, imagine.

Q: “Oh hey, it’s A Space Odyssey!”

A: For me at least, I did consider Amazing Quest to be a serious engagement with Homer’s Odyssey, and that was one of the things that motivated my work on the project. I’m glad that some people saw this aspect of the project. I hope that enriched some people’s experience of it.

Q: “I found the intro and strategy guide more compelling than the game itself.”

A: Personally I would have preferred that all elements of Amazing Quest (the introduction, the strategy guide, the BASIC game itself) had worked together to good effect for you, but I’m glad that you liked something about the project. My development of the short framing texts was meant to relate to the way that early games had similar supporting materials that were essential to the experience. In any case, I am glad someone liked these texts, because it took me a long time to type them up on my Smith Corona Classic 12 without making any mistakes.

Q: “I don’t suspect that you’re in it for the ratings.”

Only one of more than 100 games was going to win the Comp. (Well, this year it happens to be two, because of a tie—but you get my point.) I made this game for the IF Comp so that players would encounter Amazing Quest and play it in that context, in case they found it compelling in that context.

Q: “I guess the point was go ‘behind the scenes’ and read the program in BASIC? That isn’t a particularly interesting goal…”

A: It wasn’t interesting to you, but there are many people in the world. One player ported the game to BBC Micro BASIC, so it seems like the nature of this game as a BASIC program was somehow interesting to that person. Even apparently simple projects like this may have many complex aspects to them which aren’t evident at first. And perhaps only a very few people will be interested in particular aspects. So in this case, perhaps this “behind the scenes” aspect is important to the person who ported it to the BBC Micro, and maybe it will be interesting to people who know Commodore 64 BASIC very well. I’m frankly surprised that someone engaged with the BASIC program so thoroughly during the Comp. It easily could have taken a few decades for anyone to really become interested in the game’s code, if that was ever going to happen.

Q: SPOILER, select the following text to read: The player’s input has no effect on the outcome, and that’s stupid.

A: Although this isn’t a question, I’ll mention: If you understand a little more about Commodore 64 BASIC, you’d find that the user’s input does have an effect on the outcome.

Q: SPOILER, select the following text to read: Okay, but whether you answer yes or no has no effect on the outcome.

A: This, while also not a question, is true. So, let’s begin with whether this is fair to players of the game. Does that contradict anything said on the main page (“I must decide as if it all depends on me, trust as if it all depends on the gods”), within the game itself (“The gods grant victory”), in the introduction, or in the strategy guide? And in terms of how this game relates to the Odyssey, in which a character is fated to return home, alone, from the beginning, and is then brought home by the will of the gods—is there any contradiction there? To continue along these lines, even understanding this aspect of the game, if you decided to go on raids at every opportunity, plundering away, would that be any different than if you always declined to raid? Is your intentional choice irrelevant, even if the outcome is “random”? With all of this in mind, consider something more concrete and immediate. Let’s consider people who live in the United States who voted in the 2020 election. Why would they do that? Realistically, an individual’s vote had no more effect than any one particular Y/N response in Amazing Quest. Let’s heap one more thing on here, purely related to what one might call gameplay. If you want to imagine what’s going on—a journey home—why would this particular property of the game in any way stifle your imagination?

Q: Was this project motivated by anything besides the Odyssey?

A: Yes. I’ll be discussing this and other matters related to Amazing Quest at the Seattle area IF meetup, which will take place online on December 13, 2020 at 2pm PST. If you want to join, you’ll need to email the organizers; see the intfiction.org forum for more information. I hope this group doesn’t regret their plan to host the author of the 98th place IF Comp 2020 game! I’m certainly still looking forward to discussing Amazing Quest.

“Peaceful Protesters” but no “Peaceful Police”

About four million Google hits for “peaceful protesters,” only about 55,000 for “peaceful police.” Anyone who has been reading the news will have seen the phrase “peaceful protesters” again and again—and probably will not have seen this other phrase. Does that mean peaceful protesters outnumber peaceful police 80 to 1? Or at least that we think and speak as if this is the case?

Linguistics does not support this conclusion. In her 1949 book The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir gave us the basis for understanding how maleness is the norm in society and language. The phenomenon here is that of markedness, having a default form and a marked form. “Actor” can be a generic term for anyone who acts, but “actress” is used only for the special, marked case—women. As Edwin L. Battistella discusses in The Logic of Markedness, there are exceptions: “male nurse” is the marked case for this profession, because of “the social fact that nurses are most commonly female.”

“Peaceful protesters” is the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful.

So when the news media speaks or writes about “peaceful protesters,” they are using the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful. The exceptional ones are the peaceful ones, like the small percentage of male nurses. This is quite evidently false, but doesn’t prevent journalists from using the phrase again and again.

Amirite? Let’s check to see approximately how many Google search results there are for “violent protesters.” In my filter bubble, and admitting that these searches cover all English-language discussion of all protesters globally and historically, it’s 445,000 results, a tiny sliver compared to the “peaceful” ones.

I admit that there are other reasons people would use an adjective such as “peaceful.” It can be used for emphasis rather than to indicate the marked case. But if that’s what’s going on, that’s a huge amount of emphasis. And, I would expect such emphasis to often be accompanied by some sort of marker, an adverb such as “just” or “only” or something along those lines, which I seldom see in recent news.

Now, if you don’t buy my argument about markedness and that think “peaceful” and “violent” just represent how many protesters we think are peaceful and how many we think are violent, this still makes no sense at all. Watch the videos. Watch the livestreams. If you can, go out on the streets. One in ten protesters are not violent in any objective sense.

If you do agree that “peaceful protesters” is being used as the marked case, as if these protesters were in a slim minority, that is an extraordinary and bizarre confusion, truly unhinged from reality.

Why not just call the great mass of so-called peaceful protesters “protesters,” explaining—if for some reason it needs to be explained—that we are lawfully exercising our rights to speak and assemble?

Post Hoc, An Online Art Show

Please enjoy Post Hoc, a show I’ve put together with generous contributions from a baker’s dozen artists and eight writers. There was no pre-established theme for Post Hoc, which was prompted by our inability to get to IRL galleries and museums. Artists were simply asked for digital images, any digital image they considered an artwork. (Several works in the show do have other manifestations.) The work in the show is all from 2020. I solicited 1000–1200 character responses to each piece.

Agnieszka Kurant   response by Mary Flanagan

Christian Bök   response by Paul Stephens

Daniel Temkin   response by Craig Dworkin

Derek Beaulieu   response by Amaranth Borsuk

Forsyth Harmon   response by Simon Morris & Valérie Steunou

Lauren Lee McCarthy   response by Daniel Temkin

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault   response by Fox Harrell

Olia Lialina   response by Mary Flanagan

Manfred Mohr   response by Craig Dworkin

Mark Klink   response by Daniel Temkin

Renée Green   response by Paul Stephens

Sly Watts   response by Fox Harrell

Susan Bee   response by Amaranth Borsuk

You can scroll through the entire Post Hoc show as a single page. However, you’ll only see the images at their original size, and be able to read the responses, if you go to each post individually.