NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

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.

World Clock Punches in on The Verge

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.

#! in San Antonio Fri 11/21 – #! in Austin Sat 11/22

I’m doing two Central Texas readings from my book of programs and poems #! this weekend:

San Antonio: The Twig Book Shop

Friday, Nov 21 at 5pm
The Twig Book Shop
in The Pearl (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 106)

Austin: Monkeywrench Books

Saturday, Nov 22 at 4pm
Monkeywrench Books
(110 N Loop Blvd E)

#! (pronounced “shebang”) consists of poetic texts that are presented alongside the short computer programs that generated them. The poems, in new and existing forms, are inquiries into the features that make poetry recognizable as such, into code and computation, into ellipsis, and into the alphabet. Computer-generated poems have been composed by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, Alison Knowles and James Tenney, Hugh Kenner and Joseph P. O’Rourke, Charles O. Hartman, and others. The works in #! engage with this tradition of more than 50 years and with constrained and conceptual writing. The book’s source code is also offered as free software. All of the text-generating code is presented so that it, too, can be read; it is all also made freely available for use in anyone’s future poetic projects.

Nick Montfort’s digital writing projects include Sea and Spar Between (with Stephanie Strickland) and The Deletionist (with Amaranth Borsuk and Jesper Juul). He developed the interactive fiction system Curveship and (with international collaborators) the large-scale story generation system Slant; was part of the group blog Grand Text Auto; wrote Ream, a 500-page poem, on a single day; organized Mystery House Taken Over, a collaborative “occupation” of a classic game; wrote Implementation, a novel on stickers, with Scott Rettberg; and wrote and programmed the interactive fictions Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum, and Book and Volume.

Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story with Willliam Gillespie. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with nine other authors that Montfort organized. He is faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited, and is associate professor of digital media at MIT.

#!Nick Montfort

Polish Reviews of World Clock

I mentioned a few of these earlier, but there are more. I’ll try to keep an updated list of reviews here for any curious Polish-reading visitors:

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in PROwincja.

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in Lubimyczytać.pl.

Update Jan 19, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in

Update Jan 8, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sZAFa – kwartalnik literacko-artystyczny.

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Popmoderna.

Update Nov 13, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Stacja Książka.

Update Nov 4, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Altmundi.

Update Oct 31, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Update Oct 30, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in

Review of Zegar światowy in Portal (nie całkiem) Kulturalny.

Review of Zegar światowy in SZORTAL.

Review of Zegar światowy by Katarzyna Krzan.

Review of Zegar światowy in Pad Portal.

Review of Zegar światowy by Julia Poczynok.

There was also a review of Zegar światowy in the major Polish weekly magazine Przegląd (the review is not online).

The book was also discussed in an interview I did on Radio Kraków.

10 PRINT is CC Book of the Day on

The site, which offers books that can be made free after a certain number of purchases, also promotes born-free e-books such as the Creative Commons PDF of 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. They have featured our book today, in fact. The founder pointed out to us that there are now 11 different “editions” of 10 PRINT in WorldCat, thanks not to the hardback, paperback, and e-book editions but to variant titles and author entries.

The First Review of #!

Finally, the first review of my book #! is in. It’s from Zach Whalen. this is it, and to make it easier for you to copy, paste, and run it, here is the review that he banged out:

perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.05),map{$_ x($.*.1)}qw(# !);redo}'

By the way, please come to my reading tomorrow at MIT (E15 atrium) at 6:30pm if you’re in the area. It will be fun!

#! Reading at MIT, Wednesday, 6:30pm

Nick Montfort presents #! in the atrium of MIT’s building E15, just steps from the Kendall T stop. It’s October 22, Wednesday, at 6:30pm, and thanks to the List Visual Arts Center. The book is Montfort’s new one from Counterpath Press, consisting of programs and poems. Please, come join me!

E15 Atrium

World Clock in Polish Reviewed (in Polish)

I announced the Polish translation of World Clock recently; here is, as far as I know, the first review of it – which is also the first review of World Clock in any language. It will appear in the magazine Fragile.


Nick Montfort, Zegar światowy, tłum. Z jęz. ang. przełożył Piotr Marecki, Kraków, Korporacja Ha!art, 2014.

Ciekawie przedstawiono w książce autentyczne przemówienie, w którym narrator mówi głosami innych osób. Autor nie tylko opowiada zdarzenie, ale pisząc, że tak było zwraca też uwagę na to, jak do tego doszło: „Ashgabat. Jest prawie 05:04. W pewnym przytulnym schronieniu sporej postury mężczyzna, o imieniu Jakub, czyta kanarkową umowę. Siada prosto”. Kategorii narratora szybko zmienia „punkt widzenia”.

Forma książki to proza ​​poetycka z elementami pamiętnika, po prostu chronologia uczucia. Za to motyw napisania tekstu przypomina „travelogue”, ponieważ zawiera krótkie notatki z podróży. W składni poetyckiej odgrywa ważną rolę elipsa (opuszczanie słów, a nawet całych zdań) : „Samara. Jest około 12:39. W pewnym miłym miejscu zamieszkania średniej postury mężczyzna, nazywany Liang, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą kartkę. Całkowicie się wyłącza”. Ograniczenia krótkimi wyrażeniami wymuszają na czytelniku wymyślanie sytuacji, to jest oryginalną interakcję między autorem a czytelnikiem. W ten sposób autor zaprasza do dialogu.

Struktura tekstu to mozaika, czytanie jest „rozdrobnione”. Możesz czytać książkę zarówno klasycznie, od początku do końca, jak też chaotycznie, otwierając ją na dowolnej stronie, co jednak nie powoduje uszkodzenia jej koncepcji. Styl pisania jest podobny do „nowego dziennikarstwa” (Tom Wulf, USA). Zmiana perspektywy (tzw. „kameleon”) to jedna z najbardziej interesujących i sprytnych technik. W ten sposób za pośrednictwem narratora autor gra z czytelnikiem. W związku z tym ważne jest również, aby pamiętać o zmienianiu „punktu widzenia”, o patrzeniu z cudzej perspektywy i opisywaniu wydarzeń postrzeganych przez różne osoby. Postaci to w Asmari, to w Tunisi. Postaciami są raz kobiety, raz mężczyźni. Zmiana płci i zmiana miejsca to ciekawe elementy gry autora. Ważne jest, aby zrozumieć, że podstawową zasadą dziennikarstwa jest prawdą, a Nick Montfort ignoruje wszelkie zasady i dlatego jest inny.

Jego tekst – ciągły wiersz wolny, który ma różne ciągi długości, bez rymów, ale z rytmem:

Port-au-Prince. Jest dokładnie 00:15. W pewnej schludnej, choć
niczym się niewyróżniającej, sadybie wyższa niż większość
staruszka, mająca na imię Fatma, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą
umowę. Drapie się w ucho.


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