Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day December 14, 2018 - 7:58pm

Just got an email re: a submission of mine explaining that Tin House is closing down in 2019. Glimmer Train is closing as well. Black Clock closed a while back. Anyone else think these closures may share a common cause? Maybe it's becoming impossible for journals to turn a profit, or even break even?

helpfulsnowman's picture
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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman December 15, 2018 - 11:10am

Definitely. I think it'd be really difficult to make any money with a journal, especially a bigger one. I feel like there are quite a few micro journals and presses, and they probably operate at low profit or have such a small staff that it's easier to get by on next to nothing.  

From the bookseller side, I like Glimmer Train, but man is it hard to get people to pick up issues of a lit mag. It feels like rolling the dice. Who's in here? Is it any good? Not a lot of readers are up for spending the bucks to take a chance on something they don't know about. 

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day December 18, 2018 - 12:40pm

Wow, that is sad to see such two huge mags going under. As a short story writer who is always submitting, I do wonder how they sustain themselves, I tend to think it's razor thin margins or donations. These mags are such a hard sells now, but they are also a big platform for emerging writers to try to break through. Really makes you wonder what the landscape will look like over the next decade? Will it just become more digital? Or will some mags stay and some fade away. 

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Vonnegut Check from Baltimore December 18, 2018 - 6:30pm

I don’t know anyone, outside of aspiring writers, who read literary journals. Even the literary journals I’ve read I have to force myself to finish them. Tends to be filled with writers trying to sound like writers.

Plus, in our hurried times, it’s tough to expect someone to dedicate 30 minutes to a single short story when they can get nearly five times the amount of entertainment from television. And what’s Netflix or Hulu? $10 a month with endless shows versus the same price for a dozen stories in print from The Elitist Quarterly.

Prediction: in another decade writers will be out of work entirely. AI will surpass our story telling capabilities. The only people that will feign interest in reading stories written by humans will be the same people that insist on owning vinyl.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin January 14, 2019 - 4:12am

^ well ain't that a cheery future :)

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Vonnegut Check from Baltimore January 14, 2019 - 6:27pm

It can be cheery, depending on your frame of mind. Just imagine how all your favorite authors will be able to continue to write posthumously. Upload books to an app from your favorite writer and AI distills the common themes and style and tone, etc., and bingo bango: a new novel/story/poem/play for you to read, written so impeccably it could pass for the long lost work of Shakespeare or Hemingway or Dickenson, et al.

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman January 14, 2019 - 10:36pm

This is probably a bit off the rails, but eh, who cares?

I don't know if I totally buy the AI-written novel thing in the near future. It's a little like when they made the CG Peter Cushing in Rogue One. I knew he was fake, and he didn't look quite right, and frankly I'd rather they just replaced him with someone else instead of essentially re-animating his corpse. Because I know the dude is dead and didn't actually put in that performance, I'm uninterested in it and find it a little bit tasteless. 

I DO think an AI-written novel will eventually become popular, but the only way to find out it was successful would be to see the novel released without any public or publisher knowledge it was AI-created until afterward. At that point we could separate the novelty or "pretty good for a machine" from the true reaction.

The AI novel seems like a good thing, potentially, for readers, but it seems like a bad thing for writers. And isn't the whole point of machines doing work that we have more time to pursue things that we find interesting, like writing books, painting paintings, and so on? Less spreadsheets, more arts?

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voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin January 15, 2019 - 3:48am

God that sounds awful. Just... awful :(

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann January 22, 2019 - 9:10pm

AI novels could very well replace generic cookie-cutter factory line garbage fiction. That writing is an algorithm; a formula. A hollow shape. It's highly unrealistic that AI would or could replace meaningful, artistic writing. You can look at it from a grammatical perspective. There's a writing exercise called the imitatio that involves substituting each word in a given sentence while retaining the grammatical form. It was widely used as a learning tool. You find a sentence that does something special for you, and you learn what goes into writing in this style by substituting each word with a different but grammatically identical word.


“Loisel came home at night, his face lined and pale; he had discovered nothing.”
1. Winter went ahead in November, its bite fatal but indifferent; it would kill everything.
2. She kept away after that, her fears proven and paralyzing; she would trust no one.
3. Prison became home after years, its walls solid and familiar; I had given up.

Repetition of this exercise improves writing skill, dramatically. It demystifies the voices of authors you consider light-years ahead of yourself for their prose. You absorb the formula of prose with the repeated exercise of the imitatio.

For this reason, I have a tendency to write an "i" alongside passages in books that strike me. Then I can revisit and study them.

But what you learn from this exercise is what cannot be imitated through form: content. The introspective magic behind the writing. The unique human observations. The wisdom of human experience, artfully conveyed, that rings your soul like a huge fucking churchbell. An AI robot can imitate Thomas Mann's style. He writes expansively, with generous digressions in non-restrictive modifiers. He describes scenes in a clockwise, left-right, top-down, near-far order. You will see the pores in his characters' noses and the veins in their eyes because he uses the extreme close-up when he paints pictures. All style is formulaic. But it's never going to be able to reproduce the authentic kernel of human experience that makes his writing what it is.

Two days of travel separate this young man (and young he is, with few firm roots in life) from his everyday world, especially from what he called his duties, interests, worries, and prospects--separate him far more than he had dreamed possible as he rode to the station in a hansom cab. Space, as it rolls and tumbles away between him and his native soil, proves to have powers normally ascribed only to time; from hour to hour, space brings about changes very like those time produces, yet surpassing them in certain ways. Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state--indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.

And what is the cause of the enervation and apathy that arise when the rules of life are not abrogated from time to time? It is not so much the physical and mental exhaustion and abrasion that come with the challenges of life (for these, in fact, simple rest would be the best medicine); the cause is, rather, something psychological, our very sense of time itself--which, if it flows with uninterrupted regularity, threatens to elude us and which is so closely related to and bound up with our sense of life that the one sense cannot be weakened without the second's experiencing pain and injury. A great many false ideas have been spread about the nature of boredom. It is generally believed that by filling time with things new and interesting, we can make it "pass," by which we mean "shorten" it; monotony and emptiness, however, are said to weigh down and hinder its passage. This is not true under all conditions. Emptiness and monotony may stretch a moment or even an hour and make it "boring," but they can likewise abbreviate and dissolve large, indeed the largest units of time, until they seem nothing at all. Conversely, rich and interesting events are capable of filling time, until hours, even days, are shortened and speed past on wings; whereas on a larger scale, interest lends the passage of time breadth, solidity, and weight, so that years rich in events pass much more slowly than do paltry, bare, featherweight years that are blown before the wind and are gone. What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony--uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling. Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it.

You can't teach artificial intelligence to articulate insights about human experience, and that, when you get down to it, is what people largely look for in stories. It could generate a passage similar to this one, but it would either be nonsensical or regurgitated. AI can't breathe in the zeitgeist and make the novel moral observations that we look to artists and poets to make. For the same reasons, I doubt that AI could generate novel observational comedy that rings true to human experience. Not unless you can create AI that feels the qualia of consciousness and is capable of pain and introspection, and there is nothing to suggest that a mere series of mechanical processes has the capacity for generating consciousness. As it stands, the technology is incapable of producing vivid (and novel) descriptions but capable of imitating their form, their grammar. It can borrow and repeat from the examples it's given, but that's about it. Description comes from human observation, and one of the most rewarding and magical and emotionally enticing parts of a story is the story's space, the world that you see, the world and the people that have been dreamed and built in another person's mind and magically suggested into yours now by evoking the senses. There are things about the qualia of consciousness, of experience, that cannot be communicated by words alone, that don't boil down, that don't reduce into words alone. They are understood solely because of a shared experience. e.g., You can't describe what it's like to see the color red in a way that actually enables a colorblind person to understand what it's like. The lack of foundational experience will always leave AI writing hollow. The imitation of form and grammar does not enable or facilitate the imitation of realism, insight, depth, profundity. You can sound like David Foster Wallace, but that won't make your writing as good as David Foster Wallace's.

Unless someone invents an insight machine (and how could you get mad about technology like that?), at worst, I think the people who put out stories that a robot could generate will be out of a job. If your writing could be done by a robot, you might be rightly fearful, but my sympathy there is limited. Even then, I think you would still be able to tell an AI story apart from a human one.

To summarize: the writing would lack human warmth.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 23, 2019 - 10:45pm

So... are we in agreement then, that AI might some day be able to construct James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, style novels, but probably nothing else?

BW- have you heard of the Turing test? 

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman January 23, 2019 - 10:58pm

I don't think I agree with that, no.

If I understand the problems currently, they are mostly:

A) Few of us recognize how complex tasks are because the brain is really good at them. Picking up a fork and eating requires a lot more process than we recognize. We think of machines as being super powerful, but while they are great at doing some things, like calculations, they still suck at other things. This is why we have guide dogs instead of guide robots, why we still don't really have robot body parts that communicate with our brains, and so on. So, I think creating a narrative is a lot more complicated than we realize, and applying human experience to narrative, which makes it feel real, is also very complicated. 

B) Machines are also not great with unpredictability. To go back to cars, the problem has a lot to do with the unpredictability of other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, road conditions, and so on. While a machine can stop more quickly once it senses someone in the street, you and I have the advantage of seeing someone on the sidewalk and recognizing that they look like they might run out into the street. Or seeing a toy bounce into the street and thinking that a child might follow. While you can program a computer to play chess, that's partly to do with the fact that chess has an objective outcome and strict rules, and the computer can run millions of simulated games, but the basics of the game never change. If you were to play with a machine and physical pieces, the machine would not know what to do if you simply cheated (sort of the way jaywalking is "cheating" the rules of the road). 

So, for one thing, I wouldn't say that a machine will never be capable of writing any kind of thing that someone dedicated a machine to doing. While I don't think the AI revolution will always continue to accelerate, I think that ruling out the possibility is something I'll avoid. BUT, I think it's much, much further away than people think. Just like I think the truly self-driving cars being commonplace and usable in most settings is still further away than people think.

Thing two, I don't think an AI would have a much easier time with genre fiction of the Nicolas Sparks variety. If it were as simple as setting up the rules, we would have a thousand just like him already, in human form, and the market would be so saturated that we'd not even recognize his name. Why don't we have another Dan Brown? What was the last book of that type as big as the Da Vinci Code? I know that many of us see this stuff as bland and boring, therefore easy to replicate, but I still think that writing stuff like that is a lot more complex than we really know, even if there are formulas regarding what needs to happen by pages X, Y, and Z. 

The self-driving car? Sign me up. The machine that performs routine surgical procedures accurately? Yes, please. Anything that improves our lives seems like a good thing. But I don't see how the AI novel improves our lives. 

There's a lot of potential in machines. But even if we make machines that can build houses with incredible speed and accuracy, there will still be people woodworking because they find it fulfilling. I think writing will be the same way. 

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin January 25, 2019 - 4:04am

Thuggish: I just rewatched Ex Machina last night and that was about the Turing test.

Helpful snowman: You "Thing two..." Paragraph just made me think of the cat in the hat :D

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 25, 2019 - 12:51am

If these AI's are so smart, why would they become novelists? 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann January 26, 2019 - 11:57am

I feel like AI could construct those stories, but they would still require human editors. It'd just have a weird feel to it otherwise.

I'm sympathetic to those points, Helpfulsnowman. Well done successful popular fiction tends to have a lot of human touches, experience, morality, etc., that are beyond the grasp of machines. There's a lot of intuition that goes into it. A lot of humanity. Harry Potter is a good example.


I do know Turing, but I'm more philosophically aligned with Searle's Chinese Room rebuttal of Turing's assertion that AI convincing us it can think is enough to say that it does think. Even though, yes, the argument from consciousness is solipsistic, a machine being sufficiently programmed to pass a particular test still doesn't give us proof that it can think. Such a machine would be a very complex creation, but it would still only be programming and algorithms designed to generate specific responses in response to specific input. That something or someone can convince you it has a particular human faculty is not good enough to serve as proof of that faculty. A psychopath can convince others than they feel empathy with astounding results. Doesn't mean they feel empathy.

There is a big problem in philosophy about the idea of proving consciousness. Outside of philosophy, I think it's kinda just intuitive. I feel certain that George Carlin had a conscious, sentient mind experiencing the same world as me based on this. You can tell. Same way you can kinda tell when you're around a psychopath. Some people can at least. Some people can spot a psycho from a mile away, and some people will marry one, have two kids with him, get pregnant with a third, and then end up murdered and slowly dissolving in a chemical drum at his workplace.

I can spot ’em. It’s in the eyes. Never look at the costume. Nice people look at the costume. They’ll see somebody in, like, dad jeans, you know, pushing their kid on the swing, the whole nerdy sweater. “Hey! How are you doing? Can you believe the summer’s already over? I mean, this is crazy, right? Oh, this one here has got me running around, you know? She’s running the house! She’s running the house.” People are always like, “Oh, my God. He’s so nice. Such a great family man.” And I’m just sitting, thinking in my head... Dude... that guy is a fucking psycho! He’s a psycho! Look at his eyes. You don’t see that? That dude is barely hanging on. He is white-knuckling it through all the shit he thinks he’s supposed to do. All that fucking guy needs, all he needs, he just needs a little nudge. That’s it, just a little nudge. You have no idea what that guy’s capable of. I would not want to see the hard drive of that man’s computer, I’m telling you.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 28, 2019 - 6:03am

Could also be that it is a lot easier to start a journal that it was even 10 years ago, so more super micro journals are opening and splitting the pie.

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman January 28, 2019 - 11:29am

This is very possible. Sort of like the resurgence of smaller bookstores replacing the bigger chains. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami February 2, 2019 - 1:30pm

I didn't hear about that, unfortunate. Although I'm considering OELNs these days (not necessarily "down market" fiction) for the foreseeable future, so that would take me out of the running anyway. But definitely going to miss some Literary journals.

OELN -- Original English language Light Novel, as suppose to ones in Japanese.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami February 2, 2019 - 1:31pm

C'est une duplicate!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 5, 2019 - 5:48pm

@MattF --- Just to rub it in.


MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions February 6, 2019 - 3:07pm

And THEN they take our shitty day jobs.

If these AIs try to show at our AAs, they're getting punched in the head.

Wait. They don't have heads, do they? Clever bastards...