Unblocked AI

Recently, I was a beta user for Unblocked.ai, a writing aid that uses the CPT3 open AI interface to write fiction based on a sample you feed it. In other words, it writes the next paragraph for you. Sort of. Read on.

Not knowing what to expect, I first tried using the tool to write a complete short story on its own. Mega failure. The text meandered around randomly–the AI did not understand plot. Writers are in no danger of being replaced by AI.

But in all fairness, that’s not it’s advertised use. I was in the early stages of writing of Vishnar’s Revenge at the time, and I felt rather insecure in writing romantic relationship scenes, so I used the AI to help find my way through.

What worked best was to get three or four possible continuations of a scene from the AI. Then I picked the one that fit the plot and characters the best and edited in the specifics my book called for. For example, the AI might say “Captain Zernox interrupted with a message from the White Mages,” and I might edit it to “Zephyr interrupted with a message from Hoargrim.”

I will say that the AI has the appearance of a good general knowledge of common fiction tropes and general knowledge. For example, it pleasantly surprised me when it returned a cogent explanation of dark matter.

But frequently it supplied certain tropes that I avoid, like magically sensing and controlling things by thoughts or telepathic contact. I wish I could give it some world-building facts so it didn’t include everything from however many millions of books it trained on.

That said, there are plans to have the AI be more genre-specific, which might keep some elements of fantasy out of my science fiction.

So get ready. A new type of tool is coming to the writing toolbox. We can add AI-written paragraphs to grammar and spell checkers.

But if you hate the auto-complete function in your email, which “predicts” what you will say based on probabilities in a few million emails, this AI might not be for you.

That said, unblocked.ai delivered on its promise of getting this writer unblocked several times and I will be sure to subscribe when it comes out of beta. This website is still in closed beta, but one way or another, I expect this genre of software to be in common use soon.

Star Map for Umlac’s Legacy

I am delighted to share with you a star map for Umlac’s Legacy, the second book in the Entangled Galactic Empires Series, which began with Enemy Immortal. The publication date for Umlac’s Legacy will be announced soon, and as you can see from the scope of the map, Umlac’s Legacy plays out over a lot more star systems than its predecessor! If you enjoyed the action in Enemy Immortal, you will love Umlac’s Legacy.

In the simplest of terms, our protagonist, Jade Mahelona, starts out on Elliquor and has to get to Earth. The problem is, only the Quillip links between the red planets of the evil empire can get her there. And, yeah, that is a problem…

Science Leapfrogs Fiction Again

Designer DNA is here now.

Rewriting DNA with fewer letters.

I have never been so flabbergasted by an article in Scientific American. In my book Enemy Immortal, I predicted that, since multiple gene sequences are transcribed into the same amino acid, someone could re-sequence all of our DNA to use just one of these gene sequences, then alter the cell’s ribosome to transcribe the unused sequences into something else. In Enemy Immortal, this technology gave Jade Mahelona’s cells the ability to make nanomechanical particles with the special ability to detect electric fields.

My book takes place in 2206. It turns out Nili Ostrov at Harvard is doing this DNA re-sequencing already. She has almost completed re-sequencing E. coli DNA without using a large number of naturally occurring gene sequences. This demonstration project should result in an E. coli that is impervious to all natural viruses. In previous research, she has reprogrammed a ribosome to translate selected DNA sequences differently. The pieces are all there.

I can’t believe I was off by nearly two hundred years. How much longer until we harness dark matter, do you think?

Read the full SciAm article: The Invulnerable Cell

Read Enemy Immortal

The Enemy Immortal Cover Design Contest Winner is…

…Levierre, with an action-packed cover full of aliens.

Levierre was the clear winner in the 99designs poll, in which over thirty people participated, and was my favorite, too. This cover will be used for both the ebook and paperback editions of my soon-to-be-released book Enemy Immortal.

Here is how the 99designs.com contest worked:

First I had to set up a contest. I described what I wanted and offered a prize for the best design. I wanted a cover for both an ebook and a paperback. I had a book blurb and some general ideas that might work, so I put those out. And I had to estimate the number of pages for the paperback since I hadn’t formatted it yet. This turned out to be the only glitch farther along. My page estimate was quite a bit off, and we had to change the spine size after everything else was over.

But back to the process. There are three levels of prizes, and three levels of designers, with only top designers allowed to compete for the top prizes. My budget suggested using the lowest level of prize, open to any designer. I figured this would be worth it since my alternatives were to find a designer with whom I had no history or try to do it myself. I took the plunge and attracted about thirty designers, who were split between entry-level and mid-level in their 99designs rating.

In the first round of the contest, any of the freelance designers on 99designs could offer a design concept. I gave many of them feedback and soon discovered which designers were easy to work with. I ended up with eight great designs, but I could only take six of them into the second round. I used the poll feature which 99designs provides and reached out to some writer friends for their input. The lowest two designs were eliminated.

The second and final round allowed me to work with the six finalists to further refine their designs.

Now the hard part–I had to pick just one.

First, I did a secret, subjective rating of how easy I found each of the designers to work with. Three of them rated terrific, and three of them only fair. Then I set this aside to use as a tie breaker if need be. The main criterion would be the best design.

I ran another poll with the six finalists and reached out to all my facebook friends to participate. A big THANK YOU to all of those who responded. Levierre was the clear winner.

The final stage of the contest was to declare the winner and obtain the source files for the cover design. This went smoothly except for the part where I found out my page-count estimate was off. Fortunately, Levierre was one of the “easy to work with” designers and quickly updated the paperback cover to fit the book properly. Now it’s (almost) ready to go. I can’t wait to have a proof copy in my hands early next week.

The Entangled Galaxy: Epic Science Fiction