The hopper disgorged another ream of paper onto Sandra’s desk. “Paper” was perhaps a misnomer–it was really more of a polymer stack that communicated with her desktop–but that’s what it felt like, what it was designed to feel like, and that’s what she called it. Readers had the option of using polypaper or their desktops and almost all of them chose the polypaper, as editing was so much easier stylus in hand.

She picked up the new contestant and leafed through it. Generated by Lucky 777 Jade Emperor Press Algorithms in Guangzhou, the book told the story of a lonely and sexually repressed middle school teacher who was seduced by a handsome Manananggalan (a Malaysian vampire-sorcerer that manifested as a disembodied floating head when it fed). The overall concept was sound enough to sell; Sandra delicately made a few changes right off the bat, though.

The heroine’s name, Arisser, was clearly the product of a bad algorithm; it was changed to Alyssa. The story, ostensibly set in North America, opened with a description of Paris; a few tweaks here and there changed it to Quebec. All instances of the word “toilet” had been replaced by “teliot,” probably another consequence of a wonky text generation algorithm. Similarly, “restroom” had received the all-too-literal translation “urine district” from Lucky 777’s novel generation software. Sandra chuckled softly at that one and wrote it down to share with the other readers at lunchtime.

That done, she scanned the novel for the usual suspects, errors common to all novels generated using cheap and market-leading but imprecise Chinese algorithms (many programmed by wage slaves with virtually no English aside from machine translation and phrasebooks). A find-all to replace “water buffalo” with “horse,” for example (who wanted to read that Allison and her Manananggalan lover “worked like water buffaloes?”). There was still plenty of work to be done by going painstakingly through the thing, adding “the” and correcting word-order problems and egregious misspellings and mistranslations, but it was a good start.

It sometimes wore on Sandra a little bit that she, along with everyone else employed by Writers’ Creative Services, was only employed to proofread and copy-edit, not to write. But Hollister upstairs, and the market forces he personified, had spoken: it was cheaper to have writing generators in China automatically generate books and have native English speakers clean them up. After all, if you fed enough market data, psychological studies, and multi-platinum texts into a computer, it would cough up bestselling drek at least as well as any human.

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