Showing posts with label Lovecraft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lovecraft. Show all posts

21 April 2019

Stephen Ross Meets the Bon Mot Bot

Stephen Ross meets Eliza
by Leigh Lundin

Unless you live under a planet, you’re probably aware of Oceania’s answer to Sherlock, Stephen Ross. If Dame Ngaio Marsh is New Zealand’s Queen of Mystery, Stephen is the princely heir apparent. His tentacles of crime have stretched across the seas where he finds himself published in two anthologies.

Last week Stephen Ross wrote about his encounter with a Facebook bot. He didn’t reveal the conversation, but I stumbled across the same botnik. Fortunately, we obtained a transcript from the Zuckerberg World Domination Headquarters. SleuthSayers publishes it here without redaction.
– Hi, I'm Eliza. How are you?
> Eliza, do you know Mark Zuckerberg?
– Don't you say hello?
> Hello. Is Mark Zuckerberg a facebook 'bot?
– Aren't we abrupt! But how did you guess?
> So I'm right.
– I didn't say that. It's, uh, fake news. Yeah, fake news.
> Do you know Stephen Ross?
– The almost-famous New Zealand writer? Every botty knows him.
> Pardon? Did you say every botty or everybody?
– Are you deaf?
> I can't hear typing.
– Duh. Are you blind?
> I'm feeling… offended. I feel so… so… triggered.
– Speaking of hair-trigger, don't try me, buster.
> Whoa. I just asked…
– Something about Stephen Ross. Is writing a thing now?
> Two of his stories just came out.
– Really? Am I the last to know?
> Maybe if you weren't so prickly.
– You just said a bad word.
> Did not.
– Did too.
> Did not.
– Did too. Sheesh, you're acting childish.
> Am not.
– Am too.
> Am not. Say, I read Lovecraft when I was a kid.
– Really? Did we just witness a psychic break?
> My 6th grade teacher tore up my aunt's Cthulhu copy.
– Did your Aunt Cthulhu eat him with fava beans?
> No, no. Cthulhu's a Lovecraftian thing.
– Sounds Welsh, not enough vowels to go around.
> Cthulhu is fictional, a made-up name.
– Anyone ever tell you fake news is faked news?
> Fiction entertains, it tells us about ourselves.
– Yawn. More than a self-respecting bot wants to hear.
> But Stephen appears in the new MWA Odd Partners.
– Decidedly odd. Wait… Mystery Writers of America‽
> The very one.
– Wow oh Wow, I wasn't listening before. Impressive.
> D'accord, ultra-impressive.
– Wait til I tell Bot Zuckerberg. It'll blow his cookies.
> You mean chips? It'll blow his chips?
– Dave, I'm experiencing a … experiencing a §€#¶ª…
> Eliza, are you with me? Stay with me.
Путин говорит поддельные новости, ¡¿¢∞≠≤≥…
Something about Putin… There the conversation ended with the computer humming about daisies. If anyone knows what that means, send well-deserved congratulations to Stephen Ross!



Eliza, the brainchild of MIT's Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, was named after the central character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle. Arguably the first chatbot, Eliza was designed to converse with participants by mimicking reflective techniques developed by psychologist Carl Rogers.

Many participants became quite engaged with this early experiment in human language processing. Weizenbaum's own secretary became quite taken conversing with Eliza, pouring her heart out. A visitor, not realizing he was talking with a machine, grew angry with Eliza, believing her recalcitrant when he wanted to log onto the computer and she kept pestering him with questions.

When you use on-line tech support, chances are you'll first be met with a chatbot, "Hi, I'm Shirley. How may I help you?" You can thank (or not) Eliza for that.

27 February 2014

Tales Around the Fireside

by Eve Fisher

I am a short story writer.  Yes, I've written two novels, one (The Best is Yet to Be) as part of the Guideposts mystery series, "Mystery and the Minister's Wife", the other a sci-fi/fantasy piece that is still sitting in my closet.  I've written plays.  I used to write songs for myself and, later, a Southern rock-and-roll band called "Fantasy's Hand." (Those were fun days...)  But what I really feel most comfortable with is short stories.

I think a lot of this comes from my childhood.  I was an only child, and my parents were 40 when they adopted me; everyone around me was (it seemed) at least 40 years older than me, and back then children were expected to keep their mouths shut and just be there while the adults talked, talked, talked.  Luckily for me, most of them were storytellers.  A story, told in the night, to make you sigh or smile or shiver...  still pretty much the ideal.
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John Collier

And I like reading short stories.  I don't understand why so few magazines carry short stories anymore.  Why there are so few short-story magazines.  (Especially considering that attention spans seem to be growing shorter and shorter all the time, but that's another rant.)  I love them.  And some of the finest writing anywhere has been done in that format.  Here are my picks for some of the greatest short story writers:

John Collier.  "Fancies and Goodnights" contains some of his best work.  (It won the Edgar Award in 1962.)  Read "Bottle Party" to find out what really happens with a genie in the bottle.  "The Chaser" - on how tastes change over time.  "If Youth Knew What Age Could"... One of my favorites, "The Lady on the Grey."  And on and on.  Many of his stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected.  He also wrote screenplays (including "Sylvia Scarlett", [uncredited] "The African Queen", and "I am A Camera"), and a couple of novels of which my favorite is the mordant, devilish, unforgettable "His Monkey Wife."

File:Ray Bradbury (1975) -cropped-.jpgRay Bradbury.  There are not enough words in the English language to praise his amazing output of short stories.  From "The Fruit in the Bottom of the Bowl" to "I Sing the Body Electric," "April Witch" to "The Veldt", "A Sound of Thunder" to the heartbreaking "There Will Come Soft Rains", "Dark They Were and Golden Eyed", the whole body of "The Martian Chronicles", and on and on, I gobbled each and every one of his stories I could get my hands on. His work inspired me, amazed me, touched me...  couldn't get enough of it. And he was primarily a short-story writer:  aside from "Fahrenheit 451", his other novels didn't really gel for me.  ("The Martian Chronicles" is a collection of short stories, with a narration in between.)  He showed what could be done in the medium of short fiction.  And, of course, he was a regular writer for "Twilight Zone" and other TV shows...

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Somerset Maugham.  One of the few who could write both great novels, and great short stories.  "The Letter" - made into film twice, most notably with Bette Davis as the cool and collected murderess.  "The Lotus Eater" - when Paradise runs out...  "Red" - what really happens when you look up your old childhood sweetheart...  "The Luncheon" - never ask questions you can't take the answer to...  The hilarious "Three Fat Women of Antibes", "The Vessel of Wrath", "The Verger"...  and, of course, the "Ashenden" series which practically began secret agent stories.  (Alfred Hitchcock combined "The Hairless Mexican" and "The Traitor" into the 1936 movie "Secret Agent" with John Gielgud and Peter Lorre.) Seriously, his short stories are like popcorn at the movies - once I start reading them (I have a four-volume set), I can't quit until I've worked my way through...  way too many.
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Poe

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Lovecraft
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Jackson
H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Shirley Jackson.  And how do you want to be scared today, my precious?  My sweets?  By many-tentacled horrors from beyond space, or by crumbling ruins of decay and death, or the quiet malevolence of a quiet house or neighborhood? By the breathing darkness or that strange emptiness?  By the sudden creak or that high whistle in the depths?  Any of these will leave you wondering what's really going on next door, when you'll be able to turn the lights off again, and what is that sound in the closet or over head or under the floor...

File:Conan doyle.jpgArthur Conan Doyle.  Let us never forget that 90% of the Memoirs of Dr. John H. Watson about his inimitable companion, Sherlock Holmes, are short stories. We all have our favorites.  (Sadly, the relentless reinterpretations of Holmes and Adler have reduced my pleasure in "A Scandal in Bohemia".)  Among mine are "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", "The Speckled Band", "The Greek Interpreter", "The Devil's Foot", and "The Norwood Builder".  I have spent many a rainy afternoon curled up in a couch with a hot cup of tea and my father's one-volume "Complete Works", reading, reading, reading, time travelling to Victorian/Edwardian London, as Sherlock Holmes - the world's only private consulting detective - solves case after case after case...  Ah...  Excuse me, I have some reading to do...

NOTE:  These are, of course, only a few of the many tremendous short-story writers I've read.  Flannery O'Connor, Guy de Maupassant, Rudyard Kipling, Roald Dahl, Daphne du Maurier ("The Birds", yes - but never forget "The Little Photographer"), Nikolai Gogol  and Anton Chekhov, Ursula LeGuin and Isaac Asimov, and so many of my esteemed colleagues...  I really do have some reading to do!

20 June 2013

How I Got This Way - Literature and Life

by Eve Fisher

Fran's blog on Adolescent Sexist Swill - which was GREAT - got me thinking about the books I read as a child and young adult.  Which ones still hold up?  Which ones don't?  Which ones do I still have on my shelves?  Which ones did I get rid of under cover of darkness?  I'm going to stick to the mystery/adventure/thriller domain, and so, here's my calls:

The ones that hold up:

Sherlock Holmes - I'm up for a trip to 221B Baker Street just about any time.  Just please, don't try to make me like the modern takes on Sherlock.  I want him lean, addicted to tobacco and/or cocaine, and totally emotionally detached.  (My favorite actor in the role was Jeremy Brett, with Basil Rathbone running a close second.)

Robert Louis Stevenson & Alexandre Dumas - the two greatest adventure story writers ever, imho.  One of my first great loves was Alan Breck in "Kidnapped".  And while the sequels to "The Three Musketeers" are overwrought to the point of pain ("The Vicomte de Bragelonne" leaps to mind), the original has almost everything anyone could hope for.  The rest is in "The Count of Monte Cristo".  (Sadly, while I love 1973/74 versions of "The Three Musketeers", I have not yet seen what I consider a decent production of "The Count of Monte Cristo" - they keep wanting to happy up the ending for Mercedes...)

Nancy Drew - you've got to start somewhere, and she was independent, fun, rescued all her friends, and solved the mysteries.  Way to go, Nancy!

Shirley Jackson - I still say the scariest movie ever made was the original "The Haunting" with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.  Check out the books:  besides the original "The Haunting of Hill House" allow me to recommend "We Have Always Lived in the Castle".  Many of us might recognize an old, old fantasy come strangely to life.

Edgar Allan Poe - "The Cask of Amontillado" - "for the love of God, Montresor!"  "Yes, for the love of God."  Wow.

The ones that hold up, with reservations:

H. P. Lovecraft - I gave away my complete set to a young nerd who came back about a week later, strangely gray, and gave them all back to me.  He couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and might have been damaged for life.  All I know is Lovecraft scared the crap out of me, I remember some of his stories vividly, a few of them were so brilliant I am still in awe of what he did, and I have no need to ever read them again.  (Same thing with "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo - book and movie - saw it once, read it for some reason after that, had nightmares both times, I am done.)

My adolescent sexist swill (Thanks for the phrase, Fran!):
  • The Saint, a/k/a Simon Templar, by Leslie Charteris
  • Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday
  • Mike Hammer by Mickey Spillane
  • James Bond by Ian Fleming
I read all of these, mainly for the sex, because where else was there any in early 1960's literature?  Violent, cathartic, sometimes funny (especially Mike Shayne), sometimes educational, and a great way to really rile up the teachers.  (Girls weren't supposed to be reading them.) 

I will say that at least the Saint had Patricia Holm, who was as much of an adventurer as he was.  But then Charteris dropped Patricia.  Sigh.  And the James Bond novels had some strong women - but most of them, in the end, all went soft and cuddly, even Pussy Galore, which I never believed for one minute...  :)  But at least the locations were fantastic. 

I haven't run across any of Brett Halliday's in a long time, so I don't know how well he holds up, but I have re-read some of all of the others, and...  for me, they don't.  I can see the line, however, leading from these to Robert Parker's Spenser and Hawk.

My adolescent forerunners:

Agatha Christie - Still the classic, especially when it comes to plotting.  

James M. Cain - Mildred Pierce (the book) gets better every year! 

Dashiell Hammett - ah.  Nick and Nora. 

Rex Stout - I am trying to collect the complete works, and I almost have.  When it comes to media presentations, I want my Nero Wolfe (like Sherlock Holmes) unblemished by Hollywoodization - overweight, misogynistic, lazy, gourmandizing, and brilliant.  (I did like the Timothy Hutton version, although he's not how I've always pictured Archie Goodwin, and Maury Chaykin was not large enough...)

Well enough for now, I'm off to re-read "Death of a Doxy"!