bad monkeys

In which an AI hallucinates the content of my novels

My wife recently got a Google alert about a website/app called Bookey, a sort of digital Cliff Notes that offers summaries and analyses of more than a thousand books. including my novel Lovecraft Country. There’s a feature that lists the “30 Best Quotes” from a book, along with explanations of each quote’s significance. Very handy for anyone looking to cut-and-paste their English homework.

Trouble is, Bookey’s content appears to be generated by an AI, and in the case of Lovecraft Country, all of the quotations are fabricated. They don’t even sound like me:

This quote, according to Bookey, “encapsulates the complex emotions experienced by the narrator at a young age.” Ah yes, the ten-year-old first-person narrator of Lovecraft Country—what was her name again? I can’t recall. I also can’t recall ever using the word “bourgeois” unironically. And “loathe their whiteness” feels more 2020s than 1950s.

Bookey also offers imaginary quotations from Set This House in Order and Bad Monkeys.

That one made me laugh out loud. I also liked “Hell is other people, especially the really bad ones.” But I didn’t write it.

After I got done vanity searching my own novels, I spot-checked some books by other authors, to see whether Bookey’s AI would do better with more famous works. The list for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House does manage to quote (or misquote) some of the more iconic lines, but it also includes this figment, which “perfectly captures the mysterious and haunting essence of the story”:

The list of purported quotes from Stephen King’s The Shining opens with the “Here’s Johnny!” line that Jack Nicholson improvised for Kubrick’s movie adaptation. There are three separate lists for Gone With the Wind, one of which claims the novel was written by “Herb Bridges.” A list for H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness” gets most of its quotations from Orwell’s 1984, and throws in this gem for good measure:

A lot of artists I know are freaking out about AI right now, so I should probably note that I’m not upset about Bookey; I think it’s hilarious. Part of what fascinates me about large language models like ChatGPT is precisely their tendency to go off the rails and start hallucinating like this. That being said, I would not recommend signing up for Bookey’s premium service. You can get more than enough entertainment value poking around the website for free.

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A quick and dirty guide to the Matt Ruff oeuvre, or, what to read after you’ve read Lovecraft Country

I’ve gotten a number of requests from readers who’ve finished Lovecraft Country and want to know which of my novels they should try next. Because my books are so different from one another, this is always a tough question to answer, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick rundown of the options. If you see something here that looks interesting, you can click through to the main page for that novel and learn more about it:

The Mirage — An alternate history novel that came out of the same TV pitch session that produced Lovecraft Country. The story is set in a reality where the U.S. and the Middle East have traded places. The United Arab States is the world’s last superpower, and the “11/9 attacks” involve Christian fundamentalists flying planes into towers in downtown Baghdad. It’s not just the geopolitical situation that’s turned on its head; so is the sense of who matters. The novel’s protagonists—a trio of Arab Homeland Security agents—and the principal villains—the gangster Saddam Hussein, and a corrupt senator named Osama bin Laden—are all Arab Muslims. The Americans in the story are mostly nameless third-worlders, with the exception of a few high-profile terrorists like Donald Rumsfeld.

If you’re looking for another mix of history, genre tropes, and moral/social commentary with a similar tone and style to Lovecraft Country, this is probably your best bet.

88 NamesMy most recent novel is a near-future cyberthriller/twisted romantic comedy. The protagonist, John Chu, is a paid guide to online role-playing games who suspects his latest client may be North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The first two-thirds of the novel are set entirely in virtual reality, and most of the characters Chu interacts with, including his coworkers and his ex-girlfriend, are people he’s never met in the flesh, so he’s constantly forced to question how well he really knows them.

This book also came out of the aforementioned TV pitch session, and as such it forms a loose trilogy with The Mirage and Lovecraft Country, but despite the North Korea angle it’s much lighter in tone. If you’re up for a fun masquerade with video games and cybersex, this could be your ticket.

Bad MonkeysMurder suspect Jane Charlotte claims to belong to a mysterious organization that fights evil. Her division, the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—Bad Monkeys for short—is an execution squad, though the man she’s accused of killing wasn’t on the official target list. The jailhouse psychiatrist assigned to Jane’s case gets her to tell the story of her career in Bad Monkeys: how she was recruited, what she did for the organization, and how it all went wrong.

I call this my Philip K. Dick novel. It’s a short, fast-moving mind-bender. Jane is the ultimate unreliable narrator: Catch her in an apparent lie or contradiction and she just throws another twist into the story, ratcheting up the weirdness while continuing to insist that it’s all true. If you like paranoid thrillers, you’ll probably like Bad Monkeys.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls The story of a relationship between two people who both have multiple personalities. Andy Gage manages his unusual condition by means of an imaginary house in his head where his various “souls” all live together in relative harmony. He meets Penny Driver, an undiagnosed multiple who still struggles with periods of lost time; when some of Penny’s more self-aware souls ask Andy for help, they end up destabilizing his house and force him to confront personal demons from the past.

This was my first fully mature novel, and I still think it’s one of my best. If you liked the family and interpersonal drama from Lovecraft Country but weren’t so sure about the supernatural aspects of the story, this might be a good pick for you. Despite the wild premise, it’s a fairly grounded narrative with no overt fantasy elements.

Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works TrilogyA science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, written in the 1990s and set in the distant future year of 2023.

Rather than try to summarize the plot of this novel, I will direct you to the description of how I came to write it. If you find this origin story intriguing, then Sewer, Gas & Electric may be your cup of tea; if you are puzzled or appalled, you should probably read something else.

Fool on the HillA comic fantasy set on the Cornell University campus circa 1987. The cast of characters includes a retired Greek god, a lovesick writer-in-residence, a dog and cat in search of heaven, a group of modern-day knights, a race of magical sprites at war with an army of sword-wielding rats, and a giant wood-and-canvas dragon that comes to life in the novel’s climax.

This was my first published novel, and I think it holds up pretty well, especially as a time capsule of the era and the place in which it was written. If you’re a Cornell alumnus, a nostalgic adult of a certain age, a current college student who doesn’t mind dated cultural references, or a Matt Ruff fan curious about how I got my start, this could be for you.

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Also on sale this week…

In addition to 88 Names, this week brings a brand new audiobook edition of my 2008 novel Bad Monkeys, narrated by Gary Tiedemann, Emily Woo Zeller, and Greg Tremblay. You can find it in these online stores:

AppleAudibleGoogleKoboLibro.fm

A reminder that there is also an audiobook edition of 88 Names, narrated by Ewan Chung:

AppleAudibleGoogleKoboLibro.fm

…and an audiobook edition of Lovecraft Country, narrated by Kevin Kenerly:

AppleAudibleGoogleKoboLibro.fm

My other four novels are not currently available in audio format (it’s the publishers’ call, not mine), but I’ll keep you posted when and if that changes.

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Ask me anything on February 14

On Tuesday, February 14, the same day the Lovecraft Country trade paperback goes on sale, I’ll be doing an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. The AMA starts at noon EST (the page will open for questions about an hour before then), and will continue until I run out of steam.

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can also catch me live on Thursday, February 16. I’ll be doing a reading and signing at Third Place Books in Seward Park, starting at 7:30 PM.

Also:

* The ebook edition of Bad Monkeys is on sale for $1.99 through February 13.

* Lovecraft Country made Locus magazine’s 2016 Recommended Reading List!

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Styxxoplix and Scary Clowns

On Friday I did a call-in interview with the Styxxoplix Show in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can listen to it here, or catch it on WELT 95.7 FM in Fort Wayne tonight at 6.

One of the many subjects we touched on in the interview is the current wave of clown sightings in the U.S. and Europe. A number of Bad Monkeys fans have suggested that I saw this coming, but while I’d love to take credit for being prescient, the truth is I’m just old. As the Sunday New York Times pointed out, this has happened before:

Creepy clown sightings aren’t new. They date from at least May 1981, when the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman coined the term “phantom clowns” to describe them. At the time, children in Brookline, Mass., were reporting clowns in vans who beckoned them with promises of candy. The police issued an all-points bulletin, established checkpoints and conducted searches, but no clowns were captured.

Still, the reports spread to at least six cities in the span of a month. Waves of sightings recurred in 1985 and in 1991 (in the latter reports the figures were often described as looking like Homey D. Clown from the TV series “In Living Color”). In each case, the stories were primarily spread by children and caused mild to moderate hysteria, but no clown predators were ever found.

It was these earlier clown panics that inspired Bad Monkeys‘ Scary Clowns. The ‘phantom clown’ chapter of Loren Coleman’s Mysterious America was a useful resource when I was writing the novel, as was Jan Harold Brunvand’s Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, so it’s nice to see Coleman and Brunvand getting name-checked in the current news coverage.

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#slatepitches

For those of you seeking a distraction from the election coverage, Slate Book Review just posted “The Funniest Living Writers Choose the Funniest Books in the World.” It’s a literary daisy chain: They asked Maria Semple, whose novel Today Will be Different hit bookstores last week, to name her three favorite funny books by living authors. Then they asked those writers to name three favorites, and so on. I got on the chain when Christopher Moore picked Bad Monkeys. My picks: Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion, Aimee Bender’s Willful Creatures, and Wilton Barnhardt’s Emma Who Saved My Life.

You can see the complete daisy chain here. The graphic is interactive: Click on individual books for reviews and purchase links.

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Margot Robbie to star in adaptation of Bad Monkeys

Some great news that I’ve been sitting on for months finally went public last night: Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Bad Monkeys, with Margot Robbie set to both produce and star in the film.

I am incredibly psyched. Between this and the positive reception for Lovecraft Country, it’s been an amazing year so far.

On a related note, I’m also really looking forward to Suicide Squad.

More news soon.

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The Bad Monkeys movie & TV rights are back on the market

That kitchen-timer ding you may have heard from the direction of L.A. last month was the sound of the existing Bad Monkeys television option expiring. The film and TV rights have now reverted to me and are once again available. If you should find yourself at a dinner party with Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Jane Espenson, Marti Noxon, and/or whoever was responsible for the Hannah McKay subplot on season 7 of Dexter, feel free to drop this into the conversation.

As always, if you’re interested in acquiring the rights yourself, the person to contact is my CAA agent, Matthew Snyder.

Also:

* I’m curious whether all the New York Times ads for Carl Hiaason’s latest novel will give my Monkeys a free publicity bump.

* If you’re a fan of Looper or Brick, you should check out writer/director Rian Johnson’s other film, The Brothers Bloom. (I’d put Johnson on my list of dream adapters for Bad Monkeys but he apparently only does original material, which I can’t argue with.)

* What Would Phoebe Do has an interesting series of posts about why certain subjects are better explored as fiction than in first-person essays. (Parts I, II, III, and IV.)

* Last Thursday’s link to this guinea pig armor auction was one of my most retweeted tweets ever. No surprise there.

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Goodbye 2012

Edward Hopper’s IKEA Monkey (via @SamSykesSwears)

Paul Constant, who is nominally the Books Editor for the Seattle Stranger — though lately his duties seem to have expanded to writing half the content of the paper — invited me to contribute to the annual Regrets Issue, in which staff and local celebrities confess their professional and personal regrets about the year just ended. Naturally, I missed the deadline. So, yeah, sorry about that, Paul, but the truth is this has been a good year for me, and the few disappointments were things beyond my control.

The big news, of course, was the publication of The Mirage. My book tour recap post is here, and the full list of Mirage-tagged posts is here. My Big Idea essay for John Scalzi’s Whatever blog and my interview with Nancy Pearl are both worth a look. And if you’re at all curious about book design, check out the Huffington Post interview with artist Oliver Munday, in which he discusses the evolution of The Mirage‘s cover art.

The Mirage made the San Francisco Chronicle‘s “Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2012” list and Alyssa Rosenberg’s list of “65 Favorite Things From the Year in Popular Culture.”

The American trade paperback edition of The Mirage will be published in February 2013. I will be appearing at the U.W. University Book Store at on February 20 at 7 PM and at Elliott Bay Book Company on February 28 at 7 PM. A German translation of The Mirage is scheduled for publication in Winter 2013. No word yet on whether there’ll be a German book tour to accompany publication, but just to put it out there, I’d be happy to come if my publisher invites me.

I remain hard at work on what I hope will be my next novel. If it were a Bad Monkeys-sized book, it’d be almost half done now, but it looks like it’s going to be a lot longer, so I’m just getting started. Stay tuned.

The one truly sad note of 2012 was the passing of Queen Anne Books, my favorite Seattle independent bookstore. Since QAB shut down at the end of October I’d been hoping a new owner might swoop in to resurrect it, but it wasn’t to be, and by now the staff, the real heart of the store, have moved on to other things. I wish them all the best, and will always be grateful for the decade of support they gave me and my novels.

So, on to 2013! And just to start things off right, have another monkey, courtesy of ZooBorns’ “Top 25 of All Time” list:

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