MotherJones MJ93: Hacking in the valley of the dolls

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Just This Once is a new novel about sex, drugs, and power, with an odd author’s credit. Instead of “By Scott French” it reads: “As told to Scott French.” French is a Northern California writer, computer buff, and fan of Jacqueline Susann, whose Valley of the Dolls is the best- selling American novel of all time. Using his Macintosh IIcx computer and an artificial-intelligence program, French claims to have created a novel such as Susann would have written were she still alive. Just This Once is “the first novel,” he says, “ever written by a computer.”

Over several years, French analyzed the components that created Susann’s specific style. He then supplied the computer with a basic plot, scenes, and characters. “I wrote several thousand rules to describe my characters,” says French, “and then as the plot developed the computer told me what Ms. Susann would likely have written under the circumstances were the story hers.”

There have been grumblings from the inheritors of Susann’s estate, who apparently want part of the proceeds from Just This Once, but French and his publisher Steven Schragis are confident that they are on solid legal ground. “My book,” French insists, “does not duplicate Susann’s writing. It is simply and magically reminiscent of America’s most popular novelist.”

French’s Mac is still humming. When asked about his next project, he grins and says, “I really enjoy Tom Clancy’s work.”

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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