MotherJones MJ93: Hacking in the valley of the dolls


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.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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