Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Further Encounters in AI

OpenAI have just added a new model, text-davinci-003, to their GPT-3 text generators. It is supposedly much higher quality than previous models, so I decided to generate some random encounters and some nanodeities using the same prompts as before. I also, for shits & giggles, decided to ask another AI to make pictures of the encounters, because: why wouldn't I? 

Here are the results:

Random encounters

* At the edge of a nearby lake, a giant 3-headed turtle is sunning itself on a rock. It has a large shell with powerful scutes, and its 3 heads have different expressions: one is smiling, one is frowning, and one is screaming. The turtle is friendly, and will willingly carry up to four PCs across the lake on its back. It is also a repository of knowledge, and will answer any question they ask it, but will only do so if they answer three of its own questions first.

The turtle's questions are:
1. What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
2. What is the most powerful emotion you have ever felt?
3. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

* The PCs come across a clearing in a forest, where four wooden pillars have been erected around a raised platform. On the platform, a circle of five humanoid figures stand, their heads bowed and their hands clasped together. As the PCs approach, the five figures begin to chant a strange, eerie melody in a language none of them have ever heard before. The chanting becomes more and more frantic, and soon the five figures are spinning in a circle and holding hands. The ground suddenly trembles and a shimmering red portal appears in the centre of the circle. The five figures continue to chant, and the portal slowly starts to open, revealing a strange and alien landscape beyond. If the PCs step through the portal, they will find themselves in a place called the Shadow Realm, where they will be able to explore, interact with the inhabitants, and find powerful magical items. However, they must be careful, as the Shadow Realm is a dangerous place, and they must be careful to not become lost in its depths.

* A small rock-strewn valley, at the bottom of which lies a shallow lake. In the lake is a small island, upon which stands a single, ancient oak tree. As the PCs approach, they notice that the lake is home to a small colony of giant fire-breathing dragonflies. The dragonflies are friendly and will offer to give the PCs a ride across the lake, in exchange for a few pieces of copper. Once on the island, the PCs discover a small shrine to the god of fire, surrounded by a ring of standing stones. In the centre of the shrine is a small altar, upon which sits a single, flaming gem. If a PC takes the gem, they will gain a permanent increase to their fire resistance.

Nanodeities

* Gurf, a deity of long-forgotten front doors made from oak and yew, has domain over the forgotten and misplaced. Gurf appears as a moss-covered door with a lion’s head knocker and a keyhole with a glint of starlight. To appease Gurf, kneel in front of an ancient door and whisper a prayer for the forgotten and the lost. Gurf will reward you with an entirely new door, with a shiny brass knob and a lock that can never be picked.

* Marilath is the god of half-forgotten memories, and can be found in the far corners of one's mind. Marilath looks like a silver-scaled catfish, but with a human face and a beaked nose. To worship Marilath, one must sit in a comfortable chair and recite forgotten memories in a soft voice. If successful, Marilath will reward you with a vision of forgotten memories, providing a glimpse into the past.

* Gorack the Great is the god of forgotten roads, appearing as a giant centipede with a glowing yellow eye. To appease Gorack, one must draw a map on a piece of paper and trace a route along a forgotten road. Once the map is complete, Gorack will reward the worshipper with an altered perspective on the world, and will offer guidance on how to find forgotten roads.

Conclusion

These responses do feel slightly superior to the set I generated with an earlier text model. The differences are subtle, but the biggest difference is the one you can't see: with the previous model, I generated perhaps 10 or 15 responses in order to get three which I felt were adequately creative and believable. This time around, I only had to generate the three which you see above.

As for the image AI: that was predictably terrible, but a lot of fun. The images themselves are nice enough, but scarcely representative of the text (although the deities are a lot closer than the random encounters). I could have made the images a little more accurate by tweaking and re-tweaking the text, but life's too short and, as my attempts to get an AI to depict a viking longship made of thorns have taught me, AIs are terrible at generating anything other than simple portraits or landscapes.

However, I adore the fact that the picture of Gorack the Great, god of forgotten roads, incorporates what appears to be a prehistoric version of Google Maps' location pin.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

The Mycoleum

My friend James Burt and I are producing a “Mycelium Parish Newsletter”, a round-up of what’s been going on in our corner of the UK counterculture over the last year (James explains in a little more detail here).

Our underground network of threads has birthed some fairly significant mushrooms recently, including the books What Remains? Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking by Ru Callendar, and John Higgs' Love and Let Die: Bond, the Beatles and the British Psyche, while the goetic sitcom Damned Andrew, by Andrew O’Neill, was commissioned by BBC Radio 4.

But there are other edible treats deeper in the woods, such as the ongoing Lost Doctor audio dramas (set in an alternate Doctor Who universe), the F23 podcast (who scooped interviews with Grant Morrison, Douglas Rushkoff, and - an incredible coup - the first ever interview with The Economy in its several-thousand-year history), Tim Arnold’s Superconnected album and accompanying feature-length film, plus a host of books, blogs, podcasts, events, email newsletters, and much, much more. In The Mycelium, we attempt to bring together all the threads, and to raise up all of the mushrooms. 

James and I started with the notion of a regular parish newsletter, amateurish and hastily thrown together. I thought we ought to have an equivalent of the church photo which often appears at the top of such newsletters and, having no budget or appreciable skills, I turned to AI to see what could be done...

The Mycoleum

Blimey, that was a rabbit-hole and a half! I now have far more pictures than I know what to do with, as well as a much more image-heavy newsletter. I will be posting further details of the newsletter when it's complete, but meantime... I put some pictures onto clothes:


Yes, I have a new online shop! Please visit... The Mycoleum!

(Above is just a very limited selection both of the images I want to stick on things, and the things on which I want to stick them. If you have a need for any of the above on other items, from g-strings to facemasks, iPhone cases to ice-buckets, please let me know).

I should add that, despite my adventures with AI, I remain committed to providing work for real flesh-and-blood illustrators whenever I can. Maximillian Hartley is hard at work on the pictures for King Arthur vs Devil Kitteh, and I have Rich Tingley on standby for when I finally get to writing Nanodeities.

But on those low-budget/no-budget occasions where, in the past, I would have headed straight for oldbookillustrations, I now have another, very fun tool at my disposal.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Something Happened

image by The Mycoleum

Last night, I was reading dark short stories from some of Nightjar Press's excellent chapbooks. Walking the dog later, I thought "I fancy writing a short story like one of those writers. You know, those ones". And suddenly this came spewing out, stream of consciousness-style:
The effects were subtle but they were certainly there. Obvious, really. 
When we waved goodbye to Kim that morning, nothing changed. The rain of the last few weeks was unabated. If anything, it got worse. Thank god we’d got the coal in before prices went up.
“Schildkreute”, Jan exploded. 
“What?” 
“Slow warts steadied by delish topping.” 
“Stop it.” 
When the sun came through, it was golden. Although it never reached the house, you could tell by the light on the opposite hills. Jan said “there’s no end to the things that turn up”. We said “no matter, look at the hills”. 
After one of those baths that are never as good as you’d hoped, things started turning up again. If it wasn’t the weather, it was the price of dry goods. At least you could stock up on them. We had no way of saving the perishables. 
It happened that Jan had an appointment the following Monday. So we made the most of the trip, got what we could out of it. Rain running along the train windows reminded me of Kim. 
“Nothing seems to last” you said as you chucked the carton of congealed milk, scarcely a day later. “Not like it used to”. “It didn’t, even then”, we replied. 
By the time we reached the bottom of the freezer, strangers were roaming the moors, hoping for rabbit, maybe mushrooms. Jan didn’t speak any more, and we missed their petty contributions to the household. Mould had put a film across two of the windows, and the rest were in need of putty or something to serve. 
By the time the end came, none of us was surprised. I remember you talking of something quite similar back, when was it? Before the incident with the putty, anyway. We’d been living a little beyond our means for some time now, and things were stacking up. Things always do. 
We’d tried cutting back, but it never seemed enough, never made much difference anyway. Not until things became unbearable.
For a very different piece of fiction, check out What We Have Left, which is also the title of my short story collection which will be published by Polyversity Press, once I get around to editing it.

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

You May Find A Bed

 
There is no convenient time to break your leg 
There is no convenient time to find your soul 
There is no convenient time to submit to force 
There is no convenient time to starve 
There is no convenient time to have a child 
There is no convenient time to lose your will 
There is no convenient time to have a flat tyre  
from You May Find A Bed, by Skeleton Crew

I had hoped, by now, to be selling a book called King Arthur vs Devil Kitteh. But, as is the course of things, obstacles have been encountered, delays endured, and it’s still a work-in-progress. But I find myself facing a new dilemma: once it is ready, when and how do I launch it? 

My intention had always been to run a Kickstarter: I’ve had great success with the previous two that I’ve run. But I'd wanted the Kickstarter to complete at a time which means I can deliver the book around about this time of year, in time for Christmas.

I really don’t want to wait another year before launching the book; but I now have more significant concerns than that: will anybody be able to afford it? 

Like I said, my previous two Kickstarters have been very succesful. But they have been for relatively cheap zines, they have piggy-backed off well-supported community games jams, have been moderately cheap to produce (unlike the properly bound hardback picture-book I have in mind for King Arthur) and, most importantly, were released when “spending money” was still a thing.

Sure, for many people around the world, it still is. But quite specifically here, now, in the UK, things seem to have changed rapidly for the worse. Fuel and food prices have gone up astronomically, and the government which has overseen this country’s decline over the last 12 years seem determined to push us into another round of “austerity” (AKA bubble-up economics). Friends in retail tell me that they’re turning over 20% of what they did this time last year. When is a good time to launch a £20 book which many, I know, will love but, let’s be honest, nobody really needs?

I don’t have an answer. All suggestions gratefully received.

Meanwhile, I flddle in my hilltop home as Rome slowly burns. I’ve been tinkering with AI “art” and, my god, it’s addictive. While I’m extremely sensitive to the concerns of artists who stand to lose work, wow, aren't these beautiful? (I want to stick some on T-shirts and sell them, but… ethics, damn it).








Back to King Arthur: while my brain takes its time over mulling a release date, you’d be doing me a great favour if you signed up to be notified when the Kickstarter starts kicking, you can do so here. Also, why not sign up for my email newsletter using the form below - one day, I may even send out an email.