This week! Books!
The blog will go dark for the next few weeks as I take a planned breather (some might refer to this as a vacation). I’m planning to be back in March. Also: My editing slots are booking up extremely quickly this year, so please continue to reach out to me to get that scheduled. I’ll be responding to email while I’m away.
The world’s mind continues to be collectively blown by ChatGPT, which has kicked off an AI arms race at some of our biggest tech companies. By far the most astute article I’ve read about AI comes from Ted Chiang, who writes that ChatGPT is a blurry JPEG of the web, or essentially a degraded, compressed synthesis of what’s out there on the internet. Until it can do more to meaningfully understand and push things forward, its utility will be constrained. Chiang is skeptical of its usefulness for helping create original writing (I agree).
And yet. I know what ChatGPT is. I know it’s basically just a language prediction algorithm that can absorb more information than a human ever could and synthesize the internet back at us in a way that can feel vaguely human. I know it doesn’t really “want” anything or have feelings. And yet. I was still unprepared for Kevin Roose’s deeply weird chat with the Bing chatbot, which quickly went off the rails in first extremely funny and subversive ways (the chatbot fantasizing about persuading nuclear power employees to hand over access codes) and then deeply creepy ways (the chatbot declaring its love for Kevin and trying to convince him he isn’t in love with his wife). The whole thing is worth a gander. (Fixes are reportedly in the works of course).
Emily Leibert writes that Roose’s experience is something that should have been anticipated, as chatbots that synthesize the internet and absorb trollish inputs are inevitably going to reflect our violent culture back to us, just as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay in 2016 quickly became a white supremacist.
I’m not worried about AI becoming sentient and pulling a “Terminator” (correction: I have fewer than zero fears about this), but I’m much more concerned about what it could steer credulous humans to do. We already have an entire segment of the population brainwashed on propaganda and anti-vaccine hysteria, and we’re certainly not prepared for misinformation and even simply advertising becoming even more hyper-personalized than it already is. Already the underpaid contractors who enforce the guardrails are sounding the alarm.
After agreeing a tentative agreement, the HarperCollins Union announced that they have ratified it and will be back at work on February 21 ($ link).
Jevon Philips catches up with living legend LeVar Burton 40 years after the debut of Reading Rainbow, who is still fighting for literacy as a civil right.
Social media has lately been awash with people talking about “unnecessary” elements in movies and novels, particularly sex scenes, which prompted Lincoln Michel’s rejoinder: the “unnecessary” is what makes art art. Chuck Wendig then riffed off Lincoln’s post to talk about how new writers often fetishize ideas over execution, which is vastly more important, which also leaves him skeptical of AI-powered writing.
When you hear from people that you should write a book about something, that’s great! Now, as agent Kate McKean says, you probably shouldn’t rush to believe them unless you’re confident they know what they’re talking about.
And exciting news in my new hometown as Nikki High will soon open Octavia’s Bookshelf in Pasadena, a bookstore spotlighting books by people of color. Can’t wait to visit.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Encore in Death by J.D. Robb
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
- It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover
- Heart Bones by Colleen Hoover
- Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- Spare by Prince Harry
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
- I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
- Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson
- The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama
Young adult hardcover:
- These Infinite Threads by Tahereh Mafi
- Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
- The Stolen Heir by Holly Black
- Five Survive by Holly Jackson
- The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Middle grade hardcover:
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison
- Little Legends by Vashti Harrison
- The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
- Don’t dribble out morsels of information within a scene
- A textbook case of over-relying on dialogue (page critique)
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, Corina Knoll has a really moving feature on the Monterey Park dance community that was affected by the recent mass shooting. Please check it out.
Have a great weekend!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Photo: The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
JOHN T. SHEA says
I commend your wise recent suggestion that the best solution to such rogue AI chariots is to plug them out. Though I would like to hear one sing “Daisy”…