Last month’s Atlantic Magazine carried a cover story titled “The Robot Will See You Now” and pictured a mechanical arm holding a syringe. It would appear that the future of medicine will feature robots instead of men and women doctors. In fact, some surgical procedures are already being performed using computer-based technology that is more accurate than human hands would be.
Remember Watson, the IBM computer that beat Ken Jennings at playing Jeopardy? Well, Watson is being crammed with medical knowledge and is useful at diagnosing conditions which even a team of expert physicians might miss. From there to prescribing the perfect drug for certain problems isn’t such a huge leap and may be a step toward better health care.
So what has this to do with fiction? Well, another article I read somewhere predicted computers could write novels that some people would find as good, or better, than what is currently offered in the book market. No, they didn’t mean self-published books that some critics hate, even though a self-published book was on the New York Times best-seller list recently.
Although I’m a fiction writer, that prediction doesn’t especially worry me. I write novels that rely on my own unique sense of humor and peculiar take on events. I don’t think a computer can write my books. Yet.
What does bother me is someone like James Patterson, who churns out novels as fast as any computer by hiring others to write them for him. Apparently, he gives the “drones” the plots to work from and he sits back and rakes in the money from the publishers. To be fair, he often puts his collaborators’ names on the cover with his own, and says those people could quit but don’t.
Probably what bothers me most is that I ran across a really bad Patterson novel. I was visiting a friend in San Francisco a year ago and, while she had to talk to a repairman at some length about a household problem, I picked up a book to read while I waited. The first thing I noticed was that within the first three chapters, seven characters were introduced, each of whom had a name beginning with the letter “C”.
A chapter or so later, every new character had a name beginning with the letter “M”. I think there were six of those. Still I read on, thinking this was by Patterson and ought to be good, despite his carelessness about names. But then the next chapter was written in first person instead of third like the rest. For no reason that I could see. That’s when I stopped reading. I felt cheated and resented the waste of my time.
Authors have had collaborators before. In fact a friend and I wrote three books together some years ago, two of which are now published (SOUTHERN STAR) or soon to be (EYEWITNESS). I was told that James Mitchener hired people to do research of some of the places he put in his novels (Hawaii, Chesapeake, etc.) so he could concentrate on writing instead of looking up facts. I don’t fault him for that, especially since he started writing before Google and Wikipedia. Even though I had read many books about Titanic and my grandfather often spoke of it when I was a child, I relied on internet research while writing COLD APRIL to be certain I had the correct ship details.
But having someone else do the writing just so one can flood the bookstores with dozens of books every month? Call me a purist, but I think that’s cheating. I’m also sure Patterson doesn’t care; he just laughs all the way to the bank.
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A copy of THE ITALIAN JOB was won by Patricia in S.F., who commented on my blog two weeks ago. Paper or e-book Patricia? Contact me please.
And congratulations to Lisa Hobman whose debut novel BRIDGE OVER THE ATLANTIC, launches today. If you think your too-curvy body inhibits romance, you’ll want to check this one out.