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Make Your Own Markov Chain: As per Fafner's request, here's a Surrealist-style word game I made up, the textual equivalent of the Exquisite Corpse. It probably already exists but you get what you pay for.

This is a game for at least 2 players, though 3 is probably the realistic minimum. The rules for n players are as follows.

  1. Pick an ordering of the players.
  2. Start with an empty string. Going in turn, each player adds a word to the string, possibly including punctuation.
  3. Now continue looping around the players, adding one word each time, but now each player can only see the last n-1 words of the string.
  4. Stop after a while.

Now you've got a manually-created text with some Markov chain-like properties (because people have imperfect memory, and the text has many authors) and some human-written text properties. To bump up the Markov chain quality, reduce how many words of the string each player is allowed to see.

Science Fiction Magazine Reviews: F&SF 09/1999: Eh. Most of the pages are devoted to a blockbuster novella, "Ninety Percent of Everything", by John Kessel, Jonathan Lethem, and James Patrick Kelly. It got a Nebula nomination despite being the kind of story that when I submit it to writing group my colleagues say "This story has a lot going for it, but..."

Here's what this story has going for it: big-name writers, a cast of eccentric characters (ever since reading Software I've had a soft spot for recluses who make ice cream vans their primary mode of transportation), space aliens. I usually try to coast on the last two. But the main plot is too weak to support the eccentric characters, and it ends with a resolution that in my crankiness I am growing more and more impatient with, basically (spoilers) "Behold! All aspects of the story's mystery fit into a simple conceptual framework! Those aspects that baffled you, don't feel bad--they were intended to baffle all of mankind! Until the end of the story, which is now! Also, according to secondary sources, two of the main characters are in love!" Even the ending had some really good stuff in it, but it felt like a shaggy dog story. However the title of the piece did make me come up with the following joke:

Q: What's dark energy?
A: The ninety percent of everything that's crap.

And 90%oE is the best thing in this issue by far. The only other thing worth mentioning is Kathi Maio's review of The Matrix, which trashes the movie as it deserves to be trashed. (Best Dennis the Peasant-esque line: "Significant social change requires collective action, and not just some demigod dude who decides that he's going to apply his newfound magnificence to the problem at hand.")

For a more detailed and generally more positive review of this issue, see SFSite.

[Comments] (1) QOTD: Sumana: "You would think that handbasket would have gotten to hell by now."

[Comments] (1) "Dear friend. Question mark.": At last! A while back I discovered that the NYCB A/V Club's favorite Prohibition-era comedy, "What Price Pants?", was available on DVD as part of a Paramount shorts (ha) collection. My copy came in the mail today. We watched it and it's got an interminable Zoidbergian framing device but the framed dream sequence is all I'd hoped for, nine minutes of lunacy in which the government outlaws pants, leaving men in their underwear and scrambling towards gangster-controlled pantseasies. Shown: the inevitable raid.

Bonus: like the classic "Duck and Cover" video, "What Price Pants" was filmed in Astoria.

Bonus bonus: My "Dogme 1895" idea was semi-realized in 1995's "Lumiere and Company".


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