9 Computer-Generated Novels You Should Read, or Attempt To, or At Least Look At In Wonderment

-by Harry Giles


November is, of course, National Novel Writing Month. It’s hard to be in any way involved in literature and miss out on all the people updating the world on their wordcounts, their character arcs, their late night coffee binges as they attempt to hammer out 50,000 words of prose in 30 days. But now NaNoWriMo has another competitor: National Novel Generation Month. Because why spend a month writing words when you could instead spend a month writing a computer programme that would write them for you?

NaNoGenMo happens where tech and literature overlap: the strange venn intersection that houses computer poetry, electronic literature, and twitterbots. Novel generation draws from artificial intelligence and the quest to create computers that talk or write like people, but it’s also part of the Oulipian tradition of writing from constraint: if you make such-and-such a ruleset, what kind of writing might happen? Computer generation renders Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes beautiful but obsolete, and to my mind poem.exe can hold a 1000 Watt LED candle to Bashō.

NaNoGenMo is not, however, truly about trying to replace the human author. Rather, its entries draw their strange beauty and humour from their failure to be human, from their almost-but-not-quite humanity and their utter inhumanity: most of them are transparently machine-made, but this lends their glitches, coincidences and almost-epiphanies even more fascinating. The writing they produce is closest to is the flattened affect and repetitions of alt-lit, with dashes of uncreative writing, flarf and other post-internet poetics. In other words: as humans increasingly write in dialogue with the internet and machine automations, machines are increasingly being written in dialogue with human literature.

With all that in mind, here are ten of my favourite results from NaNoGenMo. Each is gorgeous and weird in a different way, from extended jokes to eerie half-humanness. The whole of NaNoGenMo is freely available and open source, and I highly recommend wrapping your brain around all 91 entries: this is merely a teaser.

The Seeker
by Thricedotted / @thricedotted


00… GET ( GROUP ) => small much other
01… FIND — DO ( SOMETHING ) => interesting find
02… ALWAYS TRY ( SOMETHING ) => new different
03… ACCEPT ( IDEA ) => green yellow
04… MERGE ( BASIC_FOUNDATION ) => top basic
05… ADD ( EXTRA ) => little inside
06… DO ( MAINSTREAM_THING ) => mainstream possible

A computer tries to find out about humanity from WikiHow, and then dreams about what it learns.

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I Waded in Clear Water
by Allison Parrish / @aparrish

I saw a healthy belly. I was cursing myself. I saw chickens going to roost. I roosted. I sent for a clergyman to preach a funeral sermon. I preached a funeral sermon. I saw them out of season. I was having trouble in dressing. I thought I was having trouble in dressing. I saw ears. I tried to enchant others. I enchanted others. I saw a jailer. I saw serpents crawling in the grass before me. I was in a life-boat.

A story told by a dream dictionary, from the worst thing that can happen in a dream to the best.

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Moebius Octopus
by David Stark / @zarkonnen_com

Hail me Ishmael. Some lightyears ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no credit in my cred-pod, and nothing particular to interest me on orbit, I thought I would sail about a little and see the empty part of the galaxy. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing lovely about the mouth; whenever it is a low-pressure, drizzly November in my cortical stack; whenever I find myself compulsively pausing before deathpod warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every recycling I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the tube, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to void as soon as I can.

Moby Dick is thoroughly hacked to transform into a novel about sexy space amazons fighting octopodes.

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by Camden Segal / @camdensegal

Daintiness voluptuousness of hurling,
feature of the mirth as it seemed to plead,
while the smallest atom as the swirling,
contemplate the species of the quickest speed,
delineation of the prettiest foot d’or,
even you must make trial began to mirth,
i’ll blow on the other lair or the war,
in this effeminacy is out of his berth

Given a rhythm and rhyme scheme, the programme generates new poems by analysing word patterns in Project Gutenberg.

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700 Modernist Cuisine Recipes
by Phil Lees / @phil_lees

crumbled rice diamond


60 grams of rice
550 milligrams of duck
900 milligrams of creme pie
240 milligrams of peach
240 milligrams of grape soda
720 grams of cornmeal


Set aside the rice and duck until soggy. Blend the creme pie and peach for 50 minutes. Shallow fry the grape soda and cornmeal until shiny. Force the ingredients into a mould shaped like a diamond. Serve.

Read (html)

A diary of every minute of the day
by Luna Maurer, Jonathan Puckey & Roel Wouters

It’s 6:00AM and I’m wide awake. Good friday morning peeps. Its 6:01am and im sleepy… It’s 6:02am and I’m still up. I have no life. It’s 6:03am and I can’t sleep I think I might have insomnia and if I don’t than I messed up my sleep track. It’s 6.04 am and it’s hot already. It’s 6:05am and I’m still drunk sheesh I swear this life is like the sweetest thing I’ve ever known! It’s 6:06am and I just doing feel like going to this practice. Its 6:07am and we still smoking!!! It’s 6:08am and I hate it. It’s 6:09am and the moon right now is so beautiful.

A desperate talking clock written by the people of Twitter.

Read (.txt) / Learn More / View as Internet Clock

You Can’t Write If You Can’t Relate
by Ranjit Bhatnagar / moonmilk.com

I need a breakthrough or something. I’m not a competitive person, but give me 30 days to write 50k, and a list of opponents… Can I do it? Somehow I’m already 607 words away from hitting 15k. Have i finally managed to get out of my sl ump and go towards the action? But I’m going to, because I’m a fucking professional.

Creates a harrowing story from tweets mentioning National Novel Writing Month.

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by Nick Monfort / @nickmofo

Watt’s way of advancing due east was to turn his bust as far as possible towards the north and at the same time to fling his right leg as far as possible towards the south, and then to turn his bust as far as possible towards the south and at the same time to fling his left leg as far as possible towards the north, and then to turn his bust as far as possible towards the north…

Studies Samuel Beckett’s Watt and takes his human capacity for repetitive structures to algorithmic extremes.

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Somewhere, Something
by Ben Kybartas

Miles from the sparse towering modern malls, several kilometers down a sidewalk, just outside the shining and moldy warehouse. The sound of shattering glass resonates.

A man gazes hesitantly into a greasy locket.

A stray dog runs away cooly.

‘Do you think she is out there?’ the woman wonders.

The sound of a lonely car alarm is cut off violently.

The bruised woman and the bloodied man cross gazes again.

Generates tiny stories from sentence structure analysis.

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50,000 Meows
by Hugo / @hugovk

Me mew meeoooow m Meooow me meow meoow meooow me meow me meoooooow me, mew mew meoooow m meeeow me mew meoow (me mew) mew meow mew me me meeooow me meeeeeeooow meow meeoow meow meow me mew meooow mew meeoooow me meow. Me mew meeeeoow me me m meeeeeow meooow, mew meow meeoow me meow meow meow, mew meow meeoow mew meooow me meeeoooooooow meow mew m meoooooooow meow. Me mew meeeeoow me meeeeeeeeeeeow, meow meooow mew meeoow me meeeeeeeoooow meow mew m meeoow meeeeeeeoow me meoooow me meeeeeooooooow.

Translates books into cat. The above is, of course, the cat translation of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Learn More and Pick Your Cat Novel