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´╗┐Title: What Do You Read?
Author: Ellanby, Boyd
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "What Do You Read?" ***

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                           WHAT DO YOU READ?

                           _By Boyd Ellanby_

                    _Illustrated by Malcolm Smith_

     [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Other Worlds
     March 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
     the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]


     Writers have long dreamed of a plot machine, but the machines in
     Script-Lab did much more than plot the story--they wrote it. Why
     bother with human writers when the machines did the job so much
     faster and better?


Herbert would have preferred the seclusion of a coptor-taxi, but he
knew he could not afford it. The Bureau paid its writers adequately,
but not enough to make them comfortable in taxis. In front of his
apartment house, he took the escalator to the Airway. It must have been
pleasant, he thought as he stepped onto the moving sidewalk, to be a
writer in the days when they were permitted to receive royalties and,
presumably, to afford taxi fare.

On the rare occasions when he was forced to travel in the city, he
usually tried to insulate himself from the Airway crowds by trying to
construct new plots for his fiction. In his younger days, of course, he
had occupied the time in reading the classics, but lately, so great was
the confusion of the city, he preferred to close his eyes, and try to
devise a reverse twist for one of his old stories.

Today, he found it harder than usual to concentrate. The Airway was
crowded, and he had never heard the people so noisy. Up ahead half a
block, there was a sharp scream. Herbert opened his eyes and peered
ahead to see what had happened. Someone had been pushed through the
railing of the Airway, and as his section rolled on and passed, he
could see lying on the pavement below the body of a young cripple, his
hands still holding a broken crutch.

Herbert shuddered. He felt sick, and closed his eyes again.

"Wonder how that happened?" said the man in front of him.

"He probably got in the way," said a girl, callously.

The man ahead made no comment, and Herbert dismissed his own
puzzlement. Could he make a plot out of this incident of the crippled
boy? he wondered.

He shifted to the slower track, descended the escalator, and stepped
onto the street across from the Bureau of Public Entertainment. He had
to wait a moment, for an ambulance was clanging down the street; then
he crossed to the stone-faced building.

As he rode up the elevator, he wondered again why John had ordered him
to come to lunch. He realized that he was no longer a young man, but he
certainly did not feel ready to be pensioned. And in the last year he
had actually written more fiction than in any other year of his life.
Very little of it had been used, for some reason, but story for story
he thought it matched any of his previous output.

Ludwig received him with little ceremony. "Sit down, Herbert. It was
good of you to come. Miss Dodson," he called through the intercom,
"this is strictly off the air. Nothing is to be recorded. Is that
clear?"

"Well, John," said Carre. "You're looking harassed, if I may say
so. Are they working you too hard? Or are you just faced with the
unpleasant job of firing an old friend? I realize, of course, that AFE
aren't using much of my stuff just now."

Ludwig smiled unhappily and shook his head. "I'm not planning to fire
you, Herbert. But you know, of course, that you're in the same boat
with the other Writers, and that boat is in choppy waters. Frankly,
I'm not very happy about the situation. The five-year experimental
period is coming to an end. This Bureau has the job of providing
entertainment, and that includes, among many other categories,
literature. Books, articles, and stories. And I'm faced with a
difficult decision: shall we employ Writers, or use Script-Lab? You are
only one of the many people we support, of course, and both you and
Script-Lab furnish material to Adult Fiction, Earth, who distribute it
as they see fit."

Herbert Carre nibbled at his graying moustache. "I know. And for the
last year, for some reason, AFE has not seen fit to use much of my
stuff. And yet it's no different. I write just the same sort of thing I
always did."

"Tastes change, Herbert. Script-Lab reports that the public seem to
prefer the machine-made stories. I have a week to make a definite
decision, and I'm particularly anxious to finish the job because I've
been asked to transfer, at the earliest possible moment, to the Bureau
of Public Safety. The Committee are inclined, on the whole, to favor
the enlarging of Script-Lab, and transferring all the Writers to some
other department."

"Great Gamma! You mean _all_ literature will be machine-made from now
on?"

"Don't get excited, Herb! That's what I've got to decide. But if they
can really write it just as well, why not? You remember Hartridge,
don't you? Class behind me at college, majored in electronics? He's in
charge of the machine experiment and he's about convinced us that his
machines can turn out manuscripts at lower cost, more rapidly and of
better quality than you Writers can. And he says the public like his
product better. Have you seen any of it?"

"No," said Carre, "I don't know that I have. You know I never read
anything but the classics, for pleasure; nothing later than Thackeray,
or, at the latest, James Joyce. What principle do they work on?"

"I'm not an electronics man. Hartridge tells me they are specially
sensitive blocks of tubes, and that memory, including all the basic
plots of fiction, and all the basic varieties of dialog have been built
into them."

Carre shuddered. "I will never believe, in the face of any evidence,
that machines can take the place of human writers. What machine could
have written 'Alice'?"

"Calm down, Herbert. I want your help. I haven't followed developments
since the days of the early electronic computers, and I haven't time
for studying them now. And, unfortunately, I never read modern fiction
any more--no time for anything but official reports. Now I've always
respected your judgment. I want your opinion of the adequacy of the
material put out by Script-Lab."

"Have you forgotten," said Carre, "that I am a Writer? Aren't you
afraid of a biased report?"

"Not from you. I need a competent judge. And if you are forced to bring
in a favorable report, you know I'd find you a place in some other
field. I might even get you a pension."

"I hope not. Not yet."

"Go over and see Hartridge, look over his machines, and bring me a
critical estimate of the quality of their work--not just literary
quality, of course; we're interested also in entertainment value. Don't
be prejudiced. I imagine you'd be the last to deny that writing can be
damned hard work."

"You're right," said Carre. "I would be the last person to deny it.
Somehow, I've always liked the work, but if the machines can really
take our place, I will try to bow out gracefully."

       *       *       *       *       *

Once again Carre took the escalator to the Airway and moved across the
city. He tried to think of fiction plots, but he could not control his
mind. He was worried. The people standing near him were quarreling,
their shrill voices hurt his ears, and the crowd was so dense that he
could not move away.

Age, he feared, was making him irritable. As he approached his station,
he pushed towards the escalator. He brushed against a woman who was
reading a plastibacked book. She looked up, frowned, and then stamped
viciously on his extended foot. Half-stunned with pain and amazement,
Herbert managed to get to the escalator, went down, and limped slowly
through the doorway of Computer House. What had possessed the woman? he
wondered. He'd barely brushed her sleeve, in passing.

He stood before the door labelled "Manuscript Laboratory: Dr. Philip
Hartridge," and pushed the button. The door opened, but two husky
guards with pistols in hand blocked his entrance.

"Your name, please, and your business?"

Herbert fought a tendency to stammer. His foot still hurt him, he had
developed a headache, and he felt bewildered.

"I just want--My name is Herbert Carre and I want to see Dr. Hartridge.
Why, we've known each other for years!"

"Identification, please?"

They examined his identity card and his Bureau papers, and nodded. Then
one returned his pistol to its holster and approached him.

"Just as a formality, if you please. Dr. Hartridge apologizes for
this." He ran his hands over Herbert's shabby blouse and trousers, then
stepped back.

"That's all, Mr. Carre," he said. "You can go in." They preceded him
into the reception room, advanced to the rear wall and pushed a series
of buttons in a complex pattern. A double door, made of metal instead
of the innocent oak it had seemed to be, slowly swung open.

Philip Hartridge rose from his desk and extended his hand.

"Awfully good to see you, Carre," he said. "It must have been nearly
ten years. Sorry you've never come over to see us sooner. We're very
proud of Script-Lab. How are things?"

"Not bad," said Herbert. "I'm still feeling overwhelmed by the
elaborate protective system you have here. What explains the
body-guards? I didn't suppose this laboratory was classified."

Hartridge leaned back in his chair. "It's not classified. Those men are
here to protect me from possible violence."

"Violence? Great Gamma, do you mean personal threats?"

"Yes. Only last week, my 'coptor exploded a few minutes after I started
the motor. By a lucky chance, I had gone back to the house to get my
brief-case. But someone had certainly tried to kill me."

"Why on earth, Hartridge, should some one--"

"It might be one of several people," he said. "But I think it's
my brother Ben. He would, of course, like to have my share of the
money our father left us. But I'll take care he doesn't get it." He
grinned, and patted his hip. "It's rather more likely to be the other
way around. But we won't waste time in trivialities, Carre. Ludwig
called me. I know you want to see our set-up here. Come in and see the
machines."

They walked through another set of double doors and into the Laboratory.

The noise was deafening. Twenty enormous machines sat in the room. Each
was contained in a dull plastic case, and the control panels were a
maze of dials, buttons, and red and green indicator lights. An electric
typewriter was connected to and operated by each machine, and through
each typewriter ran an endless roll of paper, which emerged to be cut
off into eleven-inch lengths by automatic knives.

"How do you stand the noise?" asked Carre. "Why don't you use Silent
Typers?"

"Oh, the machines don't mind the noise. Silent Typers would be an
unnecessary expense, and as a matter of fact, I've come to like the
sound. It's soothing, after a time."

Carre strolled slowly, rather mournfully, from one monster to another,
glancing at the emerging manuscripts.

"The rate of output," said Hartridge, "is not less than a hundred words
a minute, and they never have to stop to look up their facts, or to
struggle with a balky plot. Can you do as well?"

"I wish I could," said Carre. "I know so little about electronics. Do
the machines use much current?"

"No, that's another of their virtues, they're very economical. The
tubes are so efficient that all twenty machines are run from this one
source, right here--Don't touch it! It's not ordinary house current,
you know. We start with eight thousand volts,--it saves on metal and
transformers."

Herbert found it hard to think against the clatter of the typewriters.
"I'm ashamed to admit," he said, "that I feel a kind of envy, they
seem to compose with such ease."

Hartridge laughed. "No trouble at all! I tell you, my pretty
typewriters are going to put you out of business. You can see for
yourself, Carre, that there's no need for you human writers. We are
doing a perfect job here, and we could supply all the material--novels,
stories, fact articles, biographies--that the country could read. AFE
has been using more and more of our scripts, as you probably know."

"I know."

"I can't say exactly why it is, but we do seem to be able to hit the
public taste better than you Writers." He reached over and patted one
of the plastic cases, as though it had been an affectionate dog.

"Do your machines do nothing but write new material?" asked Carre, as
he strolled on.

"That depends on the demand. Sometimes we have a call for some
out-of-print item, or some work which is so hard to get hold of that
we simply have the machines re-do it. After Number Twelve, here,
produced the entire English translation of 'War and Peace' without
a single semantic error, we were not afraid to trust them with
anything. As a matter of fact, we've got Number Eight re-writing some
nineteenth-century items that have not been available for years--things
that were destroyed or banned during the Atomic Wars, but which the
present government finds acceptable. Would you like to see?"

Carre stood in front of Number Eight in fascination as the metal arms
hammered out the words and lines. After a moment, he frowned. "I seem
to remember this! I must have read it in my early boyhood. It seems so
long ago. Joan of Arc! But I don't remember its happening just this
way."

"Just goes to show you can't trust your memory, Carre. You know the
machines are perfectly logical, and they can't make a mistake."

"No, of course not. Odd, though." He brushed his hand over a forehead
grown wet.

The knife flashed down, cut the paper, and the page fell into its
basket. Hartridge picked it up.

"Would you like this sheet, as a memento? Number Eight can easily re-do
it."

"Thank you."

"And is there anything else I can show you? I don't mind admitting I'm
very proud of my machines."

"Well," said Carre, "perhaps you might let me have some of your current
manuscripts, just for tonight? I can make a comparative study, for
Ludwig, and return them sometime tomorrow."

"Nothing easier." He assembled a bundle of stapled sheets and put them
in a box, and then rang for the guards, to show him out.

"Take care of yourself, Carre. See you tomorrow."

       *       *       *       *       *

Herbert sat, that evening, in his book-lined room, reading manuscripts.
He looked more and more puzzled, and ill at ease. He got up, after a
time, to pace the room, and on a sudden impulse he left the apartment
and hurried up the street.

It had grown dark outside, and he hurried. He could not stand the
thought of the Airway, so he walked. He had covered nearly half a mile
when, at the corner ahead, two Street-taxis approached each other at
right angles. The drivers glared at each other. Neither slowed to
let the other pass; they crashed, and began to burn. Carre hurried
on, trying not to hear the screams of the people or the siren of the
approaching ambulance. No wonder, he thought, that they need Ludwig in
the Bureau of Public Safety; people were behaving so irrationally!

He climbed the steps of the City Library, and advanced to the desk.

"I should like to see files of the magazines published by Adult
Fiction, Earth, if you please."

"But which magazine, sir? They publish hundreds."

"Well, as a start, let me see those which publish light fiction."

For two hours he sat in the Scholar's Room, skimming the pages of the
magazines--_Sagebrush Westerns_, _Romance and Marriage_, _Pinkerton's
Own_, _Harper's_, and a dozen others. He read with concentration,
and made few notes. On his way home he stopped at a news-machine and
selected an armful of the current issues to take home with him. He read
in his room until nearly dawn, and when he did lie down he could not
sleep, or rest.

"I don't believe it," he whispered to himself. "It can't be true." And,
half an hour later, "How did it happen?"

       *       *       *       *       *

At nine next morning he was sitting in the reception room of the Bureau
of Public Entertainment, with brief-case on his knees, waiting for
Ludwig. It was nearly noon before Ludwig himself arrived, and summoned
his visitor.

He sat at his desk, his white hair rumpled, and nervously fingered his
watch chain as Carre took the chair opposite.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Herbert. The Commissioners over in Safety
have a bad situation to handle, and I've been trying to advise them.
I'll be glad when this writing business is straightened out, and I can
give full attention to Safety. What did you think of Script-Lab?"

"Well, it's very efficient."

"I knew that," said Ludwig. "Machines are built to be efficient. But
what do you think of their output? How does it compare with the work of
the Writers?"

Carre cleared his throat. "John, don't you read the magazines any more?"

"No. No time. Do you?"

"I haven't, until yesterday. I read them, all night. I hardly know how
to express myself. John, something is wrong with the machines."

"Nonsense! There can't be anything wrong with them. They're fed the
plots, fed the variations, and then with perfect logic they create
their stories. You're not an electronics expert, you know."

Carre stared at the floor. Ludwig sighed.

"I'm sorry, Herbert. I'm just too tired to be decently courteous. But
what I wanted from you, after all, was a literary evaluation and not a
scientific one."

"I express myself so badly. There's something wrong, something I can't
exactly define, with what they write."

Ludwig looked exasperated. "But _what_, man? Be concrete."

"I'll try. Here's a short story that was made yesterday. Glance over
it, please, and tell me how it strikes you."

Ludwig read through the manuscript with his accustomed rapidity. "I
don't see anything particularly wrong about it," he said. "Murder
mysteries have never been to my taste, and I don't know that I exactly
approve of the hero's killing his benefactress with an undetectable
poison, and then inheriting her fortune and marrying her niece.
Undetectable poisons are all nonsense, anyway."

"The story doesn't seem to you--unhealthy?"

"I don't know what you're getting at! It's on the grim side, I suppose,
but isn't most modern fiction a little grim? How about your own stuff?"

"I think there's a difference. I know I've written a few mysteries,
and even some tragic stories, but I don't believe I've ever written
anything exactly like this. And this is typical. They're doing
reprints, too, of books that were destroyed or lost during the Atomic
Wars. Do you remember Joan of Arc? Mark Twain's version? Here is a page
from Script-Lab's manuscript."

Ludwig took the sheet and read aloud: "By-and-by a frantic man in
priest's garb came wailing and lamenting and tore through the crowd and
the barrier of soldiers and flung himself on his knees by Joan's cart
and put up his hands in supplication, crying out--

'"O, forgive, forgive!"

'It was Loyseleur!

'And Joan's heart knew nothing of forgiveness, nothing of compassion,
nothing of pity for all that suffer and have been offensive--'"

Ludwig looked up with a frown. "That's odd. It's been so long since I
saw that book--I was only a boy--but that isn't just the way I remember
it."

"That's what Script-Lab is writing."

"But the machines, don't--"

"I know. They don't make mistakes."

The buzz of the visi-sonor interrupted them, and the Commissioner of
Public Safety spoke from the screen.

"For heaven's sake, Ludwig, shelve the book-business and get over
here. We've had a rash of robberies with violence, a dozen bad street
accidents, and two suspicious deaths of diabetics in coma. We need
help."

Ludwig was already reaching for his brief case. "Right away," he said,
and flicked the switch.

"John!" Carre begged, "This book matter is serious. You can't just drop
it! Come with me to Hartridge's lab and see for yourself!"

"I can't. No time. You heard the Commissioner."

"Tomorrow morning?"

"Can't make it. Have to go to a funeral. A niece of mine who died
suddenly of cancer. Poor girl. We thought she was doing so well, too,
with the hormone injections. Not that her husband will break his heart,
from what I know of the scoundrel."

Carre followed him towards the door. "Then make it tomorrow afternoon!
It's vital!"

Ludwig pulled out his watch, and thought for a second. "All right. Meet
you there tomorrow at three." The door slammed behind him.

       *       *       *       *       *

They followed the guards through the chrome steel doors into the room
with the machines. All twenty typewriters were hammering out their
hundred words a minute.

"It is an honor to have a visit from you, Commissioner Ludwig," said
Hartridge. "We're very proud of Script-Lab. You'll agree, I know, that
the experiment has been eminently successful. Tough on you, of course,
Carre. But you Writers can always land on your feet."

"The decision has not yet been made," said Ludwig. "Now to business."
He pulled a chair up to the desk, opened his brief case, and took out
some papers.

"Before I examine the machines, I'd like to check with you the facts
and figures that Carre has compiled for me. In 1971, the first year of
the experiment, only ten per cent of Script-Lab's output of stories,
books, and articles was accepted by Adult Fiction, Earth. Right?"

"Right," said Hartridge. "But that was our worst year. Since then--"

Ludwig held up his hand. "In the second year, you supplied thirty-five
per cent of the needs of AFE. Check?"

"Check."

"In the two years following you supplied seventy-five per cent, and
in 1976, this year you are supplying about ninety per cent of all
published matter, with the Writers supplying only ten per cent.
Correct?"

"Correct. A wonderful record, Commissioner."

Ludwig turned to another sheet of data. "As I understand it, you feed
into the machine's memories, basic plots, factual data, conversational
variants, and they do the rest?"

"That's right. We give them the material, and they create with perfect
rationality. I myself read nearly everything they make, and even I am
amazed at their craftsmanship. And they are so efficient, and write so
swiftly!"

"Speed is no doubt a desirable feature," said Ludwig.

"But not the only one!" said Carre.

Hartridge smiled. "Professional jealously is warping your judgment, old
man. It may be hard to take, but you Writers have nothing to give the
world, anymore, that machines can't."

Ludwig turned his back and surveyed the room. "I would like to see,
now, some of your productions."

Hartridge beamed. "As a matter of fact, I have something that ought to
interest you, particularly. Just follow me, gentlemen. Here, by the
way, is our power source. Note how simple and efficient the circuit
design is. Ah, here we are. Knowing that you were making us a visit
today, I gave to Number Seven, here, the necessary data for creating
your own monologue on 'Our Duties to the Aged.' That was your doctoral
thesis, I believe?"

"But that's out of print! I haven't seen a copy myself in years!"

"To Script-Lab, that is unimportant. Feed it the data, the basic
premises, and it will do the rest. Would you like to see?"

The three men crowded around Number Seven, and watched the emergence of
paper from the typewriter as the keys tapped the words into lines, and
the carriage shifted. Ludwig, at first, showed only the pleasure which
any writer feels on re-reading a good piece of work. Gradually, his
face changed. He looked puzzled, uncertain, and then his skin reddened
with anger.

[Illustration: "_He looked puzzled, uncertain, and then his skin
reddened with anger._"]

The automatic knife chopped down and severed the completed page. Ludwig
scooped it up from the basket and read the page a second time. He
raised his eyes to meet the tense gaze of Carre.

"Is this what you were trying to tell me, Herbert?"

"That sort of thing. Yes."

"Is something wrong, Commissioner?" said Hartridge. "I thought you'd be
pleased."

"Pleased? But this is something I never wrote!"

"But you _must_ have written it," said Hartridge. "Or are you just
trying to sabotage my project with a deliberate misstatement?"

"Read it!" said Ludwig. "Read that paragraph out loud."

"'Our duties to the aged,'" read Hartridge, "'are closely bound to our
duties to ourselves. When the old become infirm, they should be quietly
helped out of a contented existence. After all, the only measure of
the value of aged men and women should be their present usefulness to
society.'

He looked up from the page. "I don't see why you're so unwilling to
admit your authorship, Commissioner. There's nothing wrong with this."

"Only," Ludwig said softly, "I didn't write it. What the monologue
actually said was something like this: 'Our duties to the aged are
closely bound to our duties to ourselves. When the old become infirm,
they should be quietly helped to a contented existence. After all, the
only measure of the value of aged men and women should be their past
usefulness to our society.'

"You've made your point, Carre," he went on. "If this sort of perverted
advice has been fed to our people the last few years, it's no wonder
we're having a wave of crimes. Be selfish! It pays. An eye for an eye!
Poison the old man! Nobody will ever know and you'll get his money!"

Hartridge was still studying the typescript, and he spoke with
defiance. "Number Seven's excerpt from your monologue seems perfectly
sensible to me," he said. "For some reason of your own you must be
lying about it. Why, the version you say you remember is utterly
illogical!"

"Of course it's illogical!" said Carre. "Don't you see--"

"Of course it's illogical!" shouted Ludwig. "It was illogical for Joan
to forgive her tormentor. It's illogical to take care of invalids. It's
illogical to forget an injury. But it's human! How on earth is society
to exist if it feels only the rational emotions? You, yourself,
Hartridge, have been corrupted by reading the work of Script-Lab, and
you no longer have any sense of human charity. These monsters have
been undermining our whole life, because the only motivation they were
provided was the most dangerous and ugly thing possible in the world of
human beings--pure logic!"

As he shouted, he fumbled at his watch, unhooked the long gold chain,
and with a sudden lunge, flung it across the bus bars which supplied
the current to the machines.

There was a blinding flash, a hiss, and the eternal clacking of the
typewriters was replaced by silence.





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