Issue 300

By Kevin J. Phyland

The software came in shrinkwrapped plastic. Seamless, flawless and a complete bastard to open with just fingernails.

"GHOSTWRITER 3.0 HSM — The Ultimate Writing Assistant. Forget ChatGPT! Teflon-coated prose that promises to sell your ideas — with that added star quality!" Followed by five gold stars.

It would want to be. Cost me the better part of a thousand dollars.

God alone knew what the HSM stood for. It was nowhere on either the packaging or the microdisk.

But marketing has always been about form over substance. For all I knew it could have meant Heat Seeking Missile.

I loaded it on my new Vcreate tablet and scrolled through the ubiquitous legal caveats ("No guarantee is given that your final product will be saleable") and forward prompts.

Menus appeared.

"Choose from any number of genres and select..."

I ticked all the boxes. Fantasy, Western, Adventure, Spy, Romance, Comedy, Science Fiction, Adult, Historical, Horror, Documentary, Gothic. The list was quite extensive.

"Open your GlobalNet connection if you wish to proceed..."

The flashing LED confirmed my connection.

"Which media do you wish to integrate? (Written, Audio, Visual, VR) - click one or more on the list.."

I wasn't being fussy. I selected all of them.

The tablet warmed slightly. Two hundred petabytes of quantum memory solving innumerable plotlines and resolutions.

The screen darkened.

"Do you wish to keep attribution? (Original content and context) [YES] [NO]"

I had no idea what that meant so just hit [YES].

"Which language do you prefer?" Then a LONG list of languages, including !Kung bushman...I clicked on English.

"Enter your first line..."

Even I knew that the software created readable stories. Plenty of nufiction magazines were buying them. The trick was all in the originality of the first line. The software worked on Butterfly Effect Chaos Engines. No two stories were ever the same and when it could draw on anything ever saved in the whole history of the planet...that made for quite a lot of permutations.

I looked at the screen and took a large swig of red wine. 

Software this expensive should be able to do anything. So I just shut my eyes and typed randomly.

"sdfdkhter dskdaydayda,"

The tablet shuddered slightly and the heat sink started to throw excess thermal energy into the quantum bucket that tipped into 5-space.

A soft pinging sound and the story started to appear.

"sdfdkhter dskdaydayda," said the alien, "but you can call me Ishmael." The deck of the alien ship transmogrified into a vast sea of sand. Being taken by force was every girl's secret dream but now it was a reality. The ship was sparsely furnished. Some pop art deco prints which looked like Warhols and a chaise longue that reminded her of the old homestead in Kansas. Most were available from antique Sears' catalogues but some were only available by subscribing to the {online link:}.

In many ways the ship was a metaphor for many of the things that she had or hadn't done in her life. Marriage, having children, even hundreds of thousands of them. So many of them. Bursting their feral way out of her ripe young body. Crawling slowly across the floor, seeking their Satanic master. To do his odious bidding.

I hit the STOP button. The drivel went on for another few pages but eventually stopped.

This was not what I wanted and was most definitely NOT saleable.

I drank the remaining red wine and steepled my fingers in front of the tablet.

First lines. First lines. That was the key.

"Reset?" Cursors hadn't changed much over forty years. They still blinked at you like you were an idiot that couldn't make up your mind. wine.

I reset and typed a new first line.

"Red red wine"

All of a sudden music blasted out of the tablet.

"Red red wine, nothing quite so fine, dine alone, hanging on the phone ...calling Elvis..." "Dance with the devil, everybody revel, dress all dishevel, at Alice's Restaurant..."

I hit the STOP button again. For god's sake there was an OUTPUT menu!

And while the music sounded familiar it was nothing that I could definitely put my finger on. A melange of half-remembered melodies scrambled in odd ways.


I selected [WRITTEN].

I shuddered to think what [VR] output would have done.

Good writing like all good art requires pain. The Universal angst of the tortured life.

Unfortunately my life hadn't been so unhappy. The curse of the middle class. Troubles in my youth had been minor and only loomed large in memory.

There was the time I stole a phone and was caught by being the ultimate master criminal. I used it. With chipID still intact. Stupidity, cupidity and a steadfast refusal to acknowledge incompetence. Every criminal's downfall.

Still. First lines can always be the start of great art.

I poured another glass of red wine. Why not steal from the greats?

I reset the program again. Nothing quite like Kafka.

"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed."

The tablet whirred and hissed. Unsettling in itself.

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a giraffe. His neck hurt abominably from the dank bed he almost always inhabited in his Paris atelier. Paris had seemed like a cosmic wonderland when he first arrived during the Napoleonic Wars. Art, music, theatre. All the wondrous adventure that a young Friesian could ever hope to experience. Yet his milk had gone sour. No blade of grass could taste of hope any more. His glass teats ached from the lack of attention.

Morbid curiosity had taken him across the Channel to London where he found work as a copyboy for a monstrous oaf named Shrek.

Damn. The [STOP] button was getting a serious workout. This was just rubbish! Anachronisms abounded. Not to mention geographic inaccuracies. There had to be another menu somewhere.

After a few minutes I found it.

"CONSISTENCY ---> [NONE] or [TEMPORAL] [SPATIAL] [GENDER] select one or more"

Man. This program was tricky to work. I may as well have written the damn story all by myself.

Before I proceeded again I searched out all the menus. There was a menu for [LENGTH], and another for [STYLE], and another that just said [HINTS]. I decided to try [SHORT] and [IRONY]. I checked off [TEMPORAL] and [SPATIAL]. Gender I could care less about.


"Enter your first line..."

No more hubris. No more plagiarism. Just a solid original first line. 

"I was born in the Year of the Ox."

I was born in the Year of the Ox. Which is ironic since I married a complete cow. Her first task upon the completion of our desultory marriage vows was to make sure I was stabled and emasculated. In many ways my metamorphosis from man to ox was inevitable. I always tried to bull my way through things if I couldn't think of a reasonable excuse. But the one ring was firmly both on my finger and through my nose now, my preciousss nose. Her only saving grace was that finally she made the physical change to a bovine. I milk her occasionally but it is without any great enthusiasm or satisfaction.

This time I just turned the power off.

The wine was almost gone. Along with a hundred thousand dollars.

I strode around my attic studio fuming about the vagaries of creativity. How hard could it be to write a saleable story?

I contemplated my wasted day. I'd exhausted all the tricks I could think of. The damn program wouldn't give me what I wanted. 

But wait...what about the HINTS menu?

I restarted the tablet and reloaded the program. 

"HINTS - [1] [2] [3] [4] - select one"

I clicked on [1].

"Sometimes it pays not to be too creative with your first line. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day."

Hardly news. Some of the biggest selling fiction of all time started out poorly.

[2] "Last lines are often more important than first lines. Option-7 will create a story using a last line that you input."

That sounded interesting.

[3] "Limiting genre selections will make for a more coherent story and plot."

Now they tell me.

[4] "Writing is a painful endeavour. If you wish your first line to be ignored when you start the story, use Option-8. This will preserve your anonymity."

This seemed eminently sensible. After all I'd written almost 50 words by myself! No artist should be struggling so hard...let alone a writer.

I limited all my options, chose Science Fiction, chose Short, chose Written, stopped Attribution. NO consistency. Style: IRONY.

I clicked on Option-8.

"Enter your first line..."

"For god's sake I just wanted to write a short science fiction story about future technology. How hard could that be?"

The tablet shuddered. The screen blanked. It played a medley of songs. Then the screen lit up.

"The software came in shrinkwrapped plastic. Seamless, flawless and a complete bastard to open with just fingernails.

"GHOSTWRITER 3.0 HSM — The Ultimate Writing Assistant. Teflon-coated prose that promises to sell your ideas — with that added star quality!" Followed by five gold stars..."

"And if they don't buy it...well...tomorrow is another day."

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the archive.


Issue Contributors

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Meet the Narrators

  • Timothy Gwyn

    timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

    In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook

  • Laurie Bell

    lauriebell 2 200

    Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of "The Stones of Power Series" via Wyvern's Peak Publishing: "The Butterfly Stone", "The Tiger's Eye" and "The Crow's Heart" (YA/Fantasy).

    She is also the author of "White Fire" (Sci-Fi) and "The Good, the Bad and the Undecided" (a

  • Sarah Jane Justice

    Sarah Jane Justice 200Sarah Jane Justice is an Adelaide-based fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken word artist.

    Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry

  • Michelle Walker

    michelle walker32My time at Nambucca Valley Community Radio began back in 2016 after moving into the area from Sydney.

    As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I recognised it was definitely God who opened up the pathways for my husband and I to settle in the Valley.


  • Marg Essex

    marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

    She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.


  • Tim Borella

    tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

    He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

    Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far

  • Juliette Cavendish

    juliette cavendish 200Juliette Cavendish was born in Liverpool UK and is of Welsh and Norwegian heritage. Juliette has an interest in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Science and writes in both Science Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genres. Juliette was fascinated with space as a

  • Alistair Lloyd

    alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

    You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <...

  • Barry Yedvobnick

    barry yedvobnick 200Barry Yedvobnick is a recently retired Biology Professor. He performed molecular biology and genetic research, and taught, at Emory University in Atlanta for 34 years. He is new to fiction writing, and enjoys taking real science a step or two beyond its known boundaries in his

  • Emma Gill

    Emma Louise GillEmma Louise Gill (she/her) is a British-Australian spec fic writer and consumer of vast amounts of coffee. Brought up on a diet of English lit, she rebelled and now spends her time writing explosive space opera and other fantastical things in

  • Sarah Pratt

    sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

    She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

    Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting

  • Mark English

    mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

    All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his

  • Geraldine Borella

    geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her work has been published by Deadset Press, IFWG Publishing, Wombat Books/Rhiza Edge, AHWA/Midnight Echo, Antipodean SF, Shacklebound Books, Black Ink Fiction, Paramour Ink Fiction, House of Loki and Raven & Drake

  • Ed Errington

    ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

    His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

    He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of