Oh No! It’s Sergio! (Fragments From Books That Don’t Exist #106)

OhNoItsSergio

In the year 1886, in Brussels, Peter The Laminate set down on paper what proved to be the first account of the War of the Broses. This document took the form of a recipe for a sandwich made of a then-unknown Amazonian fruit and the burnt offering of a sodium-free soy by-product. Included in the footnote were instructions on precautions to be taken during the mining of rare earth materials, and warnings about impending involuntary servitude in the form of what can only be translated as “gigs”. The Laminate (as he was known to his contemporaries) envisaged an age where a handful of extremely self-important men would ceaselessly generate random notions of well-being while casually tamping down a plague of reasonable expectations. The well-known Biblical phrase To them that hath shall be given was re-interpreted as a threat in the form of accumulated debt. Peter also raged against the inhumanity of bicycles and claimed that people were merely the mulish instruments of invisible creatures that numbered in the trillions inside the bellies of each and every human. The Laminate was known to have had an odor to him, and was almost completely ignored in his time.

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Metallic Bitch (Fragments From Books That Don’t Exist #102)

metallic bitch cover 1

“I don’t believe you”.

Inspector Graves leaned back on his metal folding chair. Across the bare table the suspect sat, calm as could be, not even brushing the energy bar crumbs from his admittedly feeble attempt at a mustache. At 23, Junior was not embarrassed about anything, not his facial hair, not the smiley face tattoo poorly sketched on the side of his neck, not even at the short and scrawny appendage that always stuck out at attention between his chunky thighs. Junior knew, deep down in his heart, that all of his physical shortcomings served him well as distractions from the mastermind lurking behind those pale, near-sighted eyes.

“Cameras don’t lie,” the inspector continued, pushing a piece of paper across the table. Junior barely glanced at the image clearly showing him pocketing the can of diet cola in the not-so-darkened corner of the gas station convenience store.

“Deep fake,” he scoffed. “That shit’ll rot your teeth.”

A wide smile spread across his face. Teeth don’t fail me now, he thought. They’d gotten him out of even tighter scrapes than this before.

Adhoc data analysis – book reviews and ratings from Goodreads

Kaggle.com offers a variety of public datasets, including one of Goodreads Book Reviews. I thought I’d take a quick and dirty look at this thing and see what I could see. I wrote a little program to gather the ratios of ratings to reviews. I’ve been curious about that, and overall the dataset seems to suggest that for every 33 ratings there is 1 written review. That was gleaned from an overall calculation, row by row.

Looking further into it I find that the dataset is not at all clean – the columns often don’t correspond so that a ratingsCount column might be a number or it might be ‘J.K. Rowling’. It needs a lot of work, which I’m a little too lazy to do this morning, so instead I went through again and ignored all the rows for which the rating was not in the 1-5 star range. This gave me some bad results as well.. The 4-star rating column totals seem worthless, but the others seem reasonably consistent and provided one possible insight:

ratingsCount: 1 592
ratingsCount: 2 2378
ratingsCount: 3 55836
ratingsCount: 4 52425090
ratingsCount: 5 11170

reviewsCount: 1 79
reviewsCount: 2 298
reviewsCount: 3 5540
reviewsCount: 4 1661702
reviewsCount: 5 1085

1 star ratio, ratings to reviews: 7
2 star ratio, ratings to reviews: 7
3 star ratio, ratings to reviews: 10
4 star ratio, ratings to reviews: 31
5 star ratio, ratings to reviews: 10

If this data is to be believed, it looks to me that the less someone likes a book, the more likely they are to say something about it (1 and 2 stars vs 3 and 5 stars). Negativity is more eager to express itself. I feel like this falls in line with the natural intuition, and crosses over to other areas in life, like social media, the news media in general, politics and so on.

 

dataset is here

python code:

from argparse import ArgumentParser
import csv
import pandas as pd

class GoodreadsAnalysis():
    def __init__(self):
        self.args = self.arguments()
        self.parse_csv()

    def arguments(self):
        """
        argument parser
        :return: parsed args
        """
        parser = ArgumentParser()
        parser.add_argument('--input_file', default="./goodreads_book_reviews.csv")
        return parser.parse_args()

    def parse_csv(self):
        columns = ['bookID','title','author','rating','ratingsCount','reviewsCount','reviewerName','reviewerRatings','review']
        df = pd.read_csv(self.args.input_file, names=columns, quoting=csv.QUOTE_NONE)
        print df.head()

        ratings_count = {}
        reviews_count = {}
        total_ratings = 0
        total_reviews = 0
        for index, row in df.iterrows():
            try:
                rating = int(row.rating)
                if rating > 0 and rating < 6:
                    if ratings_count.has_key(rating):
                        ratings_count[rating] += int(row.ratingsCount)
                    else:
                        ratings_count[rating] = int(row.ratingsCount)

                    if reviews_count.has_key(rating):
                        reviews_count[rating] += int(row.reviewsCount)
                    else:
                        reviews_count[rating] = int(row.reviewsCount)
            except:  # bad column
                continue

        for k, v in ratings_count.iteritems():
            print "ratingsCount: ", k, v
            total_ratings += v
        print
        for k, v in reviews_count.iteritems():
            print "reviewsCount: ", k, v
            total_reviews += v
        print "totals (ratings, reviews):", total_ratings, total_reviews  # 3465722733 104000732  # 33:1

        for i in range(1,6):
            ratio = ratings_count[i] / reviews_count[i]
            print "{} star ratio, ratings to reviews: ".format(i), ratio

if __name__ == '__main__':
    g = GoodreadsAnalysis()

Featured on Wattpad: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box

featured_on_wattpad

I’m happy to see that my most recent sci-fi story, “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box”, is now a “featured” selection on Wattpad. It’s a bit of what I like to call “magical futurism”, featuring a black-market “artificially intelligent person” (or A.I.P., or “ape” in the colloquial sense, as in ‘the planet of the’), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, the gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected novel.

As with all my books, this one is free on Smashwords and Feedbooks as well.

 

Recommended: The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer

What I love most about literature is the rare experience of encountering a worthy mind. It’s not just about the story or the plot or the arc or the characters or the formula or the climax or the talent or the craft, it’s about how this other sees the world and expresses what they see. I want to know how their mind works, the connections it makes, the impressions it conveys. I don’t want to merely read to find out what’s going to happen, or how it’s all going to end, or what it’s going to make me feel. I don’t want to be nothing more than a passive subject operated upon as if mechanically by some technician who knows precisely how to manipulate my emotions. I can always watch a movie for that! When I read I want to come in contact with a mind through which I can discover new perspectives. This book – The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer,  gave me such an experience.

I felt like I could live in this book, and it’s not something easily done. The structure of the story is simply two men walking together down a city street for less than an hour one morning, and the plot, if you can call it that, centers around their conversation about a birthday party that neither one attended. But I felt I was on that street with them, walking along beside them, listening not only to their words but to their internal digressions, their meandering thoughts, and feeling my way along with them through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The two men are not friends, just mutual acquaintances, who meet by accident and happen to be going the same way, but their worlds intersect and criss-cross on many levels. What matters in the book is, to put it in a word (or as the author says, “in two words, to be more precise”), “every things”.

There’s a lot I liked in the author’s style, the translation, the language, his “bag of tricks” so to speak, but ultimately I kept reading with excitement to see what he was going to say next, what he was going to make me see next, what new world I was going to be able to glimpse.

Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Recommended: The Conversations, by Cesar Aira

Cesar Aira has so much fun messing with his readers, but I fall for it every time. Here, in The Conversations, he starts us off with an erudite gentleman who enjoys ruminating over his recent chats with his various highbrow friends, so naturally we think we are in for something sophisticated and trenchant. He recalls one such conversation in which he pokes a little fun at a mistake in some crappy Hollywood film, where a peasant is caught with a Rolex on his wrist. How ridiculous, but these things happen. Our intellectual narrator is ready to move on to loftier topics, but his friend stops him and says, “what are you talking about? I saw that film and that was no mistake!” The next thing you know, Aira flings us all down one rabbit hole after another as our protagonist’s greatest fear may come true, that in fact his friends might turn out to be utter morons, in which case might not he be as well?

Someone less generous or more aggressive might have been pleased to discover that a friend of his was stupid. It would make him feel superior, safe in his narcissistic integrity, more intelligent than he thought: in a word, the winner. This was not the case for me. I felt depressed and distressed, like someone on the verge of losing something of great value.

As a famous American football coach (Jim Mora) once said, “you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will”, and that is never more true than when reading Cesar Aira, from one page to the next.