It’s a crime against art and a gross misuse of the power of this proposed technology. For the last ten years at least, we have been promised that computers and e-publishing will change the way we write (and read) books. Now somebody has come up with something that could actually transform the fundamental nature of fiction, and they want to waste it on DRM? Shame on them.
Think of it: an application with the power to replace text. Are you feeling put-out because there aren’t enough female heroines in science-fiction? No problem, turn to the settings page and enter your preference for the sex of the protagonist. The software changes all the pronouns. Add the same option for one or two of the supporting characters, and the reader could get quite playful.
No longer need the reader be confined to a particular genre just because it’s the one the author chose to write in. Huckleberry Finn as a suspense thriller? Pride and Prejudice as science-fiction? Just enter your preferred genre in the settings, and the software converts the relevant vocabulary. And you could tailor the story: need more aliens in your science-fiction? Enter it in the settings. Want those aliens to be friends or enemies? Settings can offer that option, too.
I could really have used this option when my grandmother lived with me and was always hungry for audiobooks set in Montana around 1930 when she was a girl. We could listen to science-fiction with all the planets switched to rustic towns in Montana. Spaceships could be trains, aircars would be converted to faithful horses that could run all day and come at a whistle, and all the aliens would be whores. For some reason, the stories Granny read always had a lot of whores and illegitimate children. The author hadn’t actually written anything about whores or illegitimate children. Somehow Grandma read them anyway. It’s no wonder she could never bear to read romance novels. She had all the whores and illegitimate children and illicit sex she could handle without it actually being in the book.
Which brings me to ratings. Some people like their reading to be rated G. No problem: the software replaces “damn” with “gee-willikers,” or one of my grandma’s favorite expressions, “sugar-tit.” That one might be a little racy for some people. Better save it for the PG version.
Horror or suspense could run the gamut from “fell asleep on page thirteen” through “couldn’t put it down” all the way up to “wet my pants.”
And sex. The author can write a different scene for each rating. Rated G: “And they held hands until they both had to go to their separate homes and go to sleep and have sweet dreams.” Rated PG: “And they held hands and kissed and some light petting, but she never took her bra off (bare bosoms are strictly PG-13), and they talked all night long.” An R rating can include actual sex in hazy, airbrushed terms with flattering lighting and a soft lens. For the rated-X version, I myself would probably have to let the publisher pay somebody to write something really raunchy and detailed.
Violence: The reader could choose: “Jack Stone spoke very firmly to Vlad Von Hess, remaining assertive but respectful of Vlad’s emotional needs and personal boundaries.” Or: “Jack Stone grasped Vlad Von Hess by the neck and ripped his face off with his bare hands. As Vlad’s heart’s blood geysered from his pulsing throat, Jack bathed in gore and thrust his fists to the sky, screaming his triumph into the raging wind.”
Endings: happy endings, tragic endings, catharsis, ambiguous modern endings in which nothing is resolved because life has no real order, meaning or closure. With the click of a button, your fluffy chick-lit romance becomes a literary commentary on American materialism.
Parental controls: program your child’s e-reader with the rating of your preference. Of course, it will take them about three minutes to hack your password and turn Anne of Green Gables or The Wind in the Willows into a gag-fest of sex and violence, but that’s your problem. You should have been a better parent.
And none of this need trouble the author. If s/he doesn’t care to write alternate scenes or endings, the publisher will have a bank of stock scenes to plug into the author’s text at the appropriate places. Those places could be marked by the author, by an editor, or it could even be automated. When the software detects a key word such as “stroke” or “thrust,” it inserts a random selection of variously-rated scenes of platonic friendship/love/sex/disgusting, pornographic filth. I admit this could lead to some confusion when the hero(ine) strokes his/her cat or the turbojets thrust the jet into the stratosphere, but it’s your own fault if you couldn’t take the time to mark the text yourself.
This technology has the potential to expand an author’s audience tenfold, and it’s being developed for DRM for Pete's sake. It’s time for writers to rise up against the tyranny of technology and tear down the edifices of the code-jockeys. This is our moment; this is our art; this is the dawn of a new era in fiction. Carpe Diem.