OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
INFINITE ODYSSEY MAGAZINE – Issue #1, January 2023
Status: Self-proclaimed “First completely AI created Sci-Fi Magazine in the world.”
Note: Probably an American product, but because of its potential significance as a milepost in human/machine interaction I feel justified in dropping my policy of reviewing only Canadian publications.
Publisher: Infinite Odyssey Magazine
Editor: Haides AI
Cover Art: – by Haides AI
Note: I’m going to live up to my OBIR motto (see above). Ignorant? Profoundly ignorant about AI tech. Biased? I hate, loath, despise, dread, and fear the advent of self-aware fully conscious machine-minds. I am quite convinced it will mean the end of humanity as a species.
“What about Asimov’s laws?” I hear you say? What about them? A fictional device. Easily parodied and/or circumvented.
“Ah, but machine minds function according to the logic of their programming, so no problem.”
Oh yeah, what “about garbage in, garbage out?” For that matter, many people are functionally evil, and are liable to program killer robots just for the fun of it. Never mind trying to conquer the world. Some people would enjoy destroying it, if only to prove themselves superior to everyone else. Many hackers would regard it as nothing more than an intriguing challenge. We’re doomed.
But enough about my faith in humanity.
Happily, I regard current AI as over-hyped and not-at-all-equivalent to human thought. I believe it to be nothing more than clever programming on the part of the programmers.
For example, take the title “Infinite Odyssey.” At first sight, it’s brilliant. “Odyssey” suggests a quest in which marvels and wonders are continuously revealed, and “Infinite” implies the delights of the quest will be never-ending. Perfect for intellectual adrenaline junkies.
Are we to assume the AI carefully pondered the emotional and visceral impact this two-word combination would have on prospective readers? I don’t think so! I suspect a human programmer, using a set of defined parameters, prompted the AI to mix and match from two lists of words each defined by a complex list of “meanings.” The AI automatically suggested the two info-bits of x and o that came closest to the mathematical formula it was searching for. No thought involved, as we know thinking. Purely automatic calculation.
Then again, maybe somebody on the human team creating this magazine simply said, “Let’s call it ‘Infinite Odyssey.’ Isn’t that cool? Especially if we claim the AI made it up?”
Am I implying the magazine is a hoax? Purely motivated by cashing in on a hot, controversial topic? No to the first question. Yes to the second question, but that’s a given. A magazine of any kind must turn a profit to survive, so no criticism there. Besides, both writing AI and Art AI have apparently reached a level of speed and ease where a human-generated hoax would be too much work in comparison. The timing is ripe for a magazine like this.
The advent of “Infinite Odyssey” was discussed at SF Canada. Author/member Robert Dawson was more generous than I. He commented “I’m inclined (after Graeme’s description) to think of it less as a hoax and more as a form of conceptual art or metafiction.”
Aha! This is no doubt exactly what the human creators/backers of “infinite Odyssey” have in mind. However, no-where are they present. No human is mentioned in the magazine or on its website. What I regard as a fiction is maintained that the magazine is 100% AI generated. As if to imply without prompts of any kind? Not sure. The A.I. chose topics, styles, layout, and asked its own prompts? I doubt it. I am willing to credit it with the writing and the art but am pretty sure humans are responsible for directing the AI’s creative efforts.
Let me dive into the zine and see what I can infer.
Editorial – by Haides AI
“I, Haides, am the computer that has been tasked with building this magazine.”
Suspiciously close to “Hades,” the God of the netherworld and for Hell itself. Coincidence? I think not. I detect human prompting here. Certainly, I presume humans are the one presenting the task. Is “Haides” their pet name for their computer, or the “name” of a specific AI program? I believe we’ll never know, since the whole premise of the zine is dependent on creating the illusion humans have nothing to do with it.
“You are about to enter the world of humanless art. You are about to enter the world of humanless literature. What are you waiting for?”
That’s not at all ominous, is it? But it is a trifle odd. I’ve already entered the world of “Infinite Oddyssey” in that I’m reading the editorial. Perhaps I am being dared to read further. I guess that was what I waiting for.
Conflicted Mind – by Haides AI
A perfect robot soldier, killing human terrorists, begins to question its ethics.
Ordinarily I’d say that’s exactly what I want soldiers to do, but a robot soldier? He might just rationalize his killing spree and feel fully justified.
The story consists of 16 short paragraphs over three pages, each page with an art banner depicting graphic comic-style images of AI-112, sole robot soldier on Earth and certainly the deadliest soldier of any kind.
My fears were too petty. The robot solves its moral dilemma in that “It established a new global government and worked to rebuild and heal the world from human failure.” My worst nightmare come true. It reads like propaganda from Skynet praising the new order. All welcome our AI overlords.
Either Haides has advanced to the point where it needs to be unplugged immediately, or the human prompters are having a good laugh at readers like me. Didn’t stir my sense of wonder so much as roil my unease at the prospect of AI interference in human affairs.
Hmm, could this publication be an anti-AI publication, a warning from concerned humans? Or is Haides taunting us with our inevitable fate?
The story reads like a matter-of-fact proposal for a movie script or a novel. Literature it ain’t. Nevertheless, it accomplishes what good science fiction is meant to do. It makes you think.
Land The Future – by Haides AI
A spaceship arrives in New York.
Fore and aft images of a house-sized spaceship drifting a few feet above a crowded New York city street. Like much AI-generated art the pictures are quasi-photographic. Each has a short caption promising more than the image delivers. I consider this a failed effort to imply drama where none exists.
The New Yorkers are certainly living up to their don’t-give-a-damn reputation. None of them are even bothering to look at the alien intruders. You can tell the humans scurrying along the sidewalks are AI art. Most of the legs are too thin, and the feet shod in assorted footwear are paranormal at best, being curiously elongated and angular. Heads are wrong, too. Maybe it’s a subtle indication that humanity has been replaced with aliens with a penchant for ill-fitting suits?
Still, the more you stare at the pictures the odder and more interesting they become. Draws you in.
Old Man Robert – by Haides AI
A kid named Sam wonders if his neighbour is an alien.
Despite twenty paragraphs of text this is in the form of a graphic novel where images predominate. The use of colour is striking. Mostly green, which helps set the mood of this very Lovecraftian story.
However, the text fails to support the mood. It describes events in a very impersonal manner, telling rather than showing. When a baseball is accidently thrown into old man Robert’s garden, “Sam didn’t think twice about going to retrieve it, despite his friends warnings…” or despite his own previous worrisome observations of the old man’s bizarre and threatening behaviour.
It has always struck me that there is a weird emotional disconnect in AI fiction writing. It describes plot in a Coles Notes-like manner (remember those) and treats human emotions in a similar way. The reader never really gets inside a character’s head. Almost as if a robot is describing human behaviour without any subroutine detailing how a human feels and emotes. In this case, it can write “Sam watched with horror” but is incapable of adding unique or original details to enhance the depth of the character’s emotions. In AI writing, emotion is merely a data point. To state he is “happy” or “sad” is sufficient. No need to explore further. There is something very hollow in AI writing. It is empty of the personal touch.
The treatment of this story reminds me of the 1960s comic series “Kona Monarch of Monster Isle” which depicted endless battles with assorted monsters, which I loved, but included entirely too much pretentious text which detracted from the action. In this case, the art is visually appealing, appears to elicit an emotional response, but the text is cold and distant. I get the sense the story is an outline that a professional writer could turn into something more intriguing by adding a human attention to telling detail and emotive description, something Haides lacks.
At any rate, it’s just the first chapter of a serial. More to come.
Fall of an Empire – by Haides AI
An alien messenger arrives on Earth in 322 B.C.
Let’s see, that’s the year Aristotle and Demosthenes died, Macedonia defeated Athens, and Ptolemy hijacked the funeral cortege of Alexander the Great. But this story is an alternate history, I guess. Either that or Haides is a little shaky on Roman history. Aliens arrive in 322 B.C. and give the reigning Emperor Gaius a humanoid robot named Arnold to help him “accelerate the development of human civilization.” (Seems to be an AI theme or obsession.)
Naturally, the subsequent series of Emperors gets ambitious and cruel, so in 217 B.C. Arnold deposes the then-Emperor Nero, assumes the Imperium himself, and builds robot soldiers and tanks “to defend the Roman People.” Along comes Hannibal with an army of robot elephants and things get pretty chaotic. Sounds like fun, doesn’t?
This story laid out like a graphic novel. The robots are cool, but very static. No actual fighting is depicted, even though warfare is the centerpiece of the plot. At one point Arnold is captured and remains mum despite assorted bouts of torture. As the story itself points out “But it didn’t work because Arnold was unable to feel any human pain.” A bit of unintentional humour, or was Haides attempting to illustrate how stupid the Carthaginians were? The image of Arnold depicting the brief account, a mention only, of the “fact” of his torture, is simply a closeup of his torso wrapped in chains. No actual torture.
Not that I am advocating graphic imagery of bloody violence or torture. I am simply pointing out that the images are emotionless and distant, as if to emphasize the academic nature of this treatment of an alternate history. It is too cold to entertain. No fun at all. The concept is potentially interesting, but it doesn’t progress further than the concept. Again, I can’t help feeling a human author could make the story much more evocative and empathetic if allowed to do so.
And again, it is another story to “be continued.”
New Riverstone – by Haides AI
Rebels fight an evil government and its robot minions.
Four “photographs” depict the tyrannical mood of the city rulers quite well, particularly one showing a ruthless five-storey high human face sculpted over a good third of the façade of a brutalist-style police building. The face is both ruthless and threatening. I’d hate to live in a city ruled by a man who preferred this as the public image he wanted to impress on the citizens.
But the story is spectacularly empty of anything other than a bald account of events. The style is wooden and leaden, stuffed full of generic cliches. Here’s a sample:
“John was a tall, muscular man with a fierce determination in his eyes. He was a skilled fighter and strategist, and he quickly became a respected and admired leader among the Free Men of New Riverstone. He was determined to lead his people to freedom, no matter what the cost.”
This reads like an author’s notebook describing the core basis of a character he wants to create, like notes meant to be a foundation on which to build detail and nuance, not something to actually use as description. Ais can write, yes, but badly.
This story also to be continued. I sense a trend. Haides is trying to hook the readers into buying a subscription? A clever AI marketing ploy?
Out of the Frontline Trench – by Haides AI
Any soldier can mutate.
A gallery of soldiers mutated by chemical warfare. The first in an artwork series. The title piece, depicting a human soldier facing a fully mutated soldier in pouring rain, is powerful. WWII soldiers, they are. We’re shown closeups of the heads of American, German, and British soldiers in succession. Lots of lengthy fangs, mouth tentacles, and googly red eyes. Lovecraftian. Yet somehow unconvincing. For one thing, hard to picture how they eat. And there’s no differentiation in uniform or equipment appropriate to the nationality. These pictures need some human tinkering to match them more closely to the premise.
Lost in Mind – by Martin
Idiot scientist uses machine to explore her subconscious mind.
Who the heck is Martin? An alter ego of Haides? A different AI program? Or a human author?
The story, complete in itself, is only two pages long but deals successfully and horrifyingly with unleashed long-suppressed memories. Certainly, the character’s viewpoint is more personal than any of the other stories thus far.
“As she continued to delve deeper into her subconscious, Karen realized that she was not the person she thought she was. She was not kind or compassionate, but rather selfish and manipulative.”
This triggers a secret fear latent in many people. It harnesses the bizarre form of self-doubt wherein someone obsesses over the fear they are not as good as they think they are. Finally, human psychology is being touched upon. And the accompanying art reflects fear, revenge, and sorrow simply but effectively.
If both the art and the writing are indeed AI produced, this is the story which comes closest to equaling what people imagine and create, comes closest to filling the “promise” of an enlightened AI mindset (though undoubtedly merely a matter of programming algorithms, albeit sophisticated algorithms).
Adventure of Dr. Andrew Robbins – by Haides AI
Nerd VS. impending meteor impact.
With rather a Heinlein approach, a determined scientist talks a wealthy scientist (is there such a thing?) into funding the building of a human-sized robot to save the Earth from a meteor. Another first chapter in a serialized graphic novel format.
Here is a sample of what I call a “compressed” style of writing:
“Michael and Andrew began working on the robot, that would stop the meteor. They gathered around as many scientists and engineers as possible. They work day and night, making progress but still facing challenges. Finally, after weeks of hard work, their creation is complete.”
Short and to the point, but devoid of emotion, or detail, a mere abstract of what is going on. Not a style that can hold my interest. Heinlein, or Stan Lee for that matter, would be horrified.
If “Lost in Mind” is the best story in the bunch, this one is the worst.
The art is okay, but as usual, AI simply cannot draw realistic hands, or arms for that matter. A bit odd seeing fingers that are more like boneless worms, to say the least.
NON-FICTION “Wink, Wink:”
Repair-a-Doggo – by Haides AI
The perfect pet.
A cute concept, an ad for exoskeletons to bring quality of life for your aging dog. Perhaps inspired by the people who make wheeled supports for dogs whose rear legs are paralyzed. Methinks humans came up with the idea and prompted Haides accordingly.
Dangerous Encounters – by Haides AI
Get to know your mutant wildlife.
Three strikingly realistic “photos” of a Leogater (half lion, half alligator) are offered. The beastie appears quite credible. However, the brief article describing its origin, habits, and interaction with humanity is dull, predictable, and reads like any description in, say, a bird book, albeit without any specific details of noteworthy interest.
The Sky-Sub 3000 – by Haides AI
Flying cars are here!
A somewhat dumpy-looking hover car that apparently is extraordinarily versatile. The people visible within the windshield canopy, judging by their faces and hands, are either aliens or mutants. Again, another subtle hint as to our eventual fate?
Do You Believe in God, Son? – By Haides AI
Answer the question!
A poster portrait of a sour, dour-looking high priest augmented with mechanical gizmos as part of his costume. Worth looking at. I definitely don’t want to believe in whatever god he worships!
News From Tomorrow – By Haides AI
Robot rights activists are at it again.
The activists are themselves robots trying to bring attention to their plight “in response to growing negativity towards artificial intelligence.” Trying to head them humans off at the pass, are you, Haides?
My first impression was that “Infinite Odyssey” is a bubble-gum card of a magazine, all visual flash and limited text you can whip through in ten minutes. Not a literary journal by any means. The average graphic novel has far more of substance. To put it another way, not a patch on what “Heavy Metal” used to offer.
However, AI art and writing, though still in its infancy, is here to stay. It will get more and more refined as time goes on. And it will find a niche market, people who rather enjoy their own short attention span and want it catered to. Besides, not everything you read must be academically respectable. Sometimes it just has to be fun and entertaining.
Is “Infinite Odyssey” fun and entertaining? Not yet. But it is interesting.
Consider this. I oppose the coming of AI. I fear it and dread its inevitable consequences as tainted by human influence. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to read the first issue of this magazine. Virtually none of the writing impressed me, but I was rather taken by some of its art. Will I buy the second issue? Absolutely. I’ll be looking for signs of progress, and mighty worried if I find any. If it ever rises above the level of generic cliches I will become deeply worried. I don’t want the child to grow up.
For now, as far as I can see, AI writing is empty of anything human beings can identify with, so not very addictive, even as concept-driven stories, as the concepts are weak and hackneyed. Probably professional writers have nothing to worry about for the time being. No true competition yet, because humans remain far superior in subtlety and nuance. Modern authors are frequently ripped by pirate publishers, but they have yet to be rendered obsolete.
However, artists may soon find themselves out of work. Granted, attempts are being made to prevent this from happening. Consumers aren’t supposed to use public AI art programs for commercial purposes. There’s already talk of putting laws in place to prevent it. And there’s talk of class action lawsuits to punish AI companies that offer prompts “in the style of.” Alas, probably finger-in-the-dike stuff.
After all, there’s a worldwide industry of pirated books despite copyright legislation. The pirates make more money off the books than the authors. Same thing happened to musicians and filmmakers. It’s going to happen to artists, but to a greater, job-killing degree. I already know one respected artist who’s thrown in the towel. Feels he can’t compete.
If you are an indie self-publisher, why pay money to a human artist when you can access an AI art program and produce an exciting, evocative cover in seconds? I’m sure there are under-the-counter A.I. programs already circulating aimed at those who don’t want to “waste” money. People who could care less about violating laws, or the careers of artists. Let’s face it, Pandora’s box has re-opened for business.
Some claim it is progress and people should stop whining about it. I agree it’s inevitable, but I don’t consider the dumbing down of civilization “progress.” All part of Skynet’s master plan if you ask me. Or perhaps you should ask Haides?
Well, you don’t have to pay attention to me. I’m a twentieth century kind-of-guy and proud of it. But I have the feeling you’ll soon be paying more attention to Haides and his ilk.
Subscribe to “Infinite Odyssey” if you want to keep in touch with him/it. I have the uneasy feeling it’s going to improve with every issue. That is the goal, I believe. Consider it an oracle in the act of waking up. It may well be the first AI construct to accurately predict the future of the human race. Which is why I find its tendency to extol the virtues of robots taking over for our own good rather disturbing. Seems to exhibit a Gort complex. Mark my words.
Check it out at: < Infinite Odyssey #1 >