Serenity, Sci-Fi and Schrodinger’s Stealthy Cat

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“It’s the stupid questions that have some of the most surprising and interesting answers. Most people never think to ask the stupid questions.” ― Cory Doctorow, For the Win

I write like
Some days, I just explore that vast waste-time land of the Internet. While looking for something else, I found this site, I Write Like.

When you insert any of your original writing, the site will analyze it and then give you an author that your work resembles. It looks for similarities in:

  1. Certain keywords
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Style

I typically write about addiction, recovery, life lessons and general tips on writing. Since I am still a curious child at heart, I posted several paragraphs into the analyzer. I was surprised to get the results about my writing.  I do not write science fiction or fantasy, yet each of my passages came back in the style of Arthur Clarke, Cory Doctorow, and William Gibson. I do not discount the writers that came up in my sampling, I was just surprised that all of them wrote in similar genres.

Wondering why I was getting these particular authors, I looked for a way to find the criteria for deciding which authors were selected.

Buried in the information about the site, it listed Russian software programmer, Dmitry Chestnykh, founder of the company, Coding Robots, as the creator of the site. He used something called a naïve Bayes Classifier to decide which authors the writing resembled. Well, that was informative.

Stupid Question Number 1: What is a Naïve Bayes Classifier?

From Wikipedia: “In simple terms, a naive Bayes classifier assumes that the value of a particular feature is unrelated to the presence or absence of any other feature, given the class variable. For example, a fruit may be considered an apple if it is red, round, and about 3″ in diameter.

A naive Bayes classifier considers each of these features to contribute independently to the probability that this fruit is an apple, regardless of the presence or absence of the other features.”

Hmm. Although I have written about some writers being apple writers, I always considered myself an orange writer.  Now here was this mysterious apple example. My mission expanded.

Stupid Question Number 2: Who is Bayes and How Does This Help Me? 

Who was this Bayes person – someone prominent in the cyber world, or the quantum physics world, or the dreaded world of math – where I seldom venture?

No, Thomas Bayes lived from 1701-1761. He only wrote two papers, one on theology and the other on probabilities. Since his paper on probability was not presented until after his death, his work did not receive attention again until Sir Harold Jeffreysbrought the concept back from obscurity.
“Bayes theorem is to probability what Pythagoras’s theorem is to geometry.” Well, even I remember the 2,000-year-old Pythagoras equation, probably because it contains letters and doesn’t remind me so much of math.therom pathagaras

While I remembered the equation, I am more like the Scarecrow in the film The Wizard of Oz. Even though he gets his brain, he mangles the equation.

scarecrow 2

Stupid Question 3: How Do Sci-Fi Writers Think and What Does Sir Harold Jeffreys Know?

Still trying to tie those authors and me together with the various tangents, I thought maybe it is the way we process words or our curiosity.

No surprise, I like the way William Gibson thinks, “The ‘Net is a waste of time, and that’s exactly what’s right about it.”  Well, there’s a similarity. Great minds and all that. However, I didn’t have time to bask in our agreeable assessment of the ‘Net; I needed to use it to find the connections.

Back on track, I thought perhaps a look at Sir Harold Jeffreys might give me clues to the classifier. Looking at his Curriculum vitae, he did have impressive credentials and honors including: Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1937; Knighted in 1953, Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1960 and Royal Statistical Society’s Guy Medal in Gold in 1962.

Reading more about him, I discovered that he had developed a general method for approximating solutions to linear, second-order differential equations, including the Schrödinger equation.

schrodinger's catSchrödinger – Now We Are Getting Somewhere!

It was making sense, I knew Schrödinger’s Cat.  Well not necessarily the quantum physics  Schrödinger’s Cat. – alive or dead, but the Literary Cat as Robert Anton Wilson wrote about in The Universe next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons.

This quest was feeling more like six degrees of separation, but I could see some relationships forming with those authors. Connecting the dots is sometimes the only way to know how we got to a certain place in our lives, so I started retracing some connections to the world of science fiction.

I remembered the summer of science fiction and fantasy. I am a fast reader and tend to read a particular genre for months until I have satisfied my desire for that type of literature.  But when the price of reading hard backed books exceeded $45.00 a week, I knew my Starbucks, light bill, or something would have to go.

Therefore, I looked at all of the different sections at my favorite bookstore. What I discovered was that fantasy and science fiction books were BIG, often over 800 pages, or came in the Book One, Two, Three, or Series.

Stupid Question Number 4: Who Writes BIG BOOKS?

big sci fi books
Sci-fi and fantasy books would keep me entertained all week. There was an added benefit; my granddaughter was beginning to like witches, warlocks, fairies and other worlds so we could read together. Children give us permission to indulge in books that adults ridicule. Next time you want to sneak a look at what some might think of as “silly” fiction, take a child, no one will think twice about your choice.  

Reading with my granddaughter, I found that I liked:

• Cosmic Aviators – Book 1 – Flight Editionby G.E.F. Neilson
• Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams
• The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
• The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot by Leonardo Ramirez
• The Time Quartet, by Madeleine L’Engle
• The Trouble Begins: A Box of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Stupid Question Number 5: What Rubs Off When We Read?

Each of us has genres that we return to for pleasure. Does some of the vernacular, pacing, dialog, or style rub off on us? Perhaps.

However, in further researching Chesnykh, I found this interview with him from The Awl:What makes you qualified to analyze literature like this? 

“Nothing, really. I’m the kind of person who is not qualified in a subject before jumping into it. (Good thing I didn’t try to become a medical doctor or a rocket scientist!) This is my way of learning: when I want to do something, I do it, learning along the way.”

Given that I learn by doing, I appreciated this approach.

You, on the other hand, may not, but it might be a fun diversion to compare your writing and see the writers you are compared to on the site. If nothing else, it might be a way to introduce you to a writer that could help you improve your own writing.

Challenge: Who Do You Read and Write Like?

One more heads up though, Chesnykh only had time to upload “a few books by some 50 different authors”, so you won’t be tagged as the next bard. However, it might be fun to see what your writing compares to in this limited exercise.

I felt badly leaving Arthur Clarke out for the readers who may not be familiar with him. I think this quote from his 90th birthday celebration sums up the man as much as his philosophy, “I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer — one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imaginations as well.”

Stupid Question Number 6: Care to Co-Author? william gibson and cory doctorow

If you do choose to see whom you compare to, let me know what writers you got.

Perhaps there is a book that we can co-author. Just remember my typical topics, but know I apparently can write in the style of fantasy or science fiction as well.

Now that I think about it, there’s some sense in this after all.  I do not need that Bayes Classifier anymore. 

Science fiction writers have always been concerned with second chances, redemption, and maybe that writing is not so far removed from my writing about addiction and recovery after all.




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