Saturday, March 30, 2024

“Feedback” • by Guy Stewart

A couple days after I subbed my story to the editor/staff of STUPENDOUS EPICS OF FANTASY, HORROR, AND SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE, they texted me: 

Interesting story. You’ll be disappointed to know that the new version of InterOffice Works ran an assessment of your story. Call or email ASAP.

I wasn’t sure who BE was, so I went to the site and found it was the Associate Editor; easy enough to find their name. I emailed him asking what “InterOffice Works ran an assessment of your story” meant.

Berit Eberhard texted back an hour later, writing:

You’ll be disappointed to know that Office 400 rated your story only 88% and provided a comprehensive list of things you need to correct. Your errors are enumerated as follows: Spelling 27; Grammar 26; Conciseness 17; Formality 46; Punctuation Conventions 3; Vocabulary 4. I think that means you have a total of a hundred and twenty-three corrections you have to make to give your story a 100%, though it’s unclear what it’s a hundred percent OF…

Thankfully, you did not commit any Inclusiveness, Perspective, or Sensitive Geopolitical Reference sins. BG only knows how InterOffice Works would have admonished you had you done so! It also gave me the option to have your work read aloud to me by a female voice. (For a small fee, it offered to insert sexually suggestive language in case my interest in your story flagged)

Oh! Oh! It came with a built-in machine translation! I’d share the text, but I’m not sure if it was Chinese (Traditional) or Chinese (Simplified), so one of our computers might mis-reproduce the Chinese characters and cause an international incident.

My phone suddenly rang. “Hello?”

“This is Berit. We’ve been texting?”

“Oh, yeah!”

“I just had to share something else with you. I just wanted to say that this…this REALITY is so wildly outside of my original story ‘Saibeopeongkeu’ it would have been rejected even by Astonishing Fables. But, it seems that I saw at least a couple of things in the future not far off from what they are! InterOffice Works would have (without a doubt), gotten it rejected even at AF. GVDG thought a computer light enough for a teenager to carry and hide in a closet was beyond credulity, but he kept it, cause it was, after all, just Science Romance. He DID force me to drop the paragraph where Mikey talked to his computer and it answered in conversational English. He thought that was so unbelievable as to be ridiculous.” He paused, then muttered, “But…”

But’ what?”

InterOffice Works counted one last error that I thought…well, it was just plain weird.” I had a sudden Peter-tingle in my chest. Berit said, “I’ve gotten this kind of ‘feedback’ on every story I’ve opened for the past couple months. But your story produced one I’d never seen before…” He paused so long, I found I couldn’t breathe. The air around me didn’t seem thick enough to support my respiration.

I glanced at my monitor. Oops…that’s because it wasn’t. I took my handheld augmentor, held it to my nose and breathed deeply. Berit said, “You still there?”

I nodded, then tried to speak, stumbling over my words. I stopped, then started again and said clearly, “Yep! I’m dying over here of suspense!” But my voice had taken on an hysterical pitch. I tried again, aiming for mild amusement, “What did it say? Did it grab some DNA off the file I sent you? Maybe my story had a computer virus it caught and gave to yours?” I laughed with as much disdain as I could manage. “Did it predict with thirty-four percent accuracy that I’m a chimera with genes from a pitcher plant?”

Berit didn’t reply for several moments. Finally, he said, “That’s the thing. The printout rated you as 97% alien, based on your usage of Colloquial English.” He paused. “Why would it come to that kind of conclusion? Why would the program even have that as an option?”

I breathed deeply then said, “Soooo, like my English suggests that my original language was Venezuelan Wayuu-accented Spanish?” I laughed, even now realizing Berit didn’t believe me. I didn’t even believe me.

A long silence grew between us until I managed, “You’ve caught me.” The pause between us was pregnant. I drew a deep breath, adding, “I’m an HPE Cray supercomputer artificial intelligence…”

“You can stop the bullshit,” Berit said calmly. After all, he was a speculative fiction magazine editor. He’d seen pretty much every iteration of every F/H/SR known to Humanity. “Your secret—such as it is—is safe with me. For now. I want to publish this silly story. People will be amused. 

But some won’t be. Hopefully, your mothership isn’t far away. I suggest you get off Earth as soon as you can. I think I can probably edit the story to read as if you’re an AI more convincingly than you can. But if you take a stab at it, you have to give it a more…like…cyberpunky vibe.  

Until then, stay home and be ready to leave as soon as I post this thing.” I could hear the grin in his tone of voice as he added, “Even with its flaws and that fact that you’re actually an alien, the story’s really great. It might even be humorous. Cheers.”



Guy Stewart was a science teacher and school counselor for forty years, but is now happily retired and writing full-time. With nearly a hundred published short stories, articles, and reviews to his credit, and his blogs Guy’s Gotta Talk and Possibly Irritating Essays, he shares opinions and translates recent research into plain English.

When not writing he enjoys biking, walking, and camping with his wife, kids, grandkids, and two cats and a rescue dog. Admittedly, the cats really aren’t much help when it comes to carrying a backpack or pitching a tent.


Emerald Marcillon lives with her archaeologist parents at a dig site on the Yucatan Peninsula. She has trouble handling social situations and connecting with her peers, so she’s an expert watcher.

Her parents are convinced they have found artifacts from an alien war that spilled over onto Earth ages ago. What they don’t suspect is that Inamma, an alien AI that survived the war, lies hidden in the jungle. Now that the artifacts have been found, Inamma has awakened, and it’s hunting for the artifacts. With them, it can build a weapon that will end the ancient war once and for all—and with it, end the existence of humanity. 

Emerald’s only hope is to escape on the Solar Explorer, a hollowed-out asteroid turned spaceship that will spend the next twelve years exploring the solar system. Can Emerald protect the artifacts, and stop Inamma from completing its deadly weapon? Can she make friends and find allies? Can she convince people that Inamma is real, and not just a crazy story made up by a frightened girl?

EMERALD OF EARTH: just released in paperback, Kindle, and audio book. Also available on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Apple Books, and wherever else e-books are sold.