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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

What Reads Me Next?

"So, what does the NoveList book database actually do? The most basic and useful function of NoveList is the Title Read-alikes feature. Type a title into the search bar, hit search, and click on 'Title Read-alikes.' Within seconds, you've got a list of books similar to the one you've searched for. Selected by curators, the books are accompanied by a reason they're included on the list."
—Abby Hargreaves, "The Best Book Database You've Never Heard of"

 
AUTHORITIES and experts sifting through the titanic quantity of real-world and online fallout connected with the ReadeReady movement have finally established a timeline and "patient zero" for the world-changing phenomenon, and at last the whole story—albeit featuring a few gaps—can be laid out in linear fashion with a fair number of solid details. Those whose lives were affected by ReadeReady—nearly every human on the planet, of course—will no doubt find the tale illuminating.

The reconstructed account begins in the autumn of 2019 with a thirty-four-year-old fellow named Skeates Moody. At this time, Moody was an "Assistant Teaching Professor" at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, low on the academic totem pole and working contract-to-contract. A lonely and wistful nerd—definitely not the cool and hip kind of geek—Moody had just finished up a particularly unexciting and disappointing summer, during which none of the daydreams he fostered—for love, adventure, fame, and physical prowess—had come to pass. Instead of seeking fun with others or in nature, or launching his own business, or traveling solo to exotic places, or improving his rather saggy physique, he had passed all his recent days immured at home or at his local Starbucks, playing videogames or reading fantasy trilogies and space opera series, along with many other works from his favored genre of fantastika. In fact, he had consumed so many books that he was beginning to run out of suitable material.

Eager for recommendations, and lacking real friends either online or offline with whom to conduct a conversation, he turned to various software agents that offered to select books he would like, based on his expressed preferences. However, he quickly found all of the existing primitive algorithms unsatisfactory: they gave him only predictable choices, stuff he already knew. And so now, back on the Carnegie Mellon campus for the start of classes, he resolved to create his own.

Reverse-engineering all the existing apps, he added in a cutting-edge artificial-intelligence package that was really the proprietary, still unfinished creation of several Nobelist-contender Carnegie Mellon researchers. This pilfered computational engine, while not self-aware, was able to parse the real world in extremely intelligent fashion. Finally, with a whimsical eye toward making his own life better, Moody programmed the app with the results of the United Nations' World Happiness Report, as well as a score of books on that subject; psychology-based metrics for the measurement of happiness; relevant works from philosophers and religious figures; the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Magna Carta; as well as an entire catalogue of utopian novels.

Finally, Moody fed the app all his own personal statistics and readerly history in copious detail, as the foundation of its choices.

On the point of setting his creation into action, Moody realized he had yet to name his brainchild. In the next moment, it came to him that he was acting the role of a "reader ready for assistance," and so was born ReadeReady.

Once launched, ReadeReady took less than ninety seconds to offer Moody a list of books that were scientifically guaranteed to appeal to him.

But none of them was an sf or fantasy novel.

Instead, the list contained a puzzling set of titles: the essays of Epictetus; Thoreau's Walden; Little Women; a beekeeping manual; a guide to veganism; a taxonomy of nudibranchs; How to Build Dry-stacked Stone Walls; the 1896 Baedeker guide titled The Rhine from Rotterdam to Constance; William Burroughs' The Yage Letters; Tamara Drewe; Essential Capoeira; The Center of the Cyclone by John Lilly; and many others.

Moody studied the output with complete bafflement. He ran the app again and got the same results. He tinkered with the code, gave it another go. Still the identical suite of books.

Shrugging his shoulders, and having no other options with which to load his Kindle, Moody embraced ReadeReady's suggestions and began to delve into the offered books.

After three months, Moody had finished the initial ReadeReady course of study. He had also lost thirty pounds, gotten a raise, negotiated a reduced teaching load, and started dating. He invoked ReadeReady again. It spat out a new selection of books, including Kant's The Critique of Pure Reason; the Complete Novels of Ronald Firbank; and The Epic of Gesar of Ling, among other titles. Moody got to work.

Sixteen months later, after completing a third ReadeReady assignment, Skeates Moody had run his first ultra-marathon in under ten hours, was the millionaire head of a firm selling nanofiber fog nets to parched regions of the globe, and was the proud father of twin girls who, at one year of age, had already received tentative acceptance notices from several Ivy League institutions.

It was at this juncture that Moody realized he could not selfishly keep ReadeReady to himself, and so he released it as a free app. But he did so anonymously, not wishing to assume the role of messiah or evangelist for the program.

Downloads and utilization of ReadeReady were sluggish at first: too many people had forgotten how to process longform works of prose, and had no interest in soliciting tips on good books, even if they promised life-changing results. The era of memes and tweets had wrought a trail of destruction and atrophy among the hard-won reading abilities that people had been forced to master in school. But among the small cadre of hardcore readers, the app took off almost immediately. And when the lives of these early adopters began to exhibit the same startling improvements that Skeates Moody had enjoyed, any reluctance to embrace ReadeReady began to evaporate, and the app went viral.

Soon almost every cellphone on the planet was running the ReadeReady app.

And the selfless, keen-witted, altruistic recommendation program was up to the challenge of servicing so many users. Its choices of books for each person were uniquely tailored to the individual. Comparing lists, readers found that out of the millions of texts extant, no two people ever received totally identical selections. Overlap, yes, but never complete duplication.

Once people commenced following the ReadeReady self-improvement program, society and civilization began to feel the impact, across the board.

People quit their jobs by the millions, and formed new enterprises from scratch. Enormous companies went bankrupt and extinct. Entire industries disappeared and unheard-of ones arose. Inklings of a post-scarcity economy began to be discerned. Those interpersonal relationships that were not strengthened fell apart and reformed along different patterns, for different purposes. Varieties of arcane living arrangements exfoliated. Capitalism and socialism mutated, recombined, fissioned, and their offspring hybridized and evolved. Vast migrations of people flowed across borders that no longer meant anything. New sociopolitical entities bootstrapped themselves into existence along consensus platforms ranging from environmental to recreational. Myriad new educational institutions proliferated, most of them centered around ReadeReady but some in opposition. Several shooting wars erupted, but were extinguished almost as fast as they began. Weapons of mass destruction were mysteriously never deployed.

A period of some ten years of utmost creative turbulence and disruption was succeeded by a hard-won stability, a kind of patchwork uniformity, if such a paradoxical concept could be admitted. Many citizens felt that humanity stood at the dawn of a new Golden Age.

Only at this point could the trail back to Skeates Moody be fully traced and acknowledged. Once the connection was established between ReadeReady and its inventor, millions of grateful people—and a few angry ones—wanted to seek him out for proper recognition.

The inter-platform committee to honor Moody finally discovered him at his private spaceflight facility. He and his family and one hundred other associates were packed into a slower-than-light interstellar craft named The Galactic Library. The eager visitors were held back from the launchpad by fortifications until the ship took off.

And at that moment of departure, the ReadeReady app disappeared from every cellphone, tablet, desktop, laptop, cache, smart refrigerator, gas station pump display, mirror site and archive on the planet, to be replaced by a recorded audiovisual message from Moody.

"You guys are on your own now for what to read next. Why not write the books that generations unborn will want to read? And when you do, be sure to send us your recommendations!"

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