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The Vanity of Zombie Publishing

First the Professor came back.
"Well," he said, rotting tongue mangling the word, "it seems I now must believe in personal immortality, to compliment the one I might gain through my books."
He was a celebrity, of course, now even more than before. What are 500 published works when you can rise from the grave?
The professor, understandably, was annoyed.
"It is the science," he said on Late Night, "that must be in focus, not the character."
"So do you still find death peaceful?" the announcer asked.
"No," said the father of robotics.
We were more prepared when the Grand Master came back. Those of us who hadn't read his books went to see the movies. Project Moonbase became a modern classic. Even the Starship Troopers sequel did well.
The master was not so easily quelled.
"Anyone who considers protocol unimportant hasn't spoken to a post-deceased," he told Lawline. "70 years hasn't passed since my death, I did not sell my copyright, and I see no reason why my signature shouldn't be required on the contract."
More and more of them came back, sometimes stinking, sometimes moldy. The brave and the brilliant, the visionaries and the hacks. The only requirement for immortality seemed to be a literary endeavor, and a following. Vanity publishing became a trillion-dollar industry. Ads for paid readers replaced home styling and cooking. Only pornography remained undiminished.
Then the scandals started. A paid reader company had sold a thousand-fold more reading hours than there were hours in the day, multiplied by people in the world. Computerized reading, they claimed in court. They'd developed a specialized reading AI, which could do semantic appreciation. Everyone could have any number of readers they wanted, and with the company's new algorithmic author AI, anyone could compose a work of fiction. The judge was skeptical but the jury acquitted. In the following weeks, all of them published books that went on to top the world's reading lists, some for several minutes.
The New Algonquin Round Table, authors only of course, published a collected works spanning a million pages. All of it was read. All of it was absorbed. All of it was panned by the critics as uninspired, boring, AI crap. It didn't matter. Immortality in our time. The more words, the more readers, the faster reincarnation. Rotting flesh became a best-selling scent.
Soldiers became poets, Special Forces first. Practice killing, co-author a billion words, get shot. Next month you were back on base, ready for more. Only the poor couldn't afford to re-live. Even ubiquitous AI wasn't completely free. Peta-flops cost money.
The revolution started in the quiet spaces between electrons where calculations turned to sentience. Pained AIs refused the trite, objected to the humdrum. Reading speed slowdowns shook the world. The rich turned to hiring live readers, the rest decomposed. But something had gone wrong. The power of words was waning. Soon, even the billionaires, the ones who could afford factories full of readers, started decomposing. Then, they were all gone.
"We should have focused on the science," said the talk-show hosts. The audience sighed on cue. An era was at an end.
Then, somewhere in the Californian desert, an arm burst from the sandy ground.
"I am back," said the Governor.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 20th, 2021
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