There's a new scam operating online that can actually be fun. "I Write Like" asks you to paste a sample of your writing into a text box, where its magical algorithm will "analyze" what you pasted and tell you who you write like. They'll even send you an electronic "certificate" you can post to your blog, bragging about which writer you most resemble. (This leads me to believe everyone who submits a sample is far more likely to resemble a literary great than some schmuck who sold fifteen copies of a coming-of-age soft porn book twenty years ago.)
I thought it would be fun to paste in the first couple of pages on my current project and see who I wrote like. This scene between two men in a strip club plotting the death of their wives was proclaimed to read like Mark Twain. This surprised me a little, as I've read all of Twain's books, and many of the shorter pieces, and I don't remember him using "fuck" at all, though I worked it in there six times.
Maybe this algorithm is more subtle and profound than I expected, or am myself. Next I pasted the last few paragraphs from Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder," including the famous, "down these mean streets" section. I wanted to see if the computer thought it resembled Chandler.
Nope. Mario Puzo.
I liked The Godfather, and wholeheartedly agree with the description given to it by a critic whose name escapes me. ("The best bad book ever written.") I just don't see a lot of resemblance between Puzo's writing and Chandler's, aside from dealing with crime and using English.
I decided to go best two of three, and pasted in an excerpt from a data feed the system I work on gets nightly. It's nothing more than names, addresses, dates, and some column separators, and looks something like this:
TWX_2899|Simpson||Bart|111 15th Street, SW|Arlington, VA||20319||||(703) 555-9978|CONT|TWX_CONTRACTORS|N|06/22/2010|06/23/2010|e7213fbf43edbe4e8da2e6afe3f49a65
The computer was reminded of the work of David Foster Wallace. I would have said HAL9000, but maybe that's why I'm not more successful.