I'm trying to find a short story I dimly recall, with the following elements:

  • Within the story, there is a dispute between a writer, and an editor, about how the next scene of a science fiction story involving a spaceship ought to go. The editor thinks the writer should continue by describing the interior of the ship, and the writer thinks the story should proceed in another direction.
  • It comes out during this dispute, that someone recently invented an automatic writing machine. I believe this machine was the result of hooking up the brain of a monkey to some other machine. The monkey may have been sitting at a typewriter, with its brain somehow augmented by other machines that contained many works of literature.
  • The writer and editor agree to try out the writing machine by prompting it with the first part of the writer's story, and seeing how the machine would continue it.
  • The writing machine continues with, "Inside the ship..." (that is, it agrees with the editor)
  • The writer uses this as justification to not do it that way, because if that's what a machine (or a monkey) would do, it's too predictable.
  • The editor agrees with the writer's logic.

I think I read this in some classic anthology. Couldn't tell you the decade but it's probably no later than the 90s. I'm recalling it now because of the coincidental similarity to GPT-3, where you would prompt a machine with the first part of a story and have it continue the story.

1 Answer 1


"The Monkey's Fingers", a short story by Isaac Asimov, first published in Startling Stories, February 1953, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

Plot summary from NESFA's Recursive Science Fiction site:

SF writer Marmaduke Tallinn is trying to sell his latest story to Lemuel Hoskins, editor of Space Yarns. But the editor wants some revisions that Tallinn is not willing to make. Tallinn says that his friend and fan, Professor Arndt Rolf Torgesson at N. Y. U. has a machine that will evaluate writing and is willing to leave the decision to it. Hoskins is dubious but the thought of winning a dinner by this wager decides him. The monkey's brain is hooked up to the usual set of scientific paraphernalia and acts as the analog processor. The monkey, Rollo, hears part of the text and then, based upon its style, rhythm, vocabulary, etc. extrapolates upon it. The SF story is read up to the critical point and then the monkey begins typing the revision Hoskins asked for. Tallinn says this proves his point as humans do not follow rules by rote and know when to break them. Besides if this process works there will be no need for editors. After the editor leaves, Tallinn admits to Torgesson that he thought the monkey would have typed his original version of the story. [Inspired by arguments Asimov had with H. L. Gold of Galaxy over "C-Chute."]

  • 2
    Thanks! That's it exactly, and what a great story it is.
    – causative
    Sep 8, 2022 at 10:12
  • You're welcome!
    – user14111
    Sep 8, 2022 at 10:43
  • 3
    I don’t remember reading this story, but I knew it! Just the title of the question screamed “Quintessential Asimov” Sep 8, 2022 at 22:30

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