Winter is upon us, or upon one hemisphere at least, and depending on where you live in The New Normal that apparently means enduring less eggnog, holly, and mistletoe and more freak apocalyptic weather that we’d all much rather be reading about than sheltering from. Here, however, you will find neither holiday cheer nor meteorological fear—Issue 28 is an Xmas-free zone, normal or otherwise, so please curl up and enjoy these eight stories on your device of choice regardless of what the wicked world is doing all around you!
So far Mythaxis has eschewed the temptation to offer themed issues, but this time around we do have an element of commonality to what we have on offer: not in the stories, but in their accompanying illustrations. Back in July, I became aware of an AI-powered image generator, VQGAN+, and began tentatively playing around with it. I decided to attempt to illustrate an issue of the zine solely using its output, and now you can see the results.
In my process, running VQGAN+ typically generated 300 images—or less if I interrupted a disastrous run before it went too wrong to bear. The results are much like the individual frames of a film, or rather of an animation, since taken collectively they show the gradual, flickering evolution of a single image. The output can also be extracted as video, and my earliest successful attempt can be seen here:
In this example, an existing image was used as the starting point for the AI to work from. Parts of that sequence of images were eventually blended to take their place in the art for our closing story, and in several cases the VQGAN+ output was composited with other material to create the final image.
In other cases, no seed image was used at all. A text string was always necessary to guide the AI regarding what output you hoped to receive, and a lot of the fun in the process came from discovering how simple (or complex) to make the instructions you gave the software. All four generated images in the issue’s cover art came only from a prompt—for this, the instruction was relatively complex, “a golden compass of mythical design”:
By comparison, for one of our stories I selected a key phrase from the story itself to see what the software would come up with. From “micro expressions” it generated this:
You can find these videos and more on our Youtube playlist. Unfortunately not every image created has a video to go with it, but while the artwork is fun to play with what really matters is the fiction. AI might be one day destined to claim all the fields humanity thinks of as innately our own, but for now I can confidently leave you safe in the flesh-and-blood hands of eight talented authors.
And if I don’t happen to see you in the next eleven days or so: Happy New Year!