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My Daughter was Abducted by Aliens

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"My Daughter was Abducted by Aliens'' is a webpage story that follows a parent who has lost their daughter to, well, an alien abduction. I wrote it in 2018 after stumbling upon a dataset of self-reported UFO sightings.

It's very inspired by Porpentine Charity Heartscape's Twine stories and Olia Lialina's webpage story, "My Boyfriend Came Back from the War." The piece begins like a text-film, directing the reader between two voices: a transmission of disjunctive UFO sightings reports, and the parent's recounting of their daughter's abduction. The former was assembled from output of a word-based Markov chain language model trained on the UFO dataset, which is composed of others' allegedly real experiences; the latter is a fictional account written by me. While these two perspectives trade off neatly in the first half of the piece, the division between them steadily dissolves throughout the second half. [Hover over redacted text to reveal spoilers.]

Eventually the parent's obsession merges with that of their daughter's. They slip from alien investigator to alien devotee, willing their own abduction into existence. In making this work I was interested in matters of subjective experience: how grief and obsession overlap; how fear and curiosity overlap; how personal loss can drive objective research; how (untrue) beliefs can shape reality; how perception and narration are both informed by knowledge of others' stories. Reading it now, I think too of those "reborn dolls" for coping with miscarriage; the practice of guising fascination with antagonism, like closeted politicians who are overzealous in their promotion of anti-LGBTQ measures; how many of us must rely on others to believe or not believe in the goings-on of the sky: the climate, private flights of the rich, aerial military operations...

"My Daughter was Abducted by Aliens" engages stochastic text quite differently than is common in the field of media arts. I do not seek to criticize the practices of reporting, collecting, or believing alien sightings. I do not make fun of any gaps in logic or language or morals or truth in the source text. Nor do I turn a critical eye to the ineptitudes of the Markov model itself. Rather, I employ humor and missense as corridors into appreciation for the vividness of subjective experience. Of feelings! The Markov model is awful at maintaining grammar and plot, but the flipside is that it can reveal a blurred yet more isolated, in some ways, view of the affect that is suffused in the genre of the alien sighting report. I use it as a warped filter, rather than as an accurate imitator of the source text. In this way, I subvert certain corners of the canon of writing which incorporates generative text models.

And yet, and yet—it's 2023; GPT-4 and its cousins can now quite accurately imitate many kinds of writing, alien sighting reports included. (Generative text has also become inextricable from its connotations with tech-driven job displacement and inequity. I don't think it's as appropriate, anymore, to approach it with the innocent playfulness that informed "My Daughter was Abducted by Aliens.") So when I encounter this piece now, I catch a whiff of nostalgia for a time when human subjectivity expressed through writing was still largely inimitable by computation... Writing, or any other mode of communication, can never wholly transmit an experience. Maybe the advent of language's computability just underscores this fundamental limit. We aren't alone in the world, and we have our means of contact, but despite our best efforts we will always remain aliens to one another.

works with sound, digital media, and language. He’s informed by experience working as a statistician; he’s guided by a respect for interiority, aesthetic pleasure, and just trying to do good in the world. Nowadays you can find him on music platforms as Especially, or in person somewhere around Hồ Chí Minh city.