Source of "The Portrait of the Ordinary Artist" is

ISBN 0-8018-4281-6

Ms. Austen's Submission

She knew that some like to make their Submissions in the privacy of their
own living quarters. Other fragile souls, who had to work themselves up to
such an important act, made theirs on the spur of the moment by making use of
a foneport they encountered while away from home. Austen, however, had
decided to do it the traditional way, the right way, as she thought of it, or
perhaps, she had admitted to herself, it was just that she found such older
forms comforting. At any rate, she had risen early, bathed, put on her best
outfit, treated herself to an elegant breakfast at Rive Gauche, the
restaurant frequented by would-be's, and thenmade her way to the Agency of
Culture, outside of whose main portal she now stood.
Taking several deep, careful breaths to remain calm, she entered the
forbidding building and sought the elevator that would take her to the
eighty-ninth floor of the west tower. She found herself alone in the elevator
for the last half of her ascent, and superstitiously taking anything she
encountered as an omen, she wondered if that meant that she was to be one of
the lucky ones who would rise fast and alone, one of those few who would
makeit. As the elevator eased to a halt and its bronze-colored doors slid
back, she automatically stepped out of the elevator; but before proceeding
down the long corridor, she carefully checked the number of the floor,
though, like any other Apprentice Author, she had recognizedit immediately.
Smiling wryly at the way her nervous hesitation masked itself as a
traveler's caution, Austen began an inner harangue that she sometimes carried
on for hours at atime. "Come on, you know this is the right floor, and you
recognized it immediately. Jane, you can recite the names of the worthies
whose portraits line the halls, since they haven't changed in a hundred
years. They certainly haven't since your disastrous last visit.
There's Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, the first three on the left, and Woolf,
Dickinson, Johnnes,and all the rest on the right."
Arriving at the end of the corridor, Austen paused, took a deep breath, and
opened the door marked "Submissions." Now that she was here, she began to
worry that perhaps she had been too hasty. Perhaps her story was not quite
ready. Maybe she had better go home and let it sit for a few days or maybe a
week. Her mouth was dry, so dry she licked her lips several times without
much effect. "Relax," she told herself. "There's no sense in waiting any
longer. You know it's the best thing you've ever done; you can feel it in
your bones, and you knew this was the one as soon as it began to take shape
last week. Besides," she added, "it's only your second Submission. If
something crazy happens and it is not accepted, you still have one more."
Deciding that this was no time to hesitate, the young woman stepped firmly
up to thecentral console, pressed her palm against the recognition pad,
plugged in her Authorpad, and said in a voice that was slightly deeper and
more hoarse than usual, "I, Jane Austen, Apprentice Author, would like to
make a Submission."
"Thank you, Ms. Austen," a rich alto voice answered. "This is your second
Submission. Are you fully aware that if this one is not accepted, you have
only a single opportunity remaining?"
"I am."
"Please press the white button to make your Submission."
She had promised herself that, win or lose, she would make her Submission
like a true Author. She would not close her eyes, take a deep breath, or
mumble any prayers. She would just press the white button that had been
pressed by so many thousands of fingers before her and would be pressed by so
many thousands after.
Austen tried to summon courage by recalling how full of confidence and how
eager to complete her Submission draft she had been yesterday. In fact, when
the clerk at the writing bureau, a man in his sixties who always wore an old-
fashioned ill-fitting suit, had looked in her direction, she had left her
chair in the waiting room and headed directly toward the door even before he
called her name. "Fourteen, Ms. Austen," he said in his sad, thin voice,when
she looked back at him before opening the door to the workrooms. Silently
counting the rooms on her right-"one, two, three, four"-she made her way to
number fourteen, which she recognized immediately as one of the newly
reconditioned units. Pressing her hand against the recognition pad that would
charge her time in the workroom to her personal account at CenterBank, Austen
waited until the door opened and then, full of barely repressed excitement,
entered the little chamber that would be her working place for the next
four hours, unslung the case containing her Authorpad, and proceeded to open
its battered light blue case. Glancing at the portable writer that had been
hers since the Agency of Culture had assigned it to her six years ago when
she declared for authorship as a career, Austen plugged it into the narrow
shelf before her and seated herself in the authorship chair,
which immediately shaped itself to her back and sides.
"Welcome, Ms. Austen," she heard slightly behind her and to her left-that's
where thesound always seemed to emanate from in this unit, she recalled.
"Today we can offer you a fine selection of environment suitable for
inspiration or editorial activities. First, we have Off Puerto Rico, 25 June,
a calm seascape whose quiet waves many have found most suitable, and which
Andros van Hulen, the recent winner of the Prix de Rome, used while
composing the crucial third chapter of his brilliant prose epic. Second, you
might like to work within Far Himalayas, 1 August, a bare, chilling setting
far from human and other distractions. The third environment that is new
since your last session is entitled Jungle Vista, Amazon Basin, 3 February,
which, in contrast to the other new offerings, seethes with energy and
strange life forms and is well worth the supplementary fee. Several of our
young authors," the huckstering machine continued, "have already worked with
it and claim that the reluctant work produced within this surround is simply
"Thank you, Surround, but today I think I need something better known, more
familiar. Please let me have Browning's study, personalized version no.32-
345B." Immediately, the narrow confines of her cramped workunit appeared to
shift until she found herself seated at a large oak work table covered with
manuscript and leather-covered rectangular solids in a walnut-paneled room
the likes of which had not existed for several hundred years. She had no idea
who this Robert Browning had been or even what kind of work he had created-
whether it was, say, adventure tales or erotic epics-but she had felt at
home in his workroom since she first came upon it while idly browsing
through infrequently used scenarios. Austen felt the temperature of the air
around her drop slightly as Surround changed it tomatch the qualified
realism that marked her own personalized version of this ancient writer's
Turning on her Authorpad model 73.2 automatically called up the last
wordfile she had entered before going to sleep a very few hours before.
Austen had caught fire late yesterday afternoon, and unwilling to spare
attention or energy for anything else, she had composed until her latest
tale-her best, she knew-arrived at the conclusion for which she hadbeen
searching. Anxious lest the passages that seemed so perfect before she had
returned home and thrown herself down on her rumpled sheets and slept at last
would now appear awkward and imprecise, she nervously rubbed her left hand
over her mouth and cheek. She had waited long for this one, so long that she
was terrified lest she had deluded herself into thinking, as all beginners
must, that she had a winner. No, she was certain. This time her Submission
would move the Agency to promote her from Apprentice Author Class 1C
to Author.
Like all those many thousands of student and apprentice authors, she had
wasted far too much creative energy, she knew, dreaming of making it. She
wanted the enormously greater convenience of having her own workunit at home,
of course, and like everyone else, she naturally wanted the stipend that came
with promotion as well. And the status of being a real Author and not one of
the hangers-on, the would-be's, so many of whom eventually dropped out of the
struggle and ended their days as clerks or worse, well, that was wonderful,
to be sure. But it was publication, gaining access to the literary network,
that made it all worthwhile.
Sure, it wasn't much, not like achieving the status of Mass Author or even
Serious Author, but it was a first step, the one that allowed and encouraged
her to take others. Some legendary Apprentice Authors had made it real big.
Why, not more than two or three years ago, she remembered, a young man had
shot out of obscurity, scored big with a Mass Novel about the last war that
had made international network where it had been picked up and used for
videos throughout the world. There was even one of those weird pop fairy-
tale versions in New Delhi, and the French had taken it, dividing the main
character into six states of consciousness or moods, and creating a
phantasmagoria that made the art channels.
Today she felt hopeful, energetic, sure that she would make it to the
network. Moods are funny, she thought, for not more than a week ago she had
felt crushed beneath the base of this massive pyramid that stretched from
students, authors-in-training, and would-be authors to fully accredited
practitioners and from them upward to the minor and major Mass Authors, and
above them, in turn, to the Serious ones, whose works would be allowed to
exist for one hundred years after their death. And, then, way off in the
distance, at the peak of this pyramid, there were the Canonical Authors,
those whose works had lasted and would be allowed to last, those whose works
could be read and were even taught in schools to those who didn't want to be
She knew how difficult creating something new had proved. And she certainly
had learned the hard way that there were no easy shortcuts to success. In
particular, she remembered with embarrassment how she had tried to crash
through the gates of success with a little piece on a young author struggling
to succeed, and she still squirmed when she remembered how Evaluator, the
Agency of Culture's gateway computer, had responded to her first Submission
with an extreme boredom and superior knowledge born of long experience, "Ah,
yes, Ms. Austen, a story on a young author, another one. Let's see, that's
the eighth today-one from North America, one from Europe, two from Asia, and
the rest from Africa,where that seems a popular discovery of this month.
Your ending, like your concentrationon classroom action and late night
discussions among would-be authors, makes this a clear example of
Kunstlerroman type 4A.31. Record this number and check the library, which at
the last network census has 4,245 examples, three of which are canonical, 103
Serious Fiction, and the remainder ephemera.
"Your submission has been erased, and the portions of your Authorpad memory
containing it have been cleared, thus allowing you to get on with more
promising work.Thank you for your submission. Good day, Apprentice Author
That, she thought, must be her most painful memory, but another
concerning her attempt at truly original creativity rivaled it. A year
before the first incident, which took place this past November, she had
decided that she had been relying too much on the Authorpad's tieins to the
Agency's plot, character, and image generators. No, she promised, she
would be her own woman, and though she had found it difficult working without
the assistance of that friendly voice that made suggestions and allowed her
to link instantly to source texts and abundant examples, she had forced
herself to slog on, hour after hour, confident that shewould return the
craft of authorship to its past glories, the glories of the BackTime
when computers had not offered their friendly assistance and authors, so it
was rumored, actually created heavy things called books (though how one was
supposed to store or even read them she wasn't quite certain). She remembered
her chagrin when the Practice Evaluator at school, which was programmed to
emulate the Agency's official one, pointed out how sadly derivative her
contribution had turned out to be. When she emphasized how she had composed
it entirely "on her own"-that was the phrase she used-the knowing voice com-
manded, "Look, Austen," and then before she realized what the evaluator was
doing, the scene vanished from her Surround, replaced by sets of flow charts,
concept maps, and menus, some of which bore labels like "Parallels to Plots
of Submitted Work" or "Forty-One Types of Novels about Young Authors." She
found herself particularly embarrassed to discover that even the title of
which she was so proud, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,"
had already been used by an obscure twentieth-century author who resided in
the distant reaches of the canon.
Worst, she had had to listen, this time forced to pay close attention, to
another lecture on the foolish egotism of would-be authors. She had taken all
the requisite courses in literary theory, naturally, and now Evaluator was
accusing her of theoretical naivete and ideological illiteracy. Her main
problem, she had to admit, was that she had such a firm sense of
herself, such a firm conviction that she existed apart, different, that she
found the Culture Agency's emphasis on inevitable creation uncongenial, and
well, yes, threatening as well. It all went back, the machine was reminding
her, to language, the condition of all intelligence, whether human,
artificial, or combination of the two. "All of us, Apprentice Austen, use it
to communicate our thoughts and to shape our reality, but although you
speak ComEnglish, you do not create it, even though no one may ever have
combined those words that you use at this instant in precisely that way
before. In fact, as your teachers have reminded you so many times, the
thoughtful Author confronts the fact that language speaks her as much as
she speaks language. And since literature is but another level of language
and linguistically organized codes, you cannot assume that you are in sole
control of the stories you produce. Your job as an author, Ms. Austen,
involves recombinations and possible discoveries, not origins, not
originations. An author is a weaver of tapestries and not a sheep producing
wool fibre."
Austen learned her lesson, she felt sure, and this story would be the one to
realize allthat potential her teachers had seen so many years earlier.

Austen pressed the white button, transmitting her story from the Authorpad
to Evaluator in the legally required act of Submission. She there upon
stepped back and waited. Slightly more than seven seconds later, Evaluator's
melodious womanly voice, now warmer and more enthusiastic than before,
announced, "Congratulations, Author Austen, your story has been accepted. It
will appear this Thursday on the regional network and we predict solid
interest. Please check the official reviews and abstract that will be
circulated on this date in order to provide author's confirmation of the
abstract. Additional congratulations are in order, Ms. Austen: Requests have
just been received for translation rights from Greater Germany, Nepal, and

Austen lifted her finger to press the white button that would transmit her
story from the Authorpad to Evaluator in the legally required act of
Submission. She placed her finger near the white button, paused a second, and
then another. Slowly unplugging her Authorpad, she left the cell, and holding
herself rigid by sheer force of will, walked briskly back toward the

Austen pressed the white button, transmitting her story from the Authorpad
to Evaluator in the legally required act of Submission. She was still seated,
eyes shut and holding her breath, when less than ten seconds later,
Evaluator announced, "Congratulations, Author Austen, your story has been
accepted for a collaborative fiction! Your text will mingle with those of
eleven other authors, only two of them brand new like yourself. That is quite
an honor, I must say. Would you like to learn the identities of your

Austen pressed the white button, transmitting her story from the Authorpad
to Evaluator in the legally required act of Submission. She had not time to
remove her index finger from the button, when the firm motherly voice of
Evaluator gently announced, "I am sorry, Ms. Austen. Your Submission is not
accepted. Please try not to be upset. At another time, your work might have
been admitted to the Net, but this past week has seen an unusual number of
texts submitted. If you find yourself in need of a tranquilizing agent now or
something to help you sleep later, I am authorized to prescribe one at your
local pharmacia."