Object 77

The Fires of Mahoutokoro

2048, Earth

Harry Potter and the Fires of Mahoutokoro wasn't the first fan-fiction novel to be published in the years following the Copyright Congress of 2032, when J. K. Rowling's series entered the public domain. In fact, it wasn't the hundredth or even thousandth such novel; and it certainly wasn't the most popular or the best — the credit for that arguably went to Hulland-Brown's trilogy.

It was, however, without doubt the Harry Potter fan-fiction whose style most closely resembled the original series. The joyful world-building, the incessant bickering between the heroes, the pacy plotting, the red herrings: all of J. K. Rowling's skills and foibles were on display in this story of Harry's adventures as a junior Auror.

Speculation mounted that Rowling herself had secretly been responsible for the novel, despite her long-held promise not to write any more Potter stories. Journalists brandished fervent testimonials from fans and detailed papers from academics attesting to the authenticity of the work, but the most convincing evidence came from expert forensic linguistic amplified teams that painstakingly dissected and analysed the new book. Their results were conclusive: there was a 98 percent author concordance between Harry Potter and the Fires of Mahoutokoro and Rowling's own series.

Yet throughout the frenzy, Rowling steadfastly maintained her absolute lack of knowledge about or involvement in 'Fires of Mahoutokoro'. The resulting mystery fuelled hundreds of graduate dissertations and conspiracy theories, but none of them could explain the appearance a year later of 20 more Harry Potter novels continuing the story, all in a flawless Rowling voice.

Clearly this was neither a simple hoax by a talented joker, nor could the books have all been written by Rowling herself. Instead, the books were the product of a 'reverse forensic linguistics' project.

If forensic linguistics is the pursuit of identifying the author of a text by means of comparing it to a wider body of work, then reverse forensic linguistics, or RFL, is the creation of original texts based on a complete knowledge of an author's work. The larger the corpus, the better the results — and there are more than a million words in the main Harry Potter series alone. But running an RFL back in the 40s wasn't as simple as you might think. Professor John Munroe at Bath Spa University explains:

"In those days, RFL engines were crude, unimaginative beasts. You couldn't put text in at one end, blink, and get a novel out the other. You had to get human writers to modulate the RFL engine with creative and believable plots. The problem was that most well-known writers had precisely zero interest in helping a machine churn out 'literature' in the image of another, probably much more famous, author. So the first RFL designers secretly turned to fanfic writers for help, of whom there was a veritable abundance following the Long Congress."

Other open-source RFL engines, such as the Markov-Cortex model, soon emerged from the Chinese Free University and the Oxford New Humanities Institute. Hundreds of new books were published 'by' the likes of Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Stanislaw Lem, Douglas Adams, and J. R. R. Tolkien. A human touch was essential; most RFL engines were good at dialogue and details, but poor at plotting.

Copyright was not a problem since the Long Congress had placed so much material into the public domain. There were objections, though: many authors claimed that RFLs constituted an unauthorised reproduction of their essential personality and intelligence. If an RFL engine could accurately mimic an author's writing style, the argument went, surely they were infringing on a human's right to their own personality?

The answer, at least according to the Second Circuit in the US, was 'no', as there was plenty of precedent for exceptionally skilled mimicry that didn't require RFLs. Nevertheless, the case of Wilson vs. Miller set the stage for future disputes in the arena of personality simulation in the 50s.

Over time, RFL engines were improved to allow for unusual 'mashups' of authors and genres, with Rowling being paired with Shakespeare, and Douglas Adams paired with Ayn Rand; some combinations worked rather better than others. Engines were also extended to more popular media such as movies (Michael Bay being used as a test case, due to his formulaic nature) and eventually game designs (Zynga, ditto).

Amid the tsunami of new literature and entertainment, many critics feared that RFL would spell the end of creativity. They needn't have worried — there's only so much Harry Potter one can stomach. And our hunger for genuinely new voices in storytelling was the one thing that RFL couldn't sate.