Book Review: Benny the Blue Whale

Benny the Blue Whale book is the latest collaboration between ChatGPT and an established writer. The core of it is, effectively, a transcript of the sessions where Andy Stanton persuaded ChatGPT to tell a long story about a blue whale with a tiny penis.

The book’s layout is stunning, with the transcript on the left-hand pages, and the right hand pages devoted to notes. There are also footnotes, as well as footnotes within footnotes. The book feels like a screen with multiple windows. I’d love to read more books with this sort of layout.

I found the story itself less interesting – it was not really my sense of humour and I often found it tiresome. But I enjoyed Stanton’s observations about ChatGPT and the writing process. A lot of responses to ChatGPT are either credulous or dismissive – it’s more interesting to see a writer engage with the question of the possibiliy of ChatGPT producing great work.

This is a book very much of its time – it is basically someone describing a series of prompts they made to ChatGPT. It’s is a book about first encounters with LLMs. I suspect its long-term importance will be in capturing a particular moment.

I most enjoyed Stanton’s discussions of improv and narrative theory. In one section, he demolishes the idea that authored art will be replaced by people interacting with GenAI. We don’t want to have to work for our stories. “Ultimately I want my fiction to be frozen. I want someone to have picked the very best throughline they could”

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