Dr. Dobb's is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Channels ▼

Jocelyn Paine

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Earth Falls Toward The Sun And Everybody Dies - A science-fiction plot-generator in Excel

April 28, 2008

Here's a little bit of fun from that never-never land between AI and spreadsheets. It's an Excel spreadsheet I constructed that produces science-fiction story plots. To run it, click this link — www.j-paine.org/excelsior/repository/spin/spin.xls — and read the plot from cells A4 downwards. To generate a new plot, select "Recalculate" in cell B4.

The spreadsheet was generated using a program I call Excelsior, and you can see the code, with commentary, at www.j-paine.org/excelsior/repository/spin/spin.html. It works by finding a random path through a transition graph of plot events.

This is stored in rows 210 downwards, column B being the nodes, and columns C:N the out-edges. When you press "Recalculate", the path-finder assembles a new random sequence of nodes in cells A107:A206, and then plants the corresponding text in cells A4:A103.

I should credit Gahan Wilson with a lot of the plot elements — it originated with his The Science Fiction Horror Movie Pocket Computer from Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss's The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 5. I've added a few, though, including Damon Knight's alien visitors who insist that all they wish is to serve man. Indeed they do — fried.


Related Reading

More Insights

Currently we allow the following HTML tags in comments:

Single tags

These tags can be used alone and don't need an ending tag.

<br> Defines a single line break

<hr> Defines a horizontal line

Matching tags

These require an ending tag - e.g. <i>italic text</i>

<a> Defines an anchor

<b> Defines bold text

<big> Defines big text

<blockquote> Defines a long quotation

<caption> Defines a table caption

<cite> Defines a citation

<code> Defines computer code text

<em> Defines emphasized text

<fieldset> Defines a border around elements in a form

<h1> This is heading 1

<h2> This is heading 2

<h3> This is heading 3

<h4> This is heading 4

<h5> This is heading 5

<h6> This is heading 6

<i> Defines italic text

<p> Defines a paragraph

<pre> Defines preformatted text

<q> Defines a short quotation

<samp> Defines sample computer code text

<small> Defines small text

<span> Defines a section in a document

<s> Defines strikethrough text

<strike> Defines strikethrough text

<strong> Defines strong text

<sub> Defines subscripted text

<sup> Defines superscripted text

<u> Defines underlined text

Dr. Dobb's encourages readers to engage in spirited, healthy debate, including taking us to task. However, Dr. Dobb's moderates all comments posted to our site, and reserves the right to modify or remove any content that it determines to be derogatory, offensive, inflammatory, vulgar, irrelevant/off-topic, racist or obvious marketing or spam. Dr. Dobb's further reserves the right to disable the profile of any commenter participating in said activities.

Disqus Tips To upload an avatar photo, first complete your Disqus profile. | View the list of supported HTML tags you can use to style comments. | Please read our commenting policy.