"You seem to be writing a Post-Cyberpunk Pseudo-Western Romance. Need help?"
Joe's fingers froze. He stared at the paperclip as it writhed on the screen. This new version of Word sure had some unexpected features. As one of the first people to test it, though, he supposed that he’d have to expect a few surprises.
He wondered what kind of "help" the paperclip was offering. How much could it know about post-cyberpunk pseudo-Western romances, anyway? He thought he was inventing that particular genre. He moved the cursor to the "Yes" button.
But no. He was a writer, wasn't he? What could a computer have to teach him? And what kind of writer would stoop to asking for such help?
Still. The paperclip had been right often enough in the past – spelling, grammar, when to use "that" and when to use "which." Hadn’t it earned a certain amount of trust?
He clicked the "Yes" button.
"The name of your protagonist is too obvious a nod to other cyberpunk authors," the paperclip informed him, happily contorting itself as if its tummy, or something lower down, had been rubbed. "Would you like to see another possible name?"
"Yes." And Sterling Gibson became Pascal Blaise. Hmmm. Yeah. He actually rather liked that change.
He typed another sentence, some paragraphs, a couple of pages.
The paperclip popped up. "Your opening scene lacks action and a hint of sex," the paperclip's balloon said. "Would you like me to add some?"
And there the scene was, just as it shouldhave been written the first time, concise and memorable and exciting. And making the neighbor woman a blustery repressed sexaholic – now that was brilliant.
He typed a series of random letters.
"Now that doesn't make any sense at all," the paperclip opined. "May I?"
Click, and he was on page 324, and "The End" was centered under the last line.
Joe scrolled back to the beginning. God, the thing had even changed his title. Joe frowned and moved to change it back – but the new one was much better. He began to read.
Two hours later he still wasn't finished, but he pulled his eyes away. This stuff was absolutely dazzling!
But it wasn't his. How could he take credit for something coughed up by a computer program? How could he hold his head up in the presence of other writers, real writers, who sweated and bled and snagged lightning? How could he face his readers?
But this really was good.
And more importantly, it would sell.
He hit Print. It was only three o'clock; he still had time to make it to the post office.
Plenty of time, in fact.
He opened New Blank Document, and started typing.
"You seem to be writing a Hard SF Werewolf Quest novel. Need help?"
Once this program went past the alpha-testing phase, other writers would be bound to discover this feature of the new Word. He couldn’t count on them to be foolish enough to turn off the paperclip.
He'd have to work fast, get stuff in the mail right away.
This story originally appeared in Perihelion SF.