About Writers, book reviews, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

A Question For Mimi

Mimi Speake is an historian of sixteenth century Europe & therabouts. She delves into the private lives of such as Bernard Délicieux, the Friar of Carcassonne and Henry of Navarre. Nothing seems to delight Mimi more than to accurately include in her stories obscure details about the financial information of a walled town from that period, or a seminal work on algebra, or even lore about La Fée Verte, the green fairy.
And uh, Mimi is the only historian I know. So, I have a question for her.

Is Google messing with history? Not on purpose. But is that repository of human knowledge fatally flawed because of what it does not include?

I ask because I recently searched for early reviews of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book, Against the Fall of Night, published by Startling Stories magazine in 1948. Despite the story itself being vintage Clarke, the novella was initially panned for its word dumps of the author’s social theories. They added nothing to the story. I know this because I read it as a kid and I still remember my eyes glassing over the pages of preaching.
A few years ago, I re-read it. The book that I re-read said it had been published only because fans had expressed interest in reading Clarke’s first novel. It’s forward discussed Against the Fall of Night’s initial reception (dismal) and included some of those early reviews (bad.)

But Google has unwittingly rewritten history. I cannot find any of those original reviews. The Fall of Night is today presented as if it hadn’t bombed; as if it is just another good book by Clarke, even though he had to rewrite it in 1956 as The City and the Stars.

I know. I know. Google is not a complete history of anything. It is only a collection of whatever bits people put on the ‘Net. (But I wonder how many people think about things that are not on the Internet.)

So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?

And for everyone, a broader question:
To what extent are search engine results and social media the background against which we frame our questions? Do they guide the answers that we accept?
In short, does the Internet shape our collective consciousness?


22 thoughts on “A Question For Mimi

  1. mimispeike says:

    “So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?”

    You give me more credit than I deserve, GD. I often don’t know what I’m looking for, and when I do look for something specific, I often don’t find it. I use the TJMaxx method of research: you find what you find. If you find something to your liking, you jump on it.

    Yesterday I was searching for the meaning of a glove held in the left hand in sixteenth century portraits. I recall reading, right hand meant one thing, left hand another. I read it two or three years ago, probably in my ‘History of Perfume’ (gloves of the time were perfumed), but I can’t, for the life of me, find it. It’s a dense study, no piece of fluff. Published by Harvard University Press.

    The Friar of Carcassonne: I stumbled across him in one of the (literally) thousands of books I’ve brought home from my job. I have a treasury of minutia on the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, that I mix and match freely. Speaking of Spain, The Evolution of Race and Nation in the Hispanic World – tells me that in my period Basque was the language of the Judiciary, Spanish the language of the Court and intellectual circles. Fits in with my needs perfectly. If it didn’t I’d find some other way to explain how Sly speaks Spanish so perfectly he can correspond with Cervantes.

    And so I assure you that I am no fabulous researcher. I use what presents. And my story takes this turn or that in response to what I uncover.

    My tip is, work at a place that produces a wide range of both popular and scholarly books, be in a position to migrate them home, then read-read-read.

    And be persistent. I’ll keep asking Google – Glove in left hand sixteenth century meaning? – until it spits out what I want. Or else I’ll make something up. I’m writing faux-history after all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Methodology aside, you’re a wonderful historian, Mimi. Traditional historians may approach research with a specific goal in mind of what they want to reveal. Just because you use the opposite approach and research until you find something worth revealing, doesn’t make you any less accurate or prolific.

      & um, Maybe a glove in the right hand meant you were ready to challange someone to a duel? That could make a glove in the left hand a symbol of peace?
      This sounds good & is the kind of thing that could end up on the ‘Net as fact. But I don’t really know 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • mimispeike says:

        Oops. That was The Ephemeral History of Perfume published by Johns Hopkins University Press, in case anyone wants to chase it down.

        In terms of history, I go for the yuks. I distort a good deal. But it’s the proximity to fact that makes it all the funnier. And I footnote my full-fanciful passages with supporting material, so the reader doesn’t know if they’re made up or not.

        Liked by 2 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Could be, Carl. And of course 🙂 that would explain why governments are so desperate to control it.

      As a side note, my Lady, who has used every storage media since tape drives, points out they all get replaced by new media formats and we usually lose the information on the old media. Print it out is her answer.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes indeed! I have a case of Amiga diskettes and C-64 5 1/4″ floppies with god knows what written on them. The only writing I can still access is that which I printed out at the time. (Truly awful stuff, BTW. I was learning, and it shows.)

        Liked by 2 people

          • Ah, yes! Remember the 1541 disk drive? Insert diskette and . . . RATTLE-CLATTER CLATTER-RATTLE brrrrr-zssk, brrrr-zssk, RATTLE-CLATTER BANG! CLANK! CLUNK! CLATTER-RATTLE RATTLE-CLATTER brrrr-zssk, brrrr-zssk, then . . . a message on-screen:

            “Generating new world in Seven Cities of Gold. Please wait 35 minutes . . .”

            Liked by 2 people

            • GD Deckard says:

              I once had a Commodore Vic 20 and before that …hold on… an Atari 2600 that ran a Basic program with 64 bytes of computer power! Jeesh. My cell phone now has more memory than Colorado National Bank had in its first computerization (50,000 megabytes & proud of it!) We’ve lived through interesting times, Carl 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

  2. @GD: re: The Early Days of Computing: I was in the Marine Corps on Okinawa 82-85 when the home PC took off. We got our stuff at the PX; everything was sci-fi new and a series of startling revelations back then.

    Upgrading from a cassette tape deck to a disk drive was a quantum leap forward. (“Hold on, you’re saying this disk drive device thingy can load programs in minutes instead of hours?!”)

    I remember buying MS-Flight Simulator for the C-64, hooking it up to the rear-projection 70″ screen in our barracks common area and setting the auto-pilot. This accomplished we went upstairs to the squad bay, fell asleep, woke up six hours later and rushed downstairs to see where our computer flight had taken us. What wondrous sights might we now behold; what breath-taking vistas meet our astonished saucer-plate eyes? It turned out that we saw–well–the exact same thing we had seen at the beginning of the flight: the bottom half of the screen a solid green rectangle, the top half of the screen a solid blue rectangle.

    I remember happily copying games at the USO’s computer club (we didn’t even know the word ‘piracy’ back in those days, let alone understand the concept) and exclaiming to an Atari fan boy: “But the C-64 is better than an Atari 2600! The graphics are more sophisticated, it can mimic a typewriter, and all the games are FREE.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Yeah 🙂 I remember MS-Flight Simulator – and the hours of fllight time; good thing it had an auto pilot.
      Ever play chess on the 2600? You make your move at bedtime and the next morning, you saw the computer’s response.
      Later, it was such a thrill to play Battle Chess on the TRS-80. I remember that when the King took a piece, he pulled an army .45 out of his robe & shot his opponent.
      We are fortunate to have experienced so many “firsts.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • I imagine it is a thrill to experience the golden age of anything: film, radio, comic books, television. We lived through the Golden Age of the PC. What a wild, wacky, wondrous time of absurd hype and laugh-out-loud technological “FAIL”s it was! (Remember when Timothy Leary switched from extolling the consciousness-expanding power of LSD to the home PC? Heh!)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. victoracquista says:

    In some respects, I think that while Google promotes access to information, it does little to separate the wheat from the chaff. If anything, it amplifies the chaff (increases the noise to signal ratio). As a result, while we do live in the ‘Information Age’ and Google plays a big role in that, we also live in the ‘Misinformation/Disinformation Age’.

    Liked by 3 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Good idea, Mimi, and one I would expect from you. The Authorized Biography is available on Amazon and may well answer the questions about how his first book was received.
      But, well, that’s real research and sadly, most of us won’t do that anymore unless there is a specific reason to do so. We “Google it” & that becomes the sum total of our knowledge.

      Liked by 3 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I love Google. It’s a fun twirl of the roulette wheel. You enter your objective, you get a thousand things, many way better than your original idea. I am mad for Google.

        But I do the depthy reading also.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Absolutely. In the pre-internet days, I remember writing to Geo magazine because I needed information about venomous spiders. They gave me a long, detailed response. Today I can get that information in ten minutes. Plus all the rest that I would have skipped or got wrong because it didn’t warrant writing a letter for. For factual information, the internet is a goldmine, though one has to sift through a lot to get to the nuggets. But I turn to other sources for the in depth articles that might add a touch to a character’s depth or authenticity.

          Liked by 4 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    A note for Victor, in case he’s mystified. I am writing the story of a late sixteenth-century scholar, diplomat, and bon vivant, who happens to be a cat. A cat who, from childhood, has had a thing for boots.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Google is good at finding stuff that has been put on the Net, and much that was written in the ancient hard-copy world was scanned or transcribed later into computer-friendly form.  (A nice example is George Orwell’s forever relevant 1946 essay *Politics and the English Language*.)  It looks like nobody has gone to the trouble of scanning or transcribing the old negative reviews.  Whether such gaps constitute a fatal flaw or just another unfortunate consequence of finiteness is another question.  The old reviews would matter to anybody writing a bio of Clarke; the Orwell essay matters to anybody writing anything.

    Liked by 4 people

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