I discovered yesterday that several people (or, as it may be, several robots) had found the blog by Googling ‘tzenni malabranca’, and this led me to discover that the books have shown up on a site called Shelfari. (Warning: it looks like Shelfari were putting up confusing pages that would spam everyone in your email address book with automated emails if you weren’t careful in 2007 – I would hope they’ve addressed this, but exercise caution) What I find fascinating about this is that they’ve got a list of characters and places, and it’s obviously automatically generated. Here’s the list of names from The Maker’s Mask:
* Lady Tzenni
* Zikkili Braschi
* Lady Rosalind
* Sorszenna Hawkwood
* Kjarten Helm
* Aetius Hawkwood
* Lella Placidia
* Latinus Malabranca
* Kapellan Prime
* Lady Melati
* Lady Vikenai
* Pietro Valdia
* Tzenni Boccamera
* Lady Boccamera
* Draa Bianchi
They haven’t done a bad job of picking out character and place names from the text by any means. They don’t seem to have worked out that Lotus Hart had a first name, and they’ve failed to notice Lady Stephanie Volkov altogether, but in general it’s a good effort.
The first thing that tipped me off that it was an automated list was that they had ‘Latinet’ and ‘Lellet’ as separate character names whereas they’re actually nicknames. Then I noticed that they thought Shainault was a person and that St. Rune, Vangelina St. Cloud and, for some reason, Catha were places. I’m going to give them a pass on thinking Rouen was a place too, because if you give your characters geographical names you have to expect that kind of thing, though I am slightly disappointed that the software didn’t think I’d written a highly coloured tale of the French Foreign Legion, set around that romantic desert stronghold, the Casuarina Fort.
I’m wondering where they found an online copy of the book to scrape the names from, and since guessing that the ‘look inside this book’ feature on Amazon probably features somehow, particularly as Shelfari is owned by Amazon.
What’s fascinating me is what these automated lists of characters and places link to. If you click on, for example, Rouen, you get a list of books which mention the city of Rouen. Useful, you’d think, if you’d just read a book set in Rouen and loved it and wanted another one.
But if you click on ‘Lady Rosalind’, you get a list of all the books on Shelfari featuring a character called Lady Rosalind. (Fewer than I’d expected, actually – maybe all the background characters in Regencies are answering to Bethany and Megan these days) And the page says ‘This character appears in 8 books’, which… well, no. I think it would be quite entertaining if my Lady Rosalind popped up in a Regency novel, but I really doubt that’s what’s happening.
Can you imagine what happens if you have a character in your book called John? I really doubt that’s the same John in all those 27604 books, you know.
I have to admit, I’m slightly confused about why an otherwise prettily designed site that’s been around a few years would be doing something like this. I can see that it’s interesting to see how many other people called a character Latinus, say, or Ligeia: but if you were trying to use it to work out which books were part of a series or even trying to find novels about Mary Queen of Scots, it would be no use at all because the false positives would drown out the signal. I wonder whether it’s a mismatch between what would be helpful to readers and what you can do with an automated script – I know that the Archive Of Our Own has a team of volunteer ‘tag wranglers’ who go round separating mentions of the character called Gibbs who shows up in NCIS from the character called Gibbs who shows up in Pirates of the Caribbean, and I’m not sure how you’d do that except by hand.
Do you use any ‘which books have you read’ sites, and do you find them useful? I have to admit I don’t, because I’m not that organised, and also if I were to type in the backlog of everything I’ve read starting with whichever it was of the Ladybird Readers at the age of two years eleven months and working my way up to Stephen Goldin’s Tsar Wars which I’m enjoying immensely at present I’d be here until about November. And if I don’t do all that groundwork they just recommend me things I’ve already read.
Finally, on the subject of automated scrapers of books, some years ago I ran Word’s ‘automated summary’ feature on what was then one long book, and got this:
Innes took Tzenni’s hand.
Tzenni blinked. Tzenni gulped. “Innes!”
Tzenni blinked. “Innes!”
“Tzenni. “Lady Tzenni? Tzenni nodded.
Tzenni shivered. Tzenni blinked. Tzenni breathed. “Innes.”
Tzenni nodded. “Lady Tzenni. Tzenni blushed.
Tzenni turned. Tzenni hesitated.
“Innes. Tzenni shivered. Tzenni waited. Tzenni demanded.
Tzenni hesitated. Tzenni’s… my Tzenni. “Tzenni…”
“Tzenni! “Innes!” “Innes,” said Tzenni. Tzenni’s hand. Tzenni breathed. Tzenni shivered. Tzenni nodded. “Innes.”
“Tzenni. Lady Tzenni. Tzenni blinked. “Innes. Tzenni nodded. “Innes,” said Tzenni.
I’m not sure what it proves, but I think Word 97 was a Tzenni / Innes shipper.
Image from freeclipartnow.com