Monday, August 16, 2004

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

One of Sterling's characters misquotes (I think) Heinlein on pages 64-65 in the hardcopy “The Zenith Angle”, perhaps forgivable as the character is also suffering from Alzheimer’s. I put “I think” in parentheses as one of the great mousetraps of the Web is incorrect reproduction of quotations, and almost never proper citation of the source. I suspect the above quote is the correct one, because it’s the most often reproduced, but in the interests of full disclosure, will note that I haven’t gone to the source to verify. But try running the first few keywords of the Heinlein quote through Google and you’ll get three different variations on the first page of results, with some writers correctly attributing it to Heinlein, some to his fictional character Lazarus Long with no mention of RAH, some mentioning that it was extracted from “Time Enough for Love” (or the “”Notebooks of Lazarus Long” chapbook, where it was reproduced), some not bothering to provide any reference at all.

Is the version above the correct one? I think so, but it’s just as possible that one person posted it incorrectly and others – including me – are compounding the error. State something wrong in enough places on the Web and eventually it becomes a “fact”, especially if you’re googling for it. Sterling, for whatever reason, leaves out “balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone… cooperate, act alone… analyze a new problem…”

I wonder if he Googled it?

Finding the exact citation for a quotation, or for that matter, the exact quotation, on the Web was also one of my banes as a Google Answers researcher, almost always taking more time/effort than expected when I tried my hand at it, and seldom turning out well. I finally gave up hunting down quotations, although I had one unusual
success.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...Compounding the Error--" precisely the reason it's a blessing four-year-olds can't write. Otherwise, we all might be singing Johnny Mak's version of "Row Your Boat," as follows:

"...Merrily, merrily, merrily merrily
Life's a spider dream."

What do spiders dream about?
Flies, of course. Flies. :-)

Jillbo R. Anonymous