Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


The Research Shelf

By Lazette Gifford
2006, Lazette Gifford


Daily Life in Medieval Times

Frances and Joseph Gies

Barnes and Noble Books

ISBN 0-7607-5913-8

Many people are acquainted with the work Frances & Joseph Gies have done in the field of medieval studies.  Their credentials for this work are impressive, especially the years devoted to material for the Encyclopedia Britannica. This volume, available through Barnes and Noble, combines three of their popular works into one lovely and well-illustrated book.


The book includes:

  • Life in a Medieval Castle

  • Life in a Medieval City

  • Life in a Medieval Village

These works are invaluable for anyone who is writing a historical fiction book or a fantasy book set in a medieval-like setting.

If you want to get the essence of life right for your novels, these books (either singly or in the one volume reviewed here) are indispensable resources that can help you with everything from the background for tournaments to the making of ale in small villages.  Adding just a few realistic touches gleaned from these books can make the difference between a mediocre world and one that comes alive for the reader.

These two passage comes from page 279, and a chapter titled Big Business:

Feudal dues, guild regulations, princely prerogatives and ecclesiastical dicta notwithstanding, the western European businessman of the thirteenth century makes money -- often a great deal. There are two main avenues of fortune, the cloth trade and banking.  Very commonly the two are combined by a single entrepreneur....

Records are kept on wax tablets.  parchment, a seal, half a dozen quills, ink and ribbon or cord supply the tools of correspondence.  When a merchant writes a letter, he closes it with his seal affixed to a ribbon or cord.  Most business letters are written in French, but sometimes correspondence is in Latin and occasionally in Italian, or even a more exotic tongue, in which case the assistance of a professional scribe may be required....

This book will more than pay for itself in tidbits of information that will make your stories come alive with details.


Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

Matt Ridley


ISBN 0-06-093290-2

You don't have to agree with everything Matt Ridley says in this book to find it fascinating and filled with inspiration.  This is one of the most easy-to-read science books that I've come across, with a wonderful combination of science and anecdotes about scientists and how they found their answers. 

Genome is an excellent choice for science fiction writers who want to make their future humans different from today's breed.  Quite often science fiction writers concentrate on the technology side of their world and either ignore human changes or gloss over them.    We are living in an age where changes are possible, and considering such changes may give your book that added little spark to the story -- or in may engender entire stories all on its own.  Genome is also an excellent starting point for creating humanoid aliens or genetically mutated clones.

Quote from Chapter 14: Immortality

Ageing is turning out to be one of those things that is under the control of many genes.  One expert estimates that there are 7,000 age-influencing genes in the human genome, or ten per cent of the total....

And this quote from Chapter 1: Life

anything that can use the resources of the world to get copies of itself made is alive; the most likely from for such a thing to take is a digital message -- a number, a script or a word.

(Which makes me think that a computer virus is alive....)

There are odd little bits and pieces of material scattered through the book that might just be what you need to add a new level to your science fiction tale.