‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ makes internet debut

Neela Debnath

SFE final 300x225 ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ makes internet debut Considered by some to be the most definitive guide to Science Fiction, ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ has finally made its online debut. The launch comes nearly two decades after the last edition was published in 1993.

Through a partnership between publishing house Victor Gollancz and the editors of the encyclopedia, the website has been built to house all the content from the second edition and more. The site is currently in Beta and the editors are aiming to upload all the current entries by the end of next year. There are also plans to develop a mobile phone app.

The vast majority of work on the text of the new edition has been done by John Clute the associate editor of the 1979 edition, co-editor in the 1993 second edition, and David Langford the co-editor of the current edition. Some of the new entries to the online version will include anime, authors who started writing after 1993 and recent themes. For example, there will be an entry on the theme of Singularity, the theory that at some point in the future computing power will achieve some kind of consciousness or self-awareness, and that there will be super-intelligence which will be achieved through technological means.

Managing Editor Graham Sleight explained that the decision for the move to online was made several years ago when publishers made initial approaches about the project. ‘Even from its first incarnation back in 1979, we’ve always seen the encyclopedia as something that’s hyper text, in that the links mean as much as the words do. If you follow the links they should guide you on an intelligent path through the encyclopedia. And the practical considerations are pretty substantial too because the second edition is about as big a book as you can comfortably produce in one volume. With this edition we’re probably going to be of the order of three times or four times bigger than that. Online allows you automatic updates and fixing things in a much more responsive way than print would ever allow.’

However, moving online has its own problems, namely generating revenue. Just like the dilemma of free content versus paid-for content facing newspapers and print publications, the encyclopaedia will have to deal with the same issue. ‘It’s really important to acknowledge that this is a new and risky project for publishers. Doing something online for a print publisher is not something that they will have been used to. Finding in Gollancz a publishing partner who is willing to do this and trying to link it to their own e-book ventures was something we were very glad to find. Writers like everyone else need to be paid, we can’t just do this for the benefit of our souls.’ Gollancz has been subsidising the development of the site and Sleight says that once all the content has been uploaded to the site there will be considerations about revenue, advertising and even some exclusive content for paying members.

Rather than a Wiki which can be updated by members of the public, the entries are written by academics and experts in their particular fields. Sleight says: ‘In a sense it’s the same discussion that’s going on in newspapers or in academia or in any other field at the moment where we are providing gatekeepered information. We believe, not necessarily that gatekeepered information is better than un-gatekeepered information provided through a Wiki, but that it offers something different.’

Sleight who has been writing reviews and essays on Science Fiction for nearly a decade shared his thoughts on the enduring appeal of the genre: ‘If you asked old ‘Doctor Who’ fans ten years ago if there was a possibility that the series not only would be revived, not only would be successful but would probably be the most successful brand that the BBC have at the moment, they’d have laughed in your face. I think there’s something about looking around at the everyday world and saying ‘isn’t there something more than this?’’

The encyclopedia was the brainchild of Peter Nicholls, an academic who worked as the Administrator of the Science Fiction Foundation at North East London Polytechnic, now a part of the University of East London. After hearing rumours about a publisher expressing interest in producing a book about Science Fiction, Nicholls approached them and suggested producing an encyclopedia. ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’, edited by Peter Nicholls, was published in 1979. Given the size and scale of the project, Nicholls enlisted the help of a team, including John Clute and David Langford.

The Beta version of the site was launched in October this year and gives fans of Science Fiction a chance to peruse through thousands of entries on the genre.

For more information about ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ visit:

Follow the SFE on Twitter @SFEncyclopedia

Image credit: Graham Sleight/‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’

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  • Peer of the Realm

    How can one be an ‘academic’ or even an ‘expert’ on science fiction? It’s fiction, after all, not facts. Can one study for a degree in the Mythology of the Star Wars Universe? Would that be a B.A. or a B.Sc. or a B.J. (Bachelor of Jedihood)? Let’s face it, the words ‘academic’ and ‘expert’ here are being used as euphemisms for ’sci-fi nerd’.

  • Guest

    I take it you’ve never been to a university?

  • Conor Stewart

    Euphemisms, yes, in the same sense that my literature professor is really just a bit geeky for romance novels.

  • DiscWorld

    This looks to be a good resource. Well done Graham Sleight !

  • Graham Sleight

    Thanks. But, to reiterate what the interview says, there’s a huge group of contributors here, including the editors John Clute and David Langford. I’m only part of a big collective enterprise.

    - GS

  • Peer of the Realm

    Only the one whose venerated name begins with O and ends in D.

  • MacTurk

    And you slept for how many years?

  • Simon Delancey

    One can be an “academic” or “expert” on science fiction in the same way that one can be an “academic” or “expert” on any other field of fiction.

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