I was a junior in college at the University of California, Riverside, when I bought the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in 1993. It was a brand new book at the time, $75.00 if I recall correctly, and that was $75 I could ill afford to spend, being a starving student. It amounted to about 10 hours worth of work in the dorm cafeteria. But I had to have it and so I plunked down the money at the bookstore in the Moreno Valley mall and carried back to my apartment a massive blue book–bigger by far than any of my text books. For science fiction, it has been one of the most valuable and serviceable purchases I ever made and it still serves me in good stead today, although you can see from the photo (note the duct tape on one corner) it is a littler worse for the wear 18 years later.
Back in 1993, I would spend time skimming the book for articles which interested me, or looking at entries for writers I admired. In the years since, I’d consult it on various questions I had. On those occasions when I couldn’t decide what to read next, I would sometimes go to this book, flipping through it, looking for suggestions that emerged from the various topics. (Oh, a list of stories involving black holes!) A few years back, I even tried reading the book from cover-to-cover, the way I did with the MacMillan children’s dictionary my parents got for me one holiday season when I was about 6 or 7. I think I made it further in the Encyclopedia, getting through the “C”s but learning a lot along the way.
And of course, it is a great resource for my Vacation in the Golden Age posts.
So I was delighted today by the announcement that the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is now available (in beta) for anyone to access online for free. In many respects, this latest edition, entirely online, is the culmination of dreams that have emerged from science fiction, like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation designed to establish a great Encyclopedia Galactica.
I can remember thinking, way back in the mid-1990s, that it would be nice to be able to access the information in my heavy book in a cross-referenced format on the computer. This newest edition does just this, providing a highly interconnected set of articles, with links to various other articles. And it goes one step further. Gollancz also released today its SF Gateway site, which makes available, in e-book format, the backlists of dozens of big name science fiction authors. Where these authors and works are referenced in the Encyclopedia, they are linked to the corresponding page in the SF Gateway site. Indeed the only drawback to this wonderful collection of fiction is that about two-thirds of it is unavailable in the U.S. and Canada. This is not the fault of the publisher. They obtained what rights they could. But it would be nice if, as time goes on, the agents and estates of those authors who did not sell rights for the U.S. and Canada change their mind.
It is a good thing, I imagine, that the Encyclopedia was released today, of all days. In the United States it is Columbus day and most people have the day off. Otherwise, the loss in productivity from people spending hours lost in the articles in the encyclopedia might have been devastating to the already damaged economy. I browsed several articles and found them to be well-written, well-linked, and nicely presented on the screen.
I think this is a fantastic step forward in making the knowledge base of the history of science fiction genre available in a searchable, indexed format to anyone who has an interest. And I tip my hat to those who worked so hard to make this wonder of the genre freely available to everyone.