The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls, was first published in 1979. Frank Herbert hailed it as “The most valuable science fiction source book ever written.” Issac Asimov predicted, “It will become the bible for all science fiction fans.”
Both endorsements still hold the ring of truth. Ever since I added it to my reference shelf, it’s been my go-to source for SF-related research. Its editors include Peter Nicholls (general); John Clute (associate); Carolyn Eardley (technical); and Malcolm Edwards and Brian Stableford (contributing). Of course there’s a checklist of contributors beyond the official editing roster—a book of this size and scope requires a small army to compile—but I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say it’s long, impressive, and any person listed deserves our thanks for bringing this encyclopedia to life.
The book includes only a few pages of orientation, covering seven topics:
Introduction Background on the size and scope of the project. It’s built on its predecessors, but the team strove to research their topics from original sources whenever possible to ensure accuracy as best they could. The focus is SF—authors, themes, films, magazines, illustrators, editors, critics, film-makers, publishers, pseudonyms, series, television, original anthologies, comics, countries in addition to the Anglo-American works which dominate the volume, terminology, awards, fanzines, and finally miscellanea such as conventions, fandom and fan language (aka jargon). Fantasy writers who have been important influences within the SF field are included. “This work is not only an Encyclopedia of sf, but also a comprehensive history of and commentary on the genre.”
How to Use this Book Details of the alphabetical rules; bibliographical inclusion and exclusion guidelines; and other important rules are clearly explained.
Checklist of Contributors A key to each author’s entries which are indicated by their initials, and a little background on each of them.
Checklist of Themes Beginning with “Absurdist SF” and ending with “Women.” “We have included 175 theme entries, each consisting of a short essay . . . discussing the importance of the theme in sf and the history of modern thought generally, and the variety of ways in which it has been treated over the years.”
Checklist of Abbreviations and Picture Credits
Of the book’s 672 pages, 658 are devoted to content. A quick page-averaging count calculates about 4,500 entries. In today’s age of info access online, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction book is far less valuable than it was in the last century, superseded by its online version (sf-encyclopedia.com, now with 16,700+ entries), the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), and even Wikipedia. However, the book version remains easy to use, comprehensive, and is often the best starting point researching a given topic or author. It’s also more fun to browse than the web—and easily as distracting.