The SFE at Loncon 3

We passed a couple of major milestones on 1st August: the SFE is now over 4.5 million words, of which John Clute’s own contribution has now exceeded 2 million. (For comparison, the 1993 second edition was 1.3 million words, and the current third edition was 3.2 million when we launched in October 2011.)

A number of SFE editors will be at the forthcoming World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, between August 14-18, and John Clute will be one of the Guests of Honour – as will be SFE alumnus Malcolm Edwards. There will be a couple of SFE-related programme items, as follows:


The Evolution of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Friday 15 August, 6-7pm, Capital Suite 13

Jonathan Clements, John Clute, Neal Tringham, David Langford, Graham Sleight, Rick Wilber

The SFE is 35 this year, and is now in its third edition. This panel will discuss how the SFE came about, and how it has changed with the times. What are the processes that go into creating an encyclopedia, and what are the pitfalls? How has the transition to an online format shaped the third edition? And in what ways does its increasing internationalisation reflect transformations in the field at large?


Science Fiction Encyclopedia Reunion

Saturday 16 August, 4.30-6pm, Capital Suite 7 + 12

John Clute, Malcolm Edwards, Peter Nicholls

Listen to the people behind the Science Fiction Encyclopedia discuss the history of its creation, from the first edition to the present day.


In addition, one of the displays in the Exhibits Hall is John Clute’s study.

We’ll hope to see as many SFE readers there as we can!

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We’ve reached a couple of milestones recently. The SFE gallery of book covers now has more than 10,000 images: this one seemed appropriate for the 10,000th. Our series of slideshows of thematically linked covers has continued to grow, and Darren Nash of Gollancz had some nice things to say about the London one.

In the meantime, the total wordcount of the SFE is now in excess of 4.3 million. And editors Clute and Langford were interviewed by Amazing Stories here. Onward…

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The Gallery

We’ve been talking for a while about new features to add to the SFE, and another one has gone live today: the Gallery, which collects together covers for sf books and links them back to SFE entries. To quote from the launch page:

“Once on the Gallery page, you can search to reveal everything the archive contains for a particular author, title keyword, illustrator or publisher; you can select Slide Show for an ever-changing presentation of available pictures, more than 1800 of them on launch day; or you can simply click on Lucky Dip for another unpredictable image, to be replaced by further visual serendipity as often as you care to hit the button again.”

As of this evening, there are 1,837 covers uploaded with more to come. We’d especially welcome help with attributions for some where we’ve been unable to track down the artist.


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Invisible Mending

Should we blow our own SF Encyclopedia trumpet harder? Editorial modesty discourages perpetual self-promotion (also known as the Curse of Facebook), but here are a few peeps behind the scenes and notes on features you may have missed.

• The biggest “invisible” achievement of 2013 so far has been the fixing of a long-known but not easily tackled website bug that affected SFE search results and headword lists. In both these places headwords could occasionally be duplicated, with one linking correctly to the appropriate entry while its evil twin had a corrupt link that gave a horrible and incomprehensible Server Error page. After much cogitation David Langford suggested a fix to eliminate the bad links, and this was dextrously installed by the site designers STEEL of London on 13 February. Many thanks to all of you who reported this problem over the last year. Let’s hope it’s gone forever.

• Although the What’s New page automatically lists the 100 latest entries newly added to the SF Encyclopedia, it doesn’t show major changes to already existing entries. Rob Kilheffer, for example, has just expanded the old Aliens (as in extraterrestrials) theme entry to about five times its former size: this coverage of a big subject now runs to some 17,500 words. Conversely, the international entry for Latin America has shrunk considerably because – thanks to the academic initiative organized by Rachel Haywood Ferreira – the countries whose sf was all too tersely summarized under Latin America in the encyclopedia’s second edition are receiving full entries of their own: Brazil, for example, which links in turn to new entries for Brazilian authors.

• An alternative “What’s New” option, for those who like such things, is the RSS feed which reports the latest new SFE additions in your browser or news aggregator. By default this shows a modest 12 entries, a figure which can be changed: and give the latest 20 and the latest 50 respectively. Other numbers can be inserted by the alert and intelligent user, though there’s a limit of 100.

• Besides the official SFE Twitter feed on our home page (see “Connect with SFE” in the right-hand panel), John Clute regularly tweets about new, improved or timely entries. Follow him and expand your vocabulary.

• Speaking of timeliness, the On This Day page has a few options that we’ve been too busy to plug. Selecting any desired day and month, for example (use the pulldown menu and click the Above Date button), to reveal anniversaries for future dates. David Langford wishes he’d had this facility when he was working on daily newsletters for sf conventions. Yes, we made allowances for smartarses who enter dates like 31 February or 31 June.

• Who’s writing this thing? A great many people, as ever; the most prolific contributors appear in an informal league table on the Statistics page. Look on Clute’s works, ye mighty, and despair. By way of extremely modest trumpet-blowing, the latest word count and entry count can also be found in bar-chart form at the editors’ home page, alias SFE Facts.


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The Four Million Words of Stuff

As of today’s upload, the SFE has passed the 4 million word mark. (4,009, 844, to be exact.) As a reminder, the 1993 print edition was about 1.3m words. A little bemused by this landmark, the SFE editors are not quite sure how it was achieved (=> Mad Scientists), except that 4,009, 844 is a lot of words (=> Linguistics).  Nonetheless, as a group (=> Hive Minds), they feel reasonably content with progress so far (=> Optimism and Pessimism), and look forward to adding even more entries before too long (=> Near Future). After a brief sip of cheap champagne from a paper cup, they will return to their screens to write yet more words using the traditional SFE research tools (=> Occult Detectives), and hoping not to become too exhausted (=> Zombies).

Science does not yet allow us to discern which of the recently added entries contains the actual 4,000,000th word, though I’d like to think it was in one of Gary Westfahl’s recently added entries for truly terrible movies. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, anyone? 


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The Encyclopedia of Fantasy

The short version of this post: we’ve put all 1.2m words The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) online along with The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. We hope you enjoy it. (And if you do, you might want to donate to support us.)

The longer version… The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was edited in the 1990s by John Clute and John Grant. It’s resided for a while in the same electronic format as the Sf Encyclopedia. As we updated the Sf Encyclopedia, we became aware that in several places there were overlaps between the two. (Tolkien, for instance, is surely much better thought of as a fantasy than an sf writer.) There were also cross-references between the two that we had to leave un-linked, and that nagged… So, with the kind permission of editors Clute and Grant, our technical magus David Langford set about seeing if that could be resolved.

The current implementation is thanks to an enormous amount of work from David. The FE has been added to the site in much the same way as the SFE: one entry per page, with the usual facilities to go to next/previous entries etc. Probably the best place to start is the introduction to the online edition. You can also browse a list of all entries, or just of entries by category (for instance, author, artist, theme…) You’ll see the usual search box in the right-hand sidebar. Cross-references between the SFE and FE should now work smoothly, but please contact us if you see any that don’t.

We are not updating the Fantasy Encyclopedia, at least for the moment. Getting the Sf Encyclopedia complete and accurate remains our priority. Of course, if someone wants to pay us $millions to do so, then we’re happy to talk about the idea… But for the moment, the Fantasy Encyclopedia has to be understood as being accurate up to 1997 and no further. (A few subsequent death-dates have been added.) You’ll also notice also that FE author entries don’t have the bibliographic checklists that SFE entries do.

Anyway, we all hope that you find this extra 1.2m words a useful reference. As ever, if you’d like to support us/thank us, we’d welcome any donations you might care to make.

Meanwhile, the Sf Encyclopedia has now exceeded 3.8m words. It also now has twice as many entries as the CD-Rom second edition, and new additions continue. Speaking of which, there’s an entry I have to go and write…


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A clutch of site improvements went live on last week. David Langford gives some details of them here, but omits to say that this new functionality is the result of a huge amount of his ingenuity and hard work. We all very much hope that this improves both the fun and the usefulness of browsing the SFE. 
The major new changes fall into two groups. The first set are those shown in each entry:
  • The “Next” and “Previous” buttons allow you to browse through the SFE in strictly alphabetical sequence – thus enabling you, should you so wish, to read the whole thing entry by entry as you could with the book.
  • The “Incoming” button shows a list of the entries that link to the the entry now on show. So, for instance, if you’re browsing the “Aliens” theme entry, clicking “Incoming” will show you every entry (and there are a lot of them) referring to aliens. We’ve always said that one of the things that we work hardest on in the SFE is using links meaningfully: we hope this feature will enable some more of that to be visible to users. Incoming also identifies the contributors whose initials appear at the end of the entry, giving all names in full, and — although this feature still awaits more expert feedback — provides academics and students with suitable copy-and-paste text for bibliographic citations of the entry.
The second set of changes is accessed from the “Extras” panel in the right-hand margin.
  • “Random” does what it says: takes you to a randomly chosen entry anywhere in the SFE. (At one point, we considered denoting this with Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse-arrows-pointing-everywhere Chaos sigil.)
  • “Random new” also does the obvious, choosing from all full entries added since the second edition.
  • “What’s new” begins by showing you the 100 most recently updated/added entries in the SFE. Having originally said that we were only going to add updates every month, we’ve found ourselves adding new material much more frequently than that. So this list changes quite often, usually weekly and sometimes even daily. You can also step back screen by screen through the currently more than 4200 such new entries, 100 at a time.
  • The “Shop” button takes you to a page where you can set your preferences for our “affiliations”. Previously, if you were reading (say) the entry on Isaac Asimov and wanted to read one of his books, the relevant link in the checklist at the end of the entry would only take you to Now more vendors are available and still more can be added.
  • The “SFE Facts” button gives you access to various factual goodies about the whole project: word counts, today’s anniversaries of sf births and deaths and a list of links to entries for the recently departed, FAQs, contact and donation details, and the like.
As ever, comments are very welcome – either here or on our comment form. In the meantime, uploads have taken the text to just over 3.7m words. The great work continues…


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A few updates

Additions continue on the main SFE site – we’re now almost at the 3.5 million word mark. (As a reminder, the 1993 edition was 1.3m words.)

If you’re attending Olympus, the UK Eastercon this weekend, editors Langford and Sleight will be there along with other SFE contributors. In particular, there’ll be a panel on Saturday at noon about the SFE and our sibling site, the SF Gateway, in Room 38.

And finally, the SFE team was very cheered by this piece from James Patrick Kelly in Asimov’s Science Fiction this month. It’s nice to know we’re on the right track…

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Money and such

This is a post I’ve put off making, because I initially thought it didn’t seem appropriate to talk about the financial side of the SFE while we’re still finishing it. But enough people are asking about this aspect of things (and, indeed, have started giving us money) that it seems worth setting out our view on this. So, some questions answered:

1)      How is the SFE funded? Well, our publishers Gollancz have paid for the initial development of the website, and are paying us a license fee. On one level, Gollancz have been generous with the license fee. However, putting together the SFE (like much sf activity) is work that we all undertake for free, or for a lot less than a going rate for our work. The money Gollancz have provided us with isn’t enough to make the SFE sustainable in the longer term. So, with Gollancz’s blessing, we’re seeking alternative ways to augment it.

2)      So what other ways does the SFE have of funding itself? Well, the most visible one is affiliations. Most items on SFE bibliographic checklists carry a little “A” icon by many titles indicating that if you click through to Amazon and buy them, we’ll get a small percentage of the proceeds. (Some carry a G icon, indicating instead that the books can be bought from Gollancz’s e-books Gateway.) As it stands, this is only for Amazon UK, but we hope to offer a wider range of booksellers soon. Once we complete the SFE, we want to look at
offering app or print versions if there’s sufficient demand. We might look at carrying advertising, but I think that’s some way down our list of possibilities. And, if people want to donate to support us, they’re most welcome to – though of course there’s no compulsion, especially with the SFE incomplete.

3)      OK, I feel like I might want to donate to support you. How do I do so, and what sort of amount might be appropriate? You can donate via Paypal at this page. If you want guideline annual amounts, can I suggest £25/$40 for a frequent user of the SFE, or £10/$16 for an occasional user? But any contribution will be valued. Donors are listed, along with contributors of factual and other feedback, on our Acknowledgments page unless they request anonymity. If you want to donate via a means other than Paypal, get in touch via our contact form.

The other overriding thing I’d say, though, is this. If you feel you can donate to support us, that’s great. If you can’t or don’t want to, no problem. What’s most important to us is the sense that we’re doing something that’s useful for the sf community at all levels (academic, fan, publisher, author, etc.). The continuing feedback we’re getting suggests that it is – and that changes like reforming the old all-capitals links are further steps on this road. We hope that will continue as we move towards completing the SFE this year.


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To cap or not to cap?

As noted in a progress report on the main site, we’ve just put live a big update to the SFE, which now has more than 138,000 words on top of the text we launched with in October. I thought it might be worth discussing one particular change.

In the 1979 and 1993 print editions of the SFE, cross-references to other entries were written in small caps. So, for instance, an entry might say “Heinlein’s novels shamefully neglected discussion of GIANT MUTANT STAR GOATS”, and you’d know that the capitalised phrase was the title of another entry. We carried this convention over into the text that went online in October. In addition, links were underlined and in blue – as is the usual online convention.

There was a very distinct split in the reaction to this. By and large, those who knew the SFE from its previous editions made no comment or were happy with it. Those who didn’t found the presence of capitalised, underlined, blue links too disruptive to their reading.The caps, they said, now carry the connotation of SHOUTING too much. So we took the decision to put the links back in lower case (except, of course, where a sentence dictates that they need capitals). This change took quite a lot of work for our technical supremo David Langford, but has been implemented in today’s update. We hope the result is less SHOUTY without alienating those used to earlier editions.

For the moment, we’re leaving links both in blue and underlined. But comments are very welcome on whether this is something we should look at again.


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