Before I start posting about the forthcoming new edition of the SFE – which I’m going to do real soon now – I thought it might be worth giving some background on the project. It’s been in existence, one way or another, for more than 30 years, and many people have been involved with it.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction was conceived back in the late 1970s by Peter Nicholls, and was compiled by him and a group of other contributors for publication by Granada in 1979. That volume, comprising some 730,000 words, won the Hugo Award in 1980. Many of the entries were written by John Clute and Brian Stableford.
Some years passed; in 1993, a second edition of the Encyclopedia appeared, co-edited by Nicholls and Clute though again with many contributions from others. This was published by Orbit in the UK, and by St Martin’s Press in the US. At over 1.3 million words, it was almost twice the size of the first edition; again, it won the Hugo Award, along with other honours.
Already, in the mid-90s, it was becoming clear that it was going to be impractical to have the Encyclopedia published in book form if it got any bigger. As a first step down this road, the publisher Grolier produced a CD-Rom version of the second edition (what I think of as “edition 2A”) in 1995. It contained about another 60,000 words on top of the second edition text.
At around the same time, John Clute – along with John Grant – produced an entirely new companion work, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), using many of the same contributors as the SFE.
The idea of an online third edition of the SFE has been around for the best part of a decade, and John Clute and others have been working on entries for five or six years. Although the third edition was originally contracted with (and generously supported by) Orbit, we amicably parted ways a few years ago. Earlier this year, we signed a contract with Gollancz, under which the Encyclopedia will be published free online and linked to their Gateway e-books site as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. The current text of the Encyclopedia is over 3.2m words – that is, over two and a half times bigger than the 1993 edition.
At this point, the “we” on the Encyclopedia masthead comprises editors John Clute and David Langford, plus Peter Nicholls (now retired as Editor Emeritus, though taking a very active part in the work), and me as Managing Editor (which means I spend time writing blogposts, tweeting, and testing websites, among other things…). We have again been assisted by an amazing group of contributors, whose work I’ll be talking about in later posts; and by other kinds of support from many people.
So we should shortly be going live with a beta text of the new edition of the SFE. But what, you ask, is a “beta text”? Well, see next post…