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Introduction to the Second Book Edition

Entry updated 7 October 2022. Tagged: Prelim.

The first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won a Hugo Award as best nonfiction sf book of its year, and immediately became the standard one-volume reference in the field. However, as the years passed, its usefulness diminished as it fell slowly out of date. That first edition was completed in June 1978, and published in 1979. This is its second edition, from new publishers. It has been not only updated, but also wholly revised and almost wholly rewritten. In effect it is a new book, and we believe it is a better one. It is certainly very much bigger.

Excluding straightforward cross-reference entries, the first edition contained approximately 2800 entries; measured on the same basis, this new edition contains over 4360. The first edition was approximately 730,000 words long; this new edition is approximately 1,300,000 words long. In addition to the 4360+ entries, it contains around 2100 cross-reference entries.

The first edition was written faster than any of us were comfortable with (about 20 months); this edition took two years to write, a tight timetable, but manageable in part because of the technology of computer wordprocessing. The book has been typeset from computer text generated by the editors. The three senior editors – John Clute, Peter Nicholls and Brian Stableford – were the same three who were primarily responsible for the first edition, and feel that our mutual familiarity made the task much easier this time round. Moreover, in the late 1970s the number of secondary sources available for cross-checking were comparatively few; now they are many. We continued to use primary sources whenever we could locate them, which we usually could, but it was a burden removed from our shoulders to have these secondary sources as a back-up. Our Acknowledgments section lists some of those we found most useful.

On the other hand, the world of science fiction is much more complex than it was in 1978; genre sf continues to grow and flourish, and its description remains our central task; but genre sf more and more occupies a world which, because of new category and marketing distinctions, is difficult to comprehend at a glance. Game worlds, film and television spin-offs, shared worlds, graphic novels, franchises, young-adult fiction, choose-your-own-plot tales, technothrillers, survivalist fiction, sf horror novels, fantasy novels with sf centres, and so on – all contribute to a structure that hardly existed in the 1970s. The world of sf is also harder to describe now – not just because it has become more difficult, but because we have begun to discover that it always was. We entered on the first edition with joyful naivete; we are older and wiser now, and we know that the secret history of sf, like the house in John Crowley's Little, Big (1981), is bigger on the inside than the outside, and that the further in you go the bigger it gets. This is by way of apology: for every problem we have put right, two more have raised their heads; every discovery we (and others) make opens vistas which need to be explored. We know our book is neither perfect nor complete.

We have tried to cope with the expanding world of sf, and with our expanding perceptions of that world, by including many more theme and terminology entries with – we hope – a clarifying effect. There are, indeed, more entries in every category in the book, not just entries dealing with updatings over the past 14 years, but entries covering the whole body of the genre as we have found out more about it.

There is another difference between this edition and the last. The first time Peter Nicholls was where the buck stopped. This time John Clute, Nicholls's Associate Editor in the first edition, is a full and equal partner. There is no seniority on either side, and editorial differences of opinion have been remarkably few. The only problems have been the communications difficulties brought about by Clute working in London, UK, while Nicholls worked in Melbourne, Australia. To simplify matters when we began work (in August 1990) we agreed, like the ancient Romans, to split the Empire. Clute, who for several years has been updating a bibliographic data bank, took charge of author entries; Nicholls took charge of the rest. This system (which to a degree reflects what happened in practice on the first book, too) works out at about half the book each. Each of us, however, has written entries for the other's half, and each of us has checked the other's text. Brian Stableford has been our safety net, and a major contributor in his own right. We have commissioned many new writers (and received a gratifying number of volunteers), some for single and some for multiple entries, but none of these, this time around, has written as many entries as did, for the first edition, Malcolm Edwards – who was with Stableford then a Contributing Editor – John Brosnan and David Pringle; many of their entries survive in this edition, in (almost always) modified form.

In this second edition, to a greater degree than in the first, most of the writing – perhaps 85% – is by Clute, Nicholls and Stableford, who despite small disagreements have displayed a critical consensus over a strikingly large range of issues. This means, for good or ill, that the book has a more unified tone of voice than most reference works (whose editors often write only a small proportion of the book themselves). We should point out, remembering charges of Anglophilia made of the first edition by a vocal minority, that only Stableford is English. Paul Barnett, the Technical Editor, is Scottish. Clute is Canadian and Nicholls Australian, and both have spent some years in the USA, whose culture they regard as adoptively an important part of what they are, and central to what sf is.

All entries are signed by initials. We do this to give credit where credit is due, and also to apportion responsibility for those cases where the reader may feel that the content of an entry has gone beyond the strictly factual into the judgmental. In the interest of liveliness and readability, we continue to allow, as we did in the first edition, a modicum of explicit critical comment. There is, anyway, no such thing as a purely objective reference work, since the very choice of what is discussed (and at what length) will suggest (to some readers) a value judgment. But here a cautionary note: the length of an entry depends on many factors; we cannot stress too strongly that conclusions drawn by readers about editorial preferences, on the basis of an entry's length, may well be wrong. To restate: opinion has been kept minimal, and in every case it is possible to identify, through the initials used, whose opinion it may be, though this second edition does contain many more examples of entries signed by two, three or even four initials than did the first. Some of this results from editorial modification of existing entries whose authors in many cases were not able to revise their own entries; some entries were collaborative from the first. The first initial given is generally that of the primary contributor. However, even though every entry is signed, there is a real sense in which this volume is a team effort, not least in that each entry has been scanned by at least four readers apart from its author, resulting often in the incorporation of uncredited suggestions and corrections.

The final manuscript (on computer disk, not paper) of this encyclopedia was completed in mid-August 1992, though some subsequent modifications (and small factual additions relating to awards, deaths and so on) continued to be made up to the last possible moment.

This is intended as a book to be dipped into or read for pleasure, not merely as a reference source for data. Serendipity may bring curious and pleasing conjunctions of entries together; an elaborate system of cross-references is designed to allow the reader to weave zigzag trails from entry to entry, constructing interrelations – sometimes surprising – as they go. We see this book as more than merely an encyclopedia of sf; it is a comprehensive history and analysis of the genre. [JC/PN]

John Clute and Peter Nicholls
November 1992


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