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Introduction to the Online Edition

Entry updated 18 October 2021. Tagged: Prelim.

Welcome to the Fourth Edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, launched online on 6 October 2021 as a direct continuation of the Third Edition, following the amicable end of our decade-long partnership with Gollancz and the SF Gateway. This reference work, which we continue to refer to in short as the SFE, is edited by John Clute and David Langford, with Graham Sleight as Managing Editor and the late Peter Nicholls acknowledged as Founding Editor. Contributing Editors who have shaped important sections of the Encyclopedia and continue to do so are Jonathan Clements, Mathew Downward and Steven Pearce; Roger Robinson remains our Research Editor. [For further details covering all editions, see Mastheads under about the Encyclopedia website below]. The Encyclopedia is now published jointly by SFE Ltd (our holding company) and Ansible Editions. For the rest, the story is told in the following Introduction to the Third Edition, to which we have made small clarifying edits in the light of 2021:

Introduction to the Third Edition

The launch of this new version in October 2011 climaxed thirty-five years of work (with breaks) for the senior editors, and was much expanded from previous editions of the Encyclopedia: the 1979 First Edition published by Granada in the UK and Doubleday in America, with Peter Nicholls, who had conceived and contracted the project in 1975, serving as General Editor; and the 1993 Second Edition published by Orbit in the UK and St Martin's Press in America, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, which itself took on various forms over the years. Two of its reprintings (in 1995, augmented in 1999) featured an appendix listing corrections and addenda; and a separate CD-ROM version, which added over 65,000 words to the original text (see Introduction to the CD-ROM Edition), also appeared in 1995 from Grolier Electronic Publishing as Grolier Science Fiction: the Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

The Third Edition took as its starting point the text of the 1995 CD-ROM edition, though not including some separate essays commissioned by Grolier, which had not been incorporated into the alphabetical structure central to all other iterations of the SFE. The laborious effort of transforming the Grolier version into usable form – a task including though not limited to restoration of lost material, repair of missing and broken links, reinstatement of accents stripped from characters (for example, "é" was reduced to "e" throughout), and insertion of corrections published elsewhere – was chiefly carried out by David Langford, and further refined by Clare Coney. Only when the decks were cleared in this way could we begin the long task of adding new material, and reformulating our entry architecture, taking advantage of our new digital form to open out our presentation of content. This opening out was perhaps most evident in the title Checklists, which became far more readable; but format changes were introduced throughout.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is and always will be a work in progress, a situation more clearly evident in the present era of regular online updates than when the book editions' snapshots of the sf field necessarily remained static for many years. Owing to the sheer amount of new material published since 1995, and also to the ambitious scale of our improvements to the coverage, we did not expect to complete our essential updating of the Third Edition before the end of 2012. As a marker of progress up to the point when this site went live, we had by the beginning of October 2011 expanded the 1,378,000 words contained in the CD-ROM to over 3,200,000 words and the entry count from 6731 to 12,230; while the 43,000 internal links of 1995 had grown to some 113,500 internal hyperlinks. But much remained to be done, and always will. Although all pre-existing author entries were updated by 2012, and most high-priority new authors inserted, there were many further authors in need of entries and new ones emerging daily; while updates in several other areas including country/regional ("International") entries, critics, editors, films and publishers were likewise ongoing, contingent on time and the availability of expert contributors. Work continued throughout the life of the Third Edition, with regular scheduled updates of this website as a whole; our contract with Gollancz specified at least monthly updating, and in practice this was done at least twice a week over the past decade. The hyperlinks continued to grow in number and usefulness. Expressed hopes of reaching 4,000,000 words of text by the end of 2012 were realized (a month late) in January 2013, and the next milestone of 5,000,000 words in November 2015. By September 2016, just in time for the fifth anniversary of both the encyclopedia and of SF Gateway, we had added two million words since the launch; the total word count passed 6,000,000 in July 2020. [At the launch of the Fourth Edition on 6 October 2021, the word count had passed 6,300,000; see {statistics} for updates.]

We are pleased and grateful that despite its then being very much a work in progress, this third edition of the encyclopedia won the 2012 British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Nonfiction, the 2012 European SF Society award as Best Promoter (of the sf genre) and the 2012 Hugo for Best Related Work.

The chief editors for this third edition were John Clute, once again the most prolific text contributor, who wrote many new author entries and updated existing ones, introducing substantial new features like the end-of-entry Checklists, which now register some 73,000 individual titles (see Editorial Practices: Checklists); and David Langford, who besides extensive and essential technical work added or updated a large number of entries in all categories, principally themes, terminology and Awards. Editor Emeritus Peter Nicholls wrote or revised some entries in the third edition before his death in 2018, and exercised some quality control via editorial advice on a number of other entries, but on a very much smaller scale than previously. Graham Sleight (Managing Editor) liaised with Gollancz and the initial website designers STEEL of London, as well as dealing with our finances, making many corrections and additions and writing several entries.

Roger Robinson, as Research Editor, provided bibliographic support – in particular maintaining a private bibliographic data resource highly useful for work on most entries, and essential for the author Checklists which he regularly updates – and handled the vast majority of image uploads and captions for the Picture Gallery [see links below]. This visual extension of the Encyclopedia was introduced in May 2013 and in its first year of existence accumulated more than 10,000 cover images of books referenced in Encyclopedia Checklists; the 20,000 mark was reached in 2017. [At launch of the Fourth Edition in October 2021, the total was just short of 30,000 cover images.]

Contributing Editors and other major contributors long associated with the third edition are as follows. Mike Ashley greatly expanded and updated the coverage of Magazines, and undertook considerable research to amplify author birth and death data throughout. Jonathan Clements wrote large numbers of new and updated entries for China, Japan and related authors and artists, plus selected Far Eastern Cinema and Manga productions. John-Henri Holmberg added and updated a number of Scandinavian entries, especially Swedish and Norwegian authors and the country entry for Sweden. Esther MacCallum-Stewart wrote and oversaw the Games entries. More recently, Steven Pearce has written a great many entries on animated Television series including Anime, somewhat neglected in past editions. Gary Westfahl further expanded and updated the artist/illustrator entries until his other projects no longer permitted this activity; he continued to contribute occasional film/television and theme entries. Most of the past and present Contributing Editors, especially Mike Ashley, also supplied many suggestions and corrections (and written entries) outside their own official spheres.

Former Contributing Editors and major contributors whose input has been valuable but who are no longer actively writing for this encyclopedia are as follows. The late John Grant added and updated many entries for artists and illustrators. Mathew Downward, as Associate Editor, both wrote and oversaw the writing of many entries for Cinema and Television before stepping down in 2019; until then he was also responsible for most of our presence on such social media as Facebook and Twitter; he has since returned with occasional film/television entries. Nick Lowe added and updated a considerable number of Cinema entries from the pre-launch period to Summer 2014. Abigail Nussbaum added and updated a number of Television entries in the pre-launch period. John Platt added and updated a number of Comics entries before departing from the project. Adam Roberts introduced an entirely new complex of SF Music entries. Geoffrey Stevens wrote many entries on older and obscure Cinema and Television productions and Media Magazines. Neal Tringham introduced an entirely new and very extensive complex of Games entries.

In other areas, Clare Coney (our initial Technical Editor) performed a thorough job of proofreading and copyediting much of the text, despite the extreme difficulty of doing so while Clute, Langford and many others were constantly incorporating new material throughout. Rachel Haywood Ferreira (Latin America/Iberia Subeditor) mentored contributors of Latin American, Portuguese and Spanish entries. Farah Mendlesohn (Academic Subeditor) supervised work by postgraduates on some entries about critics.

Further contributors of information, entries, partial entries and/or other much-valued support are detailed under Contributors. Providers of other much-valued assistance appear under Acknowledgments. Our thanks to all.

As a register of our progress towards the unattainable state of actual completion, graphic comparisons of word and entry counts – between the 1979 and 1993 print versions, the 1995 CD-ROM of the Second Edition, and the current state of the Third Edition – are irregularly updated on the Encyclopedia editors' home page [see links below]. As noted above, see also the Statistics page.

Comments, corrections and suggestions may be emailed to the editors using the email contact link below.

John Clute and David Langford
October 2011-October 2021

about us

These introductory or preliminary entries ("prelims" in publishing jargon) are equivalent to the front matter in a book, and indeed much of the material comes from the corresponding sections of the previous book editions and the 1995 CD-ROM.

about the Encyclopedia website

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