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Nicholls, Peter

Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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(1939-2018) Australian editor and author, primarily a critic and historian of sf through his creation and editing of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction [see below]; resident in the UK 1970-1988, in Australia from 1988; worked as an academic in English literature (1962-1968, 1971-1977), scripted television documentaries, was a Harkness Fellow in Film-making (1968-1970) in the USA, worked as a publisher's editor (1982-1983), often broadcast film and book reviews on BBC Radio from 1974 and published much sf criticism – generally waspish but unsnobbish – in newspapers and magazines.

He became first Administrator of the Science Fiction Foundation 1971-1977, and edited its journal Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction 1974-1978, part of this work being republished as Foundation Numbers 1-8: March 1972-March 1975 (anth 1978). In Science Fiction at Large: A Collection of Essays, by Various Hands, about the Interface between Science Fiction and Reality (anth 1976; vt Explorations of the Marvellous [subtitle included] 1978), he assembled essays delivered at a 1975 sf symposium he had organized; contributors included Edward de Bono, John Brunner, Philip K Dick, Thomas M Disch, Alan Garner, Harry Harrison, Ursula K Le Guin, Nicholls himself, Robert Sheckley and Alvin Toffler. The Science in Science Fiction (1982), edited by Nicholls and written with David Langford and Brian M Stableford, is a study of sf's scientific content. Fantastic Cinema: An Illustrated Survey (1984; vt The World of Fantastic Films: An Illustrated Survey 1985), Nicholls's first solo book as author, is a critical history of sf, horror and fantasy Cinema.

He will probably be best remembered as the editor/co-editor/editor emeritus of various editions of this encyclopedia, having originated and contracted for the project in the mid-1970s, and remaining engaged with the enterprise until his partial withdrawal due to illness some time after the launch of the launch of the third edition online in 2011. The encyclopedia was his major accomplishment. He initially served as General Editor, with John Clute as Associate Editor, of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: An Illustrated A to Z (1979; vt The Science Fiction Encyclopedia 1979), which was its first print version, and which was awarded the first Nonfiction Hugo in 1980. He also served as co-editor of the second print version, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993; rev 1995; exp rev 1995 CD-ROM. further rev 1999) co-edited by Clute and Nicholls, which won a second Hugo, along with several other awards. Until his death he remained Editor Emeritus of the third edition (2011-2021 web), which won a third Hugo Award for Best Related Work, and gained other recognitions; to honour his long involvement, he is listed as Founding Editor of the Fourth Edition (2021-current web).

In 2000 Nicholls was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative affliction of the central nervous system, and his contributions to sf criticism and scholarship were increasingly curtailed. He did all the same compose some new entries for the current edition, revised a number of earlier entries and provided editorial advice, but (as he made publicly clear) on a very much smaller scale than previously. The term "editor emeritus" was intended to reflect this contraction (but not elimination) of editorial responsibility. The current edition of this encyclopedia bears his mark throughout. Peter Douglas Nicholls: 8th March 1939-6th March 2018 (anth 2018 chap), edited by Clare Coney and Jack Nicholls, contains appreciations of his life and work. Around 2012 Nicholls had begun to plan a retrospective collection of reviews and essays, noting some favourite pieces and drafting an introduction; owing to failing health this was not completed in his lifetime but formed the seed for a substantial posthumous volume using his 2012 title: Genre Fiction: The Roaring Years: A Collection of Commentaries and Reviews (coll 2022), edited by David Langford with a foreword by John Clute.

Nicholls won a Pilgrim Award in 1980 and the Eaton Grand Master Award (see Eaton Award) in 1995, both for services to sf scholarship. [PN/JC]

see also: Bibliographies; Collections; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Definitions of SF; Eaton Award; Proto SF; SF in the Classroom; Sense of Wonder.

Peter Douglas Nicholls

born Melbourne, Victoria: 8 March 1939

died Melbourne, Victoria: 6 March 2018



Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

For convenience, the three relevant editions of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction below are listed as separate titles.

works as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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