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SF Encyclopedia: Fourth Edition

This presentation of the SF Encyclopedia was drafted as an emergency fallback in case of server failure at our long-established (since 2011) Hachette / Orion / Gollancz platform, and developed as a replacement to become public after the old arrangement with Gollancz came to an end on 29 September 2021.

The new site – launched 6 October 2021 – imitates the general look and feel of the 2011-2012 design by STEEL of London, but with a number of rearrangements and improvements.

Security Certificate

Immediately after the successful transfer of the sf-encyclopedia domain to our own server, we placed an order for a security certificate allowing safe (https rather than http) connections throughout. This became active on 7 October 2021. There is a measure of self-interest here – it's supposed to be good for the Google rankings – but we hope it also increases general confidence in the site.

Searching

The search engine offers a choice of headword search (e.g. quickly find the John Clute entry) or global text search to find a significant phrase or title anywhere in the SFE text. After searching, the search text now remains visible so that a failed search can be amended or a successful one modified. As before, there are options to confine searching to particular entry categories (Author, Editor, Theme, etc). A new feature here, for global search only, is the "Checklist titles" option which searches only in bullet lists – in particular, the bibliographical Checklists in author and editor entries.

On initial load of any SFE page the cursor is positioned in the search text box, so that a new search can immediately be entered without having to click there.

Former bugs now fixed:

  • A headword search for “if” will find the magazine entry, which used to fail because the old search engine screened out common words: a search for If This Goes On returned the same results as one for "goes" alone.
  • Several accented and special characters which could not be searched for are now usable: for example, a search for "hoeg" finds Peter Høeg despite the slashed O.
  • Partial matching is now allowed: a search for “utopia” finds the Utopias entry, as was not previously the case.
  • Some obvious headword variants are also checked for: a search for “library” now finds the Libraries entry, among others.
  • Search results are presented as an alphabetical list of entries rather than in an inscrutable order based on unexplained internal weightings.

It is also possible to search the linked Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997 text not significantly updated) using the same search engine. More about searching can be found here.

Graphics

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The original site design discouraged graphic content within entries, and we set up the linked Picture Gallery (running on our own web server) to allow browsing and searching of many thousands of cover image scans. In the new design, every SFE entry linked from a Gallery caption now shows a relevant Gallery cover thumbnail at top right, which can be clicked on to see the larger image in the Gallery. For example, the Isaac Asimov entry selects its graphic from the scores of Gallery covers for books written by, edited by, introduced by or otherwise significantly related to that author. Revisiting the entry or refreshing the page normally shows a different selection.

Entry Lists

Headword list options in the grey bar to the right of the “SFE/The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” graphic at the top of the page have been revised. The ALL ENTRIES and THEMES links go directly to the relevant entry lists, though the first is divided for convenience into 27 subsections – one for front matter (introductions etc) and numeric entries and one for each letter of the alphabet; there is also an option to display the full, slow-loading list. PEOPLE (which was, confusingly, AUTHORS despite including Artists), MEDIA and CULTURE show the same category subsets as the original 2011 design, with the addition to each of All categories, which does what it says but was misleadingly labelled ALL ENTRIES in the old site. CULTURE additionally offers the Prelim (introductory) entries at the head of the list; these had never been recognized as a category by the old site. ALL ENTRIES offers the not previously available option of displaying only the list of Xref (cross-reference) entries.

We have added new icons for the Prelim (left) and Xref (right) listings. The old site also had a never-used Film plus TV icon intended for entries falling into both categories: this now appears when appropriate.

Entry Layout

Buttons at the heads of entries are mostly as before: Prev and Next to move to the previous or next alphabetical entry, and About This Entry (formerly “Incoming/Citation”) giving the same information as the Entry Data button described above. Entries with bibliographical Checklists also have the buttons Checklist (skip down to this part of the entry), Alpha (show the Checklist alphabetically) and Chron (show it chronologically). At far right of the row of buttons, a blue palette icon appears if Picture Gallery images exist for this entry, and when clicked loads the Gallery list.

Reproducing the lists of Previous versions of this entry (at the end of each entry) in their old form was problematic since past lists exist only on the Hachette servers and cannot easily be transferred in bulk. The long – often unworkably long – lists have thus been replaced by a single link in each entry to its Internet Archive snapshot history.

Six sample extracts from entries appear on the home page, most of them changing with each new visit or page refresh. The number of selections can be easily increased or decreased, and any or all of them “pinned” to display a specific topical entry of choice of entries: as a demonstration, the entries for John Clute, David Langford and Peter Nicholls are currently pinned in the sixth position, with random selection of which of them actually appears. (The old site offered four samples only, changing at unpredictable intervals of several days, with a mechanism for requesting specific entries that rarely worked and whose effects were lost at the next random shuffle.)

Extras

The buttons in the former Extras box at the right, now retitled SFE Special Features, have been rearranged as follows:

  • What’s New – shows our list of newly added entries.
  • In Memoriam – shows our list of recent deaths; this was formerly a non-button link.
  • On This Day – shows today's topical anniversaries.
  • Gallery – goes to the Picture Gallery, with a randomly selected cover image.
  • Shopping – bookshop affiliate choices
  • Random – show a random entry. The former Random New button, restricting the outcome to entries added since the 1993 Second Edition and 1995 CD-ROM, no longer seems relevant.
  • SFE Facts – statistical barcharts, photos of our awards, a large version of the Chris Moore image used as our logo, and more.
  • Entry Data – showing which entries link to the current entry, which contributor(s) wrote it, how to cite it, and more. This button appears only when an actual SFE entry is being displayed.

Encyclopedia of Fantasy

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The former, somewhat rough-hewn presentation of this 1997 text formerly available at sf-encyclopedia.uk has been updated with very much the same look and feel as the SF Encyclopedia and incoporated into the main site. It is searchable using the same search engine described above, rather than through Google only as before. Where available, Picture Gallery cover thumbnails appear in entries; and should there be a corresponding SFE entry, the EoF entry offers a quick-link button to view this.

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy has its own equivalent of the Extras box, allowing quick access to the home page, the entry lists and a random-entry option. The distinctive green Encyclopedia of Fantasy header in this box also appears above the headwords of all EoF entries as a constant reminder of which encyclopedia you are viewing.

Error handling

There is now a custom 404 error page which is shown when a nonexistent URL is requested from this site, whether an entry (always including /entry/ in the URL, or /fe/ for the Encyclopedia of Fantasy) or a site information page such as the page you are now reading. In the old site, an incorrect entry URL gave an uninformative SFE page display with the entry area blank; other incorrect URLs gave ugly server-generated error warnings.



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