The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Now in Beta

A tweet from the estimable Neil Gaiman informs me that the online version of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is now up as “beta text” — i.e., still a work in progress. Work in progress though it may be, it’s still pretty impressive, with 3.2 million words of information on science fiction authors, notables, themes and culture. It’s a pretty impressive way to lose an entire day or three.

If that’s not enough to keep you busy, check out its sister site, SF Gateway. Yes, now you have lost all productivity for the week. You are welcome.

28 thoughts on “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Now in Beta

  1. My god I hope they are planning to change all of the formatting. shudder. I realize that you said BETA. But looking at the page for Scalzi made my brain bleed. We are so used to the wikipedia layout/fonts/look & feel.

    Hmmmmmmmm

    I just noticed that the look and feel of Whatever has changed, yet again. Why didnt you pick hot-pink text on a dark blue background? Because everyone would have complained.

    Were the designers focused on content and not display? really???

    /sigh

  2. While I haven’t clicked on the links yet, I knew they were coming awhile back. All I can say, however, is that once I do, it will be more than a week’s worth of productivity that I will lose.

  3. Hi, all, one of the SFE editorial collective here.

    Mr Scalzi, many thanks for the mention.

    Peter: sorry you don’t like the design. All I can say is a) we spent a long time testing out different alternatives; b) if we get a serious sense from users that the design isn’t working, of course we’ll review it; c) but these things are matters of personal taste, of course.

    Greg: we aim to be a little provocative at times…

  4. Yup and John mentioned, it is Britannica prose vs Wikipedia. God help us if everything ended up looking the same. And someday, the web will format a page the way the viewer would prefer to see it.

    How often do you open a book and go “What were they thinking??!!”
    :D

  5. A front page that has one of my fave composers on it is always off to a head start with me :). (Vangelis.) I find the look nice and clean and unfussy. As for the articles – I’ll browse them over the next week or six… Mainly, I am just glad to see it there!

  6. Steven Burnap: with Brust, as the entry says, most of his work is fantasy rather than SF. So he gets rather more generous coverage in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy – whose last print edition was in the 90s, but which it’d be nice to bring online too if we get enough positive response to the SFE. Re search, I take your point, and as always with these things we’ll have to fine-tune the results as we go along. However, I’d point out that searching just “Pohl” works fine.

  7. Rather than saying “overly critical” or “who didnt like ESB?” I want to know why the entries in a thing called an encyclopedia contain reviews at all. It isn’t a question of whether I approve of editor’s opinion, it’s a question of why the editor’s opinion is included at all. If the work merits a more detailed entry, then perhaps a mention of the schools of thought of several reviewers would make sense. The review of ESB on Wikipedia mentions three published reviews.

    I see encyclopedia compilation as a form of journalism, and that seems to be the goal to which Wikipedia aspires, even if it frequently falls terribly short.

  8. Mike:

    There’s no reason an encyclopedia can’t feature articles with opinions in them, written by the editors/contributors. You’re making the assumption that all encyclopedias have to be entirely similar. In this particular case, the editors also happen to be accomplished critics.

  9. Mike, its not a review, per se. It explained the basic structure of Empire Strikes Back (what happpened, who did what to whom, etc) but it does so by using loaded language to makr clear that certain approaches wwere not approved of by the writer of the article.

    And it does get quite opinionated at times. the article for Star Trek Wrath of Khan for example….

  10. I was about to paraphrase but subtleties could make that quite unfair. here is an excerpt from the Star Trek Wrath of Khan article:

    ” Montalban plays Khan, the villain, resurrected from the television episode Space Seed (1967), who thinks he is Captain Ahab. Project Genesis, a TERRAFORMING project that can be used as a weapon, is about to be set off by Khan. Kirk meets his alienated son. Chekov is mind-controlled by an alien earwig in his ear. Spock sacrifices himself for the greater good. The whole melodramatic, sentimental mishmash is muddily photographed in flat television style, but, mystifyingly, many fans liked it better than its much more considerable predecessor”

    First of all Khan doesnt think he is Ahab. Khan suffers the same weakness as Ahab, an unyielding demand for vengeance no matter the cost. second of all, there are numerous words there which are loaded with opinion: melodramatic, sentimental, mishmash. and anyone who likes it better than the first Star Trek movie only “mystifies” the author of the article.

    Personally, I thought the firrst Star Trek movie was pretty boring for huge chunks of it. wrath of khan certainly had issues, but it also had a plot I gave a damn about. but either way I would try to write an encyclopedia about both of them by keeping my opinion out of it. I might refer to ticket sales and rotten tomatoe ratings to give the reader a sense of how the population in general reacted to it, but I wouldnt say it would be “mystifying” why someone would like Wrath of Khan better than half an hour staring at computer generated cloud formations.

  11. Greg, I agree that it isn’t a review as such, but the use of loaded language while explaining the basic structure gives it a reviewy feel. I’ll grant that there is no reason that an encyclopedia HAS to make an attempt at journalistic neutrality, though it is certainly what I look for in an encyclopedia. I think my old high school journalism teacher would have a kitten if he saw it.

    I did look at the linked philosophy page, and the goals make a fair amount of sense. I agree that there is a place for a work in which the work as a whole attempts to define the shape of the field, and that the length of the entry is reflected in the editors perceived importance of the author (and it’s also cool that Wikipedia will always be able to find someone to lavish love on the most obscure thing),and it does make sense to not walk in the shoes already being filled by Wikipedia and its massive army of contributors. I still don’t see how that mission is best met by complaining about Vangelis’ boring chord progressions.

    I think that the work is a very cool thing, and it may be that I will consult both it and Wikipedia when the need arises.

  12. Back in late 1994, I got a $100 bonus for doing some extra work moving our office to a new building. I immediately drove to the local Waldenbooks and bought the recently published Encyclopedia of Science Fiction on which I had my eye. I love just plopping down in a chair, turning to a random page, and reading in that book. Now I have access to it all, with updated content, on my iPad. Life is good.

  13. potentially useful, but could benefit from some refinement.
    e.g. query for “jms” links neither to j. michael strac* nor to our gracious host of similar initials.
    otoh, query “4e” and get hitses. wuwt?

    (and thanks to mike @2011-10-10 17:53 for the guts to say what i feel about vangelis. danke.)

  14. man, I read a bunch of critiques.. I mean “articles” last night. They dont like much of anything. It occurred to me that this is what an encyclopedia might look like if Simon Cowell wrote it.

    They did like “Back to the Future”. but seriously, I had to click on a bunch of critiques before I found one that was positive.

  15. Two notes:

    First to Our Host: thanks very much for signal-boosting this project — because, as it happens, I am a very tiny part of it. Thanks to your heads-up, I’ve just now emailed the editors, as I’m one of two contributors whose identity was somehow misplaced between chairs in the course of producing the ESF’s CD-ROM edition.

    Second, to Greg: Given that the ESF (and its sister volume, the Encyclopedia of Fantasy, not yet online) are intended as to incorporate critical assessment as a part of their rubric, it’s important to note that all of the articles in these volumes are credited to individual writers. This is, I believe, counter to the usual practice at more purely descriptive general-knowledge encyclopedias such as Britannica and World Book, and provides the reader with at least a minimal means of matching the opinions in a given article with their authors. Also, if you’re looking for a positive outlook on something, note the ESF entry for The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.…. (he said, supplying a shameless plug) for half of the aforementioned very tiny part).

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