The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

What turns peo­ple into sci­ence-fic­tion fans? Many enter through the gate­way of Star Trek, an ear­ly 1960s tele­vi­sion series “set on the worlds vis­it­ed by a giant Space­ship, the U.S.S. Enter­prise, and on the ship itself. Its crew is on a mis­sion to explore new worlds and ‘to bold­ly go where no man has gone before.’ ” Though “not par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful in the rat­ings,” Star Trek nev­er­the­less “attract­ed a hard core of devot­ed fans, ‘Trekkies,’ who made up in pas­sion­ate enthu­si­asm what they lacked in num­bers.” Per­haps cre­ator Gene Rod­den­ber­ry’s sig­na­ture “blend of the mild­ly fan­tas­tic with the reas­sur­ing­ly famil­iar, and his use of an on the whole very like­able cast, attract­ed view­ers pre­cise­ly because its exoti­cism was man­age­able and unthreat­en­ing.”

Those quotes come from The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion, a free online resource fea­tur­ing more than 17,500 entries explain­ing all things sci-fi, whether new or old, main­stream or obscure. Some of its pages deal with works of doubt­ed sta­tus as sci­ence fic­tion at all: Star Wars, for exam­ple, “an enter­tain­ing pas­tiche that draws upon com­ic strips, old movie seri­als, West­erns, James Bond sto­ries, The Wiz­ard of Oz, Snow White, Errol Fly­nn swash­buck­lers and movies about World War Two” whose “grat­i­fy­ing­ly spec­tac­u­lar – at the time – spe­cial effects and mar­tial music hyp­no­tized the audi­ence into uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of the basi­cal­ly absurd, delib­er­ate­ly Pulp-mag­a­zine-style con­flict between Good and Evil.”

That sort of thing is a long way indeed from the work of, say, a sci­ence-fic­tion grand­mas­ter like Isaac Asi­mov, who wrote pro­lif­i­cal­ly in “the clear unerr­ing voice of a man speak­ing rea­son, utter­ing tales about how to solve the true world.” Some read­ers of Open Cul­ture might well have found their way into sci­ence fic­tion through Rid­ley Scot­t’s Blade Run­ner, which despite its “many nar­ra­tive flaws” remains “one of the most impor­tant sf movies made,” hav­ing showed “almost for the first time – though fans had spent years hop­ing – how visu­al­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed sf in film form can be.”

Blade Run­ner’s entry includes, of course, a ref­er­ence to the scrip­t’s basis on Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, “a fig­ure who helps define by con­trast those iden­ti­fied in this Ency­clo­pe­dia as Main­stream Writ­ers of SF: writ­ers, that is, whose com­pre­hen­sion of the sig­nif­i­cant lit­er­a­tures of the last cen­tu­ry has some­times seemed less than full. An author like Thomas Pyn­chon, who is not described in this ency­clo­pe­dia as main­stream, will under­stand what he owes Dick; a main­stream author like Mar­garet Atwood has worked to make it clear that she does not.”

Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, “the most ambi­tious sf film of the 1960s and per­haps ever,” has also done its part to prop­a­gate a sci-fi way of look­ing at the world, explor­ing as it does “the idea of human defi­cien­cy in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.” Kubrick devel­oped it in col­lab­o­ra­tion with nov­el­ist Arthur C. Clarke, anoth­er of the gen­re’s titans, indeed “the very per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of sf. Nev­er a ‘lit­er­ary’ author, he nonethe­less always wrote with lucid­i­ty and can­dour, often with grace, some­times with a cold, sharp evoca­tive­ness that pro­duced some of the most mem­o­rable images in sf.”

Oth­er entries tell of writ­ers not so close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with tra­di­tion­al sci­ence fic­tion but high­ly regard­ed and endur­ing­ly influ­en­tial in the wider world of spec­u­la­tive lit­er­a­ture: Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, with his “ ‘sense of ecsta­t­ic enclosed­ness in the Word Incar­nate’ that may be unique­ly intense in world lit­er­a­ture,” or J.G. Bal­lard, “revered (and detest­ed) for the cor­ro­sive­ly inescapable vision of the late twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry world, which his sto­ries seemed not so much to reflect in a dis­tort­ing mir­ror as (alarm­ing­ly) to reflect, for the first time, with­out defen­sive eva­sions.”

“Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in phys­i­cal form in 1979,” writes Lithub’s MH Rowe, “the Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion won a Hugo award for best non­fic­tion book in 1980. A sec­ond edi­tion fol­lowed in 1993, with a CD-ROM sup­ple­ment a few years lat­er. The ency­clo­pe­dia won anoth­er Hugo in 1994, and a decade lat­er began its migra­tion online, where it launched in 2011 as a pre­cur­sor to its cur­rent dig­i­tal form” — albeit a far cry from a crowd­sourced, objec­tiv­i­ty-ori­ent­ed resource like Wikipedia. “Mak­ing no effort to avoid the par­ti­san­ship that’s a hall­mark of being a fan, the SFE pos­sess­es the kind of puri­ty you can only get from cor­rupt endeav­ors. It’s by turns cranky, self-doubt­ing, and ultra-con­fi­dent, but it couldn’t be more deeply engaged with the genre of sci­ence fic­tion.” And if any­thing char­ac­ter­izes sci­ence-fic­tion fan­dom more than deep engage­ment, even the gen­re’s most pow­er­ful imag­i­na­tions haven’t dreamed of it.

via Lithub

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Ground­break­ing 1950s Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine

100 Great Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Women Writ­ers (Read 20 for Free Online)

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

The Art of Sci-Fi Book Cov­ers: From the Fan­tas­ti­cal 1920s to the Psy­che­del­ic 1960s & Beyond

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.