Science fiction fans got an unexpected surprise this week: Orion imprint Victor Gollancz and ESF Ltd. will release the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction online later this year, and access will be free. So far, there are no plans to produce another print version. The first and second editions of this definitive SF reference work were published in 1979 and 1993, respectively, and both won the Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention. Peter Nicholls, editor of the first edition, is editor emeritus of the new work; John Clute and David Langford are its editors; and Graham Sleight, an ESF director, is its managing editor.
The third edition will be significantly expanded‚ a beta version that will be available at www.sf-encyclopedia.com will boast three million words, which the company explains is about three-quarters of the final total and more than double the number in the 1993 edition. The rest of the content, which includes coverage of authors, films, TV series, science fiction themes, and manga and anime, will be added via monthly updates and the whole project will be online by the end of 2012. Monthly updates will continue thereafter but will not be global on each occasion. An early look at a draft entry of the beta version is available here; updates to this post will discuss further access if the publisher provides it, as well as any information we receive on U.S. availability of the material.
Orion deputy CEO and group publisher Malcolm Edwards explained to UK site The Bookseller that though the company will explain its motives further later this week, It’s not entirely altruistic and that We explored various paywall options and we realised none of them were really practical with the way that the web is moving. The company also clarified its plans to fans via Twitter, where Sleight explained that illustrations and multimedia will not initially be available but are potential future developments if there’s enough demand. He also invited followers to let the company know whether they are interested in app and ebook versions of the work, as well as print-on-demand selections from it. On plans for a print edition, Sleight noted that the company would consider it but that a print version would be multivolume and cost several hundred pounds in comparison to the ¬£45 cost of the 1993 publication. He notes that so far the company has seen “enthusiastic support expressed for all formats.”
Fans of the previous editions as well as other SF enthusiasts will welcome this wealth of authoritative material, especially as it relates to subgenres and media that have emerged in recent years‚ one visitor to the Encyclopedia’s Facebook page jokingly proposed that he might retire now and just feed my imagination.