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ISFDB Bibliographic Sources


The ISFDB is fortunate in that readers directly enter data from primary sources, usually from their own libraries. However, a reader's library may be incomplete, or typographic errors may have been introduced when submitting data to the ISFDB. For this reason, it is important to consult other bibliographic resources for both completeness and accuracy.

Bibliographic sources are used here in two distinct ways. The first way in which a source might be used is to bring a book to our attention. For instance, a book review in a magazine, or an award nomination may put a spotlight on a book that had not previously been entered into the database. The second way that a source would be used to to verify or expand details on a specific book. For instance, a review source might bring to light a specific anthology, but another bibliographic source might be used to detail the stories contained within that anthology.

After using a variety of sources, it becomes clear that each source has it own particular strengths and weaknesses. What follows is an annotated list of resources used by the ISFDB, how each resource is used, and what the strengths and weaknesses of that particular resource are (from the perspective of the ISFDB). It should be noted that almost all of the "weaknesses" are deliberate on the part of the resource - after all, in order to fit the data into some finite page space, something had to go. They shouldn't be considered failings of the resource.


The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993, St. Martin's Press, xxxvi+1370pp, ISBN 0-312-09618-6) by John Clute and Peter Nichols, and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997, St. Martin's Press, xvi+1049pp, ISBN 0-312-15897-1) by John Clute and John Grant. Both of these encyclopedias follow the same format: they give a brief biography of an author, followed by a fairly detailed listing of novels, collections, and anthologies that the author wrote or edited. There is typically some critical evaluation of the author's work, an attempt is made to organize the work into known series, and occasionally a magazine serialization is cited. Strengths: The bibliographies are, in general, quite complete and usually accurate. Typically, an author will be "discovered" in the ISFDB either through an award citation, or by repeated sightings in some magazine over a short period of time. Both the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy are invaluable for filling in such an author's summary bibliography. Additionally, these encyclopedias give a brief history and perspective on genre magazines, which augments information found in other bibliographic sources.

Weaknesses: There is no publication data whatsoever, contents of anthologies and collections are not listed, and its concentration on the long form ignores authors who are only known through their short fiction. There are generally few entries on personalities from fandom, even those who have won major awards.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy by Donald Tuck. This three-volume encyclopedia was published across 1974, 1978, and 1983 (Volume 1: Who's Who, A-L, 1974, Advent, xii+286, ISBN 0-911682-20-1; Volume 2: Who's Who, M-Z, 1978, Advent, xx+(287-530), ISBN 0-911682-22-8; Volume 3: Miscellaneous, 1984, Advent, xxvii+(532-920), ISBN 0-911682-26-0), and was intended to cover the genre through 1968. The look and feel is very different than the Clute & Nichols & Grant encyclopedias. Biographies are more in-depth, publication data is always given, series information is extended to short fiction, writers who specialized in short fiction are listed, and there is particular depth in Tuck's knowledge of fandom. Strengths: When trying to verify the content of an anthology or collection, this is the source to turn to. The biographies are very detailed, including place of birth, education, jobs held, and various residences of the authors. Volume 3 is absolutely required in trying to construct the ISFDB magazine roadmaps; reproducing these tables for post-1969 magazines has been very trying. Includes a section on pseudonyms, publishing houses, and contains extensive paperback catalogs for roughly 1950-1970.

Weaknesses': Content listings of anthologies and collections do not list date of first publication, and nearly all such listings abbreviate the author's first name. Although published across some 10 years to 1984, it's usefulness is restricted to pre-1970.

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature by Everett F. Bleiler (Chicago: Shasta, 1948, xvii+455, cover by Hannes Bok). The first serious and important bibliographic attempt in the field, listing over 5,000 titles. Especially useful in those places where Tuck states "Incomplete - other titles in Bleiler checklist". The two major sections of the book are the Listing by Author, and the Listing by Title. Strengths: Extremely broad coverage of the Fantasy genre.

Weaknesses: Contents of anthologies and collections are not listed, and acknowledged to contain some inaccuracies. The inaccuracies were corrected in the 1978 edition of the book, and category codings of the titles were supplied as well.

Index to the Science-Fiction Magazines (1926-1950) by Donald B. Day. Useful for finding where a specific story was published (prior to 1951), or for finding all of the short fiction published by an author (again prior to 1951).

Strengths: It's a simple index, by title and by author. When looking for a particular title or a particular author, it just couldn't be any simpler. Includes a particularly helpful appendix which lists every magazine, publication date, price, page count, and cover artist (when known).

Weaknesses: There is no collation by magazine issue. This makes the reconstruction of a particular issue extremely difficult.

Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections by William G. Contento. This is a top-flight bibliography which not only supplies an index, but also collates that data into per-book listings.

Strengths: Date of first publication, page numbers, and the sheer volume of information. All pre-1984 collections and anthologies submitted to the ISFDB are cross-checked with this index.

Weaknesses: There's no attempt to organize each author's bibliography. Much short fiction is marked with series information, but there is no consise listings of series (ala Tuck) nor any implied order. Although quite comprehensive, some books covered by Tuck are missing. Publication data on many items is limited to the publisher, date, and format of the book (hardcover or paperback); most catalog numbers, page counts, and prices are missing. As it concentrates on content, publications which differ in content are included, but the various printings of books are not otherwise noted.

Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror: 1984-1996 by William G. Contento and Charles N. Brown. Armed with just this reference, every facet of genre publishing is covered from 1984 through the present.

Strengths: Contains the same information as Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, but also covers novels and magazines. Brief synopsis, detailed publication data, some series information, various printings - it's all here. All post-1983 collections and anthologies submitted to the ISFDB are cross-checked with this index, as well as post-1983 novel data.

Weaknesses: Not much. Some magazine runs are incomplete. Again, no attempt is made to organize each author's bibliography. Basically its only weakness is that it succeeds brilliantly at exactly what it's trying to be: an index. Because of this, it can't fill every need, such as biographies, awards data, and criticism.

Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art by Vincent Di Fate. The Clute & Nichols & Grant encyclopedias have very little coverage of genre artists, with what there is mostly limited to the cover artist superstars. Tuck has more, but not alot more. Infinite Worlds contains entries on more than 200 artists.

Strengths: Birthdates, deathdates, scarce biographic information, and glorious illustrations.

Weaknesses: Still concentrates mostly on cover artists, although it does have entries on interior art superstars like Virgil Finlay. While cover art sells the magazines and books, most genre art was interior illustrations by lesser-known (and often lesser-talented) artists. These are the artists that almost nothing is known about.

Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years by Everett F. Bleiler with assistance from Richard J. Bleiler (Kent State University Press, 1998, xxx+730, 0-87338-604-3). Hugo nominated survey of the genre magazines from 1926 through 1936.

Strengths: Extremely detailed story synopsis, an index of motifs and themes (did you know that there were 7 stories dealing with lightning guns?), as well as content listings of the magazines covered. Provides valuable author biographic material not covered elsewhere - Clute & Nichols didn't cover short fiction authors; while Tuck covered the more important ones, this volume provides a needed update and attempts to cover minor authors as well. Going back to the primary sources, it corrects numerous errors found in Day and elsewhere. Pretty much replaces the Day Index for entries from 1926 through 1936.

Weaknesses: Only covers short fiction which appeared in the target magazines. No coverage of any other material published during those years.

Science-Fiction: The Early Years by Everett F. Bleiler with assistance from Richard J. Bleiler (Kent State University Press, 1990, xxiii+998, 0-87338-416-4). Covers science fiction prose from the earliest times to 1930. Best source for locating long-form science fiction prior to 1930.

Strengths: As with The Gernsback Years, this publication contains extremely detailed synopsis for each entry (some spanning multiple pages), an index of motifs and themes, a date index, title index, and author index.

Weaknesses: None.

Additionally, the ISFDB relies on the following non-book resources:

The University of California Z39.50 Server. No - Z3950 isn't a grunge-rock radio station; it's an ANSI/NISO national standard that defines a computer information retrieval protocol. There are several dozen Z39.50 servers, including the Library of Congress gateway, but none of them have a selection of SF-related works as excellent as that present at the University of California.

Strengths: Currently the best method for covering novels through the years after Tuck (1970) up until the Locus Index (1984). Usually has cover artist information.

Weaknesses: Inaccuracies during data entry, spotty coverage, and lack of series information.

Magazine Book Reviews. The basic philosophy here is: if we catalog every book reviewed by the genre magazines, we'll pretty much have catalogued all of the important books in the genre. By cross-referencing book reviews, we've found a number of books not covered by any of the above-listed references.

Strengths: None really, just a good way to find additional books.

Weaknesses: Notorious for inaccuracies due to the use of proofs or review copies which don't match the actual publications. Many reviews don't publish complete publication information. Almost no one lists the cover artist, few list ISBNs, and most-infuriating: the lack of publication dates. Most get the publisher right.

Awards Data. The philosophy behind this one is similar to that of using book reviews. Weaknesses: There are many steps to collecting awards information where errors can creep in. The award administrators can make typos while creating the shortlist; errors can be made in the press release when the award is presented; and errors can be made when transcribing the press release. Sometimes we transcribe award data from old magazines, which is yet another way to generate errors. Fortunately, we've started to cross-reference the awards data with the bibliographic data, which helps us to find those errors. is very useful for tracking down series that are.... well, ignored elsewhere. For instance, R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series was reconstructed with only minor difficulty using the search engine. Also helpful in constructing the forthcoming books list.

Weaknesses: Do not, under any circumstance, trust the publication data of any book listed. The purpose of the database is to sell you a book - nothing else. I have seen a GIF of a book's cover displayed next to the data for a book, and the book's title data or author data is different than that displayed in glorious color in the GIF only 2 inches away. A book may be entered several different times, all with slightly variant tiles, but with the same ISBN.

Construction of series information was aided and abetted by Derek Nichols' massive series list, which has been bouncing around the net for some time.

Copyright (c) 1995-2004 Al von Ruff

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