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The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database is an on-line, searchable compilation and extension of Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1878-1985, Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1985-1991, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1992-1995, including material located since publication of the last printed volume. Most material was obtained and examined by the compiler; the remainder was verified in a reliable secondary source.

Scope

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database is an inclusive tool, designed to cover all aspects of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural and weird fiction. History, criticism, commentary, fan writings and some reviews are all included, although book reviews are left to Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Index at this time. Science Fiction generates the largest number of entries, followed by fantasy and horror in that order. Approximately 90% of the entries are in English. Most of the citations to pre-1980 non-English language material were supplied by Dr. David Samuelson and supplemented by several European contributors, most notably Luk de Vos of the Netherlands.

Coverage of non-English language material is representative only. The majority of this material is from France, Germany, and Italy, but several other languages are represented. Non-English language material is entered by author, title, and imprint. Subject heading are applied where possible. For a variety of reasons, including the lack of multilingual typewriters or word processors for many years, diacritical marks are often omitted.

Material is sought from a wide variety of sources. The List of Magazines Surveyed identifies those titles I have regularly examined for material. The list is not inclusive for all magazines which have generated titles included here, but it does indicate the primary source journals which are regularly surveyed. No list of books analyzed is provided, because searching a book title in the "imprint" field will show whether it is indexed fully.

Methodology

A variety of methods were used to identify the items considered for inclusion. A significant number were located by examination of my personal collection, and by intensive research in the Science Fiction Research Collection at Texas A&M University, College Station. Bibliographic searching of a wide variety of published indexes ranging from Reader's Guide to Lexis-Nexis, regular examination of the magazines noted above, citation analysis of published papers, help from fellow scholars, and good fortune were all significant tools in the growth of this database. Citation analysis proved to be the most fruitful source of otherwise unknown items. The value of citation analysis, and of such tools as Arts and Humanities Citation Index, cannot be overemphasized. Users should recall, however, that the single author bibliography almost always is the most important tool in starting a study of an author.

Review of the historical files of magazines is a rewarding, if sometimes frustrating, activity. A new source, an uncited item, or a clue to a treasure trove of new material are the fruits of such labor. Missing issues or volumes are the bane of the indexer. A record of missing volumes and issues is maintained, and items are filled in over time.

The coverage of fan sources, particularly the fan "newspapers" deserves special notice. The issues of Science Fiction Times, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle are almost completely indexed, and provide a wealth of historical information. Scholars, critics, bibliographers and librarians have questioned the value of material published in the "fanzines." In his 1985 Pilgrim Award acceptance speech, Samuel R. Delany emphasized the value and importance of this material:

Fanzines - to take only one manifestation of this reader/writer relationship - have created a vast "informal critical system" around science fiction amounting to many hundreds of thousands of pages - possibly even exceeding the actual number of pages of science fiction written! This energetic dialogue has had its supportive and its destructive aspects, and any history of science fiction that does not research and theorize as to the scope and effect of this force on the way we read science fiction is ignoring an extraordinary historical influence on the field. (SFRA Newsletter No. 133: 7-15. August 1985)

Implementation

As of August, 2008, this database contains over 81,000 items. After the publication of the first of my printed indexes, I commented that I estimated it covered only fifty to sixty percent of the directly applicable material in print. Today, I think I was optimistic! Newspapers, fanzines, magazines, and the World-Wide Web all contain un-indexed material.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database is (and will continue to be) an evolving tool. During its lifetime, it has seen a variety of change. The Index started as a 3x5 card file, sorted by author, and typed on a typewriter, then resorted by subject and typed again. For those of you who are nostalgic about the "good old days," I have to tell you - for indexers, THESE are the good old days!

The next evolution was into a database manager (Q&A, for the detail folk), which output the file to a comma delimited form, which was then manipulated by a computer program written by Bill Contento. Bill’s program was a marvel. It took the raw data, performed some arcane magic in the bowels of the computer, and delivered a complete book, camera ready, with running headers, page numbers, and stylistic features such as boldface and italics. Not only that, but it delivered the book as an author listing and a subject listing, in a clear, readable form. Bill Contento, thank you. Without Bill, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Index series would have been produced, but each volume would have taken at least one to two years longer to produce. I have often said that Bill’s program did 80% of the work of final index preparation - certainly, it saved me that much typing.

An on-line effort represented the next stage of the evolution of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Index. Due to technical difficulties, Q&A could not be run on contemporary computers, necessitating a change. The Library Systems Group at Texas A&M recommended Microsoft Access, and transferred the files to a new database - not without some difficulty. Diacritics, in particular, were a challenge. Kanwaljit Bombra was the database programmer who designed the web search interface, and did all the Microsoft Access programming and the Active Server Page development.

The current instantiation of SFFRD is a web application built with Python and MySQL, and was created by TAMU Library at the Texas A&M University.

Acknowledgements

Support for this project was provided by the Irene B. Hoadley Professorship of the Texas A&M University Libraries.

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