Reference: The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places

dictionaryscifiplacesI found this book when I was cleaning out some closets in anticipation of another move. I think I received it as a Christmas present one year and promptly forgot about it. Now that I write a science fiction blog, it seems much more relevant.

The book delivers pretty much what it says: science fiction locations, in alphabetical order, with a 1/3 to 1/2 page description of each. There is also an index at the back of the book organized by author. The entries are from written science fiction only, you won’t learn about the homeworlds of Klingons or Wookies (I didn’t notice any movie or TV spin-off books). Also, it is a 1999 dictionary, presumably not written by a time traveler, so it only contains pre-2000 stories.

I haven’t read the entire book, but the articles seem to be free of plot-related spoilers and individual characters. Some of the articles waste a few sentences describing astronomical details that don’t seem very significant (in story terms) to the setting, such as a planet’s exact gravity, the class of star it orbits, or how many moons it has, but I think the descriptions otherwise give useful overviews.

At first, I couldn’t figure out who this book would be sold to. Perhaps authors looking for their own settings could recombine or modify some ideas to the point they weren’t plagiarizing? I suspect role-playing gamers looking for campaign settings might have made up the majority of readers. However, the book has one additional feature which makes it of interest to the avid sci-fi reader: at the end of each article, a theme is mentioned, and three other articles that also fit that theme are referenced.

For example, The Reefs of Space cites the theme of world-free ecosystems and references The Black Cloud, Raft, and The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring. However, each of those articles cite other (in two cases, less important) themes and do not link back to The Reefs of Space. I think the author wanted to build a fully meshed set of linkages, rather than separate clusters of related works.

Now I’m envisioning a wiki-style site that links science fictions books (and possibly movies and TV shows) by their themes, including those related to settings, plots, characters, and technologies. So, you might be able to cross-link books which had “a collapsing galactic empire”, “a protagonist in conflict with his father”, or “a military coup”. The site might lose its utility as it gained users who thought that EVERY story had a feminist/anti-feminist or imperialist/anarchist theme, and marked them all as such. I suppose a voting feature could be added to rank the themes’ relevance.

Maybe something like the site I’m envisioning already exists. If so, please share a link in the comments section.

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10 comments

  1. It is possible that the speculative fiction section on the TV Tropes site (it covers a lot more than television, but be warned: this site is infamous as a devourer of time because there is SO MUCH interesting stuff to read about) may have something like the wiki you’re envisioning. (Link to speculative fiction on TV Tropes: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpeculativeFictionTropes)

    1. Yes, I’ve been lost on that site before, it can be a time sink. It’s likely that it has so much of the content I’m thinking of that it wouldn’t be worth organizing a separate database.

      The site has a couple of weaknesses in my opinion:

      The cutesy names of the articles are fun, but if you’re not familiar with a specific anime or other cultural reference, you might miss what you’re looking for.

      The linkages don’t seem to be two-way. I went to the link you posted, and semi-randomly clicked on “Agony Beam”. I went to its literature references, and again semi-randomly clicked on a “Stainless Steel Rat” link, but that article doesn’t link back to Agony Beam.

      But still, as you said, lots of great content there, perhaps I’ll search it to find some additional reading material.

  2. fromcouchtomoon · · Reply

    That sounds like a really cool book! I would want to see it just to see how many places I’ve read and can tick off.

  3. Cool. How much cooler would it be if you found even one post-2000 story, though… 😀

    1. Thanks for the link. A good way to tick off the classics.

  4. I think this is a homage to the vastly superior ( in terms of production and presentation values) ‘Dictionary of Imaginary Places’. This had fantastic maps and illustrations whereas what I saw of the book you’ve reviewed (if it’s the same one: edited by Brian Aldiss is it?) the illustrations were crude and risible.

  5. The copy I have says it was compiled by Brian Stableford and edited by John Campbell. I agree that I wouldn’t choose this book for its artwork.

    I’ve seen listings at Amazon for the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, but don’t have a copy. Maybe I’ll check it out.

    1. Yes, Brian Stableford not Aldiss — my memory was faulty, though I could have looked at the illustration to remind me…

      Maybe it’s because I lean more towards fantasy than SF that I rate the Dictionary of Imaginary Places. I’ve got the original edition from way back but there have been at least a couple of updated editions since. The authors’ aim to recreate a Baedecer-style travel guide mostly works, though I can’t remember Stableford’s approach in order to compare it. My review of the 1980 Dictionary is at http://wp.me/s2oNj1-places if you’re interested.

  6. Good Post! Glad I found your site.
    You might find this interesting:
    http://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/archaic-scope/
    Cheers!

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