I 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.