Midnight at the Internet Cafe: Books, Authors, and Writing Resources [online resource]. Available at: http://www.aclin.org/other/libraries/maic/bkmidnt.htm
Reference type: Bibliographical
Authority: Central Colorado Library System has been compiling the Midnight at the Internet Cafe resource lists for several years now. This is considered to be a great resource for public libraries and school media centers, as evidenced by discussion on several library email lists.
Audience Relation: Science fiction writers are like any other authors, with the exception of their focus on their genre. Thus, general writing references are just as useful to them as they are to other writers. This site addresses the online writing references available for authors.
Scope: Midnight at the Internet Cafe devotes each issue to a topic that might be of interest to librarians working at the reference desk. Its purpose is to ferret out the very best sources on the Internet on a given topic and list those resources with annotation. It does not proclaim to cover all resources on a given topic, just those that might be the most immediately useful, such as on a ready reference shelf in a library.
Content Evaluation: The front page of this site is elegant and simple as well as being small enough for a quick download. The background is plain white with black text. The only content on the front page is links to each of the writing categories and some background information on the purpose of this web page and information on alternate methods of access.
Each of the categories listed here would be of general interest to authors, but the links specifically on writing prove the most useful. They cover everything from copyright procedures to writers' groups and organizations to online journals. The annotations are short, but informative with enough data given to be able to judge the site's immediate pertinence. The page prominently displays its last update and contact information at the bottom.
Overall, this is just a simple resource, but sometimes those are the best. A quick experiment on trying to find these same resources through Yahoo! proved to be an experience of signal to noise measurement. The noise won. Thus, this site is a great time-saver and a good jumping point for other online resources.
Science Fiction and Fantasy @ Amazon.com [online resource]. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ts/browse-books/25/002-0465076-3374867
Reference type: Bibliographical
Authority: This site is maintained by Amazon.com, a leading online bookseller. The data presented here is purported to be from their sales statistics.
Audience Relation: Keeping up with what books are popular, selling well, and just coming out is very important to the science fiction writer. This is the only way he or she can discover the needs of the audience for which he or she is writing. This site is a compilation of person-on-the-cyberstreet data compiled from millions of transactions on these issues.
Scope: Amazon.com has one of the most extensive customer databases of any online company and is the leader in online book sales. This page is designed to meet the needs of their science fiction and fantasy customers by allowing them to see what other people are reading and what new titles are available. This is the virtual equivalent of grazing the science fiction area in a real bookstore.
Content Evaluation: While this page does have more than a few graphics, they are simple and not so large as to be a real hindrance to downloading. The text is mostly black on white, with the exception of links and headers. Some of the text is also delineated by a box. Navigation on this page is fairly simple.
This page is a pretty good resource for discovering the tastes of the readership. Because it is based on actual customer purchases, the information is very telling about real world tastes. Also, the information is categorized neatly into best-selling books, site recommendations form Amazon staff, and even a section on best-selling science fiction writing resources (many of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site). Perhaps the best feature about this page is that all of the books mentioned are currently available for purchase.
This site also offers interviews and articles about and by science fiction authors. These are even archived for later reference. Additionally, there is an option to have future science fiction and fantasy updates emailed to a visitor for free. Lastly, there are links to the science-fiction and fantasy books for pure random browsing in these areas.
Overall, this page is commercial and designed to sell books, however, if used properly, a writer could learn quite a bit about the audience for which he or she writes.
Weird fiction [online resource]. Available at: http://www.wands.demon.co.uk/index.html
Reference type: Bibliographical
Authority: No authorship of any kind is apparent on this page. The site's ISP is the major one in the United Kingdom, demon.co.uk..
Audience Relation: Science fiction writers are also science fiction readers. Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of an author's body of work with regards to what has been written or what is in a series. This site addresses that need.
Scope: This site covers science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, and horror writers, or as it refers to these genres, the "weird" authors. This site list 987 author bibliographies, which is quite extensive, but by no means all inclusive. However, all of the major, and most of the minor authors seem to be represented.
Content Evaluation: The front page of this site is simple and small. It states the purpose of the site, how many entries it contains, and offers an alphabet on the left hand side for browsing. The page does have several drawbacks. One is a number of small, flashing advertisements. Another is the layout of the alphabet; it is vertical rather than horizontal. Still another is the red on blue color scheme. This is just a touch hard on the eyes. Yet one more is the absence of a search engine. If one had a title of a book but not the author, it would be very difficult to find that sort of information on this site.
The entries for each author are fairly complete. A brief survey of some well-know authors revealed that most all of their works are listed here in nice categories. The works are broken down by stand alone titles, series (each series being a separate entry), anthologies by the author, and other anthologies that include the author's work. The site is not limited by works in print. And, some of the entries are augmented by a link to the cover art. The site also links to Amazon.com for easy purchase of the books that are still in print. Of the authors reviewed at this site, all the information seemed to be current and accurate.
Overall, this site is not as extensive as other online bibliographies that focus on each individual author, but for the sheer number of authors covered, it can't be touched. Perhaps improvements will occur in time to solve some of the problems mentioned here.
Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s biographic encyclopedia of science and technology: the lives and achievements of 1195 great scientists from ancient times to the present chronologically arranged. New Revised Edition. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, c1972.
Reference type: Biographical
Authority: Isaac Asimov is perhaps the name in science fiction circles. Not only is his fiction of extremely high quality, he is also known for copious contributions to the scientific community. He earned a PhD in 1948 at Columbia. Although his scientific work began in biochemistry, his writing quickly branched to other fields such as physics and robotics (a term he coined) as well as to non-scientific fields such as literature and geography. Ever the scholar, Asimov conducted thorough research for every book he writes. He can be trusted to provide accurate and complete information.
Audience Relation: Science fiction writing is so called because it is literature that is based on known science. Many of the writers of this genre are scientists or science scholars. For those that are not, basic information about the history of scientific discoveries is a much-needed resource. This book fills this need quite well.
Scope: Asimov covers much territory in this book. The 1195 scientist mentioned begins with Imhotep from 2980 BC and ends with Sagan circa 1969. Each entry contains brief biographical data as well as major achievements. This book has much more breadth than depth, but is a great starting point for deep research or works equally well for quick citations or fact verification.
Content Evaluation: Not only is this book well-researched and well-written, it is also very well organized. The entries are in chronological order and assigned a number based on this order. This is how all the entries are referenced in the index, not by page number. The book includes a table of contents, which lists the scientists in alphabetical order with their entry numbers, and an index, which includes subject headings for each person's field of study. Additionally, when scientists are listed in another personas entry, their number is also cited for easy reference. The language is easy for the layperson to understand as well as being interesting enough to hold the attention. One could read this book cover to cover and gain a comprehensive view of humanity's scientific achievements.
The one fault of this book is its age. The last edition came out in 1972 (Note: This was the last edition about which the author could locate hard information. There may have been a 1982 edition, per results at Bookfinder.com). None would seem to be forthcoming since Asimov died in 1992. However, because of the historical nature of the text and its authority, this is still highly recommended as a reference for science fiction writers.
Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt: the autobiography[ies] of Isaac Asimov: 1920-1954 and 1955-1978. New York, NY: Doubleday, c1979, 1980.
Reference type: Biographical
Authority: Asimov, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, is one of the trinity of classic great science fiction authors of our time. Having written a 100 or so novels and 400+ other books on topics ranging from science to Shakespeare and everything in between, Asimov is not just a great science fiction author, but a great author in general. Who better to tell the story of his life than the man himself?
Audience Relation: Not only is it important to know and understand the work that has occurred in the field of science fiction, but learning about the authors themselves can often be a very useful boon to a new writer. In this case, Asimov goes into very specific details about his early successes and failures and has much to say about the writing process itself.
Scope: These two books cover all of Asimov's life from his birth in 1920 until 1978. Each one is a very detailed account of over 700 pages including the index. No stone is left unturned, no event left undescribed, no emotion left unfelt in these two all-inclusive volumes.
Content Evaluation: Isaac Asimov is almost brutally honest in these books. He is not afraid to tell about his weaknesses along with his strengths, his sorrow with his joy. It is almost unbelievable how much memory about his life he retained in order to pen these books. Of particular interest to writers are the places where he describes his anguish over his work. Even when he was being hailed as one of the grand masters of science fiction, he still worried over the quality of his work, always expecting the best of himself. Also, the detailed descriptions of his road to success are a valuable lesson to any author hoping to become professional.
The books, while thick, are not unwieldy in size. The pages are a creamy buff color with black type in a serrifed font. The type is not especially large, but it is not so small that one cannot read it. The text is broken into easily digestible segments prefaced by a number. Illustrations are included throughout.
Overall, reading these books is a time-consuming investment, but it is one that pays off. The rich detail of his life does not leave the reader feeling hungry for more. And, the lessons to be learned about life and writing are priceless.
Availability: Bookfinder.com or Amazon.com out of print searching
The Official Website of the Nobel Foundation [online resource]
Available at: http://www.nobel.se/
Reference type: Biographical
Authority: The Nobel Prize is an established authority on quality work in many areas of study. This web site is run by the Nobel Foundation itself and is therefore presumed to have the most current and accurate information about winners of this prize.
Audience Relation: The Nobel Prize is one of the markers of history that tell what is important and in people's mind in a given year. Science fiction writers often use this as a point of divergence for alternate fiction stories. Also, this is a good way for science novices to get more information about the really important figures in all the major branches of study.
Scope: This web site is an all encompassing information source about the Nobel Prize and the Nobel Foundation. Not only does it include a complete database of the winners with many methods of access, but it also includes information on the prize amounts, the awarding institutions, Alfred Nobel himself, and the way in which the ceremony is run. The site's copyright is 1999, and prizes for all years up to 1998 are included.
Content Evaluation: This is one of those deceptively simple-looking web sites from the front page, but the contents are very deep within. One of the site's strong features is ease of navigation. This site's pages are quick to load and rarely take up more than a screenful or two, with the exception of the individual biographies which are quite long and in depth. Each page offers only a handful of choices which allows the user to quickly evaluate them and move onward. Thus, the user is able to very quickly cut through to the specific information needed. Additionally, the biography database information is searchable, accessed by pull-down menus, and indexed by prize type (peace, literature, etc.).
The range of information at this site could not be more complete. Each prize winner has a complete biography with a picture (if available). The biographies address both the work which earned the prize as well as touching on other important achievements. Even individual presentation speeches are included for all the winners.
This page would be useful to a science fiction writer who needed to know anything about the Nobel Foundation or it's Prize winners.
Allaby, Michael, advisory ed. Illustrated Dictionary of Science. New York, NY: Facts on File, c1995.
Reference type: Dictionaries
Authority: Facts on File is a generally trustworthy source of reference materials. Allaby is the author or editor of many science and science reference books.
Audience Relation: Science fiction writing is often based on science fact. Thus a quick and dirty reference to basic science terms and their meanings is a must for authors who have minimal knowledge in this area. At the very least, it will help them develop a working vocabulary for future research.
Scope: This book offers concise definitions for several thousand scientific terms from all branches of science. The language is clear and of a general nature so that anyone from about a high school reading level on up can understand the definitions.
Content Evaluation: This book is very general and would provide a great start to research on any science topic or a great companion to a more complex work that required but did not include a glossary. Drawing from all branches of science, this book offers a wide array of terminology to fit almost any need.
For having the word, "illustrated" in its title, there are not all that many pictures, 34 to be exact. When compared to the over 5,000 entries, this is a paltry amount to be sure. However, all 34 of the illustrations are full-color-full page and offer quite a bit of detail. The entries are alphabetical, but would probably be more accessible if some division of the sciences were done. According to one review, the contributors are all experts in their field, but this is of little consequence since no attribution is given for each entry.
The book itself is tall and uses semi-slick white paper. The font is not particularly friendly, especially when cross-referenced terms are written in all caps within an entry. The font is also a bit small. Entries are in three columns per page, which is a bit much to look at all at once.
Overall, this is a somewhat handy book that could be improved with more attribution, more illustrations, and a slight rearrangement of the entries. Science fiction authors would find this a mostly useful addition to their collection, especially if one did not want to purchase a separate dictionary for each field of science.
Kipfer, Barbara Ann. Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus. (Second edition) New York, NY: Dell Books, 1999.
Reference type: Dictionaries
Authority: Roget's has always been a trusted name for thesauri. This one is of the same high quality as the previous editions.
Audience Relation: A writer should always have a thesaurus around. The only writers who do not need them are either naturally gifted with a memory extensive vocabularies or unconcerned about redundant, cliched, or stilted word choices in their work.
Scope: This book is meant to provide anyone who opens it with a list of synonyms for most English language words.
Content Evaluation: Thesauri in general are a good idea, but this one in particular is a great idea! This edition is an oversized paperback that fits nicely on any shelf or in any bookbag. The pages are a creamy buff color and thick enough to withstand many turnings. The spine seems to be built to last as well, which is important since this is an often referenced book for most writers.
The two features that set this thesaurus apart from others are its dictionary format and concept section in the back. The dictionary format allows people to look up words in a form to which they are used. The concept section at the back clusters words in little sections (such as food) so that people can access them in a different way. This is particularly useful for overcoming tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon when one can think of a word's meaning, but not the word itself nor any synonyms. This edition of the book also includes many recent additions to the language as well as some slang terms. All of these are useful to writers who want to add local flavor or current terminology to their work.
Overall, this is a very practical edition to any writer's shelf, science fiction or otherwise.
Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions. New York, NY: Pocket Books, c1975.
Reference type: Dictionaries
Authority: Harry Shaw is the author of many books on English grammar and usage.
Audience Relation: Writers who are interested in being precise with their language or those who have trouble with certain words and phrases, such as affect and effect, would benefit from this work..
Scope: This book is meant to clarify common usage errors for words that are spelled nearly the same or for phrases that are often misused. It is meant to be useful for any author.
Content Evaluation: This book is very useful for explaining the differences between certain words and phrases. It was published in standard mass market paperback size with buff pages and black print. Entries are in a single column on the page listed in alphabetical order with cross-referencing (i.e. effect: See affect). The entry headings list both or all of the confusing terms in boldface followed by a description of the usage for each. This description often includes examples as illustrations of usage. Additionally, some phrases are included without comparison phrases because they are a problem unto themselves. As an example, Shaw suggests that the phrase, "curiously enough," has no added meaning for a sentence and should be struck.
This book is a very valuable resource that is, unfortunately, out of print. However, many copies seem to be circulating in the online out of print market. Despite the age of the book, the entries are not dated in any apparent way. And, one imagines there would be little to add in a more up-to-date edition, with perhaps the exception of computer terms.
Any writers would benefit from owning a copy of this book.
Availability: Bookfinder.com or Amazon.com out of print searching
Bullfinch's Mythology [online resource]. Available at: http://www.webcom.com/shownet/medea/bulfinch/welcome.html
Reference type: Encyclopedia
Authority: Bullfinch's Mythology--as The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes by Thomas Bullfinch is commonly called--in its print incarnation has long been considered the authority on mythological tales and characters. This is the online version of that text as maintained by Bob Fisher since 1996. No information was available about Fisher.
Audience relation: The idea that there are no new stories only new incarnations is very true. Science fiction and fantasy writers in particular like to pay homage to the ancient stories of the Greeks and Romans as well as other mythologies. Having a good reference source on hand about these myths is a must for any serious science fiction author.
This site include the complete text of Bullfinch's original and enhances it with the capabilities of an online format such as searching and hyperlinked entries. Additionally, the site links to reviews of other related mythological texts such as Homer's Odyssey and allows for immediate purchase of these works through Barnes and Noble's online store. Finally, the site also links to its sister sites that cover The Age of Chivalry or Legends of King Arthur and Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages which are Bullfinch's second and third volumes.
This site is incredibly complete. The entire text of Bullfinch's work is online with illustrations and cross-referenced entries via hyperlinks. The text is easy to read black on white with red hyperlinks that turn burgundy when followed. The front page is a little large, listing the entire table of contents, however, it is not cluttered with many graphics and the information is well categorized. Additionally, it offers several methods of access for the user, such as a framed version and a link to the search engine.
Bullfinch's text is always a bit hard to read because of the slightly outdated language, however once one is used to his voice, this is quickly overcome. His text is considered to be the most complete as he covers all the major characters in the pantheon. Additionally, he sites other references to these characters, such as poetry. About the worst fault of this text is its age. Since it was written, there are many other important mythological references that have occurred, however, no one has authored a mythology reference as complete as Bullfinch's so it remains premier.
This online version of the text is a wonderful marriage of form and function. There can be no better source of information on Greek and Roman mythology.
Perrett, Bryan. The Battle Book: crucial conflicts in history from 1469 BC to the present. London: Arms and Armour, c1992.
Reference type: Encyclopedia
Authority: While no information could be found about the author himself, his bibliography of past works is most impressive. All thirteen titles pertain to war and fighting, with a few clustering around World War II. This combined with the wide range of sources listed in the The Battle Book's bibliography suggest that Perrett has conducted research to a great depth in this area.
Audience relation: The concept of a parallel universe based on a divergent timeline is very common in science fiction. Often, the divergence will center on a major event, such as the assassination of JFK or the outcome of a battle. While this book does not provide the entire context for each battle, enough is provided that a writer can get a feel for each battle's importance to the war and its effect on history. Essentially, this would make an excellent “window shopping” book when seeking a point of divergence and an excellent jumping-off point for future research.
This book attempts to cover a very broad span of history as concisely as possible. It begins with the wars of ancient Egypt (1469 BC) and ends with the Gulf War (1991). Each battle's entry covers less than a page, giving the bare facts plus a brief commentary.
Although this book is well-researched and useful, the organization leaves a bit to be desired. The battles themselves are arranged alphabetically instead of chronologically. The front of the book provides a wholly useless list (also in alphabetical order) of the battles with their entry numbers. The three appendices in the back of the book, however, are very useful. The first is a chronological list of the battles, broken down by individual wars. The second is an index to the principle leaders involved with each battle. The third and last is an index to tactics and weapons employed. Theses appendices are useful, but the user is forced to keep flipping between them and the main text.
Despite its organizational weaknesses, this book is still valuable enough to be used a writing resource.
Availability: Amazon.com (out of print searching), Bookfinder.com.
The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Edited by Norris J. Lacy ; associate editors Geoffrey Ashe, Sandra Ness Ihle, Marianne E. Kalinke & Raymond H. Thompson. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, c1996.
Reference type: Encyclopedia
Authority: Garland Publishing is one of the stronger reference publishing houses. Lacy is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French at Pennsylvania State University. He maintains a page of Arthuriana at http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/n/j/njl2/arthur.html. His site is apparantly very well-researched and offers many other sources on Arthurian lore.
Audience relation: Arthurian legend is another of the staple stories from which science fiction and fantasy writers often draw. Some will write in Merlin or Arthur as supporting characters, others will predict the return of The Once and Future King, and still others will simply retell the tales from a different perspective. A concise reference to the peoples and places of the legend is necessary for these instances.
This book is a nice mix of legend and fact. It includes information about the legendary charachters as they have appeared in several incarnations and provides information about real world origins and tracings of the legends. The entries are anywhere from a few lines to a few pages, depending on the depth required. However, most of them offer the most basic information. There are sources listed at the end of most entries if more research is desired.
This is a fairly thorough look at the Arthurian legend without becoming too obsessed with any one facet. All of the major and most of the minor elements are addressed with enough information to fill the most basic information need. The entries do not assume foreknowledge of the subject matter, so this book is ideal for the initiate.
The book itself is a large tome of 615 pages. However, pages 579-615 are the 1990-1995 supplement. The book's entries are alphabetical with minimal cross-referencing. An index is included at the back for easy lookup of names and phrases that may not warrent an entry unto themselves. The book also includes a catagorized list of entries at the front as well as a list of contributors. Some illustrations are included.
While this book may not be the most in-depth review of the Arthurian legend, it is certainly one of the most broad views. This is perfect for scholars who may not know just where to begin research. It is also good for busy people, such as science fiction authors, who may only want and need the quick answer but also desire a degree of authority. Overall, it is, as they say, "The most bang for your buck."
Bova, Ben, ed. Science Fiction Writer's Series.
Gillett, Stephen L. World-Building: a writer's guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest, c1996.
Nahin, Paul J. Time Travel: a writer's guide to the real science of plausible time travel. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest, c1997.
Schmidt, Stanley. Aliens and Alien Societies:
a writer's guide to creating extraterrestrial life-forms. Cincinnati,
OH: Writer's Digest, c1995.
Reference type: Geographical
Authority: This series of books is put out by Writer's Digest, the number one reference source on authorship. Additionally, it is edited by Ben Bova, who is one of today's prime science fiction authors.
Audience Relation: Building a believable universe in science fiction is almost as important as building true to life characters. These four books address four different aspects of making a fictional universe seem as real as downtown New York City to the reader as well as addressing how to incorporate real scientific principles into the design.
Scope: These books are written for science fiction authors at all levels of scientific and authorship knowledge. The information inside covers science from the very simple to the very complex and offers a wide range of access to the concepts.
Content Evaluation: These four books address four of the main issues of concern with science fiction authors when building their settings. The books are all of a great size to slip into a bookbag or briefcase and are printed on slightly off-white paper with a decent sized font and larger, boldface headings. Illustrations and charts are included with the text as needed.
Space Travel covers the essential science needed to understand space travel as we know it today and the potential methods of space travel in the future. Distances and times are described in ways accessible to the lay person, and even things such as the Theory of Relativity do not become too complex. Additionally, if one already knows the science described, the author does a great job of connecting the science to the craft of writing which still makes this a valuable resource. The book includes plenty of bibliographical references, a glossary, and an index.
World-Building is a compact little text that discusses the elements of planetary environments. This covers everything from solar system design (important since stars are generally the prime source of energy for a planet) to planet size to number of moons to creating habitats and ecology. These are all discussed in terms of both scientific plausibility and story dynamics since environment can have a profound effect on characterization. The science can become complex at times but is generally accessible.
Time Travel addresses the science and environmental hazards of using time travel in one's universe. Since time travel is still a theoretical possibility in today's world, no hard science can be cited here. However, many of the major theories and their repercussions are discussed in terms of how they might affect the planet and characters for which time travel is a reality. Time travel has always been mind-bending stuff since concepts such as infinity are employed in the description, but this book makes the subject accessible to most readers.
Aliens and alien societies focusses on the population of an alien world. Included are entries on language, music, culture, and physiology which are all reactive to the environment. The science is less heavily employed than in the other three books, but this is not a detraction from the quality of the writing, merely a bi-product of the subject matter.
These books' main purpose is to get the author to ask himself or herself the right sorts of questions about world development so that their universes and planets will be believable to the reader. They do the job well.
Solar System Simulator. [online resource] Available at: http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/
Reference type: Geographical
Authority: This site is sponsored and maintained by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is one of the official agencies involved in space exploration. The actual webmaster is David Seal, who works at JPL.
Audience Relation: Science fiction authors often set their stories in outer space, and often this is within our own solar system. Thus, an atlas of our solar system would be a very useful tool in creating a realistic setting for the novel or story.
Scope: This site is intended for anyone who wants to know what a particular body in our solar system would look like from any other body. This would include anyone from astronomers to scholars to just the average person on the net.
Content Evaluation: This page loads very quickly, despite its use of graphics. It is just over a screenful in length, but is easy to scan and decided where to go. The majority of the front page's space is given over to the simulator control panel which allows the user to enter the body to be viewed, the vantage point, the date of the viewing (very useful for future speculation), field degree, and a small assortment of other options designed to enhance the end result. The rest of the page is given over to useful links, such as information on using the images obtained at this site.
The results of the simulator are opened in a fresh window giving a magnified view of the planet or other body so details can be seen on it's surface, date and time of viewing information, and range, phase, and diameter information. The data can be really confusing to the uninitiated, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of explanatory information for interpretation on the site. The FAQ does answer some of the questions. And, if the planet's facing side is the only information needed, then this is a good place to go for that information.
Overall, this would be a great site for a science fiction writer with a pretty good background in astronomy who was going to be including those details in his or her work. For the average person, this site may be a bit too complex.
World specific sources--focus on Pern.
Nye, Jody Lynn, with McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonlover's Guide to Pern. (1st edition) New York, NY: Del Rey, c1989.
Wood, Robin, text and introduction by McCaffrey, Anne. People of Pern. Norfolk, VA: Donning, c1988.
Reference type: Geographical
Authority: These books have all been approved, and in some cases contain contributions by Anne McCaffrey, author of the Pern series of books.
Audience Relation: On of the most important elements in science fiction writing is the setting, particularly if that setting is not familiar Earth but some other newly created world. The world must contain its own geography, culture, and people that ring just as true as those on Earth, otherwise the audience will not care what happens in the story. Many authors who have created a universe that is used in many books or for a long series of books commission, write, or approve other people to develop an all-encompassing descriptive atlas of their world. Examples of this include J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis' Narnia, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek universe, and George Lucas' Star Wars universe. Learning about other well-developed worlds is a great way to stimulate ideas for one's own. This review focuses on on such fictional place, the world of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.
Scope: These three books are intended to give the reader more information about the world of Pern than is introduced in the novels themselves. They are also compilations of the scattered data contained in the novels.
Content Evaluation: Although written by three different authors, these books really do compliment each other and create a unified view of Pern because they all are based on input by Anne McCaffrey. In fact, one is even authored by her.
The Atlas of Pern by Karen Wynn Fonstad is more than just maps of the world. It contains descriptive data about the inner workings of the holds and dragon weyrs. The book is written in chronological fashion in that the maps and descriptions of the places mentioned are presented in the order that they are in the novels. The maps are wonderful line drawings by Fonstad based on McCaffrey's descriptions. The text is an embellishment of McCaffrey's with plenty of direct quotes. The book itself is tall and thin, and contains creamy white pages with black text.
The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern is by Jody Lynn Nye, who is an accomplished fantasy author in her own right and includes considerable input from McCaffrey. This books purpose is to detail the everyday culture of the people of Pern and elaborate on their social, political, and familial structures. Recipes, songs, poetry, and illustrations of insignia and dress are all included to give this book a real insider's feel. The book is tall and thin and is black ink on off-white pages. Entries are arranged in geographical clusters.
The People of Pern by Robin Wood is basically a book of portraits of the major and minor characters from the novels. McCaffrey herself provides the one-page text that accompanies each portrait, often offering juicy details about the characters not mentioned in the novels. The portraits themselves are full color and simply breathtaking. The book is tall and thin with glossy white paper, as in most "coffee table" books.
Taken together, these books offer a complete description of McCaffrey's fully developed world. After reading the novels and these books, one feels as if one has actually been there. This is a good example for science fiction writers on what to do for a successful world.
Availability: Science Fiction Book Club
AwardWeb: Collections of Literary Award Information [online
resource] Available at: http://dpsinfo.com/awardweb/index.html
Reference type: Index/Abstract
Authority: This site is maintained by Laurie D. T. Mann. While no information about her specifically was to be found, the web site did have some very telling clues about her authority. First, the site won the Event Horizon E-Blast Sci-Fi Site of the Week award from The Sci-fi Channel. Second, Mann maintains about 300 other web sites, which suggests that she does so professionally. Third, the apparent completeness of her site lends it a "feel" of authority. Also, she gives credit to people who have contributed to the site, which means that she sites her references. Finally, the site has been in operation since 1994 with regular updates all along. This suggests that real research is going into the work to keep it current and accurate.
Audience Relation: Most writers read books with an eye for quality so that they may continue to develop their own skills. Thus, a site of award-winning books is a great place to find examples of high quality work as well as get a feel for what is being favorably received in the writing community.
Scope: This web site is very complete. All of the major and minor science fiction awards are listed, including many of the more obscure awards. One feature that would probably not be included in a print version is a list of online only awards from other web sites. Additionally, Mann provides links to a few mystery writing awards as well as some of the more major mainstream literary awards.
Content Evaluation: The front page of this site is quite large and should have been condensed. Instead of listing each of the awards on the front page, Mann should have listed all the categories with links to the complete list. To her credit, she does have "quick links" at the top of the awards list which provides the user with a link to the official pages of many of the major awards. Also, she does work from a fairly fast server and does not use many graphics, so the user does not have an incredibly long wait for the page to download completely.
The range of information at this site is quite extensive. Where possible, Mann links to the official web page for each award. However, she has created original content as well. For example, she compiled a very useful table on authors who have won multiple awards such as a Hugo, a Nebula and a Locus.
This web site is a great place to form a broad picture as to who is considered a great science fiction author. It is also useful for learning how the awards are given and who is responsible for awarding them. This could be used as sort of a "wish list" for aspiring authors, and may even provide avenues for submission to awards committees depending on the nomination procedures.
Internet Movie Database [online resource]. Available at: http://www.imdb.com
Reference type: Index
Authority: This database has become the resource for information about movies of any sort.
Audience Relation: Science fiction writers often use pop culture references as indicators of time and place in their work, especially if they are writing alternate histories. Movies are, for the time being, one of the most visible pop culture references. Thus, finding out the exact year of a picture's release, who was in it, and how many awards it won would be nice details to include in the writing to make it more "real" to the reader. Additionally, the database provides information on whether or not movies have been made into books and what production company purchased the rights. This could be very useful when going into contract negotiations for film rights.
Scope: This database is a grand compilation of almost every movie ever made. In most cases, the entries include complete cast and credits as well as a reviews from people who have seen it. For some older and foreign works, perhaps only a title and date are provided, but even this is a start for research.
Content Evaluation: This index is very powerful and very comprehensive. The entries are all hyperlinked together so that one could start by searching Gone with the Wind and instantly jump to a list of all of Clark Gabel's movie and television roles. This allows for great reverse lookup in situations like the following example: "I remember a movie where this guy was in it and I want to know who he was and what the movie was called, but all I can remember is that he was in this other movie with Kathleen Turner and I think it was in 1994 because that was the year I graduated." By starting with Kathleen Turner and looking at her work in 1994, one could eventually wager a guess as to the "guy" the person for which the person was originally looking.
The electronic format is excellent because it allows for constant updating and powerful searching methods. IMDb is set up so that one can cross reference, say, Patrick Stewart with Molly Ringwald to see if they ever worked together. The database is also equipped with "fuzzy logic" search engines that allow for word stemming.
The reviews and ratings system is all based on visitor input. This is an especially useful tool for writers because it allows them to see the likes and dislikes of the "man on the street," not just the Hollywood critic. As a matter of fact, IMDb has a constantly updated list of the top 250 movies based on user votes.
The database is also a good way to keep an eye on upcoming projects. This is important for sci-fi writers because it helps them keep up with what properties are selling and what are not. For instance, are movies being made more out of space books in general or just about Mars? This type of searching is enhanced by being able to buy the book from Amazon.com straight from the movie's entry in the database.
All in all, the enormous amount of movie related information that can be found here is an indispensable resource for the science fiction writer.
Readers' guide to periodical literature: an author and subject index. New York, NY: H.W. Wilson, c1999.
Reference type: Index
Authority: This publication has been put out since 1900 and is considered to be one of the primary resources for finding periodical articles.
Audience Relation: This resource is useful to science fiction writers because it helps them to conduct research quickly. Although there are several online equivalent databases, this resource can be counted on to be in most public and academic libraries, draws from a set list of periodicals deemed to have high standards by the editors of Reader's Guide, and is laid out in a format that is easy to learn and use, all of which saves precious time, a commodity a writer truly values.
Scope: This book is intended for anyone who wants to find an article that was printed in the periodicals on the index list. Essentially, the book indexes all the articles in each issue using a controlled vocabulary with cross-references. Each volume (with the exception of some of the older ones from the early part of the century) covers one year's worth of periodicals, with the most current year issued in smaller paperbacks until the year ends.
Content Evaluation: This index is one of the most useful sources for periodical research. The format is so easy to learn that new users usually do not have to consult the sample subject entry before diving into use. The cross-referencing is fairly all-inclusive and is enhanced by the more natural language of subject headings than, say, Library of Congress subject headings.
The pages, while thin to conserve space and weight, are in a subdued buff color that is easier on the eyes than a bright white would be. The print is small, but not unreadable for most people. And, the font is a pleasant seriffed variety that is neither difficult to read nor taxing on the eyes. Some improvements that could be made on form would be an addition of index tabs on the loose paper side and first and last entry headers at the tops of the pages as in most dictionaries.
All in all, this book, while perhaps not as comprehensive as some online indexes, requires the least investment for learning to use with the highest payoff. Writer's of any sort would benefit from its use.
Availability: Order through publisher with some volumes available special order at Amazon.com
Cinescape Online. [online resource] Available
Reference type: Internet Resource
Authority: Cinescape is the title of a well-known magazine addressing the entertainment industry with a focus on the science fiction genre. This website is the online presence of this publication.
Audience Relation: This site is useful to science fiction writers because some of them might be in a position to have their work made into a movie someday. This site would help them to follow the progress of their project as it is perceived by the media and general public. Also, keeping an eye on the entertainment industry is a good way to stay familiar with current cultural trends. This is useful for adding "flavor" to one's writing as well as providing set dressing for alternate timelines, etc. Also, it helps to provide the reader with the kind of detail that places one firmly in the setting and gives the writing a "real" feeling.
Scope: This site addresses the same information as its paper version, the entertainment industry. Included are rumors and news about current and forthcoming projects, as well as reviews of movies, television programs, computer software, and books.
Content Evaluation: This site is not for the faint of eyes. The front page itself is very small with only the left-frame index, that is sustained throughout the site, but the "home" page on the inside is cluttered with text (some of it blinking) and pictures in four columns. There is some attempt at organization with headers over some areas, but overall, it just looks overwhelming.
The pages of reviews are somewhat better. The most current review is placed in its entirety in the center column. Off to the right is a pull down menu of past reviews. Thus the heart of the content is in readable form.
The entries at this sight are very "chatty" and opinionated. When one is trying to get a feel for how a project is received, this can be a good gauge. One of the worst features of each entry is that it's sometimes difficult to find a date for the writing unless it is one of the articles from the front page where the dates are still listed. However, one of the best features of the articles is that if it includes rumors, they are never passed off as truth.
All in all, this resource does not provide as much or as detailed information as the Internet Movie Database (reviewed elsewhere on this site). However, it does a far better job at giving an overall picture of sci-fi entertainment trends and is useful for that reason.
Dave's somewhat complete SF/F Writers' Online Resources. [online resource] Available at: http://rinkworks.com/write/
Reference type: Internet Resource
Authority: The "Dave" of the title is actually webmaster David J. Parker. He has no apparent credentials except that he is a science fiction writer, so he does understand his audience. One thing that does bespeak well of the site is that it's hosted by Rinkworks which is a site much talked about as having comprehensive information in many areas. Most of their pages are compilations of some sort, even if it's just a compilation of jokes.
Audience Relation: This site is designed by and for science fiction writers.
Scope: The introduction to this web site addresses the vastness of the web and how difficult it can be to find information sometimes. Because Dave accepts suggestions for content, and because he updates regularly, this site really does provide current and accurate links to online resources without a lot of "noise" in the "signal". The copyright listed is 1998, but it is not known if this is in reference to the page's creation or last update.
Content Evaluation: This page is very easy to navigate and has minimal graphics which would inhibit fast downloads. The entries are well categorized and the categories sharply divided so that it is easy to scroll down through the list and find the exact resources one needs. It is not a very deep page, most of the information being on the first page, but since it is intended to be sort of an online ready reference shelf, this is an elegant design for its purpose.
The online resources listed are all high-quality sites with much authority in the areas they represent. It is easy to see this page's origin as Dave's bookmark file since the entries are all what might be expected in a science fiction writer's bookmark file. They are all well organized and briefly annotated by Dave.
In addition to online resources, Dave also lists some excellent books that are writing references (Note: some of these are the same titles as reviewed elsewhere on this site) He enhances these listings by linking them to listings at Amazon.com where they can be immediately purchased.
These resources are a great "core collection" for science fiction writers and address many of the basic needs, such as craft and publishing, general reference, and recommended reading. This is one of the best online sources on the subject.
United States Copyright Office home page [online resource]. Available at: http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/
Reference type: Internet Resource
Authority: This is the official page maintained by the United States Government and should be considered the final word on copyright issues.
Audience Relation: All writers are eventually in need of copyright information. Science fiction writers are no different. This page is a one-stop shopping place for copyright issues.
Scope: This site contains the entire copyright law as it is written in the U.S. code. It also contains documents explaining pieces of the law, coverage of recent copyright issues, and online forms. The site addresses additional concerns such as international copyright law and how to contact various copyright offices.
Content Evaluation: This site is very complete and very useful. The front page is very nicely laid out with the links in neat, discrete categories and not a lot of graphics to clutter the page or impair download time. Also, the front page is not very large, which helps first time users who might be confused by too many choices.
The information itself is very comprehensive. The only potential obstacle for some users is the fact that it is written in U.S. Code which can be difficult to understand at times. However, there are some explanatory documents available at the site which help with some interpretation. Additionally, there are online registration forms for most copyright law procedures. These forms are available as downloads to be printed, filled out, and mailed in. So far, there are not online submissions available.
This web site is updated quite frequently and can be relied upon to contain the most recent and accurate information regarding copyright law. For parts of the law that may change over time, such as registration fees and schedules, the site includes prominent expiration information. Additionally, the site encourages people to contact the offices if they have any questions. The contact information for the offices is very complete and prominently displayed.
Most all of the information on this site is in PDF format. Since Acrobat Reader is a free and easy to install program (that actually comes with most browsers these days) this is not a hindrance to accessing the information. PDF documents are especially helpful for browsers because they print to paper cleanly and exactly as they appear on the screen.
Overall, this is the most useful site on the Internet regarding copyright law. For authors working without an agent, this will answer many of their questions about procedures, protection, and cost for copyright registration.
Bartlett, John ; Kaplan, Justin, general editor. Familiar Quotations: a collection of passages, phrases, and proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature. (Sixteenth edition) Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, c1992.
Reference type: Ready Reference
Authority: Bartlett's is a trusted source for quoted material, and has been for many years.
Audience Relation: Science fiction authors have a particular lust for proving that history repeats itself in new and interesting ways. Thus, prefacing a chapter or a book with a famous quote is not uncommon. Having a source for both finding quotes and providing accurate attribution is an asset to any science fiction author's reference collection.
Scope: This book takes famous quotes from English speaking persons and provides them with an index and proper attribution. It is intended for use by anyone who has the need to find or verify a quote.
Content Evaluation: Bartlett's is a work that is familiar to many people who may have been exposed to it during a school library trip. Although the online version is available, the print version is the reviewer's preferred form because the online site is still very slow and difficult to search effectively.
The print version of the book is a thick, heavy tome of 1405 pages, including the indices. The pages are a light buff color, with a nice, large, black font. The index at the front of the book is an alphabetical index of authors. The one at the rear is a subject index for the quotes. The quotes in the main body are arranged in chronological order. Fortunately, the book is prefaced with instructions for its use so that new users are not completely on their own.
The entries are numbered consecutively, restarting at one at the top of each page. They are written in two columns per page with footnotes at the bottom and an authors' names as headers at the top next to the page number.
The main entries of the book are generally quotes that have been oft used after their original generation. Some authors have quite extensive entries, such as the Bible or Shakespeare. Others may only be one quote. The quotes cover all subject areas and are not censored for content.
This book is a useful edition to any author's reference collection who desires to spice up his or her writing with some references to other people. It would especially be of use to authors delving in time travel or alternate histories.
Page, Susan. The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book. New York, NY: Broadway Books, c1997.
Reference type: Ready Reference
Authority: Susan Page is the author of three published books and uses her experiences as a writer for source material. This book is written in first person point of view, and consistently reminds the reader that this is her viewpoint alone.
Audience Relation: Once a science fiction writer has committed some or all of the project to paper or disk, something that comes naturally to many is the desire to publish. For first time authors, or even authors with some experience, this can be a confusing process at best and a difficult one always. A good source offering practical advice on this subject is a necessity for a writer's reference collection.
Scope: This book is written mainly with the first time author in mind. It discusses all aspects of the publishing process to a medium depth with suggestions for more research where applicable. Although her experience is in non-fiction publishing, Page possesses a knowledge of non-fiction publishing as well.
Content Evaluation: This book offers a wealth of information on the publishing process. The tone is that of a self help book, although it does not get as "chatty" as some. The information comes across in layperson's language with a bit of humor, all of which makes it easy to learn and retain. The learning activities presented are actually very useful for writers, even if they are experienced. For example, the one on title selection would be useful for any author who is having trouble naming a work.
The book itself is a slightly oversized paperback with cream colored paper and a not too small black font. The work is broken up into easily digestible chunks within the chapters, and finding information within the book is never a problem, especially with the well-done index. Further reading is suggested in a section at the back.
The book's strength is largely in the practicality of its advice. This is definitely dealing with real world issues and is not afraid to talk about the ups and downs of contract negotiation. Page addresses the life of the author both with and without an agent and describes the strengths and weaknesses of each position. Her concrete writing and focused approach make this book easy to read and very informative, though at times not as in-depth as it could be.
Tompkins, David G. Science Fiction Writer's Market Place and Sourcebook. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books, c1994.
(Note: This review is on the first edition of the book. A second edition has been published with the main differences being updated entries for each publisher and magazine and a slightly different title to include the genres fantasy and horror. Otherwise, content is the same.)
Reference type: Ready Reference
Authority: This book is published by Writer's Digest, the number one source for materials on writing and publishing. Contributing authors include such established writers as Orson Scott Card and Nancy Kress.
Audience Relation: This book is specifically designed for authors in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres.
Scope: This book is written to help science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers both develop their work to a higher quality and find the perfect market for their work.
Content Evaluation: This book is perhaps the most useful book reviewed at this site. Not only does it help authors develop their work and hone their skills, it provides valuable information about the shape of the science fiction publishing market and for what the editors of each publishing house and magazine are looking. These entries were written by the editors themselves in clear, precise language about what they will and will not accept. Additionally, submission procedures are outline for each house, including payment terms for accepted work.
The book opens with essays from established authors on various points of refining one's craft. Then, there are two large sections on the markets, one for short stories and one for novels. Finally, there are additional resources in the back, such as a list of all national science fiction writing contests and how to enter them as well as bibliographies of award-winning science fiction and fantasy work.
The format of this book is a sturdy hardback that would fit on almost any reference shelf or in any briefcase for easy travel. The pages are stitched, not glued, in the binding for durability. The paper is light buff with a nice medium to large font. Headers are larger and in boldface for easy skimming through the text.
Overall, this is the one book that every science fiction author should have in his or her personal collection if a career in publishing his or her work is the eventual goal.