|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #78, May 2001|
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This month, I discuss some favourite CDs ... and before you all run away screaming in fear of Barry Manilow, please note that they're computer CD-ROMs. All of them, by some eerie coincidence not unconnected with the Langford ego, contain several mentions of me.
The oldest is Hugo and Nebula Anthology 1993, Brad Templeton's brave effort at a complete CD-ROM of that year's major award nominees – including novels and artwork. It was terrific value and featured one real collector's item, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (which won the Hugo) with 500k of his own hyperlinked notes and annotations, not available in any printed edition.
Sadly, this CD didn't do terribly well and wasn't repeated, perhaps because people dislike reading whole novels on screen. Thanks to the mad haste of production, there were also technical problems ... such as my own nonfiction collection appearing with all the dashes missing.
Another CD-ROM that deserved better sales was The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction from 1995. When Grolier published this they tried hard to conceal the fact that it was a major reference book – the Clute/Nicholls SF Encyclopedia (second edition, 1993), with extensive updates and revisions.
Grolier reckoned that no one wants to consult boring old text, so the screen was mostly pretty graphics with the actual information crammed into a tiny window that couldn't be enlarged, using a hideous font and vile colours that couldn't be changed. Also there was a crippled search engine that didn't take you to your wanted phrase but to a list of entries that contained it somewhere. No, no internal search within entries. Who could need such a thing?
This annoyed me so much that I wrote a Windows front end to make this encyclopedia usable (see www.ansible.co.uk/sfview/), and to allow addenda. In February, for example, I sadly annotated Gordon Dickson's entry with "Died 2001." The SF Encyclopedia is a great reference CD once you get rid of Grolier's sleazy interface; there was a cheap but identical reissue from Focus Multimedia in 1998.
Further specialist CDs often used and recommended by me are The Locus Index to SF / Index to SF Anthologies and Collections by Brown and Contento, and SF, Fantasy, & Weird Fiction Magazine Index by Miller and Contento. (William G. Contento is an SF bibliographer so celebrated that many fans believe the Contents List was named after him.) I parted with an eye-watering $50 apiece for these at the 1999 Melbourne Worldcon, but if you only want to look something up occasionally you can find the indexes on line at www.locusmag.com/index/.
I don't know whether the Guinness book of Records was taking notes, but the year 2000 saw the first ever cover CD-ROM on an SF fanzine – Britain's very own Hugo-nominated Plokta (standing for "Press Lots Of Keys To Abort"), whose elaborate sillinesses and superfluous technology may be viewed at www.plokta.com. As you might expect, the CD contained all the back issues, plus archives of other fanzines, artwork and photos. No doubt it's now a priceless rarity.
Jealous at not having thought of this first, I fudged up a CD-ROM of my own SF gossip-sheet Ansible (www.ansible.co.uk). Ansible started in 1979, long before word processors, but my mind slaves had typed or scanned early issues for the website. With a home-made search engine, this became the Langford External Memory: I'd forgotten all those 1980s SF scandals, but searching the CD brings them hideously back to mind, including the lawsuit threats. Dare I market this? Maybe not.
Marcus Rowland's Forgotten Futures CD-ROM (www.forgottenfutures.co.uk, £18) grew from role-playing game scenarios based on Victorian/Edwardian scientific romance, and now includes a hefty library of period novels, stories, articles and pictures. Fun to browse, and handy for research.
Last of all, one of only three copies in existence, here's the 1997 Clute/Grant Encyclopedia of Fantasy on CD-ROM, with updates and corrections. As a contributing editor with access to the electronic text, I fudged up this demo CD based on my SF Encyclopedia viewer software. When you've automated the hyperlinking of over 42,000 internal cross-references, you learn the true meaning of obsessiveness.
That was more than a year ago. Thanks to tangled issues of electronic rights and other awkwardness, this project remains stalled and I don't know whether the CD-ROM will ever go on sale. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
David Langford, being notoriously deaf, doesn't have any audio CDs at all.
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