The Long Haul

Three point four million words in February. Three point five million in May. Three point six in July. The online SF Encyclopedia crawls along towards its four-million-word goal, and meanwhile my home-made spell checker keeps complaining about listings of online books from Project Guttenberg. Or Gutenburg. Reasons of state forbid me to name the contributor who never gets Gutenberg right...

Another of our little helpers has been cribbing his homework. My amazing psi powers can deduce this from the internal Wikipedia links that accidentally didn't get removed. Naughty, naughty!

One Wikipedia idea we actually wanted to steal was a "What links here" list of incoming links for each entry. Too difficult and expensive, according to the SFE website designers, so I've written my own script for it – plus a random-entry lucky dip – and am eagerly waiting for these to be installed. [They're now in place.]

Project Gubenberg? There's a novelty.

Some of our 13,200 entries (at the time of writing) don't appear in the website's headword lists because they start with funny characters like the ligatured Æ. Finding these is a challenge. Think of them as Easter eggs.

Other peculiar characters lurk in the alleyways. John W Campbell, editor of Analog magazine, invented a special new mathematical symbol Analog symbol for the cover logo, and I had to fudge up a suitable graphic with CorelDraw. Greek crept in when our music expert insisted on mentioning that the SF band Yacht also spelt its name in caps with a Greek delta for the A. The Iceland article infested us with thorns and eths, Þ and ð. An entry for an Egyptian author came with elaborate colour-coding to show which letters should have dots underneath them (which even the learned contributor couldn't manage to insert). But this forces horrible font substitutions in web browsers, too hideously ugly to use: after laboriously working out how to put the bloody dots in I had to remove them again.

My favourite site bug of all is known to insiders as the Hidden Peril. For weird miscoding reasons, every book title in the author bibliographies containing the word Hidden – such as good old Charlie Stross's The Hidden Family – was, in fact, hidden. A blank space in the checklist, followed by the place, publisher and date for this apparently untitled book. How we all laughed! I devised a fix at the cost of many treasured brain cells, but still have to keep watching for this problem. [It's gone! At last it's gone!]

Next: Project Guternberg. Nearly missed that one.

Fortunately we get feedback from our loyal readers, mostly asking why some all-fantasy author – Robert Jordan is the fave rave – doesn't appear in what's supposed to be an encyclopedia of science fiction. Others clamour for an entry about their own important selves on the strength of a short-story sale or a self-published ebook. A very few are strangely annoyed to have been included. For me, the most sobering feedback came from an author once famous for tribbles: "I am told that David Langford is one of the most unpopular people in the SF community." I think he didn't like his entry.

On the upside, the editors are madly pleased that despite being a "beta" version still in progress, the new SFE has won awards – including the European SF Award as "Best Promoter" of SF. Now we feel like carnival barkers wheedling suspicious punters into the stripy SF tent with grandiose promises about the attractions within ... "Ladies and gennelmen, we offer the only genuine stuffed Asimov, Heinlein, Verne and Wells in captivity! Thrill to the hidden mysteries of Time, Space, Fandom, Kipple and Postmodernism! See Women in SF fully exposed! Marvel at the rare Unobtainium! This way to the Egress!"

Onward, towards 3.7 million words and no rest in sight. Dearie me, now our chap has spelt it Project GutenBorg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated into the public domain...

David Langford knows that with great power there must also come great irresponsibility.

Later: 3.7 million words in September 2012. 3.8 million in November. 3.9 million in December, 4 million in January 2013 ...