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ISFDB, SFADB, and Other Speculative Fiction Tools

Summary: My favorite public speculative fiction tools and resources include:

  1. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, or ISFDB.
  2. The Science Fiction Awards Database, or SFADB, by Mark R. Kelly.
  3. Classics of Science Fiction, by James Wallace Harris, Piet Nel and Mike Jorgenson.
  4. The Internet Time Travel Database, or ITTDB, by Michael Main and compatriots.
  5. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, or SFE.
  6. Internet Archive and the Luminist Archives.

I know there are many, many more, but these are the ones I usually start with.

On a personal level, I have Book, Comic Book and SF Magazine Databases. I also have a very substantial Excel spreadsheet I use to track my short fiction reading, along with MS Notes Pages to track each short fiction work in a portable format on my phone or tablet. However, these are not public tools, although I’ll be happy to talk to anyone about them.

More Details, like why, how, etc., etc.: I’ve been a fan of science fiction and speculative fiction for many decades.

Between joining the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction and Science Fiction Book Clubs, and in writing a blog that is often about speculative fiction, I’ve been using various internet based tools a lot more over the last few years.

I have noticed lately that I occasionally encounter people who don’t know about the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. For me, at least, this is a very basic tool that I use daily, sometimes many times. This drove me to think about the tools and resources I use for thinking and writing about speculative fiction, and about writing about them.

Before I discuss these tools and resources in any detail, I need to clarify that I mostly think about and write about speculative fiction that is in the form of a story or a novel. Most of them are in a written format, although some are available as audio books.

Also, and I’ll expand on this below, I am aware that some have issues with Internet Archive and such, with concerns about the legality, ethics and morality of such an approach to a lending library. I get that. I’ll let individuals make their own decisions on this.

Good luck, and let me know of essential resources that I have missed here. I am sure there are many; if I like more of them, I’ll update this post.

ISFDB: The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, or ISFDB, is just what the name implies. As noted on the entry page, “The ISFDB is a community effort to catalog works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It links together various types of bibliographic data: author bibliographies, publication bibliographies, award listings, magazine content listings, anthology and collection content listings, and forthcoming books.”

This is a very powerful community effort to catalog speculative fiction. Anyone can be an editor; I am. I find it dramatically useful, and very accurate most of the time. At the same time, I have occasionally discovered errors and missing information, stories, authors or books that I could provide. This lead me to become an editor. A lot of this is non-trivial, and all of my suggested additions, corrections, etc. are approved by a moderator before they take effect.

The basic functionality that most users are concerned with includes the basic, unnamed “Search” and below it “Advanced Search”.

Right below the unnamed “Search” text box is a dropdown tab with a lot of choices for what kind of information you are seeking, by Fiction Title, All Titles, Author Name, Series Name, Magazine Name, Publisher, etc. Many searches can be accomplished with this basic “Search” functionality.

This basic Search functionality is based upon text string matching; it does not do Google-like approximations. So, if you happen to misspell something or use a name that does not match what is in ISFDB, you won’t find what you are looking for. Even punctuation or typed characters can be an issue. Also, current functionality is based upon whole word matching. So, if you type in “Isaac Asimov” under “Author”, you’ll get him. However, if you type “Isaac As”, you probably won’t get him.

When you get too many responses or you’re not finding what you are looking for, you will need to use the “Advanced Search” button. This lets you do “Custom Searches of Individual Record Types”, “Other Searches”, and also you will find a useful “Search the ISFDB database using Google” option. “Custom Searches of Individual Record Types” will let you search on multiple selection criteria using options like “Is exactly”, “contains”, etc.

There are still a few specific searches that I’ve never figured out how to do. I have always wanted to know what stories from an author was published in a specific magazine. I suspect you can do this but I’ve never asked for help on this and it’s not yet clear to me how to do it.

If you are looking at a specific magazine or series, you can search for those. I searched for “Analog” as a magazine. This results in a number of different answers, which can be very helpful. Depending upon what you are looking for, the “issue grid” may be preferable to the “Analog” entry. As a database, there are a lot of database entries that have a “parent” as well. This may or may not matter to you, but typically the parent is the original record.

It’s also worth noting that many entries have cover art. Equally if not more useful to me are the magazine entries where there is a link to a scanned copy at Internet Archive or the Luminist Archives. “Astounding” is one of these, as is “Galaxy”, “Unknown”, “If/Worlds of If”, some “Weird Tales”, “Thrilling Wonder Stories”, “Startling Stories”, etc.

SFADB: The Science Fiction Awards Database, or SFADB, by Mark R. Kelly, is a wonderful source of information that I have probably not fully plumbed.

It’s a very useful single source for many awards for SF and speculative fiction. He also includes substantial citation information (places a story has been reprinted, typically). Mark notes that it is not exhaustive, but it’s pretty amazing and helpful. I assume there might be more detail on each of them separately, but Mark has done a wonderful job of combining the information into one place and made it available in useful ways.

You can search for information in a number of ways, on an author basis, on an award basis, and probably more. There are tabs for “Names”, “Awards”, “Citations”, “Anthologies”, “Rankings”, “Timeline” and “More”.

While Mark clearly does not enter all stories by all authors in his database (look at ISFDB for something closer to that), it can be a great way to get a sense of an author over time, both in terms of awards (including nominations) and citations in anthologies that meet his criteria for inclusion. Without overthinking it or putting words into his mouths, I believe his anthology citations are from works that he thinks are important or consequential.

I tend to use SFADB in several ways.

  1. First, and perhaps the most common, is when I’m trying to get a sense of an author’s career and whether it’s worth my time and effort to read more of them and know more about them. Awards and nominations can be one facet of that; being listed in consequential anthologies is another. I like that, when you look at a specific author under the “Names” tab, there are sub-tabs for “Awards”, “Citations”, “Titles” and “Chronology”. This is especially useful for an author I don’t know much about. It’s not uncommon for me to read a story by an author who I don’t know or remember much about, sometimes nothing, and enter “SFADB Josephine Blow” into google and see what comes up at SFADB. A story’s awards and citations don’t confirm for me that it’s a good story, but it can be helpful in winnowing out what I’d like to read and make my mind up about myself.
  2. “Rankings” can be useful. When I was preparing my “Recommended Reading List” for short speculative fiction for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group, these rankings of short stories, novelettes and novellas were one essential component. Here is one version of that list, and here is another somewhat different version.
  3. “Timeline” is fun also, when you’re looking at an era or a year. I’ve found this especially true when I was looking at short fiction for a specific year and attempting to read or identify those stories that I thought were the best for that year. This has come up for me several times, such as a) when I did the reading for the Chicon 8 1946 Project (or the “Not the Retro Hugos” as I called it), b) our Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group read on SF from 1976, and c) reading the Bleiler/Dikty “The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949” (1949, Frederick Fell) and trying to decide what stories I felt should have been included from 1948 instead of some of the ones that were included.

Classics of Science Fiction, by James Wallace Harris, Piet Nel and Mike Jorgenson has some similarities to but is different enough from SFADB to make it very useful as well. Classics of Science Fiction is a database that is chiefly citations driven.

There are buttons for four different choices, with “Short Stories V2”, “Novels, Anthologies, Collections V5”, “List Builder”, and “Citation Total by Author”.

I tend to use the “List Builder” choice for custom lists quite often. I used it as one of the basic input to my “Recommended Reading List” for short speculative fiction.

ITTDB: The Internet Time Travel Database, or ITTDB, by Michael Main and compatriots. The Internet Time Travel Database is what it says it is.

Time travel is a pretty common type of speculative fiction story, and this site is the best resource for stories and books and movies, etc. about it.

SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, or SFE. This is a wonderful resource now in Fourth Edition, edited by John Clute and David Langford, with Graham Sleight as Managing Editor and the late Peter Nicholls noted as Founding Editor. Strongly recommended as a well thought out and insightful resource on speculative fiction. ISFDB tends to refer to SFE as one of the webpages referenced for most authors.

Internet Archive and the Luminist Archives. While I assume there are many “black” or less public websites on the Internet where you can find works that are clearly not being made available in a legal fashion, I don’t know of any of them. Neither have I looked for them.

These two organizations/websites both make written works and many other things available online. The written works are typically scanned. Both have take-down procedures for works that someone deems still under copyright and not legally available. I can’t vouch for how compliant they are on this.

Additionally, Internet Archive functions as a library, where books that have been obtained legally by the Internet Archive are scanned and made available online on a check-out basis to those with accounts. Some of these are for longer check-out periods, and some are for one hour periods at a time.

I am aware that some have issues with Internet Archive and such, with concerns about the legality, ethics and morality of such an approach to a lending library. I get that. There is a substantial lawsuit going on as we speak between Internet Archive and four major publishers on the scanned books as a legal lending library concept. This could go all the way to the Supreme Court. This might have a very substantial impact on scanned books at Internet Archive; we’ll see.

Regardless, I’ll let individuals make their own decisions on these matters.

There are both similarities and differences between what is found at Internet Archive and the Luminist Archives.

The biggest similarity for me is that they both have substantial holdings of scanned speculative fiction books and magazines.

There are substantial differences between them as well.

  1. The scanned versions at Luminist Archives are often pdf files that must be downloaded and opened to be read. Many, and perhaps all, of the files for written documents on Internet Archive can be opened in your browser. This tends to make access easier and faster on Internet Archive.
  2. There is no doubt that the indexing is generally much, much, much better at Luminist Archives. Saying this another way, the indexing varies a lot on Internet Archive, including very different indexing terms and usages for different issues of the same magazine. I have found written works there that it took me several variations on how it might have been indexed by title and author to actually find it, even when I know it’s there. Sometimes I never found things due to my search terms. The exception to this are the Collections on Internet Archive, where someone has put together works that they think belong together. Examples of those on the Internet Archive are Collections named “The Pulp Magazine Archive” and “Astounding Stories Magazine“. I have not done the work to check if they are complete and included all of the scanned such objects on IA, but it’s a great start.
  3. Although there is overlap, there are some things that are currently found on one that are not on the other.
  4. Internet Archive also have radio shows and music concerts.


One response to “ISFDB, SFADB, and Other Speculative Fiction Tools”

  1. […] for information about books, stories and authors of speculative fiction. I’ve written about these kinds of resources here. I found very little information. “Bircher” is the only title given for author […]


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