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Encyclopedia Galactica

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia Galactica is a fictional or hypothetical encyclopedia containing all the knowledge accumulated by a galaxy-spanning (Type III in Kardashev scale) civilization. The name evokes the exhaustive aspects of the real-life Encyclopædia Britannica.

Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica

Encyclopedia Galactica first appeared in Isaac Asimov's short story "Foundation" (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1942), later republished as "The Encyclopedists" in the short-story collection Foundation (1951). Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica was a compendium of all knowledge then available in the Galactic Empire, intended to preserve that knowledge in a remote region of the galaxy in the event of a foreseen galactic catastrophe. The Encyclopedia is later revealed to be an element in an act of misdirection, with its real purpose being to concentrate a group of knowledgeable scientists on a remote, resource-poor planet named Terminus, with the long-term aim of revitalizing the technologically stagnant and scientifically dormant empire. Originally published in a physical medium, it later becomes computerized and subject to continual change.

Asimov used the Encyclopedia Galactica as a literary device throughout his Foundation series, beginning many of the book sections or chapters with a short extract from the Encyclopedia discussing a key character or event in the story. This provides the reader with a hazy idea of what is to come.

The first citation, in the chronological order is present in Prelude to Foundation. It is about Emperor Cleon, First of the Name, and last of the Entun Dynasty.

CLEON I – ... The last Galactic Emperor of the Entun Dynasty. He was born in the year 11,988 of the Galactic Era, the same year in which Hari Seldon was born. (It is thought that Seldon’s birthdate, which some consider doubtful, may have been adjusted to match that of Cleon, whom Seldon, soon after his first arrival on Trantor, is supposed to have encountered.)

Having succeeded to the Imperial throne in 12,010 at the age of twenty-two, 
Cleon I’s reign represented a curious interval of quiet in those troubled times. This is 
undoubtedly due to the skills of his chief of staff, Eto Demerzel, who so carefully 
obscured himself from public record that little is known about him. 

Cleon himself . . . 


Theodore Wein considers the Encyclopedia Galactica as possibly inspired by a reference in H.G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come (1933). The future world envisioned by Wells includes an "Encyclopaedic organization which centres upon Barcelona, with seventeen million active workers" and which is tasked with creating "the Fundamental Knowledge System which accumulates, sorts, keeps in order and renders available everything that is known". As pointed out by Wein, this Wells book was at its best-known and most influential in the late 1930s – coinciding with "the period of incubation" when the young Asimov became interested in science fiction, reading a lot of it and starting to formulate his own ideas.[1]

Later instances in fiction

Various authors have invoked the Encyclopædia Galactica in both science and science fiction. The first may have been author Frank Holby's short story "The Strange Case of the Missing Hero" in the July 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction which featured Sebastian Lelong, editor of the Encyclopedia. It was also a common fixture in previous incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes comic books,[2] and has appeared in the Star Wars expanded universe[3] and Superman comics set in the future.[4] The "Encyclopedia Galactica" was also mentioned as being a collection of all the knowledge of a galactic Empire in the science fiction short story called "The Originist", which was written by American novelist Orson Scott Card in 1989, and took place in Isaac Asimov's fictional "Foundation" Universe.

In the comic science fiction series by Douglas Adams, the Galactica is frequently contrasted with the apparently more popular Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

Robert A. Heinlein mentioned the Encyclopedia in chapter three of To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987): "... the computer that led the Lunar Revolution on time line three, code 'Neil Armstrong.' Let's skip the details; it's all in Encyclopedia Galacta (sic) and other books."

In Arthur C. Clarke's and Gentry Lee's novel Rama II (1989), Nicole des Jardins says to Richard Wakefield, "Just think, the sum of everything all human beings know or have ever known might be nothing more than an infinitesimal fraction of the Encyclopedia Galactica."[5]

"Encyclopedia Galactica" is mentioned by Charlie Sheen's character in The Arrival (1996 film),[6] and by Jody Foster's character in Contact (1997 American film).[7]

Other uses

There was a series of five video documentaries in 1993, collectively called Encyclopædia Galactica, with the episode titles “The Inner Solar System”, “The Outer Solar System”, “Star Trekking”, “Discovery”, and “Astronomy and the Stars”. The videos were produced by York Films of England and distributed by Encyclopædia Britannica (Australia).[8] Other entities associated with the production of the video series were Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel Europe, S4C Wales, System TV France and Yleisradio Finland.[9]

There was an Encyclopedia Galactica: from the Fleet Library aboard the Battlestar Galactica published in 1978. Aimed at a juvenile audience, this was a tie in to the Battlestar Galactica television series being broadcast at the time.[10]

In reality

The term has been used in non-fictional contexts as well. One example is its use by Carl Sagan (1934–1996) in his 1980 book Cosmos, and his documentary video series of the same name, to refer to a text where hypothetical extraterrestrial civilizations could store all of their information and knowledge.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Wein, Theodore, "4", HG Wells and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, pp. 25–26
  2. ^ "Encyclopedia Galactica". Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  3. ^ "HoloNet News: Duros Dispute Encyclopedia" Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "The Secret Origin of the Golden Age Superman". p 2. Roy Thomas, Wayne Boring, and Jerry Ordway.
  5. ^ Charles Clarke, Arthur; Lee, Gentry (1989). Rama II. Bantam Books. p. 305. ISBN 9780553057140. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  6. ^ The Arrival movie script
  7. ^ Contact movie script
  8. ^ Encyclopaedia galactica. National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ Encyclopedia galactica: the inner solar system [England]: York Films of England, 1993 at 21:09
  10. ^ Kraus, Bruce (1979). Encyclopedia Galactica: from the Fleet Library aboard the Battlestar Galactica. New York: Windmill Books and E.P. Dutton. OCLC 5320694.
  11. ^ Malone, Adrian; Haines-Stiles, Geoffrey (1980-12-14), Encyclopaedia Galactica, Carl Sagan, Alan Belod, Jean Charney, retrieved 2018-02-09

External links

This page was last edited on 27 May 2021, at 22:37
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