The Encyclopædia Galactica is a fictional or hypothetical encyclopædia of a galaxy-spanning civilization, containing all the knowledge accumulated by a society with quadrillions of people and thousands of years of history. The name evokes the exhaustive and imperialistic aspects of the real-life Encyclopædia Britannica.
Asimov’s Encyclopædia Galactica
The concept and name of the Encyclopædia Galactica first appeared in Isaac Asimov’s short story “Foundation” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1942), later republished as “The Encyclopædists” in the short story collection Foundation (1951). Asimov’s Encyclopædia 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 Encyclopædia is later revealed to be an element in an act of misdirection, its real purpose being to concentrate a group of knowledgeable scientists on a remote, resource-poor planet, 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.
Various authors have invoked the Encyclopædia Galactica in both science and science fiction. The first may have been Frank Holby’s short, 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. Another example is its use by Carl Sagan in his 1980 book Cosmos, and his documentary series of the same name, to refer to a text where hypothetical extraterrestrial civilizations could store all of their information and knowledge. It was also a common fixture in previous incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes comic books, and has appeared in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and Superman comics set in the future.
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.—Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
In Arthur C. Clarke’s and Gentry Lee’s 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 Encyclopædia Galactica.”
The Encyclopædia Britannica distributed a series of five video documentaries entitled Encyclopædia Galactica in 1993, with the 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.
- H2G2 - BBC - h2g2 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Galaxy Quest - Wikipedia is a real-life Hitchhiker's Guide: huge, nerdy, and imprecise. By Paul Boutin Posted on Slate.com Tuesday, May 3, 2005, at 2:37 p.m. PT on Slate Magazine. Paul Boutin compares Wikipedia and the Encyclopaedia Galactica of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Encyclopedia Galactica - A Guide to Asimov's Foundation Universe (Archived June 9, 2008 at the Wayback Machine)
- Encyclopaedia Galactica - a guide to the Orion's Arm Universe