Encyclopedia Galactica

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Encyclopedia Galactica is the name of a number of fictional or hypothetical encyclopedias containing all the knowledge accumulated by a galaxy-spanning civilization, most notably in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. The concept of a "future encyclopedia" has become "something iconic among many lovers of the science fiction", and has been reused by numerous other writers.[1]

Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica[edit]

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 as epigraphs, discussing a key character or event in the story.[1][2] This provides the reader with a hazy idea of what is to come.

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.[3][verification needed]

Patricio Manns analyzed the Encyclopedia Galactica as a paratextual element of Asimov's work, intended to contextualize the action, to bring the trilogy closer to the historical novel and to inform the reader about a possible palimpsestic reading.[1]

Later instances in fiction[edit]

Various authors have invoked the Encyclopedia 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, and has appeared in the Star Wars expanded universe[4] and Superman comics set in the future.[5] The "Encyclopedia Galactica" was also mentioned as being a collection of all the knowledge of a galactic Empire in the 1989 science fiction short story "The Originist" by American novelist Orson Scott Card, 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:[1][6]

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."[7]

"Encyclopedia Galactica" is mentioned by Charlie Sheen's character in The Arrival (1996),[8] and by Jodie Foster's character in Contact (1997).[9]

The Orion's Arm worldbuilding project uses a fictional database called the Encyclopaedia Galactica as its primary framing device,[10] each page presenting itself as an individual article of the Encyclopaedia and focusing on a specific aspect of the Orion's Arm universe.

Other uses[edit]

A screen with an image of the Earth. It is labeled with an identifier: 806.4616.0110
A list of measurements about world 806.4616.0110 including details such as its age, mass, radius, and star.
A vast alien encyclopedia was imagined in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980), shown here opened to its entry about Earth and human civilization.

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).[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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 the 12th episode of his documentary of the same name, to refer to a text where hypothetical extraterrestrial civilizations could store all of their information and knowledge.[1][14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Manns, Patricio (1997-12-31), "Impugnación de la Historia por la Nueva Novela Histórica. La Nueva Novela Histórica: una experiencia personal", La invención del pasado: La novela histórica en el marco de la posmodernidad, Iberoamericana Vervuert, pp. 230–236, doi:10.31819/9783964567215-023, ISBN 9783964567215, retrieved 2022-04-05
  2. ^ Wimmer, Josh; Wilkins, Alasdair (May 9, 2011). "Isaac Asimov's Foundation: The Little Idea That Became Science Fiction's Biggest Series". Gizmodo. Retrieved February 26, 2024.
  3. ^ Wein, Theodore, "4", HG Wells and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, pp. 25–26
  4. ^ "HoloNet News: Duros Dispute Encyclopedia" Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "The Secret Origin of the Golden Age Superman". p 2. Roy Thomas, Wayne Boring, and Jerry Ordway.
  6. ^ Lomberg, Jon (February 8, 2019). "Encyclopedia Galactica: How Carl Sagan helped turn an alien obsession". Astronomy.com. Retrieved 2021-11-29.
  7. ^ Charles Clarke, Arthur; Lee, Gentry (1989). Rama II. Bantam Books. p. 305. ISBN 9780553057140. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  8. ^ "The Arrival movie script". Subslikescript.
  9. ^ "Contact movie script". Subslikescript.
  10. ^ "Encyclopedia Galactica". www.orionsarm.com. Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  11. ^ Encyclopaedia galactica. National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Encyclopedia galactica: the inner solar system [England]: York Films of England, 1993 at 21:09
  13. ^ Kraus, Bruce (1979). Encyclopedia Galactica: from the Fleet Library aboard the Battlestar Galactica. New York: Windmill Books and E.P. Dutton. OCLC 5320694.
  14. ^ Malone, Adrian; Haines-Stiles, Geoffrey (1980-12-14), Encyclopaedia Galactica, Carl Sagan, Alan Belod, Jean Charney, retrieved 2018-02-09
  15. ^ Sagan, Carl (1980). "Encyclopaedia Galactica". Cosmos. Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-53943-4.

External links[edit]