Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles.
The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction
By Roger Fulton & John Betancourt
First Published September 1998
Published by Warner Books
In an attempt to stay away from reviewing a TV tie-in novel each and every month, I took a look at my shelf of television encyclopedias and reference books, hoping to find something interesting to write about. Almost immediately I spotted something I thought would make for a terrific Bookshelf column: The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction. Not because it’s a great reference work but because it isn’t.
I was given my copy of The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction as gift a dozen or so years ago. Back then, encyclopedias of all varieties were still fairly useful. Television encyclopedias were an especially valuable resource. As a huge fan of science fiction as well as television, this particular television encyclopedia certainly should have been a favorite. Instead, although I did enjoy flipping through it, for the most part it has sat unused on my bookshelf since I received it.
An expanded version of an earlier work called The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, written by Roger Fulton and published in the U.K. in 1990, The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction claims on the cover to be “The complete guide to 50 years of science fiction entertainment!” Right off the bat, there’s a problem. It’s far from complete.
FrontCover to The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction – Copyright 1998 Warner Books
It is relatively comprehensive, covering more than 150 television shows from the United States and the United Kingdom that had been or were currently on the air as of mid-1998. Each entry includes a summary/review, a cast list, production credits, broadcast history and in most cases either an episode list or a guide, with brief summaries and guest casts for each episode. For some shows, however, there are no episode details at all.
The decision to include episode details for some shows but not others seems arbitrary (to save space, perhaps?). The inclusion of an episode list for certain shows is pretty much useless.
Even more bizarre is the lack of airdates for episodes, either list or full guide. In fact, dates are problematic in a number of ways. For most shows, the only date given is the premiere date; if it aired in the both the U.S. and the U.K. there are two premiere dates. Sometimes there’s a date range from first episode aired to last episode aired.
Back Cover to The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction – Copyright 1998 Warner Books
Quibbles over dates aside, the real problem with The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction is the fact that despite being labeled “the complete guide” it leaves out a lot of shows. It covers Captain Nice but not Mister Terrific, I Dream of Jeannie but not My Living Doll, Tom Corbett, Space Police but not Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Science Fiction Theatre but not Tales of Tomorrow.
I’m not familiar enough with science fiction TV shows from the United Kingdom to say whether some have been left out as well. It could be that the original text published in the U.K. did not include certain shows from the United States and they were not added when it was updated for the SCI FI Channel. There is a section at the end of the book briefly covering “41 obscure shows you’ll probably never hear of again,” but they are all from the United Kingdom.
Despite these criticisms, The SCI-FI Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction is not a terrible book. Its target audience was not serious researchers but for casual science fiction fans or, more specifically, casual viewers of SCI FI Channel who wouldn’t necessarily need to know when exactly an episode originally aired.
When the encyclopedia was published, SCI FI Channel was still airing a lot of the shows it covered, and casual viewers who caught an episode of an old show could easily flip to its entry and read a little more about it. Today, of course, all of the information in the encyclopedia and much more is readily available online, making it outdated and antiquated.