From Facebook, on Thursday 31 Dec 2020:
After years of compiling data, refining scoring schemes, and experimenting with very wide html pages, I’ve begun filling the last two menu tabs at sfadb.com — the one for Rankings (so far just the Short Stories page) and the one for Timeline. There’s also a page for the Scoring Methodology, linked from those. There will eventually be pages for four other categories (novelettes, novellas, SF novels, and F/H novels). In trying to make the rankings pages more interesting that numbered lists of titles, I’ve added cover images and annotations that are like miniatures of the essays I was doing for Black Gate earlier this year, except here I’m trying to avoid spoilers. Only 20 are written so far; more will be added.
I wrote three drafts of this because this update is significant but I didn’t want to oversell it or sound like I was promoting myself excessively. But in truth, this is something of a milestone. It’s the first part of a project I’ve been contemplating for fully 20 years.
I even remember — or remember remembering — the occasion when I conceived of the project. I was jogging around the indoor running track at the North Hollywood Bally’s (formerly Holiday Spa). I was just getting my awards database posted, and reflected on how simple tallies of how many awards this story or that novel had won or been nominated for were very poor guides to overall quality, mainly because the number of awards had been growing from year to year, and many of the “classic” works of SF dated from decades before there were *any* awards.
There were two further influences. Locus, or rather Bill Contento, a friend of Charles Brown’s, had compiled annual indexes of books and anthologies and their contents for over a decade, and had combined them all into a single index that he sold on CD ROM. There he had a tally of the most reprinted stories, with IIRC something by Harlan Ellison leading the list. Second, somewhere in the mid 1990s, even at the dawning of the internet age, some guy (his name was Aurel Guillemette, who so far as I know has never published anything before or since) had published a hardcover book called The Best in Science Fiction: Winners and Nominees of the Major Awards in Science Fiction, which title, it seemed to me, begged the issue I just described: it assumed tallies of awards were guides to the “best.”
So as I set up an online index to SF awards, I thought, I can improve on that idea by combining awards with anthology reprints (and later “citations” from expert books and all-time polls), that with appropriate weighting, could identify the best, or “most significant” is probably a more accurate descriptor, novels and stories of all times.
And it’s taken me 20 years to finish. Only near the end did I decide to write glosses on the top ranking stories, and include cover images, and so finishing the rest of the lists will take a few more weeks, perhaps two or three months. But the ranking scheme, and the rankings, are done. And soon I will be rereading all the top ranked novelettes to write glosses on the top ranking of those.
The irony is… gathering so much data, tweaking the scoring algorithm over the years, hasn’t substantially changed the results of simple tallies of reprints, or even of awards within a limited range. Guillemette’s results put “Bears Discover Fire” at the top; so do mine. Contento’s ranking put Harlan Ellison at the top; his story is very near the top of mine. And my highest ranking novels are familiar to anyone who has seen similar rankings, by whatever methods.
But I think my Timeline is really cool, and no one has done anything like it before.
Meanwhile. The hospital stay and recovery both interrupted my progress on that and other projects, but then spurred me to apply myself to finishing arguably the most important one.
I think sfadb.com, with its pages of awards listings and indexes by author, will be my legacy, as long as I leave behind instructions for its maintenance. Everyone will forget my role in Locus Online. Reviews in Locus or at Black Gate are fleeting. My notion for a book would at best draw interest for a season, then be forgotten, or at worst never sell or be noticed at all.
In the middle is my personal project of writing family history and memoirs. I made a lot of progress in 2020, in part due to the pandemic shut-in. I think I’d finished perhaps 80%. I have a couple more memoir essays to write, and more family photos to post.
My current plan is to take a break of just a couple weeks from reading for the sfadb rankings, to polish and finish the family history and memoir posts. I started that today. (And I’ve written a 6000 word memoir post about my heart attack and hospital stay, first posted back on November 24th.)
Then I return to finishing the sfadb rankings and annotations, which I would think won’t take more than a couple months.
And then… I will return to reading of general nonfiction. Reading of classic SF novels. I’ll consider resuming some kind of reviews for Black Gate. I’ll start writing more drafts for what might be my book.
And hope that I stay alive long enough to finish all these projects.