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Nicholls' early career was as a literary academic, originally with The University of Melbourne. He first travelled to the US in 1968 on a Harkness fellowship, and his significant contributions to science fiction scholarship and criticism began in 1971, when he became the first Administrator of the Science Fiction Foundation (UK), a position he held until 1977. He was editor of its journal, Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction from 1974-8.
In 1979, Nicholls edited The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (published in the US as The Science Fiction Encyclopedia), with John Clute as associate editor. Most of its 730 thousand words were written by Nicholls, Clute and two contributing editors. At the time, this was widely perceived as the most comprehensive and sophisticated critical survey of the entire science fiction field ever attempted. It won the 1980 Hugo Award in the Nonfiction Book category. A completely revised, updated, and greatly expanded version of the Encyclopedia, co-edited with Clute, was published in 1993, and won the 1994 Hugo in the same category. A further updating of the work, with revisions and corrections, was later issued in CD-ROM format. The third edition, with Clute and David Langford, was released online as a beta text in October 2011.
Nicholls' other major publications include the following: Science Fiction at Large (1976; reprinted 1978 under the title Explorations of the Marvellous), a collection of essays edited by Nicholls from a 1975 symposium; The Science in Science Fiction (1983) edited by Nicholls and written by him with David Langford and Brian M. Stableford; and Fantastic Cinema (1984; published in the US as The World of Fantastic Films).
A film on his interest and work in science fiction, titled The What-If Man was completed.
Nicholls is the father of five children. His daughter is author and editor Sophie Cunningham, although they were not close for many years. He currently lives in Melbourne with his wife Clare and his two youngest sons, Jack and Luke.
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