A few weeks ago, I noticed the first questions that gave me pause, thinking, should we allow these? But they kind of fit, so I didn't do anything to get in its way.

Then I started noticing more

And then today, it seems like all kinds of things broke loose...

So, where do we draw the line with these types of questions? It seems to me that if we start, almost any kid show would fit vaguely in the realm of Fantasy, with who knows what results in the end. But where do we want to draw the line, or are we going to welcome these types of questions?

  • 2
    I thought that bery young kids novels/stories were off topic here. meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/q/683/1109 – OghmaOsiris Dec 16 '11 at 0:39
  • 3
    Also, don't be questioning the validity of Capt Planet. My childhood will be ruined! – OghmaOsiris Dec 16 '11 at 0:42
  • "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." – DavRob60 Dec 16 '11 at 1:02
  • Note that Santa has his own meta discussion: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1017/… – Tony Meyer Dec 16 '11 at 10:03
  • Your only limit is your imagination. – Jeff Dec 18 '11 at 17:30
  • Fantasia has no boundaries – MPelletier Dec 19 '11 at 17:55
  • "I thought that bery young kids novels/stories were off topic here." Well, @OghmaOsiris, there go the 5 questions I was going to ask about How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – Tango Dec 20 '11 at 8:38
  • 3
    I've just started noticing "My Little Pony" questions... And coming from a SE community mod, too! What the hell? We can argue this all they long, but obviously [*] My Little Pony is neither Fantasy nor SF! ( * = subjectively obvious, at least! :P ) – Andres F. May 1 '12 at 23:00
  • @AndresF. FWIW, I wasn't a mod when I asked that. I was elected earlier this year. – user1027 May 1 '12 at 23:42
  • @Keen Heh heh, I wasn't talking about you but about Aarthi. Apparently she is a former CHAOS member and current SE employee. I understand their job is to promote the websites, and they aren't necessarily experts in any given SE website. Also, I don't think anything is done in bad faith (from Aarthi, you, or whoever). I'm just wondering whether some effort to keep scifi.SE "in genre" is needed... – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:07
  • 4
    @AndresF. As the answer below shows, My Little Pony is clearly on topic. It is fantasy, it has a number of adults who are serious fans, it has a significant presence on our site (15 questions), and apparently there is significant depth to the mythos within the show. Granted, I have no interest in the show, but I have no interest in the Twilight universe, either, yet I wouldn't try to claim it isn't on topic. – Beofett May 2 '12 at 12:39
  • @Beofett Fair enough! But for some reason everybody assumed I actively dislike the show, when in reality that's not the case. I have no interest in Twilight or Harry Potter either, yet I'm not claiming they are off-topic. I'm just claiming including MLP here is stretching the definition of Fantasy beyond usefulness. In fact, I googled the author of MLP and she is married to the creator of many good cartoons (such as the Powerpuff Girls), so I'm willing to believe MLP is good. But that's irrelevant for my argument! – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 13:14
  • 1
    @AndresF. Then I guess I'm just not seeing your rationalization for MLP "stretching the definition of Fantasy beyond usefulness". Usefulness, in this context, is defined by "driving traffic and interest to our site". I'd argue that the fact that this question has received over 2k views, and has been favorited by 4 users, is justification that the topic is useful. – Beofett May 2 '12 at 13:22
  • 1
    IS usefulness defined by what you say, though? Maybe opening this site for any kind of TV fiction trivia would probably drive even more traffic and interest! The general TV viewer population is larger than F&SF fandom. But would that really serve the purpose of this site? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 13:27
  • 1
    @Beofett Isn't "useful" and "within scope" highly relevant and correlated in a SE site? In any case, a site within the SE network is "useful" if it follows the Q&A format, if it has good signal-to-noise ratio, and if it is on topic. Otherwise it's just another fan site with lots of chatter and off-topicness. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 18:45

It seems to me that if there were issues with these questions they would see more downvotes and vote to closes. Instead, we have community participation in these, so I'd argue that they are valid questions that fit within the realm of questions that experts of sci-fi and fantasy would find enjoyable to discuss and find answers to. Only one of them currently has votes to close, although most of these are older questions so those would have rolled off by now.

For My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic specifically, this is a children's cartoon that takes place in a fleshed out fantasy world. Talking ponies, some of which can cast various magic spells, others have wings that allow flight, are the main characters and majority of the population in this world. The plots are a few steps above normal children's cartoon fare, with the weekly conflict often arising out of natural inter-personal conflicts within the group, rather than the common villain hatching a weekly scheme. All this helped nurture a surprisingly large adult fan community (Google 'brony' to learn more), so I would fully expect questions to be here as it is a fantasy setting that people of all ages enjoy.

edit: And now both of the Santa questions have been closed by Gilles. So I guess the answer to the question is Santa. Santa crosses the boundary.

  • 3
    Santa questions are both at 3/4 close votes each. And this is despite everyone treating them with their hearts and not their heads. if you honestly look at the official rules, the chimney question is 100% clearly offtopic as it has no possible answer. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 16 '11 at 6:51
  • As I wrote in the dedicated discussion, I don't consider Santa Claus off-topic, but I consider the particular questions non-constructive. I am however clearly more inclusive than most of the community. – user56 Dec 16 '11 at 17:28
  • @DVK: The Santa question I asked is still up, but with 3 close votes. On the other hand, I made it more applicable by asking not just about Santa, but asking if he was a Timelord and providing the reasons it may be true. That seemed to make more people comfortable with it. But I'm with Gilles and prefer to be inclusive rather than exclusive. – Tango Dec 20 '11 at 8:40
  • @TangoOversway - Totally agree. Which is why I voted to close 3 Santa questions (my own included) yet did NOT vote to close, or flagged, yours. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 20 '11 at 10:50
  • 1
    I think it's dangerous (in a way) to accept what F&SF "experts" find enjoyable to discuss. This is because us nerds are easily derailed. Would allowing anything "interesting" be in line with the Stack Exchange philosophy of providing "high quality" Q&A to the internet? Also, I was told a while back (by Gilles, I think) -- and agreed with -- that whether something is "interesting" or "enjoyable to discuss" is not directly related to what is on topic on scifi.SE! – Andres F. May 1 '12 at 23:04
  • Yes, but simply because you personally think something to be Very Childish and Not Scifi Or Fantasy, doesn't mean it is not. Keen has in his answer several distinctions of MLP that make it fall well within the range of Fantasy. If we rule out MLP because it's a kids show, then we must also rule out Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight, all of which have been decided firmly fall within the bounds of Scifi/Fantasy. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 0:06
  • @Gabe Not sure if your comment was aimed at me, but I never argued MLP or Santa are childish as the reason it's offtopic. I do think they are, but that's not the crux of my argument. My argument is whether scifi.SE is drifting to a general "movie, TV shows and fiction" website, instead of having a hard focus on F&SF. I'm also arguing that accepting whatever "fans find enjoyable to talk about" is NOT a good criterium, and generally not accepted elsewhere on SE. I do agree the demarcation problem for F&SF is very hard, and has been since before the advent of the internet! – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:14
  • I'd also argue that MLP and Harry Potter aren't in the same age range... And yet another argument: "fleshed out world" is highly subjective, and also almost everything has a "fleshed out" world and a quota of fantasy these days. I wouldn't be suprised if the Tele Tubbies did, actually. Are they on-topic here? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:17
  • 2
    @AndresF. Yet you are arguing adamantly against MLP, with very little basis for your argument. Keen and many others have discussed the reasons that MLP has been considered on topic here, and you still maintain that it's not Scifi/Fantasy enough, with little evidence that shows your assertion to be true. If it is because it is designed for a market that the site is not geared for, then we also must remove Harry Potter, or Narnia questions as well. Both series were written for the benefit of children, not SF/F buffs. Like MLP, they have outgrown their target audience, and are on topic. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 0:17
  • @Gabe: I don't follow you at all. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:18
  • 2
    @AndresF. It would be extremely helpful if you laid out your arguments in an answer. – user1027 May 2 '12 at 0:24
  • My point is simple: if we start deciding what is or is not on topic by the age/gender range of its intended target audience, we would have to throw out a lot more than My Little Pony. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Harry Potter, Narnia, Percy Jackson, Twilight, and the Hobbit, My Little Pony as a franchise has grown beyond its target audience. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 0:25
  • I don't think you'll find "hard evidence" for anything on a subjective topic such as the genre of F&SF -- I've already said as much. Does this mean anything considered fantasy by anyone should be allowed in here? So if enough soap opera fans start asking questions about Ugly Betty, are they on topic, since the community obviously wants them? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:25
  • @Gabe But I wasn't arguing about age; I specifically said I wasn't. As per Keen's suggestion, I'll write a separate answer. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:27

I'm going to steal a line from HNL's answer since I personally view it as a VERY VERY important standalone criteria:

I would include only such works that have built a consistent and detailed enough universe that can be discussed by adults.

Universe-building aspect is one of the most important features and facets of both SF and F.

So any work that would be normally suspect as offtopic for whatever reason, AND doesn't have the benefit of a universe, is getting a couple extra notional downvotes as a possible topic.

  • 1
    I fully agree with the sentiment, but this is still not enough as a filter. The internet has taught us that almost any topic can and will be passionately discussed by adults. Even shows aimed at young kids. – Andres F. May 1 '12 at 23:15
  • 1
    @AndresF. - IMHO, "discussed by adults" is irrelevant since discussion by fans are by definition not authoritative or canonical or objective. Only material that is in some way objective or canonical should be used. This, My Little Pony is cool since it has TONS of episodes , whereas some 1-episode pilot of analogous show with no comics or books would be a lot more problematic, even if it had identical cult status. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 2 '13 at 19:08

I see we now have two questions about Teletubbies. I have flagged both for closing because I truly believe that the Teletubbies should be off-topic. While the show might have a cult following outside its intended age group, it was manifestly created as a show for very young children - children so young as to be only just beginning to master concepts such as reality vs fantasy. The universe is barely developed and highly repetitive.

One might say it has "fantasy" elements, but only in the sense that fantasy can mean "imagination". The show has imagination, but not speculation. It is child's play, and in-universe has no adult themes. I think we need to distinguish the genre by in-universe criteria - not by whether admirers of the show think it's cool or funny or have rationalized out-of-universe explanations.

Can we agree that TT should be off-topic? Otherwise I don't see how "scope" serves any purpose at all.

  • 2
    I was in the middle of something when I saw the TT question, so I didn't get a chance to flag it or downvote it, but I completely agree that TT is off-topic. As I said in my answer, the themes and plots of kid's shows are generally not what would be called SciFi or Fantasy. MLP:FIM has some other factors that make it ok, but TT doesn't. – Ward - Reinstate Monica May 2 '12 at 17:16
  • 2
    Watch it, or someone will post a Barney question :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 2 '12 at 18:09
  • Amazingly I have had two downvotes so far on this. I hope it's just personal animus, 'cause I'd hate think that there are two people who think TT is on-topic. – Mark Beadles May 2 '12 at 18:57
  • 5
    +1 "The universe is barely developed and highly repetitive" and "The show has imagination, but not speculation." Great distillation of key criteria that help explain why some shows marketed to children may be on topic, while others should clearly not be. – Beofett May 2 '12 at 19:01
  • One of the DV's is mine, because I misread your answer. Apologies. At second read, I'd upvote, but I can't alter my vote unless the answer is edited. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 19:15
  • Another downvote was mine, not because I disagree TT is off-topic (it is off-topic!), but because this answer fails to distinguish TT from MLP, which is accepted here so far. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 19:20
  • 4
    His answer has nothing to do with MLP. It has to do with Teletubbies, which he did a good job of pointing out is off topic. No one has mounted any reasonable argument of why MLP should be off topic. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 19:21
  • @Gabe On the contrary, it has everything to do with any possibly off-topic content here, be it the TT or MLP, since it is attempting to answer a question titled "what are our boundaries". I'm arguing Mark doesn't provide a satisfactory and consistent answer. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 19:27
  • 3
    The point of the question to which he is answering has nothing to do with MLP. That is your personal fetish that you are thrusting upon each answer in this thread. His answer regards solely why TT should be off topic. Your answer has no such argument to it. Your answer says "things should be off topic," without providing any examples or arguments of what or why. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 19:30
  • @Gabe But since the question being asked isn't about the TT (go ahead, read it again!), his answer isn't entirely adequate; hence my downvote. (You're right I'm miffed about MLP being considered on-topic, but why do you think this makes my opinion invalid?) – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 19:36
  • 5
    The question being asked is What are our boundaries? Mark's answer says clearly his thesis: Teletubbies are out of bounds. Mark's answer adequately proves his thesis: Teletubbies are out of bounds because their world is too simple to be Fantasy or Scifi. Your opinion is not invalid, but Mark's answeer has nothing to do with it, and you foisting your opinion on his answer, and downvoting him for it, is completely uncalled for. You think MLP is off topic, do what Mark did. Make your answer have some weight, and argue reasonably why it should be off topic. Hijacking other answers is unnecessary. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 19:40
  • @Gabe But doesn't downvote on meta simply mean "I disagree"? Well, I disagree that "we can agree TT is off-topic". Obviously I cannot agree it's off-topic while MLP isn't, hence my downvote! – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 19:42
  • 1
    That is a fallacy of false cause. I am not going to argue this anymore. You yourself have stated that TT should be off topic. You downvoted Mark for suggesting exactly that, because he didn't address your problem. You want your problem addressed, address it. It's not Mark's job. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 19:45
  • 3
    Yes, I am responding to the specific question asked ("what are our boundaries?") by addressing an example that I though clearly established the "outside" of that boundary. The TT questions had upvotes and one even had an accepted answer, and I felt this was a good example of a topic being popular and perhaps even interesting, but not a good fit for this SE> – Mark Beadles May 2 '12 at 20:22
  • Downvoted because this should have been a comment: The answer makes no attempt to answer the question. It's a personal pet-peeve of the yours, I get that, but I think that answers should attempt to answer the question, which was far more general. A comment would have conveyed your intention without adding an answer that doesn't answer the question. – Nathan C. Tresch May 3 '12 at 5:00

(This elaborates on @OghmaOsiris's comment).

There are low-vote answers to whether children's fiction is on-topic. It seems to me that both answers are generally saying that if the work is intended as science-fiction/fantasy, then it doesn't matter what the target age is. If the work happens to have science-fiction/fantasy elements, but those are inconsequential (e.g. talking animals or objects), then it's off-topic.

Looking just a the name, it's hard to guess that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic would qualify. However, @Keen has assured me more than once (in chat & blog comments) that there's a substantial fantasy setting behind this "selling toys to little girls" show. I've only watched the pilot, but that did appear to be the case there (I haven't managed to get past my prejudices enough to buy episodes to see more).

I think Captain Planet is much the same. I doubt these questions would get many votes, but I don't see them as off-topic.

  • 1
    Hasbro's allowed all the MLP episodes to be up on Youtube. You can watch them there for free. – user1027 Dec 16 '11 at 15:24
  • @Keen that would require getting over my prejudice against YouTube... could be more difficult :) – Tony Meyer Dec 17 '11 at 4:43
  • 3
    You want me to get off yer lawn too? – user1027 Dec 17 '11 at 5:41

@Keen has a good point in his answer. Also, honestly, unless it creates an issue, or unless a specific topic (such as, say, My Little Pony) creates an issue, it seems better to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It's hard to draw the line in many cases and shows like Captain Planet, as much as I personally loathe it, are within the SF&F arena.

I, for example, might ask questions about Johnny Quest and think I can make a solid case why a show that includes invisible monsters that can be painted, the yeti, an eerie spider robot, and so on, is well within the boundaries of SF. But I grew up with Johnny Quest on the TV. I'm sure those growing up with Captain Planet can make a similar case, since I know the show involves time travel and other issues that are in the SF&F arena.


This is the list of criteria that I use myself:

  1. Not originally intended as fiction (e.g. The Bible)
  2. Contains advanced technology, but science is not part of main plot (e.g. Mission Impossible)
  3. Contains supernatural elements, but magic/sorcery not part of the main plot (e.g. Twilight? No? Going too far? :)
  4. Not written for an adult or young adult readership (e.g. My Little Pony, Santa) *
  5. Trivia: Questions of the form "[What/who/where] is the [biggest/best/other qualifier] [person/thing] in [fictional work]" with answers that are not relevant to plot. (e.g. most powerful Force user relevant; ages of ponies not)
  6. Folklore (should be distinct from sci-fi & fantasy) *

*Note on (4): This type of questions will mostly be for adults who ask about their children's (or their own childhood's) fictional works (since children themselves would not be able to participate in a complex system like a stack site). Maybe such questions should be in a separate child-oriented site.

*Note on (4) #2: Many would object to the exclusion of the Transformers and Robotech (or even Thundercats). Throw in shows like Silverhawks and things get even murkier. I myself can't figure this out, but if it were up to me, I would include only such works that have built a consistent and detailed enough universe that can be discussed by adults. Confession: I'm partial to Thundercats and the Highlander animated series.

*Note on (6): What about ancient mythology? Shouldn't that be a category distinct from sci-fi and fantasy?

  • 3
    I think there are some flaws in what you suggest (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia and the Wizard of Oz were intended as children's works, but are definitely on topic here), but I think it's closer to the truth than the other answers. It also highlights the difficulty of enumerating what, exactly, is on topic and isn't. In reality, it's more like a Miller test: we know SFF and non-SFF when we see it. – user366 Dec 19 '11 at 16:36
  • +1 for citing Miller v. California :-) While I read only sci-fi, I fully understand why Narnia is on topic -- I know plenty of adults who read it, and judging from the movie, it has cinematic (so literary?) elements that are not intended for children alone. So written-for-children-but-adopted-by-adults is kosher. Not sure about Oz though. But that's my personal take. – HNL Dec 20 '11 at 2:52
  • +1 I agree with your list, though it's still hard to find boundaries. For example, for me it's obvious questions about Santa or My Little Pony don't qualify. It boggles my mind that someone would consider them legit F&SF. However, it also obvious other fans don't agree, otherwise they wouldn't have asked those questions. So how do we apply a "Miller test" here? ;) – Andres F. May 1 '12 at 23:12
  • 3
    @AndresF. The traditional conflict resolution ritual of all sci-fi fans: Thunderdome! – user1027 May 2 '12 at 0:47
  • @HNL Does point 4 mean you don't think modern young-adult fiction should be on-topic? I'm referring to things like The Hunger Games or Twilight. – user1027 May 2 '12 at 0:48
  • @Keen It's my opinion, but I think Hunger Games is on topic. Technically, that would make Twilight on topic on the fantasy side, but given my extreme prejudices against that particular franchise, it's very difficult for me to come out in support of it! – HNL May 2 '12 at 4:01
  • 1
    @AndresF. On a related note, I've started to notice an increasing number of video game related questions. Are these on topic? – HNL May 2 '12 at 4:01
  • @HNL It's like you're reading my mind. I can't answer the general question, but again, my spider senses tell me many aren't. Videogames in general have fantasy or SF elements, does this make them on-topic? I'd answer no -- don't videogames have their own SE site anyway? However, given the replies to my recent topicality objections, I'd say I'm alone in this :) Which is ok; I can be convinced being inclusive is better than being exclusive, when in doubt. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 4:08
  • 1
    @AndresF. Actually, I too am of the opinion that video game questions are, well, questionable. Don't know what the community consensus is though. – HNL May 2 '12 at 11:19
  • 4
    @HNL: Every video game question I've seen on the site is transmedia - that is, it's video games that also have books or films or comics set in their universes. I also don't understand why you think games are unacceptable. Games are a medium - this site's focus is a genre/topic - any questions about a work in any medium within that genre should be fair. – user1030 May 2 '12 at 14:46
  • @AndresF. and HNL, see this meta question. In addition, this meta question explains the sudden influx. – user1027 May 2 '12 at 15:13

(I realize this answer is mostly a compilation of comments and answers to other questions, but I'm having a hard time sorting through it all...)

I think the Wikipedia definitions are a great starting point:

"Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities."

"Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three..."

And combined with Gilles' answer here:

I suggest the following guidelines (improvements welcome):

1. If it's marketed as SF, it's on-topic.
2. If magic, futuristic science or technology, alternate history, or other 
   sf-nal concept is an important part of the overall plot, it's on-topic. 
   (Alice in Wonderland, Clockwork Orange, etc.)
3. If the question is specifically about an sf-nal element, even if it's only 
   a minor part of the work, it's on-topic.
4. If it's set in an on-topic universe, it's on-topic.
5. If you're not sure it's SF but you think a good case can be made for it, 
   it's on-topic.
6. If there is a minor supernatural element (e.g. a fortune teller's prediction 
   comes true, or someone sees a ghost, or a story for children involving 
   anthropomorphic animals) but it's just a throwaway plot element that's 
   not particularly relevant to the question, it's off-topic.

(Finally, my own contribution:) I think some elaboration of rule 1 is necessary, and I think that's where the difference of opinion comes from.

If it's marketed as SF/F and/or if the author considers it SF/F, then it's on-topic.

If the author doesn't consider it to be SF/F, then it gets tricky. Vonnegut didn't like being considered an SF writer, but many people consider some of his work to be SF and I'd consider it to be on-topic.

OTOH, there've been questions about stories in The Bible, and I'd consider those off-topic because the vast majority of people who are interested in The Bible don't consider it to be fantasy, despite some fantastic elements.

I think that if the author doesn't consider it SF/F or if it's marketed as something other than SF/F, then it takes a clear contrary opinion of fans (or, in this case SciFi.SE members) to make it on-topic.

And that's the grey area MLP:FIM falls into. I think it (probably) wasn't considered as fantasy by its creators, and even if it was, the themes and plots are largely the same as any other kids' show - broadly, teaching them what's good and bad.

But since most SciFi.SE members are ok with considering it to be on-topic, and since it does fit the objective criteria to be considered "Fantasy" then it's fine. Personally, I think it is a borderline case, but I'm happy that others consider it on-topic.

It's worth pointing out that the themes of Friendship Is Magic are exactly the same as the previous generation of My Little Pony ("Ponyville") shows and movies but there are no questions about those shows. The MLP Ponyville movies have magic, and dragons (well, just Spike), and Breezies (a sort-of butterfly/pegasus/pixie creature), but they don't have the writing that appeals to adults, so I don't think even the most hard-core brony is interested in them. (I've got a daughter who's the target age for all things MLP, so I've seen almost all of them!)

  • +1 Well reasoned and it shows some pitfalls when classifying fiction the authors themselves don't market as F&SF – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 12:31
  • 2
    What I don't understand is how we reach the conclusion that a show about sentient, talking ponies (and unicorns and pegasi) learning how to use magic does not meet objective criteria for fantasy. Just look at the definition you included: MLP has the magic of friendship as a central plot, and takes place in the imaginary world of Equestria. There seems to be a misconception that being a children's cartoon somehow precludes it from being fantasy. – Beofett May 2 '12 at 18:44
  • 2
    As I said, I think the reason some people don't consider MLP or Teletubbies, or Smurfs to be on-topic is that the themes and plots are not particularly sci-fi/fantasy. Although the ponies in MLP talk and fly and use magic, their adventures aren't all that much different than Dora or Franklin or Timothy goes to School. Actually, Dora has a talking monkey, a magical map, a talking infinite backpack... so I guess it's on-topic as well! – Ward - Reinstate Monica May 2 '12 at 19:06
  • 2
    @Ward: I admit to not following Dora or Franklin or Timothy, but is there really something comparable to e.g. the season opening plots with Nightmare Moon, or Discord? Not to mention the world-building. Dora's got plenty of fantastic elements as do most childrens' stories, but that doesn't mean it's fantasy, which is a genre characterized by such elements being repeatedly used in a consistent way and as a driving narrative force. – user1030 May 2 '12 at 21:47

[EDIT: I've edited this answer to be more to the point, as per Keen's suggestion. I've removed references to "My Little Pony", which was the trigger but no longer the main point. This may make comments below seem out of context.]

I think the boundary question "what is Fantasy & SF?" is really hard, has existed before the advent of the internet, and won't be solved anytime soon. However in my opinion we should decide what is on-topic here on scifi.SE, because otherwise the site's topic would turn into "Movies & TV", which would not be a good thing.

Any set of rules would be necessarily arbitrary, since we cannot solve the general question, but we need to be able to decide what is on topic for scifi.SE.

Some general considerations:

  • We need to be able to decide whether the genre of a question is on-topic. Other considerations such as "is this question spam?", "is this suitable for a Q&A site?" are already considered elsewhere.
  • It is unacceptable to use as criterion for on-topicness whether the fans "enjoy" discussing something. Elsewhere in other SE sites this isn't accepted. Whether something is interesting, useful or enjoyable and whether it's on-topic for a SE site are orthogonal concepts.
  • The focus of the site is worth preserving. If the community disagrees with me on this, then the rest of this discussion isn't needed :)

So what is the criteria for declaring a work of fiction on-topic for scifi.SE? Is it, as has been suggested:

  • Has at least some fantasy elements
  • Has a fleshed-out world

I don't think this is enough. Most kids cartoons have some kind of world that could be considered fleshed-out, and most have fantastical elements. Should we consider them all on-topic? Let's refine "Fantasy" some more to get rid of shows such as The Flintstones (dinosaurs didn't live with humans and stone age technology wasn't like that) and Yogi Bear (bears don't talk or wear hats):

  • Magic and/or the supernatural must be featured prominently.

We're getting close, but I'm still not sure. Can't there be a fantasy work without magic at all? Let's remove magic, dragons and the White Walkers from George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, but keep the factions and geography. Would it still be a work of Fantasy? If so, why? Maybe scifi.SE should exclude it, as a matter of principle.

  • 2
    This sounds overly dramatic, so let me clarify: I'm not offended by MLP, and I can always ignore questions if I don't feel like reading about what is the superpower of the pink Care Bear or whatever. Seriously. But this argument has never worked for other close-happy SE websites, has it? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 0:58
  • 2
    So you don't think MLP is on topic because it's not fantasy enough, or because it's a cartoon? It sounds like you're making a True Scotsman argument because you think it's incredibly obvious that MLP is off-topic because it's somehow not fantasy. But I'm not seeing a concrete reason you're arguing against MLP here. If I were to list off aspects of MLP and do the same for any popular fantasy universe, you likely wouldn't be able to tell which was which. – user1027 May 2 '12 at 1:01
  • 1
    I think it's not fantasy enough. I'll admit I don't have a better justification, otherwise I would have posted it. But let's not focus on MLP: are we willing to risk dilluting the site by admitting any question about fiction that has a fantasy element, no matter how tangential or small? If yes, why? If not, shouldn't we list what makes the genre (not the type of question) relevant for scifi.SE? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 1:14
  • 1
    If you want something that has been on topic to be declared off topic, the burden of proof lies on you, not on us. You have no argument against MLP. Regarding the definition of a genre, wikipedia has this to say about Scifi: "Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a 'literature of ideas'." – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 1:21
  • 1
    Wikipedia's definition of fantasy is: "Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction." – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 1:22
  • Wikipedia is unacademic, and not Word of God, and whether or not Word of God exists on this subject is another matter. But, it is a concise definition of a genre, agreed upon by those who edited the article. MLP clearly fits within the realm of fantasy, as defined by wikipedia. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 1:24
  • +1 to Keen for being slightly behind me. I just couldn't fit both definitions into one comment, and wanted to flesh it out more. – Gabe Willard May 2 '12 at 1:26
  • 1
    @Gabe Let me ask you a question: is "The Flintstones" on-topic here? It is a fantasy world (dinosaurs didn't live with humans; stone age technology is presented in a fantastical way) and its world is as fleshed-out as My Little Pony's. (I admit I'm testing the boundaries. If The Flintstones doesn't work, I'll find something else ;) ) – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 1:31
  • The show has fantasy elements, but the fantasy elements of its world aren't that deep when compared with almost any other fantasy world discussed on this site. I'd argue to keep the questions here if they had nowhere else to go, because they do sort-of fit and there's demand, but there is another site to which they could be moved... Movies & TV – Jeremy May 2 '12 at 1:31
  • 1
    @AndresF. I think it would be beneficial if you edited your answer to be more to the point. You're pulling many things into your answer that are unrelated to that main point you boiled it down to in your comment. I agree that things that are only tangentally sci-fi/fantasy aren't particularly on topic here, but MLP is a bad example of that. A third of the central cast are magicians, another third have wings that allow flight. The unintended consequences of these supernatural elements are commonly explored. – user1027 May 2 '12 at 1:31
  • 4
    Other prior discussions you should read: Are children's literature and cartoons for children on-topic? and Are works that aren't SF per se, but have occasional SFnal elements on-topic? (e.g. spy movies) Because the boundaries are subjective, being well-received by an SF community goes a long way towards making something SF. It's not about the upvotes (which I ignore when deciding whether a question is a good fit for the site) but about the scarcity if not lack of close votes. – user56 May 2 '12 at 1:58
  • @Gilles Cool. Will read them. – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 2:03
  • @Gilles Those discussions aren't conclusive :P I find Mark Trapp's comment interesting: "I think the line is pretty straightforward: would a serious fan of the science fiction or fantasy genres consider spending any amount of effort digging into the details of a children's cartoon?". It's interesting because it isn't as straightforward as Mark thinks, evidently. What is a "serious fan" anyway? Isn't that another form of the True Scotman? – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 2:11
  • 3
    @AndresF. No, because I'm not asserting that serious SFF fans wouldn't like children's cartoons, or that if you like children's cartoons, you're not a serious SFF fan. My statement is purely about topicality: for example, you can like cooking and be a serious SFF fan, but it doesn't make cooking on-topic here for reasons obvious to the general SFF population. To this end, my argument is similar to Gilles's: you know something is SFF if it's well-received as such by the broader SFF community. – user366 May 2 '12 at 2:46
  • 2
    Fair enough. It's obvious the scifi.SE community and me don't agree on what is and isn't F&SF. Which as I said, is a legitimate and unsolved demarcation problem beyond the scope of this website. I can even understand an "in case of doubt, be inclusive" policy, akin to what some propose in Wikipedia. It's no problem, actually -- if you guys want to consider My Little Pony and the Care Bears legitimate F&SF stuff, knock yourselves out! I can keep ignoring those topics, and everyone is happy :) – Andres F. May 2 '12 at 3:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .