I have several times seen people have an issue when asking story identification questions, simply put the details they remember from the story don't make the genre plain to those reading the question, i.e. they don't remember any clearly fantastical elements of the tale. Now I don't always know which genre (or subgenre) a story falls into because I often remember a small snippet and have the feeling that I enjoyed the book its in without much more context, like this question about Monstrous Regiment. However I absolutely know that any story I'm looking for must be either science fiction or possibly fantasy because I quite literally don't read any other fiction and never have. So in theory I know any story ID question I ask fits the genre restrictions of the site but does that make them on-topic or does the lack of details within the question that point to a genre preclude them?

Also if a lack of genre clues does make a question off-topic is there a way to state that you're sure it is a genre appropriate story, for example suggesting a specific genre, or is that counterproductive?

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    We tend to close questions which simply describe a story without saying anything to indicate it's sci-fi or fantasy. If the question says it's SF/F, even without stating any specific SF/F elements, that's probably enough to give the OP the benefit of the doubt. (Assuming good faith, of course - it's plausible someone could use this as a way to get off-topic questions answered simply by claiming they're SF/F, but we wouldn't assume that without reason.) – Rand al'Thor Nov 13 '18 at 12:14
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    @Randal'Thor - I don't think we should have to assume good faith. If they literally can't remember anything that made it on-topic, then there's a very good chance that it isn't. Over the years we've had quite a few fantasy story-IDs that have simply turned out to be medieval. No-one is saying that the intention of OP was to deceive, they were merely mistaken – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 12:35
  • @ash - I struggle to believe you've never in your entire life read a story that doesn't fit into the science fiction/fantasy genre, if only in an anthology book or as a school assignment – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 12:37
  • @Valorum An anthology of science fiction or fantasy short stories sure, otherwise no, as for school assignments the only fiction I recall being assigned was Handmaid's Tale and The Giver which are both post apocalypse sci-fi. Other than that we were asked to read our own choices of work from a rather large list and present reports/essays from there as I was raised on fantasy and sci-fi guess what I picked? – Ash Nov 13 '18 at 12:47
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    So your pre-reading books consisted of "See Gollum run" and "Goodnight Moonbase"? – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 12:52
  • @Valorum No idea, I remember I went from not reading any fiction at all, just articles and essays about what interested me, because that's what I'd gotten exposed to learning to read in remedial classes late in primary school, to reading 500-1000 pages of fiction a week in intermediate because I was off school sick for nearly a year straight and I started raiding dad's bookshelf for want of anything else to read. I didn't really learn to read until I was 10 or a bit later, mum and dad always read me sci-fi and fantasy as far back as I can remember. – Ash Nov 13 '18 at 13:07
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    It's perhaps worthy of note that any story ID question involving a book or short story that could be asked here should also be on topic on the Literature stack, whereas the opposite is not true. Admittedly, if it is SFF-nal, then you're probably more likely to get an answer here than there. – RDFozz Nov 13 '18 at 15:54

If a question says nothing to indicate the story is SF/F, then we close it (and reopen it again if the OP adds info to confirm it is SF/F).

In other words, we don't have a default assumption of on-topicness. "OP asked the question here" is not sufficient evidence: the OP might be confused, or posting to the wrong site, or simply not understand our scope properly. Of course, such questions can be swiftly reopened if the OP edits to specify sci-fi elements.

If a question says the story is SF/F, and we have no particular reason to disbelieve it, then we can err on the side of leaving it open.

In other words, "this was a sci-fi story" is sufficient evidence for a question's on-topicness. From the OP's point of view, it would be infuriating to have a story that you know must have been sci-fi but you can't remember any specific sci-fi elements, and to have your question closed because people don't believe you.

From a site-administration point of view, this is unlikely to lead to us getting spammed with off-topic questions, provided we use some common sense. Obviously, don't go editing "this was a sci-fi story" into every closed ID question in an attempt to get them reopened. But the default assumption is to assume good faith: unless we have reason to think the OP is mistaken about the genre, then leaving the question open appears to be the option with least chance of causing harm.

(Note that this "reason to think" might take the form of being pretty sure of what the answer is. If someone describes a James Bond film and says it's sci-fi, then realising "oh, this must be X, and it's off-topic" could be enough reason to close.)

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    This opens the door to editing "this was a sci-fi story" into every closed question to get it reopened in the same way that people keep turning their garbage list questions into "what is the first x" questions to get round that rule – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 21:38
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    @Valorum A reasonable concern, which I've addressed in the penultimate paragraph. Another point is: what do we lose by leaving such questions open? If it's answered and turns out to be off-topic, we can close it then; if it's unanswered, then it might be on-topic and doesn't add much extra clutter to the site. (Additionally, I think my answer reflects current practice, although we don't have an explicit policy as yet.) – Rand al'Thor Nov 13 '18 at 21:46
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    I don't think intentionally creating a gaping loophole is worth the hassle. And as far as current practice is concerned, we generally close story-ID questions if OP can't come with any feature that's SF/F'al so what you're suggesting represents a significant shift in policy and practice. – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 21:47
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    @Valorum I do see your point, but I'm also thinking of the frustrating situation where you're sure a book was sci-fi but you can't remember any specifically sci-fi elements. Let's see how the votes go here and which of us is correct about current practice :-) – Rand al'Thor Nov 13 '18 at 21:48
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    @Randal'Thor: Are you implying that James Bond is not SFF? Certainly some of the movies are. Do you remember the car with a cloaking device and the satelite that can destroy things on Earth at will? – ThePopMachine Nov 16 '18 at 19:11
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    To add to this answer, how do we know if somebody didn't just use SciFi.SE simply as a Movies.SE that allows identification questions, and not truly as a resource for information about sci-fi? – EKons Nov 19 '18 at 13:04

We don't do generic story-identification. As a minimum a question needs to contain at least one piece of relevant information to indicate why it's on-topic. We're pretty free and easy about this and the general consensus seems to be that it can be just about anything (the setting, central conceit, something about a character, etc, etc) but simply asserting that you're pretty sure that it's on-topic isn't enough.

For the avoidance of doubt:

"Story about a man who kisses his sister. I think it was sci-fi" = Off-topic.


"Story about a man who kisses his sister and they come from another galaxy" = On-topic.

Simple, easy to administer and above all, this prevents us from wasting time searching for properties that are neither Sci-fi nor Fantasy.

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    Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Did I get it? – Skooba Nov 13 '18 at 13:07
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    @Skooba - I was trying to channel "The Thick of It"; youtube.com/watch?v=Cg-pnGFbwMQ (Warning, NSFW but hilarious) – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 13:12
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    Why would "man's best friend is a robot" make it science fiction or fantasy? – user14111 Nov 13 '18 at 14:20
  • @user14111 - That's probably a fair point; theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/04/… – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 14:24
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    We should err on the side of believing the posters. Certainly, sometimes they'll be wrong, but more often than not I bet they'll know whether the story was SF, if they say it explicitly. – Adamant Nov 13 '18 at 22:01
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    @Adamant - In my personal experience, they usually turn out to be wrong. – Valorum Nov 13 '18 at 22:11

The rigid topicality requirements that some people would like to impose on story-ID questions are meaningless, or void for vagueness, as long as this site has no definition of the science fiction and/or fantasy genres and no definition of scientifictional/fantastical elements.

The help center says that the site is for "questions targeted towards science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts". That is pretty vague, but whatever it means, it seems to be broader that "questions about science fiction and fantasy". For instance, questions about mundane stories featuring science fiction fans and fan activities, such as Anthony Boucher's Rocket to the Morgue or Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun, should be on topic according to that. Likewise, anything appearing in an SF magazine or anthology, including non-genre stories, non-fiction essays, and editorials, should be on topic. Hell, even questions about sci-fi-ish toys and games should be on topic.

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    I'm struggling with the idea of allowing story-ID questions because they merely happen to mention science fiction – Valorum Nov 15 '18 at 14:44
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    No. Questions about stories that could happen in the real world as it is or was, with no speculative elements, are simply off-topic. SF writers exist in the real world. There's nothing SF about them, and stories about them shouldn't get special on-topicness that a story about a workaday firefighter wouldn't. – Adamant Nov 15 '18 at 18:32
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    Let alone the criterion of anything appearing in an anthology! We're not going to be covering political editorials, which most of our members have no expertise in, just because they showed up in a magazine with "science fiction" on the cover. Conversely, we should cover SF stories that happened to show up in Vogue or Reader's Digest. – Adamant Nov 15 '18 at 18:36
  • I think the point about "Bimbos" is valid; it was sold in SF bookshops, since the target audience was obviously SF fans. If we can't talk about it SF&F, where does it belong? Awareness of it outside the genre can be assumed to approximate 0. – DavidW Nov 19 '18 at 16:06

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