Let's try something else. Amidst all the doom and gloom here in meta, I'd like to point out the few rays of hope for this site:

  • We have users who care passionately about the topic and know a lot about it.

  • There's a lot of activity in meta, particularly for a young site. I don't have numbers on this, but I suspect we have a lot of people who are passionate about the site.

What can we do that will help? Please post positive proposals below, things we can do that would encourage and help users to write better questions and answers. Part of this is to define what a good question will look like; perhaps that needs to be a separate thread.

Negativity and doom-and-gloom will be down-voted.

  • 2
    Who would be an "expert" in scifi? Writing questions aren't allowed, so it can't be authors. Is it critics? How can you distinguish a scifi "enthusiast" from an scifi "expert"?
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 19:45
  • 2
    @Tony - Yeah, that's exactly the point. Stack Exchange wants espert answers on their sites, and there's no such thing as an expert in sci-fi, unless you count book reviewers or editors (which would cross over into writing). Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:04
  • @Dori - I never meant to say that such professionals shouldn't post here, simply that the writing of SF itself is off-topic. (As was decided here.) Such professionals are more than welcome here, of course. (If we start attracting professional SF writers or critics, that would a wonderful indication that this site has something original to offer.) Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 23:13
  • @dori like @neilfein said I think you misunderstood. I also never said that writers couldn't post - but they are "expert" at writing and writing questions are offtopic, so are therefore not "expert" at scifi. I also never equated being paid (i.e. professional) with expert. Exactly what distinguishes a scifi "enthusiast" from a scifi "expert"?
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 0:34
  • @dori the expert/enthusiast bit is gone from the question, so this is perhaps pointless :) @neilfein's original Q suggested too many enthusiasts and not enough experts (which suggests non-overlap). With your definition, how could you be a scifi expert if you were not also an enthusiast? Again, I never said that there is no such thing as an expert, and asked how to tell them apart.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 1:26

4 Answers 4


#1 - Start building an understandable "charter" of why you are here, fast.

There's a challenge at hand to quickly put to rest all the angst about what belongs on this site and what doesn't.

A hypothetical FAQ should start with what types of questions should this site allow? I'm not talking about your definition of "Sci Fi"; That's the geeky insider stuff. I'm talking about figuring out why this site exists? What are we trying to accomplish? The end game, of course, is to preclude the bottom 20-50% of questions that do not meet your expectations of "excellent Q&A."

Simply stated, Scifi-SE does not really fit the mold of an expert Q&A. Understandably, Scifi-SE was not designed to be an academic study about the techniques and artistry of science fiction literature. That's okay because nobody expected it would be. But the Stack Exchange veterans are surely lamenting that this site is becoming little more than an unabashed list of trivia and reference material. That's not really what Stack Exchange is about and they know this site could be so much more. So what you have to figure out is…

What are you going to do with this site?

Without that purpose, without that potential for learning, users are going to stop finding value in the Scifi Stack Exchange and lose interest. Endless variations of "Let's throw together another list of…" isn't going to cut it. The goal should be to define exactly what kind of questions you do want. Are recommendations okay? What about "preferred reading lists?" Stuff easily found in IMDB?

The concern is that the rules needed to shoehorn this subject into a viable Q&A will be so esoteric that it creates a bad user experience for first-time users; That this site will see no end to the constant hand-holding needed to resolve the latest influx of tiresome posts. So you really need that simple understanding of your purpose; maybe a few guidelines about what you are trying to do… and not do.

…and it all has to be understandable in about 5-10 seconds flat. That's quite a challenge.

  • Am choosing this as the answer, simply because the lack of identity or a clear direction is the biggest hurdle the site has; it's obviously a recurring theme. There are a lot of good points on the rest of the thread. There's an elevator pitch thread now, to explore this very problem. Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 6:10

This is my first stack exchange site, and I have a lot to learn about acceptable questions. I asked my first question yesterday, and got this comment:

Can you change the title to something more descriptive? We may get a lot of questions of this sort, and it would help to have a few characteristics of the story in the title. – JSBangs

JSBangs made an excellent point, and I changed my title immediately. I am now more conscious of my questions.

People like me, who are new to the SE way, may need a little more instruction. I think a comment about the question or answer is beneficial to the entire community.


Perhaps this site should not have been allowed into beta. Take a look at the list of example on-topic questions on Area51.

Are there any inventions that were accurately predicted in science fiction? If so, what were they?

Oddly, this question is still open, even though questions of the same nature (e.g. FTL methods) and with more definite answers are being closed. In meta, it seems like infinite list questions like this are considered not acceptable.

Would warp travel be possible sometime in the future? Or is it impossible?

I think this would be considered ok (but I couldn't find any example of a similar question already posted). Probably some people would "subjective" close vote it, and others would try and give answers that showed what current technology is doing and how it might relate.

I like scientific accuracy, which hard science fiction writer would you recommend and why?

This would be closed.

What science fiction novels have well developed alien languages?

This exact question was closed.

In the Dune series, why are they not using computers and programming related technologies?

This was asked and is presumably acceptable.

So of the "five great example questions" we have one or two that are actually allowed on the site. If the people that defined and committed to the site don't know what is acceptable and what isn't, then how do we proceed?

Perhaps we could go back to the Area51 site and see if there are any set of five questions that would be on-topic, and we could post those somewhere for people to use as a reference.


I decided to go ahead and do this. I looked through the list of all example questions on Area51 that were voted as on-topic: I ignored those that have already been clearly deemed off-topic (lists of indefinite length, recommendations, identification), and those that have either been already asked or had an extremely similar question asked. For the remaining ones, I thought of a question (that I honestly wanted answered) that was the same sort of question, and asked it. Based on what happens to these questions, that may provide some more guidance.

  • 3
    Ditto man. I'm kind of at a loss for what to ask anymore. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:02
  • 1
    -1 for negativity. Please re-read the original question? (In particular, the last two paragraphs.) Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:05
  • 1
    @neilfein "What can we do to help" -> "perhaps we could see if there are any set of questions that would be on topic". BTW, down votes don't matter on meta.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:15
  • @Tony - Yes, I know, but thanks anyway. Downvotes mean "I disagree". Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:17
  • @neilfein sure downvotes mean "I disagree", not "I punish you for your negativity" ;) Anyway, I included an answer to "what can we do to help" right after the context for it.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 21:24
  • Actually, the last one was asked, and a very good answer was given to it. It's not all doom and gloom, so... Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 23:14
  • @pearsonartphoto thanks - fixed.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 0:37
  • 1
    I concur. I've been pretty active on this site, as my time allows. Now, I am reluctant to ask or answer anything, as there seems to be a high possibility of it being a waste of time (i.e. the question is closed). I can appreciate the SE question rules that have been set forth; however, I feel that there needs to be a little flexibility in those rules when it comes to a site that is built around a topic that is steeped in subjectivity.
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 20:21
  • Ditto for me. I feel that the SE format/methodology is just not going to work (as it is now) for this subject... unless it stays as just a simple trivia-answering or wikipedia-referencing site. Commented Jan 25, 2011 at 11:45

The questions that I am finding most interesting of what's been posted so far are the questions that examine some of the assumptions in a science fiction work and compare it to our understanding of how the universe actually works.

In particular, I'm thinking of questions such as:

The reason I find such questions appealing is because they require more thought to answer than simple trivia. And they're also investigating an area that's somewhat overlooked -- the interface between science fiction and reality.

It's been quoted several places on this site that what science fiction authors do is posit one or more differences between their imaginary world and the real one, and then explore the consequences of those changes. However, there are often multiple legitimate analyses of how that change might play out.

I also feel that this might be an area where the Stack Exchange model would offer value to the field, since there are experts and enthusiasts of many areas of life that are interested in exploring these ideas.

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