Does the fact that a work of fiction is set in post-apocalyptic future (with no other details being known about it) make the work automatically in scope for this site?

UPDATE: Please don't post "yes"/"no" answers devoid of any reasoning as to WHY it's a "yes" or a "no". This us a question, not a radio button poll :)

  • 1
    Interesting question. I've always been on the fence in regards to the Mad Max saga. Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:58
  • @MajorStackings - yes, Mad Max was one of the ones I had in mind as examples Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:59
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    Book of Eli is an example that I would call neither SciFi nor Fantasy. Action adventure, sure, but not on-topic here. But Oblivion (the Tom Cruise movie) is very SciFi.
    – user15742
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:13
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    @fredsbend - I'm gonna put forward the motion that any film with Tom Cruise is offtopic, no matter what its content <g> Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:17
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    @DVK Even Minority Report? Interview with the Vampire? War of the Worlds? Edge of Tomorrow? I think it's safe to say that's a biased opinion.
    – user15742
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:34
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    @fredsbend Sarcasm much? Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:58
  • technically, much of Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft's works were considered Sci-Fi at the time. They practically invented it. By today's standards, they don't really fall into what one would expect a Sci-Fi work to fall. I'd say most have good reason to be considered Sci-Fi Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 21:59
  • To add to that, Sherlok Holmes was also Sci-Fi at the time, but today most might call it "Mystery" or "Thriller", even though much of his methods were not science fact at the time Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 22:38
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    @fredsbend Why is Book of Eli neither sci-fi nor fantasy? It has a dude who apparently gets his abilities from a supernatural source, it's set in the future, it's speculative and imaginary. What sets it apart? Lack of elves and dwarves?
    – Misha R
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 7:17
  • @MishaRosnach It's only hinted that Eli has supernatural abilities, and they're not that super, by the way. The only scene that actually supports that is when they can't seem to hit him with any bullets. The rest is just some bad ass ass-kicking. If you want to call it fantasy then it is just barely so. Future setting is a pretty weak metric to be automatically sci-fi/fantasy.
    – user15742
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 17:07
  • @Fredsbend |BOOK OF ELI SPOILER| The movie very strongly implies that he is blind. It's actually a really important twist. I didn't say he has supernatural abilities, I said he gets his abilities from a supernatural source. He has relatively normal abilities (for an action film protagonist), it's just that shooting really well isn't generally something blind people can do. As for sci-fi, well, it's set in a hypothetical future based on our present. Not sure why that's a weak metric.
    – Misha R
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 5:50
  • @MishaRosnach we could make the same argument for the protagonist of Blind Fury. The only difference is that the film explicitly states his abilities are due to training, whereas Book of Eli leaves it ambiguous.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 19:31
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    @Omegacron |BOOK OF ELI SPOILER| The Book of Eli isn't that ambiguous. I mean it doesn't state it overtly - "He was guided by faith!" - but that's probably to avoid beating it into the ground. Kind of the whole point of the ending, no?
    – Misha R
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 2:26

10 Answers 10


I would vote on post-apocalyptic fiction being a subgenre of Science Fiction (SF) as SF is subgenre to Speculative Fiction which would include Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Some authors disapprove of strict genre labelling. Witness Anne McCaffrey's Pern where most of the story elements are fantasy, yet the story is set in a SF setting.

No matter whether you agree with my opinion on post-apocalyptic as a subgenre.

What does matter is that Post Apocalyptic fiction is speculative fiction, no matter what themes are explored. This is due to the fact that you have to accept a world after an apocalypse as suspension of disbelief (which is actually a qualifier for SF). I think that any sort of Speculative Fiction should be welcome in SF&F discussion.

  • +1 I think this is the best, simplest and most comprehensive possible answer. As a group, we should strive to be as inclusive as possible.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 16:23

I'm going to go out on a limb and say "yes". Although I'm sure we could brain-storm and find some exceptions (perhaps certain kinds of horror fiction?) I'd say that in the absence of any factors disqualifying it from consideration, the default position should be that something set in a post-apocalyptic future should be on topic:

Since the world of the present day clearly doesn't match the world seen in the film, in the absence of a science-fictional explanation for the present setting (e.g. what happened), there must be some element of fantasy involved. Either way it ends up back on-topic.

  • What could possibly actively make something off-topic?
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:24
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    -1 because stripped of fluff, this is merely a "yes" opinion with zero reasoning as to WHY we want to answer "yes". If people upvote a "yes" answer, I'd like it to present an argument supporting that opinion. Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:28
  • @Kevin - I'd guess if the big reveal was that the film was actually set in the present day or that the protagonist was dreaming? As I said, you'd need to have a think about it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:40
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    The Road defies our definitions. I'd have to call it gritty drama rather than sci-fi or fantasy. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 7:19
  • @majorstackings - The "what happened to the world" question would certainly be on topic.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 9:17
  • @richard Having read the book and viewed the film, I can't see it. Neither medium reveals the cause, just the effect. MAYBE fantasy. Definately not sci-fi. Positively gritty drama. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 16:26
  • @MajorStackings - Definitely on-topic if you view the answers; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/8/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 16:27
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    +1 This is the right answer. Other answers are overthinking it. The topic is Sci Fi and Fantasy. To take it further, I would say that any setting about the future is a FANTASY setting, even if the fantasy is that nothing remarkable happens between the known present and the future. Certainly, if something remarkable happens that isn't in a setting about the future, it will occur as an alternate reality to people who think about the setting after the actual remarkable event happens.
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:40
  • @dronz - It would be remarkable if nothing remarkable happened between now and the future.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:45
  • @Dronz: so basically there's two kinds of fiction, historical (including things set in the present at the time they were written, necessarily the past by the time you read it) and fantasy/sf? Works for me. I've always suspected all fiction of being fantasy anyway, including the historical-setting stuff, on the basis that it seems always to include made-up elements :-) Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 1:30
  • @SteveJessop Well classification systems are a bit arbitrary, and aren't complete unless you manage to define everything. I'd suggest that this site consider Science Fiction & Fantasy to cover the category "SF" or "speculative fiction" which almost always makes the line clear, and I think does capture the essential nature of all such works. It's whether the subject is the real world, or some fictional world OR scenario, past present or future, but I'd say pretty much any future scenario is speculative, and so counts if some reasonable person thinks so. No point arguing not unless it has magic.
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 4:02

No, but the vast majority will be on topic. All such questions should be evaluated using the default site guidelines, but I think most of them will be on topic.

  1. Some sort of a disease, either natural or evil scientist.
  2. Take place some time after the event.
  3. Involve some sort of a nuclear war.
  4. Involve mythical creatures (Zombies, Dragons, etc), super powers, etc.

Worse case, it's a technothriller. Referencing a very popular answer on spy/technothrillers, technothrillers are on topic, most of the time. Post-apocalyptic works typically fall in to one of the following scenarios, all of which I believe are on topic: Anything beyond that goes in to the realm of purely on topic.

If a disease was naturally created, and the work took place during the outbreak, it probably isn't on topic. I can also imagine maybe an asteroid impact scenario, or other natural phenomena, that might not be on topic. Otherwise, it probably is on topic.

  • 2
    To pick a few counter-examples at random: Blindness, by Jose Saramago. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. The parts of the bible coming after the flood. (technically pre-apocalyptic, I suppose, but still... :) ) I think all of these are out of scope for this site, and also in some sense "post-apocalytpic". Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 3:52
  • What about the colony? That seems more horror than SciFi. But there are the weather machines ... I think this is heading more toward, "yes, they are on-topic, but there are exceptions."
    – user15742
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 22:03
  • @fredsbend the 'horror' aspect would put it under fantasy...And The Colony is genre mashup SF horror to me.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:31

Depends if the apocalypse is technological or supernatural in its nature -- they're either SF or fantasy, because they're certainly not set in the here-and-now.

  • 1
    That's a nice take, but it feels not complete. Look, Mad Max is in the normal future, but 'science' or technology doesn't influence the story much. So SF or something else? Metro 2033 includes technology, but as nobody really knows how the biological warfare worked, that produced the monsters it could be count as fantasy too. Or not?
    – Mnementh
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 13:27
  • If Mad Max wasn't influenced by technology, it would be a police procedural or a western. Everything about it is influenced by a particular technological device, the atomic bomb. The technology doesn't have to be the subject of the story for it to be SF. It's your call on whether Metro 2033 is SF or fantasy, based on your own opinion of the background -- you may not agree with other people, but that's just life.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 13:34

It depends. Mad Max is certainly scifi. It warns of a future where our greed has destroyed society. It doesn't postulate magic, aside from film magic.

Compare with something like Ralph Bakshi's Wizards which features a post-apocalypse where a faction of evil wizards bases a society on films they find of Nazi Germany. It has robots. But it is really dark fantasy. (the robots are no more scifi than the tin man is in Oz)


Let's apply the current guidelines:

  1. If it's marketed as SF, it's on-topic.

Depends on the work, not automatically on-topic.

  1. 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.)

Depends on the work, not automatically on-topic.

  1. 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.

Depends on the specific question, not automatically on-topic.

  1. If it's set in an on-topic universe, it's on-topic.

I suppose this is the crux of the question. I'll address it later.

  1. If you're not sure it's SF but you think a good case can be made for it, it's on-topic.

Depends on the work, not automatically on-topic. Related to previous case.

  1. 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.

Depends on the work, not automatically on-topic. If anything, this point would suggest that setting alone isn't enough to make a work on-topic.

To address 4, I'll use a reductio ad absurdum.

Take a work that's clearly off-topic. Say, To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead of being set during the great depression (nearly post-apocalyptic in itself), imagine that the first sentence or two mention that the year is somewhere after publication, and some big apocalypse happened and threw society back into the stone age. Society has begun to recover, so there is some law, but still a lot of racism and distrust. The rest of the story could plausibly happen in such a society with little to no further modification of the story.

Should we be allowed to ask anything we want about To Kill a Mockingbird just because of a sentence or two at the very start of the book? Clearly not.

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    -1, because points #103 and 5-6 do not answer the question at all, and #4 is answered in a rhethorical way by basically stating "Clearly not" without a single reason as to why is that clear. (it doesn't mean I disagree, merely that you didn't provide any answer besides an opinion of "no" - I downvoted Richard's "yes" for same reason) Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:26
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    I present 1-3 and 5-6 to establish that only 4 could possibly make a post-apocalyptic setting alone on-topic. And, as mentioned, 6 could be interpreted to suggest setting alone is not enough.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:33
  • exactly my point :) 1-3 and 5 are so distracting I didn't even notice that #6 was an argument "for". I would suggest strongly to delete everything but #6, and re-word it as an explicit 'here's the consensus, and that consensus supports a "no"' Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:36
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    And if you don't agree that it would be absurd for a single sentence in a work to bring it from clearly off-topic to completely on-topic, it sounds like you're asking for proof of a negative or a subjective.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:36
  • I don't agree or disagree. I merely want good quality answers to get a site consensus (so far, I haven't made up my mind though I somewhat tend to support your viewpoint) Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 23:38
  • If it was set post-apocalyptic it would be covered under several of those rules. Especially #2 and #4. Even if it were a re-write of To Kill a Mockingbird, because you would still be examining the issues in that story in a new light. The themes that hold up in the new light would be shown to be more universal than the themes that do not hold up. You cannot separate story from setting when the setting is as extreme as this.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:26

If you want a simple answer: the stuff that is filed under science fiction at your local bookstore is science fiction and in scope. This would mean that On the Beach and The Road are not in scope, but Damnation Alley and A Canticle For Liebowitz certainly are in scope. As I say, this is mostly appealing in that it's a simple answer that most people can apply without much difficulty.

In the absence of a convincing yardstick for determining that a work is "really" SF based on its content, I vote for the simplistic and easily-applied answer. The fact that it generally gets us the right result is an added bonus.

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    The bookstore I used to visit put New Age religious material as a subsection under fantasy, so using a bookstore is probably not a good rule-of-thumb. "Marketed as ___", as quoted in Kevin's answer, is better
    – Izkata
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 3:41
  • @Izkata Still seems a better rule than trying to agree on some sort of textual definition, or trying to decide on a case-by-case basis, but if you prefer we can use the phrase "marketed as science fiction" which really means the same thing. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 3:54
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    Oddly, my local bookstore doesn't have any blu-rays in the Sci-fi section. ;)
    – user1027
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 4:58
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    On the Beach would definitely be on-topic, as long as you were asking about the impending apocalype rather than wanting to know more about, say, the relationships between the various characters.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 20:50
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    @Izkata: Indeed I've seen bookstores file new New Age religious material in with the popular science books!
    – timday
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:11
  • @Richard: hmmm if relationship questions are off topic for On The Beach, how come all the evidence is they're on topic for the Star Wars universe? (e.g scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/6935/… , say :^). BTW I note Wikipedia includes "On The Beach" in its "1950s science fiction novels" category (but "The Road" doesn't get an explicit science fiction inclusion).
    – timday
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:20
  • @timday - Because the relationship questions in Star Wars have a deep bearing on the fictional universe itself. In On The Beach, it doesn't really matter who's doing what to who.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:21
  • On The Beach is less of a post-apocalyptic story as an end of days story. There is no "post" to it. We are seeing the last of the nuclear apocalypse. Very strongly anti-nuclear weapons, almost propaganda. The Road does not have any specific SF themes other than the effects of the end of civilization. However, that theme is speculative fiction.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:56

Are post-apocalyptic settings SciFi?

Not necessarily. Three examples of non-scifi post-apocalyptic novels include:

  • World Made by Hand (where the "crash" was caused by peak oil),
  • Left Behind (loosely based on Revelations and could be described as religious snuff porn) and
  • Dies the Fire (the first book in an alternate history series where some "change" makes most modern technology inoperative, I would classify this book "survivalist fiction")
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    Your first and third examples are most certainly science fiction, and your second is fantasy.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 14:11

I wouldn't say so. The Road by Cormac Macarthy is "post-apocalyptic" but it's certain not SciFi. Last Light and Afterlight by Alex Scarrow are also post-apocalyptic novels and again are not Science Fiction.


I'd say yes, unless it is in a time period not so far in the future as to make the time period an actually relevant factor. (That is, a marked difference)

For example, ignore the fact that the Walking Dead Contains zombies. Suppose some completely reasonable apocalypse happened. While the first episode may depict some 'present' or 'near future', it isn't there for the sake of being a future or some kind of speculation on possibilities regarding our future. It's just contemporary, set slightly forward to give that edge of uncertainty. For example, if we made a Walking Dead series where the events took place in the 1960s, it would be strange. The whole idea of a post-apocalyptic future is rooted in either fear, speculation, or fun concepts.

If the future is realistic (that is, contemporary with little to no technological or scientific speculation) then the future is not really a point of the work, and almost redundant I'd say. If the time period [a future] is of import to the actual story, then I would say that that condition would necessitate it as a work of science fiction. Otherwise, I'd say no. Do I make sense?

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