15

Back in 2011, in a long discussion which I still haven't read through fully to see whether it's up to date, it was decided that genre-classification questions were off-topic. Do we want to revisit or revise this policy?

What should our policy be today on genre-classification questions?

Note that there are two different types of such questions:

  1. Questions of the form "Does X count as science fiction?" Current practice is to migrate these to meta, under the argument that they're exactly equivalent to "Is X on-topic for this site?"

  2. Questions about subgenre, e.g. "Does X count as hard sci-fi?" or "Does X (clearly SFF) count as sci-fi or fantasy?" This recent example was again considered on-topic on meta and off-topic on the main site, but it was more controversial. In a comment on the now-deleted main-site incarnation, Jason Baker said:

    Why, in Aslan's name, should this question be on meta? It has nothing to do with site policy, either directly or indirectly, and its answer will have no bearing on how the site is run. Leave it here.

Such disagreement and controversy is my main reason for asking this question.


EDIT: I'm tagging this now in the hopes of getting enough votes on the answers to get a proper community consensus. The motivation for this was the question How well does Inception fit into the Sci-Fi Genre?. Initially it was asked on the main site; I migrated it to meta since the (sort of) consensus at the moment appears to be that genre questions belong on meta (even though I personally don't agree with this), and it was promptly closed on meta as being "not about SFF.SE" (which is fair enough, IMO). I'm reopening it now since it's been edited to ask Why is Inception on-topic on SFF:SE?, but the issue remains of what should have happened to it if it had remained as a question of "Is Inception sci-fi?" Surely we, of all SE communities, should be able to provide a good answer to this question, whether on main or on meta.

  • Jason's "no" received twelve votes with a 10:2 split, and your "yes" received 15 with a 9:6 split, totalling 16 votes saying it's off-topic, and 8 saying it's on-topic. that's a pretty fair consensus for us as far as i'm concerned. – phantom42 Jun 1 '16 at 4:11
  • @phantom42 Note that the two answers concern two different types of question. I agree we have consensus that questions like "Is such-and-such SFF?" should be off-topic, but the position on questions like "Is Artemis Fowl sci-fi or fantasy?" still seems to be unclear. – Rand al'Thor Jun 2 '16 at 13:02
11

Since rand decided not to.

"Is X science fiction/fantasy" should be off-topic on the main site

As pointed out in the question, these are essentially "Can I ask about X?" which is part of why meta exists in the first place. So to meta they go.

The problem I have with allowing these on the main site, and why I ultimately deleted my answer to a recent example (10k+ users only, sorry), is that in all but a small handful of cases, the answer depends entirely on one's definition of "science fiction" or "fantasy".

Even in some cases that seem quite unambiguous, there's room for debate. You can make the case that Star Wars and Doctor Who - despite both dealing with space travel, aliens, and advanced technology, and despite both being heavily marketed as science fiction and being taken as science fiction by most mainstream audiences - are actually works of fantasy.

They're interesting questions, but a bad fit for our format.

  • 1
    "Is X sci-fi/fantasy?" is not necessarily the same as "Can I ask about X?", since questions about works that aren't SF/F per se can often be on-topic if they have SF/F elements. – Rand al'Thor Mar 22 '16 at 18:25
  • @randal'thor The distinction is negligible, and doesn't change my position on the matter – Jason Baker Mar 22 '16 at 18:34
  • Is that deleted link to meta? Doesn't work for me, but on mobile. – user31178 Mar 25 '16 at 7:42
  • @CreationEdge Sorry, missed your comment somehow; the deleted link is to the main site, not Meta. Not sure why it doesn't (or didn't) work for you – Jason Baker Apr 17 '16 at 1:43
  • It's all good. It seems like it is just a mobile issue. – user31178 Apr 17 '16 at 2:08
  • 1
    +1 to this. They belong on Meta unless there's some notable reason why they should go on the main page (for example. Kanuo Ishiguro's claim that his fantasy novel isn't a fantasy novel). – Valorum May 24 '16 at 11:30
  • 1
    Star Wars was originally science fantasy. The later worldbuilding has pushed it into soft science fiction with elements (very small elements, admittedly) of hard scifi. – Valorum May 31 '16 at 22:53
6

IMHO, most of the sub-genre classification should be off-topic, because they are impossible to answer objectively in non-trivial way.

  • If the answer is based on a specific source (IMDB/Amazon/Wiki/Bookstore X classification), it's both trivia (who cares what that specific source says), subjective (we don't know their methodology of bucketing), and too broad/too narrow (if you restrict to 1-2 specific sources, how do you justify using those sources only? If not, there are too many sources to check).

    However, this has one particular counter-example listed below that should be an exception - when the specific source is the creator themselves.

  • If the answer is based on some "common" definitions, it's subjective one TWO counts at once: first, those definitions are somewhat arbitrary/subjective themselves (why are Star Trek tachyon beams space opera but some other work's equally scientific thingy is hard SciFi?); and second because a large - and IMHO a majority - number of works aren't easily classifyable into seemingly objective clearcut subgenre "definitions". Are elves on a spaceship SciFi or fantasy? Or for more obvious counterargument, remember Arthur Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".


HOWEVER, there's one clear exception (there may be more).

Questions of the form "Did the creator bucket their own work X into genre Y" are both objective, answerable, AND interesting (and thus should be ontopic).

  • Your first bullet point usually wouldn't be subjective (if the specific source being considered lists a subgenre for that work, then there's a clear objective answer), and most of this whole site comes under "trivia". I think the only argument that really works for that part is "uninteresting", which (although I agree) is itself subjective :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 12 '16 at 18:15
  • You have my +1, specifically for the last point - theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/mar/05/… – Valorum Jun 12 '16 at 18:44
2

They could be on topic, but we have to be on the lookout for opinions.

Genre classification, even in very broad strokes, should be on topic. Also, they should be perfectly answerable. However, we should be careful not to let to turn it into a discussion about the genres themselves.

To ask if a certain work is considered hard sf, should be perfectly answerable by pointing to reputable sources classifying it as such, for instance.

But it should not be a starting point for a discussion about what constitutes hard sf, or that if sf is not hard, it's not sf, or ..., or ... In other words, primarily opinion based.

So yes, but.

  • Unless we can come up with a single definition of each scifi genre (good luck with that), any question in this category will end up being opinion-based. I might think it's hard scifi, you might think it's not. – Valorum May 31 '16 at 22:50
  • Now, if someone was asking "is x categorised as hard scifi on x website", that would be answerable but boring. – Valorum May 31 '16 at 22:51
  • The problem is that you're not likely to agree on what constitutes what genre (or what reputable site details what constitutes what genre) without having that opinion-laden discussion to start with, so that all the opinion can be beaten out of it. Which doesn't prevent new people with new opinions from showing up later. – Radhil Jun 7 '16 at 19:33
-1

Asking about subgenre classification of SF/F works should be on-topic.

If a work is indisputably SF/F, it should be perfectly fine to ask a question about what kind of SF/F it is. This is not a meta question, since the work is definitely on-topic. And it clearly falls within the area of expertise of our userbase here, namely SF/F experts.

Examples of questions currently considered off-topic which would be allowed under this new rule:

Upvote if you agree; downvote if you disagree.

  • I'll leave it to someone else to post an answer to be voted on about the "Is X science fiction?" type questions, since I'm not entirely sure what my own opinion is on those (migrate them to meta? allow them if they're about the SF/F genre rather than specifically about this site? something else?) – Rand al'Thor Mar 22 '16 at 17:26
  • "Is Snow Crash cyberpunk?" – user31178 Mar 25 '16 at 7:44
  • @randal'thor Those "Identify these..." questions are practical! How do you know how to buy the right merch otherwise? – user31178 Mar 25 '16 at 7:46
  • @CreationEdge Yep, those are probably the most practically useful - and they're in a class of their own separate from all other kinds of question. – Rand al'Thor Mar 25 '16 at 12:03
  • The questions you listed look answerable, and I think they would fit our Q&A format. I can think of questions that would be too broad, like "what sub-genre of science fiction is Solaris?" If a question asks how a particular work is categorized, then it should specify what sort of categories the OP is interested in. Otherwise, answers could be anything, including, "Solaris is in the intelligent-ocean-that-seems-vaguely-malevolent sub-genre of science fiction." – Molag Bal May 24 '16 at 18:33
  • I have yet to see a question like this on any site that hasn't devolved into opinionated fan-wank, with double the dive-speed if its trying to separate sci-fi and fantasy. – Radhil Jun 7 '16 at 19:27
  • Sorry, -1. I expect that most works straddle many objective ridgid sub-genre definitions you can come up with, never mind the fact that most of those definitions aren't nearly as objective as they may seem at first glance. And "how does specific source X classify the work" is trivia of the worst, most useless kind. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 12 '16 at 17:56
-1

I see a more simple (but probably more controversial) way to look at this...

In the SE format, why does it matter what sub-genre is?

  • If a user wants to determine if a work is on-topic for the site, then they should ask on Meta.
  • If the work is deemed on-topic, they then can post questions on Main.
  • Answers to these questions could be considered "Primarily Opinion Based" or even "Too Broad" as there could be elements of multiple sub-genres in a given work. Comments would likely devolve into quibbles over who feels what should and should not be considered part of certain sub-genre.

Ultimately, these types of questions would be better suited for forum discussion, which is not what SE is about.

Also, I do understand that this does matter to users here, otherwise this would not have opposing views to begin with. I am not trying to undermine anyone else's opinion.

  • "Once a work is determined to be on-topic why does it matter what sub-genre it is?"- the same reason it 'matters' what Tom Bombadil is, or how many students there are at Hogwarts, or any of the other not-practically-useful things people ask here :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 10 '16 at 18:52
  • @Randal'Thor I know it was provocative way to phrase it... hoping that full answer would flesh out what I meant. The examples you give though, have (mostly) objective answers. My feeling that What sub-genre is X is not objective. I may be in the minority but thought it would be nice to add an different view. – Attack Helicopter Jun 10 '16 at 19:05
  • Yep, your 4th bullet point makes a good point (and that's why I haven't downvoted this answer); it's just the 3rd one I disagreed with. – Rand al'Thor Jun 10 '16 at 19:17

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