Recently I asked a question regarding books about life on neutron stars -- "Other Books About Life on Neutron Stars Besides Forward's Dragon Egg Series and Baxter's Flux?" and saw it quickly downvoted.

I've read this treatise on list questions -- "Are all list questions off-topic?" -- and the general consensus was that in general list questions were a bad idea as most have "infinite answers", are open-ended, or are subjective.

Also, I showed I did my research by posting two books I was aware of on this topic, which too my understanding is relatively rare explored.

In this case, however, I'm guessing there's been 10 works or less published on this topic and it's very specific. Additionally there's no ambiguity as a novel either features life on a neutron star or it doesn't.

Do you think this question is inappropriate to ask in spite of it almost assuredly having a short and specific answer (in the form of < 10 works which feature this setting)? If you guys agree it's a bad idea and explain to me why I'll retract my question, but wanted to get some feedback first.

  • 1
    No, it isn't. Check the close reason, there is a custom one saying "recommendation". I consider asking for a specific genre of book the same as asking to recommend a book in this genre.
    – user57650
    May 30, 2016 at 16:06
  • 1
    Got it... but to argue devil's advocate, one of the central premises of the StackExchange family of sites it that a lot of things you can not easily find in Google & to get answers prior to SE you have to cobble together lists from a series of sparsely populated forums? So obviously something like "What are some good books about wizards?" is not in the spirit of SE as a) it's clearly subjective b) there's a million such lists easily accessible by Google c) There's "infinite" answers, as there's 100s of such books. That said, isn't asking for books on a VERY niche topic in the SE spirit? May 30, 2016 at 16:14
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    Let's say hypothetically work on a specific topic meets these criteria: a) Has less than 10 applicable works; b) unlikely to have more than 10 applicable works in the next decade; c) given specificity, topic is hard to research; d) author of question demonstrates research and familiarity with some applicable work; e) author asks question in a quantitative ("What are books on <topic>?") not qualitative ("What are good books on <topic>?") manner. If those criteria are met, why can't the community contribute specific, quantitative answers to this finite question of limited scope? May 30, 2016 at 16:21
  • @JasonR.Mick - You seem to be trying to lawyer your way around the proscription on recommendation questions. Which is fine, but don't expect people to agree with you.
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2016 at 18:09
  • @Valorum Not trying to lawyer my way out (I deleted the question before the answers, given the comments feedback, notice), rather trying to discuss the idea. I do think that there should perhaps be some expansion to the Stack Exchange format -- a new set of sites -- that for rote sort of list recommendation questions (i.e. name as many books as you are aware of on topic "XXX"). The rules I suggested could govern such a forum / set of forums to avoid questions and answers that are opinion based, overly subjective, overly broad, readily available, or otherwise poorly structured. May 30, 2016 at 21:04
  • I can understand your frustration, but there are oodles of sites out there that deal with the deeply 'opinion-based' subject of book/film/tv show recommendations. One of the site's earliest decisions was that (in line with other SE sites that operate a similar policy) that we don't want them.
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2016 at 21:34
  • @Valorum I don't think you understood what I'm saying. I'm not talking about recommendations. I'm talking about more of a short listing of work that meets a specific criteria for subjects where relatively few people are aware of the answer and where there's a very short set of applicable answers. A recommendation is defined in English as "a suggestion or proposal as to the best course of action, especially one put forward by an authoritative body." I'm talking about a forum for rote, finite listings as factual absolute, not as a solicited expert opinion. May 30, 2016 at 23:09
  • @Valorum Again, to reiterate, that's where the limit in terms of scope comes in. Asking for books on a theme where 50+ works are applicable is basically asking for a recommendation, given the number of alternatives. Answers will be based on what particular users enjoy, as it would be impractical/impossible to compile a complete or near complete list. By contrast, for themes where <10 books deal with the topic, that doesn't become a recommendation as answers will likely be based on an attempt to collate a complete list (again, which is likely not possible/practical in the former case). May 30, 2016 at 23:13
  • There are a few problems here; Should we simply accept that it's a slim list (rather than a surprisingly long list) simply on the say-so of the OP? Where would someone get a comprehensive list from in the first place? How would you verify that the list was even partially complete? Assuming there are only five books in existence, how would you judge which of the five answers you get are most worthy of acceptance?
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2016 at 23:18
  • @Valorum No, I wouldn't "just accept anything" on the OP's say-so. If it's overly broad in this hypothetical literary lists StackExchange, it would be shut down just like ambiguous questions here. Assuming sufficient authorities that should be pretty easy to implement. People would get a comprehensive list similar to how people compile a comprehensive answer to a specific coding question... they would list material they're aware of that answers the question, and then expand on it further based on other answers or stuff they come across. May 30, 2016 at 23:20
  • @Valorum In terms of a correct answer, such a Stack might dictate multiple correct answers, or perhaps the policy could be to accept whatever is the most complete list with most clear/well formatted supporting text at a given time.... somewhat similar to how you pick from multiple correct codes on StackOverflow. May 30, 2016 at 23:22
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    What you're describing is a wiki. If you're interested in group-compiling a comprehensive list, this is probably the best location; sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/neutron_stars
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2016 at 23:24
  • @Valorum Nice! I see your point. That site doesn't appear to be very well ranked in Google which is unfortunate (at least that hit wasn't), but it's pretty close to what I was looking for in terms of content. May 30, 2016 at 23:36

3 Answers 3


There are several problems with such a question.

Note that that when I say "problems," that does not imply that the question is "bad." Indeed, in my opinion it is a very interesting question. However, that does not render it a good fit for this site. "Have you ever been in love?" may be a good question to ask a friend, but not your calculus professor.

The question is a recommendation question. These are generally off-topic because

  • They are of very limited interest. Although I found your question interesting, the fact is that most people probably will not. This may or may not be a great reason (there are plenty of questions of limited interest that are on-topic), but it is the consensus of the community that recommendation questions are particularly narrow.

  • They lack a definitive answer. What is the "right" list of recommended books on a certain topic? Who knows? Thus accepting an answer becomes an activity with little meaning, as perhaps does upvoting.

  • They're too open-ended. Let's say you choose a very narrow type of book (which may already be limiting how useful the topic is to others). Perhaps some very widely-read person will then make a short list of all extant works on that topic, in every language. Two years later, the topic has exploded in popularity and hundreds of additional books have come out, rendering the existing answer extremely limited. As with the previous reasons, this is not limited to recommendation questions, but is likely to be particularly severe with them.

It wouldn't be the end of the world if very narrow recommendation questions were allowed, but, at the current time (and for essentially all of SFF:SE's history), the community has decided not to allow them.

I understand how frustrating it can be to have a question that is closed or otherwise subject to censure, so I will say that you do have a few options.

  • Discuss it in chat. If all you care about is getting an answer, and not getting reputation or badges, chat has an extraordinarily loose format, and most of the people who post answers on the main site are also there.
  • If what you really are interested in is not finding books to read, but the development of an idea, you might ask a question tagged with a title along the lines of "What was the first appearance of Concept X?" Don't use this as a substitute for recommendations, though. Use it only if:

    1. You are genuinely interested in how the trope came to be.

    2. The concept is sufficiently common or popular that other people are likely to be interested in how the concept came to be.

  • For the record, this question wasn't closed, it was deleted by the OP after attracting a couple of downvotes and close votes.
    – Valorum
    May 30, 2016 at 18:40
  • @Valorum - I know, I took a look at it.
    – Adamant
    May 30, 2016 at 18:41
  • @Valorum One downvote when I deleted it, unless one snuck in while I was clicking. ;) May 30, 2016 at 20:59
  • "chat has an extraordinarily loose format" - That's putting it mildly :)
    – Mazura
    Jun 8, 2016 at 2:23

The central premise of stackexchange is not, to replace google, but to provide pairings of high quality questions to single correct answers.

Any "recommendation" is already going to be primarily opinion based, but further won't have a single correct answer.

The issue with some lists is not that it's long, but that it's simply unknown how long they are. If someone lists 10 stories about neutron stars, you have to ask is that all of them?

Tying the request to an author, or asking for the first is a great way to not just narrow down your search but make specific enough for a single correct answer.


Your question wasn't facing closure because it was a list question, but because requests for works on a specific theme/style/subject are strictly off-topic on SFF:SE (and have been since its inception).

While I appreciate that we do occasionally allow finite list questions to come through the net, your question doesn't fall into that category.

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