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Why 'Rational Fiction' is inherently problematic

Discussion in 'Fiction Discussion' started by Jemnite, Dec 21, 2016.

  1. Threadmark: I put in threadmarks, you know

    Jemnite Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

    Okay, first before I start, I should probably define what 'rational fiction' is. It's that sort of odd fanfic trend where you see people go, "You know what this setting could do? SCIENCE. MOTHERFUCKING SCIENCE ALL OVER THE PLACE," except oftentimes it just means they cram if full of psuedoscience and strange philosophical arguments which have nothing to do with the scientific method at all? Anyway, while this sort of fiction is strangely popular, there are three major problems that are inherent in this style of format that most 'rational fics' fall victim to.

    I'll count them out.

    One: To create a hypercompetent main narrator you must make everyone else incompetent. Competence and intelligence as portrayed in fiction is relative. If Harry Potter is to be intelligence, he must solve problems that Dumbledore is incapable of solving, despite the fact that he has literally decades more of life experience and wisdom. Thus by making Harry Potter a 'rational wizard', Dumbledore must become an idiot. To make Naruto solve a problem in an innovative solution, you must make the Third Hokage and all other authority figures in Konoha complete fools. By making Bella solve a problem vampires have had for ages on purpose, you have to have the immportant perfect vampires who have lived an extremely long time throughout history COMPLETELY MISS THIS FOR SOME STRANGE REASON. Rational Fiction intrinsically devaluates the setting except for the main character and perhaps some exceptions. This is what it means to main 'rationality' a quality that sets a character apart.

    Which leads into the second problem with rational fics: the characters are too focused on 'intelligence' or 'rationality' and somehow forget to be people. In the real world, people are not always unthinking robots of cold hard logic, no matter how much we wish them to be. Your thoughts and feelings, of love, idealism, hope, anger- these are all things that make a character. This is called characterization and we see a focus on taking the most 'optimal' route override any focus on taking a 'route this character would take given his or her inherent cognitive biases'. You break everything down to 'rationality' and I may as well be reading Ayn Rand writing your fic, you both shove your philosophy in people's faces much the same. (Do you know what In Name Only is? I suggest you go look it up if you don't.)

    Plus what's the point of having real conflicts if your character will just go 'this is the optimal' solution, solve it, done done NO FUCKING TENSION AT ALL. In much the same way that hope is what rebellions are made of, tension is what stories are made of. If you cannot invest your audience into story, then you've failed as a storywriter.

    Three: Do you realize what genre cavets and aesthetic trappings are? They're the things you put in a story to evoke a feeling that 'this is cyberpunk' or 'this is high fantasy' or 'this is a coming of age story'. Things like, megacorps which don't very much care about you, or not wanting to grow up and become an adult, or a strange new world that doesn't exactly operate according to your rules of logic (for example, strange wizards who do things in strange ways?). These are things that settings live on. If you drive a monster trunk full of your 'logic and reasoning' over these things, you are failing to understand what makes these settings evocative and inspiring in the first place.

    Why should magic make sense? Isn't it wondrous and amazing, through it's ability to be something you don't quite understand and am always learning more of? Why should it adhere to hard rules, isn't a wizard always exactly what is needed of it? If you fail to understand these age old tropes, you fail to understand the genre. And although cliche's might seem stale and boring to you there's a reason they have survived throughout the ages and whatever you are writing will not- they work.

    Rational fiction in itself is an attempt to reinvent a genre, but the genre doesn't need it and the way it does it hollows out the story and creates glaring faults and defects within it. It's popcorn fiction in the truest sense, it strokes the reader and author's ego for being so 'rational' and 'smart', so that they're too busy with gratification to see the major problems. (And though this has no real relevance, some the strangest reason its proponents don't actually tend to be accredited scientists or researchers at all? The vast vast majority don't seem to have real ph.d papers on real shit that's bee peer reviewed and published in a journal.)

    Yeah, those are the problems with rational fics. @Arkalest egged me on to do this, and if you have any disputes with this summation, please direct them at him. I'm out.
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  2. Reveen

    Reveen Dunked On

    Well, I think the immediate, inherent problem is that if you want to portray a really smart character you must either know the tricks to give the audience that suspension of disbelief, or actually be that fucking smart.

    The former is an issue because rational fiction seems opposed to fictionalized expressions of intelligence on principle, they want the "real thing". And the latter is an issue because, uh, most of them aren't really as clever as they think they are.
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  3. Arkalest

    Arkalest Has Seen Better Trips.

    IMO they're yearning for something that's quite a restrictive version of "smart". From what I've seen in rational fics, being smart is equal to having an encyclopedic knowledge of the setting's elements and basically treating the whole thing as an obstinate puzzle to be solved. There really isn't much in the way of lateral thinking- Or if there is, it's less how lateral thinking would work in the setting and more how the author thinks lateral thinking would manifest. There is some adaptation and improvisation at work, but it's generally very.. Struggle-less. Basically the MC just appears to stumble for a few moments, and then just pops out a new plan of action that ensures a swift and decisive victory.
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  4. I absolutely agree that the genre of like "rational fiction" or "sciencey competence porn" is often done wrong, and is really quite terrible when it is done wrong. Having non-main characters hold the idiot ball is bad. Focus on the intellectual in a way that sacrifices the emotional might be interesting in some sense--maybe for making a point about being cold and alone-- but is often bad. And, yes, specifically in the case of whimsical fantasy, taking away that whimsy is bad because a lot of the reason we read something is just for the whimsy.

    I don't think this means that all "rational fiction" is bad though. I mean, I definitely agree that fiction where people hold the idiot ball, emotions are subsumed by logic in a bad way, or removing a sense of whimsy is terrible. However, a science-focused competence porn hyper-realistic fic where the main character's defining traits are competence and intelligence can still be quite enjoyable! For example, The Martian by Andy Weir is really good! I really liked it! It's probably one of my favorite books. It was adapted into a movie, too, so clearly someone else likes it at least. I also like Exhalation by Ted Chiang (amazon link) which is a story about a scientist facing the truth etc. So there are clearly some examples of non-terrible rational fiction.

    Now, you could argue that The Martian isn't rational fiction of course. Or that Exhalation isn't sufficiently rational. And if you do that, I respect your argument, but in my opinion it is absolutely rational fiction. And it shows us that despite the weaknesses of the genre, there is a possibility for really good stuff. It's definitely true that there's a bunch of crappy stuff that calls itself rational fiction. But there's also good stuff that is good because of it being rational fiction, rather than in spite of it. So there must be some good to the genre.

    This is also how I feel about vampire novels, regency romances, and thrillers. There's a lot of crap out there, and it's really bad, but as we know, ninety percent of everything is crap anyways. Obviously your time is your own, and you should spend it how you want, but I think if you read The Martian by Andy Weir you would change your mind on all rational fiction being bad.

    Hope this helps!

    Edited to add:

    Okay, everyone, you can rest easy. Why is that? It is because Blazinghand has returned with r/rational fiction definition part two, son of r/rational fiction. Yes, my new year's resolution is to hit the gym more to work out my massive back because I have returned to carry the thread!!!!

    Some background:
    1. This definition needs to primarily define things that are upvoted by r/rational and considered on-topic there. Whether we call it a "genre" or a "category" isn't important, so we will stick with "category" for this.
    2. It doesn't need to be a definition that automatically includes or excludes things based on a checklist. It might, for example, be a collection of traits associated with things that fit in the category.
    3. It should apply to both fanworks and original fiction. People who say it can only apply to fanworks are incorrect, if only because r/rational seems to spend most of its time upvoting original fiction.

    So, let's start with the "upvoted by r/rational" part and work out from there. We'll also want to include those bullets in some way, obviously in an improved and better way. Here we go!

    A definition of r/rational fiction
    r/rational fiction
    is a category of fiction. Fiction in a variety of genres might be in this category. r/rational fiction is fiction written for or by the r/rational community, or more generally liked by the r/rational community. In addition to simply being appealing to the r/rational community, r/rational fictional generally has some or all of the following characteristics. These characteristics are only associated with r/rational fiction, and are not individually necessary or sufficient to be r/rational fiction.

    First, the main character primarily solves problems via overt application of their intellectualism or knowledgeability. This ties in with a second characteristic: the world exists and its rules are understandable in a deterministic way. The levers of physics are visible to the reader, and should there be unseen action, it is itself internally consistent. We wish to distinguish, for example, a character like Sherlock Holmes who appears to solve his problems cleverly from a character like Dominic de Luca from Shadows of the Limelight who solves his problems in a way that we the audience can appreciate and anticipate. We analogize this to a couple of rules from Van Dine's Twenty Rules for Detective Stories which @all fictions brought up regarding 19th century French realism and its subset, a literary genre called naturalism. These are obviously mystery-focused guidelines, but they strike a chord with both the r/rational reader and the critic seeking to understand him. How might we rephrase some of these in a way to fit into our first requirement for r/rational fiction? Let's explore one possible rephrasing:

    An interesting set of statements, one that I think applies quite a bit to r/rational fiction! All these bullets are therefore ALSO part of our definition as subcharacteristics. Again, these chracteristics are not necessary nor are they alone sufficient, but they are associated with r/rational fiction. Just reading these, however, we stumble upon a basic unspoken characteristic of r/rational fiction right away, one that isn't on r/rational and isn't really a strict rule but is more like a commonality. I phrase it like this:

    Third, r/rational fiction is set in a world with a different set of physics than ours, or with a magic system or new technology. This world's different magic/tech system is understandable and predictable to the reader.
    Even leaving fallow the fertile fields of modern mystery novels, there are many modern novels set in a normal world that naively might seem r/rational but somehow aren't considered for r/rational in any significant way, as @keios has pointed out. This doesn't completely rule out non SF&F, but take a look at this bullet from the r/rational sidebar:
    This bullet shows an underlying assumption that there is a world with rules that need to be made sane and consistent. You don't specify a bullet like this unless you have a lot of S&SF in your category, after all. If we're going to hang out and primarily write detective mysteries or period romance novels or police procedurals, we would never need a bullet like this. Now, this doesn't mean that r/rational fiction must be S&SF, but I think this reveals that in general a characteristic of r/rational fiction is some kind of supernatural element, and that further, this supernatural element is systematized or predictable in some way. Although this isn't required, it's common enough we should try to work it into the defining characteristics. Three times is enemy action, as they say!

    So I've covered bullets 1, 3, and 4 from the definition of r/rational with these two rules, I think #2 has to do with the motivations of characters. I think this one is less important, but it's followed by a lot of r/rational fiction so it might as well be rolled into this list of characteristics: Fourth, a characteristic of r/rational fiction is factions are defined and driven into conflict by their beliefs and values, not just by being "good" or "evil". Although this is also common outside of r/rational fiction, the inverse (factions driven into conflict by pure good/evil) is rare enough in r/rational fiction we can define it as a characteristic.

    I also want to specifically address what @huhYeahGoodPoint and @EarthScorpion brought up about verisimilitude because I think this cuts right to the heart of what people talk about when they talk about r/rational fiction. So it's not merely the presence of verisimilitude that is important, here, but the main character's exploitation thereof. We can say that this builds off of the first and second characteristics and is just an extension of them, but it's fine to make it its own characteristic: fifth, there is a major emphasis on both the verisimilitude of the world and the main character's exploitation or exploration of that verisimilitude. This also makes it even more clear why SF&F are particularly popular genres to have the r/rational category. It's a lot more interesting to write an exploration of a verisimilitudinous world when that world is significantly different from our own. And it's important to bear in mind it's not just about a main character doing well in a fictional world based on that world's rules, but about the rules themselves having some kind of internal logic that is sensible to the reader.

    I think it is reasonable to add If we pay attention to the fact that r/rational fiction often has a characteristic of "SF&F setting" of some sort, perhaps we may be tempted to say "r/rational fiction is a SF&F setting plus munchkinry" and leave it at that. But I think we need this idea of systematic predictability and we can't just toss it out, so I'd like to bring up a counterexample of a fantasy/sci-fi setting with some munchkinry that I would argue is not r/rational fiction. I am of course, talking about one of my favorite fanfictions here on SV, With This Ring by MrZoat. MrZoat goes through great efforts to show parts of his adapted YJ DC Universe interacting in realistic ways, and of course his protagonist, Paul, is a very clever character who applies his intellect and his power ring to solving problems. There seem to be some rules (like demons can only be killed with this one sword or gun) but they don't seem to run on something predictable or some kind of unified magic system in an understandable way. All this despite the fact that some characters seem to act fairly reasonable. And, bear in mind: I don't think With This Ring would be improved by MrZoat building some kind of grand theory of unified magic/tech system. It's actually much better to just have a bunch of quasi-interacting magic systems as DC has it and leave it at that. MrZoat correctly (for the purposes of making a good fanfiction) just focuses on the task at hand. WTR would be made worse by hitting all the bullets! This is because r/rational fiction and good fiction are not literally the same thing. I think the lack of some kind of systematic predictability (or foreshadowing) coupled with the truly massive and not always interacting in sensible ways DC universe magic system / tech system means you can't really call this a r/rational fic. Though it got some upvotes on r/rational, from the lack of enthusiasm about it we can declare it an edge case, and surely r/rationaling it further would only serve to hurt the fiction.

    In this context, "r/rational fiction" includes Mother of Learning, Shadows of the Limelight, Marked for Death, The Metropolitan Man, and yes, even HPMOR or luminosity. A broader view of this definition might or might not include The Martian, and it's totally arguable. (see! people on both sides can have it their way!!) Bear in mind that this is just a set of characteristics, not a checklist, and not an exhaustive one, and one of the parts of the definition is "popular on this one subreddit" so.... yeah. And this is different than just "is good" as can clearly be seen. This definition would exclude works that are good for unrelated reasons, like JJBA or Hamlet or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This definition would INCLUDE bad works, too, like HPMOR, or bad fics that come out of or are aimed at the r/rational community.

    For the purpose of this definition, we need to know what's popular on r/rational. As a little appendix, here's a list of the most popular links on r/rational.

    A Rationalist in the Zombie Apocalypse is a work making fun of zombie apocalypse tropes.
    Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic (web serial in progress) is in first place by a significant margin, like, more upvotes on its various chapters than all the other items put together. This is an original web serial with a complex magic system published on fictionpress.
    [RT][HSF] How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes by Scott Alexander - This is a one-shot story written as a response to one of those "superpower pill" memes that deconstructs, then reconstructs the superpower pills in a satisfying way.
    [RT] The Randi Prize by Alexander Wales - this is a one-shot story written about The Randi Prize and exploring the idea of the masquerade / the veil separating the unseen world from the seen world in urban fantasy.
    The Truth of the Sith [RT] (tw: Eliezer Yudkowsky) - This is a one-shot story written about the Dark Side of the force and why it is seductive, perhaps a reinterpretation of SW canon that makes for a fun headcanon.
    We Need to Talk about Fifty-Five [SCP] by Sam Hughes - this is part of a series of stories written in the SCP-verse (a collab online creepypasta project) about memetics and antimemetics, very thinky, very fun.
    The Rules of Wishing by XamuelJones - This is a fanfiction of Aladdin that tries to make everyone smarter in how they deal with wishes and give more agency to princess Jasmine.
    A Scene from a Romatic Comedy by Eliezer Yudkowsky (tw: Eliezer Yudkowsky) - I didn't read this one, but a skim shows it's a comedy about an evil overlady kidnapping a prince for marriage, and them trying to come to a negotiated agreement.
    A Girl Corrupted by the Internet by Eliezer Yudkowsky (tw: Eliezer Yudkowsky) - I didn't read this one, there is a paywall.
    The Last Question by Isaac Asimov - A rather famous story about entropy and the end of everything.
    Metropolitan Man (discussion) by Alexander Wales - A story that follows Lex Luthor as he tries to use 1930s technology to fight Superman (comparable to Red Son or Lex Luthor, Man of Steel in this regard) with little regard for ethics, just for stopping Superman.
    Instruments of Discussion, a Star Wars fanfic by Alexander Wales - A story about project management that any engineer or PM will find hilarious.

    After this we fall below things with 100 upvotes. Some observations:
    • About 20 of the top 30 are just Mother of Learning chapters. r/rational REALLY likes Mother of learning.
    • The most popular items (MoL, Rabbit Hole, Randi Prize) are original fiction.
    • fanfiction items are pretty high too, like the SW one-shot from EY.
    • One-shots are generally popular.
    • HPMOR only appears as the 45th item on the list with 77 upvotes, behind items like mother of learning chapters and "Battle of Gondor mission analysis by a US Army staff officer using current doctrine".
    • HPMOR still seems pretty popular though, beating out things like discussions of Legend of Korra.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
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  5. Nikkolas


    Texas, US
    I don't write fanfics because I am way too aware of my own failings as a writer to even bother but a lot of things Harry and Naruto fuck up are just plain common sense. Heroes like them are especially targeted at young people as escapist fantasies and nobody wants to fantasize about being a moron so they're naturally going to try and "fix" things. This way, Harry doesn't get Sirius killed by forgetting the mirror. now you don't have to feel like shit for imagining yourself as Harry because you have made Harry better.
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  6. Jemnite

    Jemnite Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

    The problem with the Martian being a 'rational fic' is that it was all about how you should do things that your heart tell you to do rather than listening to the cold hard calculus of your brain. The NASA director was right- had always been right. They should have no gone back for Mark Watney (or Matt Damon as I like to call him), because it was honestly a bad fucking plan. His Public Relations decisions to wait to announce it had been right. His decision to withhold information from the crew of the Hermes was right.

    If you think about it logically and rationally, all the cost-benefit risk assessments would support him. With his plan, Matt Damon might have survived without the crew of the Hermes having to conduct an incredibly risky rescue mission which had them improve a fuel-air bomb in space where if anything went wrong they might have blown apart their only defense against to cold vacuum of the void.

    The Martian is a bad example, because it is not rationalist fiction. It is fiction about how fuck rationality and fuck logic- we're doing what's right in our hearts. Teddy Sanders was right in the rationalist viewpoint, the future of NASA as an organization is more important in a singular astronaut, even if he is played by Matt Damon. But the Martian is a story about heart and soul, and how never giving up might save your life one day. So give up trying to make Matt Damon give up!

    (i fucking unironically love this line)
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  7. Okay, but most of The Martian was about Watney's actions, right? And he certainly was all about the competence porn and hyperrationality and super scientificness etc. Even conceding that point, though, The Martian lacks the flaw of "always put pure logic over emotion no matter what even if a normal human wouldn't do this" but I guess I don't think that flaw is required for rational fiction.

    If your definition of rational fiction includes "has this flaw that makes everything terrible" then of course there is no example I can give you that will change your mind. If it has the flaw, it's terrible. If it doesn't have the flaw, then it's not rational fiction and you can rest easy.

    Given your definition of rational fiction as "containing this terrible flaw" then I completely concede that rational fiction in your view is terrible. If you define rational fiction to be "so logical and unemotional that it's bad" then yeah, you're right. Rational fiction is bad by your definition.

    However, I should note that I personally do not define rational fiction this way, though I respect your right to use the word as it is most meaningful to you.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  8. This is not my understanding of rational fiction at all.

    Please see the Marked for Death quest as an example of what constitutes rational fiction.

    Rational storytelling at its best deal with the consequence of decisions, in a world that make sense.

    The players made a stupid choice on one occasion in spite of trying to do our best, and we paid a heavy price for it. But it also make for amazing character developments.

    And the players learned an important lesson and started building out standard operating procedures.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  9. ^^ Yes, the point of ratfic as I understand it is not hyperintelligence but a world where actions lead to reasonable consequences and spring from understandable desires and situations. You can of course argue about whether it achieves this but that's the goal.

    You don't have to be particularly smart. Like, Jack Slack watching Purity's appearances to figure out that her power depends on sunlight is rational. It gives him an advantage and was something he could do. Jack Slack beating Purity cause Magic Special Shard or cause he's the protagonist is what ratfic is trying to avoid. None of this requires Jack to be a robot, to be too nice or smart or anything.

    Nor do I particularly care about a defense of genre trappings and that's separate from any defense of rational fiction. Look, the people who like the genre trappings can go write with those tools. Some of us don't actually like certain genre conceits. I don't want the billionth discussion on "can we kill this person cause we're stuck with morality left over from the Comics Code?' or "we can't fix things cause <insert weak reason here>" or "lolmagic/timetravel". For many mature genres there are a whole bunch of grownups writing stories that conform to genre expectations. If a few nerds who spend too much time on LessWrong want to play a different game? We're richer for the variety.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  10. Some other works of rational fiction (in my definition, though some of these are borderline) that I liked:

    Containment by Christian Cantrell
    Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic (web serial in progress)
    As mentioned above, some of the other works in Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
    The Cambist and Lord Iron, a Fairy Tail of Economics by Daniel Abraham
    Fleep by Jason Shiga (cw for Jason Shiga stuff: all the cws. forgot how much there is in this one)

    Obviously most of these are not going to fall into @Jemnite's definition of Rational Fiction, but they fall into mine (or are at least somewhat Rational Fiction even if not entirely). I figured this collection of works, as well as The Martian by Andy Weir would provide other readers of this thread some positive examples to judge Rational Fiction by.
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  11. Jemnite

    Jemnite Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

    Man if using your brain automatically made something rationalist fiction we'd have to call everything rationalist fiction. Code Geass would be rationalist fiction. Death Note would be rationalist fiction. Jojo would be rationalist fiction. Batman would be rationalist fiction. Fucking My Hero Academia would be rationalist fiction.

    No. The Martian main themes ran counter to the idea that you should rely on logic for the big decisions. Actually the Martian was more than that. It actively reputed the idea that you should make your decisions on the basis of rationality. The Chinese benefited in no way to lending the probe, but they did it, because you should act on your heart and what you know is right there. Only through the power of everything working together, do we all succeed. One man on his own can't do much.

    You're taking a far too shallow look at the Martian. The science doesn't mean anything but to say it was a science fiction story. What were the core themes of the Martian? One- rational decisions aren't always right, and sometimes you have to think with your heart. Two, never give up, even if all odds are against you, because you just might succeed. Three- the power of many is greater than the power of one. Only by the efforts of others do we soar.

    The Martian cannot be be 'rational fiction' because it says "Fuck Rationality; don't make your decisions based on it. Do what's right in your heart. Follow your heart. And never give up, even if the universe seems to be against you."

    And if you can say a story that says that is still 'rational fiction', I think you are blinded by your own self-conceits and cannot see past them in order to acknowledge that something you like might be bad.
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  12. DezoPenguin

    DezoPenguin Text Wall

    This, I think, is the point of "rational fiction." It's not really about rationality per se. It's about a reader following a story and seeing what looks to them like a plot hole: "Why didn't A do X? Doing X would have resolved the conflict very easily."

    I think this is very much related to the trend of "Person from 'real world' is transported to 'game world' and now must use their meta-knowledge of how games work to overcome their new problems!" fiction.

    Very often, a lot of the conflict in stories is dependent on characters taking suboptimal actions for reasons of character, perception of immediate objectives, lack of information, or limited viewpoint. This results in one of three options:

    1. The characters are well-drawn and the setting well-defined and nobody notices there was an easier way because the audience is so steeped in the narrative.

    2. The audience is able to perceive the suboptimal solution while simultaneously realizing that the characters are acting as themselves in taking that suboptimal route. This is the situation upon which all good tragedy is born. Yeah, Othello should just have trusted his wife. And maybe he and Dessy should have talked a little more. But being who they are, they couldn't and didn't and we suffer along with them.

    3. The writing aims to do #1 or #2 but botches it. Either the characters simply aren't well-drawn enough for us to appreciate that they would reasonably act against their objective best interests, or the situation itself is set up so badly that the characters are idiots for not noticing the obvious out, or the author didn't notice the obvious out. Plot holes and breaking of immersion result. Read too many of these, and you too will probably start thinking about "rational fic" rewrites where the character isn't an idiot, or SI fics where someone who knows what's going on replaces the protagonist.

    (Or the audience consists of people who post on Internet forums and thus are unable to accept that real human beings are not robots who act according to human motivations and are thus unable to tell the difference between the categories above. :D )

    Good rational fiction will have a protagonist who has sound, in-character reasons for being able to perceive things about the situation that the ordinary character in their situation cannot, problems or conflicts that are themselves rooted in the character of the obstacles that cannot counter-plan for the protagonist taking the non-cliched out for the circumstances, and have consequences, positive and negative, that follow from the characters' actions.

    Bad rational fiction, or, more accurately, "rational" fiction, will be centered around a smug, self-righteous asshat who perceives the world in the sociopathic terms of a person playing a videogame, will ignore the human element, and will often require, as @Jemnite observed in the OP, the antagonists and supporting cast to be idiots and/or hew to the stations of canon (in fanfiction) or genre tropes (in fanfic and original fic both) even where their in-story characterization suggests they should instead be properly responding to the protagonist's actions in a much more effective way.

    And, because rational fic is like any other kind of fiction, Sturgeon's Law applies, the bad outnumbers the good. And standard taste judgment applies as well: many "bad" fics can nonetheless be entertaining and enjoyable even while they have as many plot holes as the stories the genre attempts to mock.
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  13. Random832


    Another thing that rational fics suffer from is that the protagonist (and the antagonist, if you give them a Death Star) is always a Mary Sue. They come up with new SCIENtific ways of exploiting the system, which somehow in ten thousand goddamn years no-one else has ever thought of. Like, I mean, in theory you could design a setting that makes sense for, but most aren't.
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  14. Please do not put words in my mouth, and I'll try to refrain from doing the same with you. Rational fiction isn't "using your brain" and I certainly don't consider JJBA to be rational fiction (though I am a huge JoJo fan!) I think it is perfectly possible to draw a line for rational fiction that has The Martian on one side and JJBA on the other, and I think it's likely you also agree with me on this, right? Like, clearly JJBA is less rational than a lot of works, and this is in fact part of why JJBA is so great! If not, I respect your position but it's probably best not to talk about the Martian since it seems we disagree about it a lot.

    I see we have differing opinions on The Martian. I think because of the way I read it I spent a lot of time focusing on the surface of Mars, and on Watney's tenacity and hyperrationality, the tech, etc. I respect that you and I disagree on this and am willing to agree to disagree and move on to another point. It seems like your interpretation of The Martian is quite different than mine, which is perfectly fine. People have different interpretations.

    So let's leave The Martian aside, then. I still think it's rational fiction (especially the surface stuff), because I think it's okay for there to be emotional decisions in a rational fic; I think not everyone has to be robots, and people are allowed to do this kind of thing. But perhaps we can discuss one of the other works I think of as rational. Have you read any of Ted Chiang's work? How about Mother of Learning? Or anything in my post here, really:

    Let me know what you think!
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  15. But Rich Purnell got to be a steely-eyed missile man, so all is forgiven.
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  16. Jemnite

    Jemnite Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

    Why not? Jojo's Bizarre adventure uses logical thinking and acknowledgements of the limitations of states and innovative uses of stands in order to decide who wins and loses. It's very rational thinking consider that Josuke uses his knowledge of how Aqua Necklace to quickly identify how to trap it. Jojos quickly identifiy the advantages and disadvantages of various stands, and utilize wit and quick thinking to use their advantages to defeat the enemy's turning advantage into disadvantage. They work around the concepts and limitations of powers as they understand them and rely on LOGIC and RATIONAL THINKING to save the day. What makes you think Jojo isn't rationalist fiction?

    And isn't that everyone's dream int he end?
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  17. Ah, I've only seen the first couple seasons, with Jonathan and Joseph. I watched like, 2 episodes of Stardust Crusaders before I decided I didn't like it. So I'm not familiar with that stuff. But uh, I think I should note that I consider some of the traits of rational fiction to be: Nothing happens solely because 'the plot requires it'. If characters do (or don't do) something, there must be a plausible reason. Any factions are defined and driven into conflict by their beliefs and values, not just by being "good" or "evil". The characters solve problems through the intelligent application of their knowledge and resources in a way that is understandable and seemingly deterministic. The rules of the fictional world are sane and consistent in a predictable way.

    And I know this is pretty vague of course. But, like, I guess I haven't gotten through to you and for that I apologize.

    If you consider JJBA and The Martian to be in the same category, for the sake of argument, let's concede that point and move on to something else. I think I'm unlikely to be able to say convincing things to you on that topic. I think part of what's going on is we don't have a common work we consider "Rational Fiction" which is stopping us from having a good discussion. This is totally fixable! Here are a couple requests that I think could move our discussion forwards in a positive way. Please respond to them if you can.

    1. Could you tell me if you have read Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic, anything by Ted Chiang, Containment by Christian Cantrell, The Cambest and Lord Iron by Daniel Abraham, or Fleep by Jason Shiga? I consider these all to be rational works of fiction, and would like to discuss them with you if you've read them.
    2. Also, can you give me an example of something you think is a typical work of rational fiction? Preferably something published, but I'll also settle for self-published original fiction or works in progress (like Mother of Learning by Kurmaic). This way, we can talk about something YOU consider rational fiction rather than picking at things that I consider rational fiction. I've noticed you haven't given any examples yet and this would help.

    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  18. Reveen

    Reveen Dunked On

    I can, and will. Because it ain't.

    Rational fiction, as this thread considers it, is a specific sub genre most often talked about by a specific subculture that thinks this sub genre should be the hot new thing. And all fiction in this sub genre is written with the intent of being part of the sub genre. You can't just go around co-opting random works that happen to align with the core ideas to be part of your special little genre, that just screams "We crave legitimacy and will grasp at straws to get it". It's like some bible-thumper who's big into "gospel fiction", this random ass thing he and his buddies just made, going around telling people that Lord of the Rings is a seminal work of the genre just because it was written by a devout Christian and has Christian themes. Like, those fuckers from Less Wrong who just up and decided that Worm is rational fiction aren't doing me or other Worm fans any favours, they're just being slightly annoying.

    Maybe Enders Game looks like your pastoral ideal of the sub genre, that doesn't make it okay to just claim it always was, that just makes you look like a tool. And if rational fic is such a broad umbrella that literally any work that involves science or rationalistic characters is totally rational fic then the genre has no distinct meaning.

    And frankly if you ask me, the better in terms of writing quality the work of fiction is, the less it will distinctly seem like rational fiction.

    This is fucking Good Writing 101 lol. You can't just claim all of well written fiction to be rationalist, that is completely fucking ludicrous.
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  19. Oh I am slain!

    Oh I am slain! Wynaut?

    From r/rational:
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  20. I wouldn't consider Worm to be rational fiction, for a large number of reasons, and I'm perfectly willing to concede that The Martian is not rational fiction for the sake of argument; it's clear we disagree on that. Would you consider anything from my list to fall into the category of rational fiction (if you've read it)? What would you say is an example of published rational fiction? Perhaps it might be useful to hear what someone other than me considers is a work of rational fiction, so we could build a common point to talk about?
  21. What a ridiculous notion.

    This isn't about legitimacy or whatever status game you think we're playing. We're choosing those as examples because it is the kind of stories we like to see in rational fiction.

    Harry Potter is well-written. It just isn't rational. Ditto for star wars and other media franchise you can name. I like them all, but I know they have a lot of problems when you consider worldbuilding.

    What distinguish a rationalfic is commitment to rigor and attention to details, among other things.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  22. Blazinghand you're conflating Rationalist fiction with Hard Science Fiction. The two are not the same, although there can be overlap.

    That's why Jemnite's hitting you so hard on The Martian. I note you're trying to now be like "haha, we have differences of opinions :)" rather than try to engage him substantially on any of his points, and direct him to lesser-known works. You brought up The Martian dude, you gotta defend it as rationalist.

    Watney's solutions required him to carefully apply his scientific knowledge to survive. This hard-sci-fi and if you want to stretch it, 'rational'. Weir also calculated a probable launch window for the Hermes to reach Mars; that's hard sci-fi. The decision to launch a daring rescue plan for one person? Not really rational by any interpretation. Were it true, pure rational-fiction, either Watney would have perfectly followed procedure and got on the rocket, negating the story; or he would have died alone, also negating the story.

    This is all dancing around the fact the dust-storm as depicted that sets off the chain of events is, by the author's own admission, impossible.

    The ur-example of rational fiction we're all kind of talking around is, of course, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I bring this up because I think Jemnite is specifically talking about Rational fanfictions because they are the most obnoxious, and because rational regular fics are more just like, well-written hard science fiction. HPMOR has an interesting premise that I think shows the promise of the genre -- in a world where wizards canonically kinda suck at logic problems, what would the story be like if the Chosen One was a nerdlet raised by Scientist Dursleys? How does this change the dynamic between Hermoine and Ron and Harry? How do they solve solutions now? Is Harry better at potions? It also has neat concepts like putting a Horcrux on the Voyager probe. That's some outside the box thinking there.

    The problem is that it doesn't respect the universe its in. Horcrux on the Voyager probe only works if you assume wizards can't just pop out there and grab it, which we don't have any indication they can't do. Harry is given to incredible speeches and leaps of logical deduction because lol science. I'm sure there's other examples but I stopped reading really quick because I don't need to read thousands of words about beating up on a strawman, I could go try to guess the password to my Neopets account if I needed to do that.

    This is a consistent problem with Rationalist fanfic -- it assumes the best of its 'rational' characters and makes everyone else look like complete gibbering morons. If someone wrote rationalist Lazytown, We Are Number One would consist of Robbie Rotten making four transhuman clone babies, perfect in every way, and then eliminating Sportacus from 4800m away with a railgun. Amusing? Maybe to some extent, but not anything to really hang a story on. Plus you'd miss out on the memeing of finding a net.

    It's really funny to me because the first three points literally describe Harry Potter and the fourth would too for given descriptions of 'sane' lol
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  23. There's rational and rationalist. Rationalist is trying to teach human rationality, rational stories enforce rigor.

    I don't know enough about HPMOR and other alleged example of rationalist fiction. So I'll take a pass on this line of argument.
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  24. 1: Rational fiction is inherently disrespectful of the original work. It presumes either that the author is a stupid moron who doesn't know how things work, or that the characters and organizations which the story establishes as being intelligent are being stupid morons who don't know how things work. If a setting is so bad that it doesn't logically make sense and you are unable or willing to deal with a plot in that context, retcon the plot holes and patch the setting, rather than deciding that the magic solution was right there all along but everyone was too dumb to see it. In other cases it involves ignoring features which are clearly tonal aspects, ie Keitaro isn't literally being punched into space by Naru, its largely if not entirely metaphorical and symbolic.

    2: I'm a decision science major. The kind of gobble-dee-gook that Methods of Rationality and the like babble about was basically taken straight from the class textbooks for my major. Which it makes it all the more ironic that MoR (and from the sounds of it, most other rational! fics) engage in the cardinal sin of having the rationalist apply their skills to their own personal life and experiences. If there was one thing I took away from the major, it was that you will always have your biases, there is nothing you can do to stop it, any intelligence or rationalism you have will simply be more tools for you to, well, rationalize your biases. To delude yourself that you can emulate logical robot is the height of irrationality, not its absence.

    In short, rational fics are generally bad at fiction and bad at rationality.

    That said, deconstructions, of which rational fics is arguably an inherent subset, can be respectfully done. There's maybe even room for less respectful ones that seek to repudiate bad or unthinking points by bad or unthinking authors.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
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  25. Apologies for not using the precise term but the point still stands.

    "Rational stories enforce rigor" is very much not a useful diagnostic, though, let's just throw that out there. By that definition you could say Johnathan Franzen's Freedom is in the same category as Blindsight despite the fact those are two very different works.

    Also again by the definition of the subreddit Harry Potter, book three in particular, actually applies. If you're cutting HP out you've got to consider cutting Gravity and The Martian as well. But then you can add Band of Brothers so I guess that's a plus. Wait, no, does it break rule 2?

    Then why are you even commenting?
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