Rational Fic

"But when you look at what Sherlock Holmes does - you can't go out and do it at home. Sherlock Holmes is not really operating by any sort of reproducible method. He is operating by magically finding the right clues and carrying out magically correct complicated chains of deduction. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that reading Sherlock Holmes does not inspire you to go and do likewise. Holmes is a mutant superhero. And even if you did try to imitate him, it would never work in real life."

A Rational Fic is one which makes a deliberate effort to reward a reader's thinking. It's the opposite of Bellisario's Maxim. The world-building is intended to stand up to careful thought; the plot is driven by characters or circumstances that themselves are part of the story, the heroes generally think clearly (in ways the reader can follow), and a clever reader can deduce what's hidden or what's coming. Very often, the fic is also intended to teach the reader something about rationality.

The Genre Codifier is Eliezer Yudkowsky, who wrote Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and put his own views on the subject into The Abridged Guide to Intelligent Characters. His interests are probably responsible for some of the genre's incidental characteristics. Nonetheless, the genre keeps increasing in popularity far beyond its progenitor. A sizeable community of people who write or enjoy this type of fiction exists on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/rational

Rational Fics often have these tropes as their foundation:

Tropes which are common in Rational Fic, but not as central:

Tropes which Rational Fic deliberately avoids:

The number of tropes Rational Fic attempts to avoid which are on the Bad Writing Index might suggest that it is some sort of universal principle of good writing, which is not the case. Even Those Tropes Are Not Bad, and many Rational Fics fail to avoid them in any case, or fall into other traps. The Lord of the Rings would not necessarily have benefited from a clearly explained magic system, nor The Threepenny Opera from a logical Downer Ending, nor The Dark Knight from making The Joker a Well-Intentioned Extremist.

Also note that the occasional appearance of a trope to avoid doesn't prevent the work from being Rational Fic, if it conforms to most of the other tropes.


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    Fanfic (multi-chapter) 

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  • The Amazing Peter Parker: In which Peter Parker dedicates his life to fighting death after losing his beloved uncle Ben.
  • Collision is a Homestuck AU where Trollian couldn't access other universes and the kids discover an interesting exploit in the alchemy system.

  • The Null-A novels by A. E. van Vogt. Used as a slogan Alfred Korzybski's phrase, "The map is not the territory."
  • David's Sling and Earthweb by Marc Stiegler, in which debate-tracking systems and prediction markets respectively are central to the plot.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts
  • Forging Divinity by Andrew Rowe. The characters, especially Jonan, display rational behavior and optimize their abilities.
  • Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker. One of the primary characters, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, is the scion of an isolated sect who have spent millennia making themselves into beings of pure logic.
  • In Eden Green by Fiona van Dahl, the title character is an amateur evolutionary biologist struggling to learn more about an alien needle symbiote that has infected her best friend, as well as the needle monsters invading their city. The book is peppered with her methodical thought processes and lists of questions about what she finds.
  • The Iron Teeth dark fantasy web serial is about the struggles of a goblin to survive. It has a consistent and limited magic system that follows strict rules. The story also attempts to create a logical world using standard fantasy tropes.
  • A number of stories by Scott Alexander, including The Last Temptation of Christ, The Girl Who Poked God with a Stick, The Story of Emily and Control, Soul Cancer, and
  • Unsong a serial novel about numerology, copyrighted magic protected by UN agencies
  • Transhumanist Fables, Darker, Edgier, and more Transhumanist versions of common fables. Watch out for Spoof Aesops.
  • Three Worlds Collide, a story about Starfish Aliens and ethics in the future.
  • The Cambist and Lord Iron: A fairy-tale of economics.
  • Worm by wildbow. A teenage girl discovers that she has superpowers, and sets out to become a superhero. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances and the application of logic and rationality, she and her friends become some of the most powerful supervillians in the world. And then things get dark. Celebrated for being one of the more well-thought out and rational superhero tales out there, where the characters who succeed are not necessarily the strongest, but the best at making the most of their powers.
  • Pact, wildbow's second web serial. A dark Urban Fantasy. The main character discovers upon the death of his grandmother that he has inherited the fortune, and bad karma, of a notable and hated family of demon summoners. Behind the Masquerade, the world is dominated by human magical practitioners and supernatural "Others", who in order to gain and maintain power (and indeed survive) must play according to (and find loopholes in) the very specific magical laws of the universe.
  • Fine Structure
  • Ra, where magic is the unholy combination of particle physics, fluid dynamics, and bizarre programming languages.
  • City Of Angles, taking place in a twisted and dreamlike mirror of urban reality.
  • Floating Point, a world Inside a Computer System populated by living A.I.
  • Saga Of Soul, a rational take on a Magical Girl Warrior defending Tokyo from the Monster of the Week. It constantly flips the Decon-Recon Switch in showing how seemingly superfluous elements of the genre can make sense.
  • Shadows Of The Limelight by Alexander Wales.
  • Mother of Learning: a young mage gets stuck in a time loop and focuses on figuring out what's going on rather than playing at being a hero.


  • Fleep: The main character wakes up in a phone booth buried under concrete and has to figure out how he got there and how to escape.
  • Freefall: A lighthearted exploration of the nearer reaches of mindspace, becoming more serious as it goes.
  • Strong Female Protagonist: Alison Green, a collegiate ex-superheroine, tries to discover just what she wants out of life after coming to the realization that superheroes can't really make a difference in the world.

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Alternative Title(s): Rational Fiction