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 Worldbuilding 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.
One of the first authors to use aspects of rational thinking and non-Aristotelian logic as the basis of their world-building and character interactions was A. E. van Vogt, specifically in the Null-A series. One of those authors who built upon the success of Van Vogt's works to arguably create the genre known as 'rational fiction' was Eliezer Yudkowsky, who wrote the Harry Potter fanfiction "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" and put his own views on the subject into The Abridged Guide to Intelligent Characters. A sizeable community of people who write or enjoy this type of fiction exists on Reddit. Because HPMoR marked the emergence (or at least, codification) of the genre, the name uses Fic instead of fiction; some fans use the terms Rational Fiction, Rationalist Fic, and Rationalist Fiction interchangeably, though most use Fiction for published/non-derivative works, and Rationalist for works that not only aim for realistic intelligence, but try to teach principles of rationality.
Rational Fics often have these tropes as their foundation:
- An Aesop promoting out-of-the-box thinking, resourcefulness and cautious judgement,
- Fair-Play Whodunnit (advice)
- Fridge Brilliance
- Foreshadowing (advice)
- Magic A Is Magic A (for speculative fiction)
- Sanderson's First Law (for speculative fiction)
- Sanity Has Advantages
- Shown Their Work (advice)
- Take a Third Option
Tropes which are common in Rational Fic, but not as central:
- Author Tract: If done specifically to promote rationalism.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality
- Deconstruction (advice)
- Fanfic (advice 1, advice 2)
- Good Versus Good (advice)
- One-Man Industrial Revolution (advice)
- Only Sane Man
- Rage Against the Heavens (if not a literal deity, then against the basic structure of the world; e.g., death)
- Reasonable Authority Figure
- Screw Destiny
- Sufficiently Analyzed Magic
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Sometimes - accessibility tends to vary if you're not already versed in basic philosophy or economics.
Tropes which Rational Fic deliberately avoids:
- Bellisario's Maxim
- Most of Contrived Stupidity Tropes, especially Idiot Ball and Conflict Ball
- Deus ex Machina / Diabolus ex Machina
- Obviously Evil / For the Evulz (advice)
- The Stations of the Canon (advice)
- Reed Richards Is Useless and, respectively, Cut Lex Luthor a Check
- Anything in The Plot Demanded This Index
The number of tropes Rational Fic attempts to avoid which are on the Writing Pitfall 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 (Author Tract, Invincible Hero/Villain, Talking Is a Free Action, ex.). 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.
The genre can in some respects be thought of as a type of Science Fiction in which the sciences are things like game theory, bayesian reasoning, cognitive psychology, behavioral economics, social choice theory, information theory, computation, complexity, epistemics, memetics, and other fields that relate to the way we form beliefs, make decisions, or solve problems in general.
Also see Competence Porn, which might be the reason why rational fics are popular.
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.
You can also see this poll on the Facebook group "Rational Fic" where people have voted for their favorite stories. As of February 2019, the top 5 are: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Three Worlds Collide, Worm, Crystal Society, and The Metropolitan Man.
- The Promised Neverland, smart kids use their brains and reasoning to escape from an orphange who are raising them as beast to slaughter.
- Attack on Titan, Giant man-eating humanoid monsters lurk outside the walls. Answering the question of who built the walls, where and what these titans are, and what is inside the basement opens more and more doors to complex world that's as brilliant as it is grim.
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the Trope Codifier. COMPLETE.
- The Animorphs fanfic Animorphs: The Reckoning is a finished AU where "Visser Three is competent, the Yeerks are moving rapidly, and the Animorphs are actually trying to win (but are inexperienced and unprepared)."
- There have been several rationalist takes on the Naruto Universe, including, alphabetically:
- Chasing the Shadow: A Naruto fanfic with a more sensible cast of characters and fewer plot holes. (Ongoing)
- Lighting Up the Dark: A rational Naruto fanfic. (Currently on hiatus)
- Marked for Death: A Naruto quest about a group of missing nins. Sometime, players' plan turned out to not be so great, and thus severe negative consequences can result.
- The Need to Become Stronger: A rational Naruto rewrite in the same vein as HPMOR.
- The Waves Arisen: A rational Naruto fanfic. COMPLETE
- Luminosity, a Twilight fanfic by Alicorn featuring a more self-aware protagonist. COMPLETE.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal: A researcher with a brilliant new A.I. design gets an offer she can't refuse for building that A.I. into Hasbro's forthcoming Equestria Online game. Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs and keeps occurring and occurring and occurring. COMPLETE.
- Pokemon: The Origin of Species: A Pokémon fanfic. Red's goal isn't to become a Pokemon master, but rather a respected Pokemon researcher.
- Rationalising Death: Death Note fanfiction trying to show what more realistic standards of reasoning would allow the main characters to achieve.(All but one chapter was taken down in 2016 for a rewrite.)
- Branches on the Tree of Time: A Terminator fanfic which demonstrates the real power of time travel. COMPLETE.
- The Last Christmas: rational!Santa Claus meets neutral!genies. COMPLETE.
- The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet and the Philosopher's Stone, or, A Will Most Incorrect to Heaven: Featuring Hamlet with utilitarian ethics. COMPLETE.
- Scar's Samsara: Rational!Scar kills his brother to attain immortality, adopts Simba and becomes the new ruler of the Pridelands, but the Kings of the Past take vengeance from beyond the grave. COMPLETE.
- Hogwarts Battle School tries to show combat among wizards a bit more realistically.
- Shears is a retelling of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with a rationalist, neurodivergent Twilight Sparkle.
- Heroes for Earth is a Captain Planet and the Planeteers fanfic that takes all the heroes and villains of Captain Planet and makes them act rationally in their pursuance of their goals, whether that be in fighting for environmentalism, as with the heroes, or in taking on their enemies and getting profit, as with the villains. COMPLETE.
- Clyde's Tales is Fractured Fairy Tales meets My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. An eminently sensible earth pony named Clyde Pie winds up in the middle of numerous fables, myths, and fairy tales—and completely derails them just by being smart and level-headed. It's an open collaboration, so the exact level of rationalism varies from writer to writer, but one of the submission rules is:
The story should feature a sensible Clyde as the protagonist. Clyde's actions are the focus of the story, and Clyde is never left holding the Idiot Ball.
- To the Stars depicts a society set in the far future of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, when magical girls managed to turn from outcasts plagued with the need to maintain The Masquerade and a horrible attrition rate to a massive benevolent organization guiding humanity into a golden age... and then having to take on the responsibility for the entire humanity as an Alien Invasion occurs. Much introspection happens as all the main characters have to struggle between the reasonable solution and what they feel is right - a choice made even harder if your powers and your very existence is tied to your emotions.
- The World is Your Oyster, The Universe is Your Namesake does a take on Steven Universe. (Discontinued/Long hiatus)
- A More Perfect Union A Fallout 3 fanfic with a rationalist protagonist.
- Parting the Clouds: An Animorphs AU in which Cassie is recast as a rationalist. Is over 200k words as of this writing.
- Parting the Clouds manages to stay much closer to the source material than The Reckoning, and have rationalist characters (especially Cassie, but others too), while retaining the specific setup and world of Animorphs as originally laid out by the books. One of the better rationalist stories in that it shows actual downsides to rationalist thought (such as the Animorphs acquiring less morphs since Cassie reasonably believes there may be a limit to the number of morphs). Good at showing the internality of rationalism, and how a setting can have rational characters without needing to be overhauled or majorly altered.
- Also one of the few Rationalist Fics to have a character 'have' blind spots, recognize them, and realize that it will take extended time and effort to change them. Realistic about the power of unhelpful cognitions in a way many other stories gloss over.
- Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion is a take on Code Geass where many characters are smarter and more rational than normal.
- Homestuck rationalfics is a Homestuck AU where Trollian couldn't access other universes and the kids discover an interesting exploit in the alchemy system. Currently includes Rain of Frogs and Collision.
- Batman: Extinction Burst: Characters lean more towards psychology than their fists to solve problems.
- The Metropolitan Man: A Superman fanfic with a rational (but still paranoid and sociopathic) Lex Luthor (who, among other things, posits the scientific improbability that a Human Alien actually can exist (because of such things as being statistically impossible that a planet can replicate Earth so much as to allow humanoids to be the dominant species) as one of the reasons why he distrusts Superman... he's not completely wrong, by the way, and the explanation (and what a Kryptonian actually looks like in this story) is pretty scary). COMPLETE.
- Child of the Storm, a Mega Crossover that started as simply between Harry Potter and Marvel Cinematic Universe, is written at least partially in this style (it helps that the magic is drawn heavily from The Dresden Files), with the author noting that his main interest was in exploring the consequences of mixing worlds, with the reactions to the premise (Thor was James Potter, as part of a first run at the whole humility thing), and the reactions to those reactions, driving the plot. Additionally, it ticks most of the rest of the boxes for a fic along these lines; Foreshadowing and, to a lesser extent, Fridge Brilliance, abound, the most successful characters deploy out-of-the-box thinking, and the most successful character of all, resident Magnificent Bastard Doctor Strange, practically redefines Crazy-Prepared and takes a very coldly rational approach to matters (despite, or even because of, being at least slightly mad). However, we say 'partially', because the author also repeatedly emphasising that he writes characters as people, and they are therefore as prone to doing stupid, irrational things, because that's what people do - however, they always have some personal reason for such actions, meaning that generally It Makes Sense in Context.
- A Song For Two Voices is a rationalist take on the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy. COMPLETE.
- Consequences, a Tokyo Mew Mew fanfic describing possible effects of not only changing the heroines' DNA, but also the war. While perhaps not as serious as some of the other examples, it still has a more realistic take on the anime.
- A Thing of Vikings is a How to Train Your Dragon Alternate History/Alternate Universe fanfic which drops the events of the first HTTYD movie into Real Life history in the 1040s AD and lets things ripple out from there. And with a small pagan Norse tribe suddenly having the equivalent of an air force when the most advanced military technology in the world is Greek Fire, history is in for a major upset, with political, diplomatic, military, economic and religious factors all combining to create an intense stew of cascading consequences, especially since Hiccup is still the accepting genius boy from canon... who will end you if you threaten his people. Each chapter is headed by an epigraph featuring in-universe text from the setting's hypothetical future, charting out the changes far past the realm of the fic itself, and allowing the author to show their work without infodumping.
- The Amazing Peter Parker: In which Peter Parker dedicates his life to fighting death after losing his beloved uncle Ben.
- Scar's Samsara: The first chapter of Scar's Samsara is a oneshot which follows a rational!Scar as the villain protagonist. Other chapters were later added to expand on the premise, but the first chapter can still be read as a stand-alone story.
- The Null-A novels by A. E. van Vogt. Considered a major influence. 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.
- Jipi and the Paranoid Chip, a 1997 short story by Neal Stephenson in which a paranoid rogue AI is carefully made to examine its own reasoning over a text channel.
- The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant by Nick Bostrom, an allegorical polemic against death and in favor of anti-aging research.
- The Cambist and Lord Iron by Daniel Abraham, both a fable of wit and a demystification of the nature of value and exchange.
- 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.
- 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 by Eliezer Yudkowsky, a story about Starfish Aliens and ethics in the future.
- The Sword of Good by Eliezer Yudkowsky
- 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.
- Pact. 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.
- Twig. A Genre-Busting Biopunk novel, set in Alternate History 1920s and focusing on the Lambs a group of biologically augmented adolescents, experimented on by the biotechnological Academy and working as its spies/investigators. Each member of the group has specialized enhancements, most of them related to their minds. Working as a team, they effectively combine their abilities and creativity to solve problems. The protagonist specializes in social engineering, and frequently uses real-world psychological tricks in the course of achieving objectives.
- Played with on Abed's In-Universe horror tale on the Community Halloween episode "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps", as well as showing (In-Universe and out) why the Necessary Weasel exists: in his attempt at defying all of the typical Slasher film tropes (specifically those labeled under Too Dumb to Live), Abed instead makes the story utterly boring by having the characters rationalize aloud why they shouldn't be doing things that could trigger those tropes, then not doing those things... and then doing absolutely nothing else (seriously, the escaped mental patient just becomes an In-Universe What Happened to the Mouse?). Understandably, everybody else on the study group is frustrated and irritated after hearing it. This also deconstructs the concept of the Rational Fic to begin with; there are valid reasons that "illogical" things can happen in stories, and the fact that a story is rational doesn't automatically make it good.
Annie: Ugh! Do these people ever die or what?!
Abed: [Spooky voice] Eventually... once it had been... earrrrrrrrned!!
- 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.
- HardSciFiMovies on Twitter - deconstructing famous plots in 140 characters.
- Keit-Ai: The original fiction version of Keit-Ai has been described by an anon on the Literature Board of 4chan as an "underrated gem" of rational fic.
- Heroes Save the World: Across the world, one hundred adolescents unexpectedly find themselves in possession of superpowers, running the gamut from conventional to world-breaking to annoyingly limited. But despite the diversity of powers, certain patterns emerge, and as the Children begin to find each other, they realize that the world itself may be in great peril.
- The Tales of Paul Twister: A geek from modern-day Earth gets dropped into a Standard Fantasy Setting. He'd really prefer to live in the modern world, but he can't get home, so he starts trying to introduce the principles of modern technology into the world in which he finds himself. Except he can't really do that because, being a child of the modern world, he has only the barest understanding of how technology actually works, so he gets actual scholars and craftsmen to work with him on developing the necessary principles. (Plus a bunch of epic fantasy stuff also going on which he gets dragged into the middle of.)
- Judge on a Boat A candidate traveling to her final exam to become a Judge is stranded in a lifeboat and must keep their little society from falling apart under great stress. In this future society, basic rationality training is required to be a Full Citizen, and the Judges are moral arbiters thoroughly trained in rationality.
- Twisted: rational!Jafar... the musical.
- My Little Pony: The Mentally Advanced Series: a Deconstructive Parody of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with protagonist ranting on about methodology of social sciences.
- Hell No: The Sensible Horror Movie a fake trailer for a movie in which the characters short-circuit the horror by making sensible decisions.