Rational Fiction

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality — a brilliant story that blew people’s minds, and created the genre of Rationalist Fiction. People who loved it created a community for sharing similar stories, discussing Rational and Rationalist Fiction, and writing HPMOR-inspired works.

If you want to get a general picture of why this thing is awesome, but not sure whether you are ready to read something big, you can take a look at Lord of Rationality, a rational take on The Lord of the Rings.

Characteristics of Rationalist Fiction:

World with sane and consistent rules
The rules of the fictional world are clearly defined, consistent and intended to stand up to careful thought. The world evolves logically from its premise, and explores possibilities and implications in a coherent and scientific way.

Realistic motivations
Characters act as real humans would. No one is just evil for the hell of it, conflicts are driven by differences in values, and the villains (to the extent there even are villains) have a real and honest point to their actions. The story’s plot and characters aren’t propelled forward by a lack of communication or by idiocy. Nothing happens solely because “the plot requires it”. If characters do (or don’t do) something, there must be a plausible reason.

Rationalist stories show characters acting and thinking intelligently, and being good at it. The heroes think clearly, in ways the reader can follow and understand, as opposed to “magically” coming up with solutions because they’ve “read the script” (a la Sherlock Holmes).

They use:

  • Rationality and logic

  • Intelligence and cunning

  • Knowledge of science and technology

  • Creativity and inventiveness

  • Psychological manipulation and Social Engineering

  • Complex Machiavellian plots

to solve their problems and achieve their goals.

Characters are gaming the system — they understand and exploit the rules of the world, they cheat and manipulate it into the desired outcome. The hero’s brain is his main “superpower” and his primary advantage over others.

Nobody important is stupid. None of the main heroes or main villains hold the IdiotBall. Rational protagonists often face rational (or at least very intelligent) opposition to maintain the story’s power balance.

Teaching rationality
Rationalist stories make a deliberate effort to reward the reader’s thinking, and teach him to get better at it. Characters are explicitly using and teaching others rationalist techniques, and showing the practical thinking processes which can be applied by readers.

We can see characters being smart, not just be told that they are smart. They think of brilliant things to do which we ourselves could have realized are possible. The character’s “brilliance” is conferred not by mutation or native brilliance alone, but follows from the explicit rules of thought, which readers are intended to pick up from the story and use in real life.

“Solvable” plot
The story is like a puzzle; readers can reach the same solution as the characters by using the information provided earlier in the story. The character’s motivations and the world’s rules are being presented in such a way that a clever reader can deduce what’s hidden and predict what’s coming.

Rationalist fanfiction often involves “deconstructing” the world: taking the story apart, pointing out contradictions, criticizing inconsistencies, and fixing flaws.

The stories look at what would happen if the story would take place in the “Real World”. Original stories often ignore things like “what impact a magic that creates food out of nothing would have on society and the world”, and rational fanfiction explores the consequences that the author of the story haven’t predicted.

An original rationalist story may deconstruct tropes. It may take popular cliches/plot-devices/folklore and look at what would happen in they were happening in reality .

Rationalist stories tend to be about science, technology, transhumanism, futurism, or artificial intelligence. Characters want to optimize the world or end death rather than get the girl, save the kingdom, or fulfill other more typical character motivations.

Defining Works

The following are the stories that stand out — that helped to define the genre or are seen as ideal expressions of it.

Great and highly recommended stories that have a lot of qualities of rational/rationalist fiction:

HPMOR fanfiction:

The ‘old masters’ — rationalist published literature:

Where to find more rational works
/r/HPMOR — subreddit about “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”.
rationalfiction.io — a place to host, read and discuss rational stories.
rationalreads.com — a place to submit, rate and browse rational works.

Writer’s resources
EY’s article about rationalist fiction
EY’s guide on How To Write Intelligent Characters
EY’s Three Laws of Fanfiction
Brandon Sanderson’s fantastic lectures on writing
/r/rational Weekly Challenges