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So far there are two of these, one on There are now 4 of these: Chemistry, Physics, Grain, and Medicine.

Essentially the question is:

Which three books should be preserved, in the event that our current civilisation collapses, in order to give the survivors the best chance of getting back to our level?

(My paraphrasing of the questions)

Now, to me, this doesn't fit within worldbuilding. The questions are both opinion based and very broad. Despite this there are no current close votes and the upvotes are fairly high - 28 for chemistry at the moment.

Is there something I've missed and these questions are, in fact, not opinion based or broad?

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    $\begingroup$ How many post apocalyptic stories are out there? Prepping for that eventuality seems a reasonable thing to do here on WB...so long as both questions are sufficiently constrained (specific requirements to make certain books better than others) it should be ok. That said if you disagree, you can vote/flag for review. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 10 '18 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Why, specifically, do you think they are opinion-based and/or too broad? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 10 '18 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @James The preparation is fine, however asking for specific books with so many out there is going to come down to opinion. Perhaps an introduction to university physics book may be good for its broadness, but which one? As far as I can see which book you choose (within a certain style) is down to opinion. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Jan 10 '18 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ I went to meta to ask about these questions, too. I haven't voted on them, but I was tempted to, but unsure. Details in my answer. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 10 '18 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ They seem very broad and opinion-based to me as well. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 11 '18 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ I've been pondering myself how these questions are on topic. Thanks for bringing it up. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 13 '18 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ I find it interesting that the two questions posted before this was opened have 35+ upvotes while the two questions posted after this one only have 5. $\endgroup$ – DonielF Jan 16 '18 at 22:55
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I was once a regional manager for a small retail chain. In a manager's staff meeting one day we were discussing how to improve the shopping experience with music. Managers were complaining that they didn't have the equipment necessary to pipe Pandora to their customer's ears. I knew they all had CD radios in inventory and suggested they set one up and bring in some of their favorite disks. After a moment of silence, one manager (very much a smart aleck) raised his hand and asked, "what's a CD?"

What's a book?

We are on the verge of never using printed books again in the fundamental education process. The technology is that good... that close... the time when all of Humanity's knowledge could fit on a single CD-ROM passed a long, long time ago (if it were ever true). And yet we're asking about three books... Yes, it's in just one field, but still....

I believe the biggest problem with this kind of question is that it's basically asinine. What three books about electrical engineering would I take (being a EE) that would bring my survivors back to the original level in as short a time as possible?

It doesn't matter! The amount of time needed to re-invent what's missing from those three books is so long that having the three books won't significantly speed you along.

Please understand, it's not enough to have a textbook about semiconductor physics, you also need to know how to build and operate a fab. That takes more than just one book! Then you need the chip assembly plant (more books!), then you need the computer assembly plant (more books!), then you need an operating system (more books!) and finally a book on programming (have you seen what it takes to program C in the Windows environment lately?) And that's ignoring the entire computer design process (the more complex EDA tools used to ship with an entire shelf of user's guides)....

Technology is a massive mountain.1 Today, right now, we're standing on the top of that mountain. What's below us is a nearly unfathonable amount of knowledge and experience. Choosing "just three books" (at least one of which must teach you what a resistor is... that's not the book that will help you build a fab) is like picking up three rocks on the mountain (presumably one at the bottom, one in the middle, one at the top) — and then expecting those three rocks to lift you high enough that you can rebuild the mountain in less time than it took to build it in the first place.

The premise of the question is worldbuilding from the perspective that recovery from an apocalyptic event is always about worldbuilding. The first problem is that without a "point of entry" the question is utterly meaningless and irrelevant to answer.

The "point of entry" is the amount of surviving, sustainable technology. The OP would need to explain exactly how far back the indicated science (chemistry, physics, EE, etc.) is set. Knowing where to start tells you how far up the mountain you need to climb.

But even then, just three rocks books?

Let's say the point-of-entry was 1977 (we were still using LS7400 NAND chips back then folks! Do you have any idea how many generations of CPU have come and gone since I last saw an LS7400 NAND chip on a motherboard?) The technological difference between the LS7400 and today's CPUs (we don't use "microprocessors" anymore because the prefix "micro" hasn't been valid for 20 years) is massive. There aren't three books that can get you from the LS7400 to today's CPUs without reinventing a lot of wheels — and that takes time.

Let's be more practical and say the point-of-entry was 2005. The technology in the cellphone sitting next to me right now (NOT a top-of-the-line phone!) did not exist in 2005. And not just the knowlege, the manufacturing ability didn't exist, either. Not for the chips, the display, the software, the NVRAM, the battery, nada. Zip. Zilch.

And that's the second problem. The time required to reinvent what didn't arrive in those three books is so great that it might not matter which three books you picked. Any three would do.

Which makes the question primarily opinion-based by definition. But I'm not done....

There's one more problem. The odds of the OP being schooled in my EE expertise is darn close to zero. Why does this matter? Because if the OP is expected to judge which answer is best. Any OP that could do that wouldn't need to ask the question in the first place. Every OP that can't do that is picking an answer, not on the suitability of the books, but on the trust the OP has in the answerer.

Here's an example, the odds are very much in my favor that no one but myself (on this site) has experience in the physics of and design of BiCMOS ICs. It's a very specialized field of engineering, but it's important for satellites (among other applications). I could suggest a book title that would reinstate the lost knowledge of BiCMOS design. But how many of you could read the title and a couple of sentences of description and judge if it is the best book? (it was in the late 90s) or even a necessary book? (it isn't). The average participant on this site probably wouldn't even know what I was talking about.

The third and final problem is that the OP is almost certainly selecting an answer in a manner that is "primarily opinion-based." I know that's not the original intent of the VTC reason, but it's just as relevant.

Which is a long and fancy way of saying, what's the point of allowing these questions in the first place?

TL;DR

These questions should be arbitrarily closed.

That these questions are being asked proves the OP has no blooming idea what it takes to climb the technology mountain.

  • Without a point-of-entry we must assume technology has been set back to the 1940s or earlier. But even with a PoE...

  • Three books in every field wouldn't hold enough information to rebuild the tech mountain quickly. The time required to reinvent what's missing would overwhelm whatever advantage you had with the books.

  • The answers can't be judged in a meaningful way by the OP.

Three books... the only valuable way to ask this question might be (MAYBE!) "which three university libraries...?"


1Moore's Law originally stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years. Most people today think of it as "technology doubles every two years," but that's because they have no idea what it takes to double that count. What far too few people realize is that the knowledge it takes to meet the expectation of Moore's Law far exceeds simple doubling because of the number of fields that must advance just to double the number of transistors on a chip. The mountain of knowledge grows exponentially, not geometrically, and to make it worse... people have discovered that the transistor count is doubling faster than every two years....


EDIT

I came back and re-read this post quite some time after writing it — and I can't even imagine what had darkened my mood that day. Somebody or something obviously moved my cheese, kicked my cat, called my baby ugly, and beat me at Trivial Pursuit all at the same time. I'm going to leave the answer in its original condition because modifying it would change more than a few of the comments. However, I would like to offer a sincere apology to both Lio and Green for being a bully. That's not the kind of person I want to be and I failed to listen to the better angels of my nature when I wrote this.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this gets to the core of what I've been thinking. I spotted the Physics and chemistry questions and thought "Ah, well, perhaps you can have a few good books to kick start it." and then the medicine (more my field) question came up and I realised that only from the outside could you possibly imagine that three books would do anything to make a dent in the mountain of knowledge we've amassed. I'm imagining this is the same for Physicists and Chemists who read these questions. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Jan 11 '18 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ As a physics student, I totally agree about three books being an absurdly small number. However, it's not necessarily about bringing someone up to speed on current research, but getting as far as possible - if I gave someone who knew nothing about physics, but who was highly intelligent the Principia, that's a lot of centuries of thinking saved. If I gave them my undergrad physics textbook and Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering, they'd end up with a knowledge of physics similar to an undergrad, which if they were smart enough could be evolved into research $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Jan 11 '18 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir24601, I thought through that too. If the goal of the question was only to help humanity over the dark ages -to- early 20th century hurdle, a high-school physics text and a general college physics text would be all they need. Add general college chemistry and an electronics book that covers pre-solid-state radio and they're way ahead of the curve ... but if that's all they need, the questions are (yet again) irrelevant. The situation is either ridiculously simple or overwhelmingly impossible. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 12 '18 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @Mithrandir24601's comment, and though you may have thought that through, you didn't put it in this answer. This answer only addresses the impossible hurdle of building up practical engineering, not understanding of physics which is an entirely different matter. (Of course, looking in the other direction, a physics textbook from a super-advanced civilization with faster-than-light travel would be treated with scorn or laughter by modern physicists without accompanying engineering-style proof, but that's besides the point.) I upvoted this answer, by the way. Just saying. $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Jan 12 '18 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ I don't believe any question should be arbitrarily closed, each should be considered on its own merits $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 12 '18 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir24601, I'm another of the people who finds Principia impenetrable, it's really not helped by being in Latin. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 12 '18 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I was hoping to find a sweet spot between those two extremes. I'm highly aware that the fields I'm asking about are crazy complex and I trust that responders know what they're talking about. My hope was to find sources a bit more powerful than undergrad textbooks but not so specialized to be useless without many other books to make sense of things. $\endgroup$ – Green Jan 12 '18 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Green, that suggests there's an exit point (target tech level) that is deemed satisfactory by you that you did not describe in any of your questions. And for the record, from the perspective of a semiconductor EE, quantum string theory is a "crazy complicated field" ... and yet you asked about physics with no limitation. Curiously, none of the three books you asked about in either question are worth much without books on algebra, geometry, trig, calculus, and partial differentiation (at least). When is it no longer useful to ask about specific titles? $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 12 '18 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the Point of Entry has now been inserted into the question(s); year 1800. @Green Given that the year 1940 here is used as the base assumption in JBH's answer, I highly doubt that using the year 1800 solves the issue JBH points out. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jan 13 '18 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify disagree. 1800 is a really nice place to drop in some modern 'truth'. Calculus was almost 100 years old and scientists were starting to find all kinds of things. They would certainly be able to understand scientific texts given to them and would be highly motivated to learn more. $\endgroup$ – Green Jan 13 '18 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Green, the technological divide between 1800 and my example of 1970 is substantially larger than the divide between 1970 and 2018. While it might be a great place for your story, it invalidates the usefulness of your questions (assuming the exit point is 2018). 1800 tech can't even validate half of the knowledge in the books, and the books won't cover most of the knowledge needed to create that validation. Gratefully you're not dealing with the true 1800 (aka time travel) as most of the book's content would be laughed off as impossible fiction. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 13 '18 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is likely that anyone in the year 1800 would find a modern-language textbook incomprehensible. They certainly would lack much background (just an example: a physics textbook, no matter the level it is written at, isn't much use if you don't have some understanding of modern-ish algebra, and not being familiar with the Greek alphabet won't help), and it's highly likely that they would find the language itself (not even considering abbreviations and acronyms we take for granted today -- what's a TFT?) very difficult to read, possibly incomprehensible at least at first. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 13 '18 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Also, it seems lots of commenters here are focusing in on the issues surrounding electrical engineering. I understand that's where JBH is coming from, so it's natural, but the problem is larger. The OP might be qualified to select a good answer in one or two fields. Others on the site may be qualified to vote well (beyond "this looks good and the user posting the answer has a good amount of reputation, so it's probably right"). But what are the odds that the same person is qualified to make any kind of judgement about many disparate fields? All respect to Green, but there be dragons here... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 13 '18 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Green Marking a question as community wiki doesn't change whether it's on topic or off topic; it only changes the threshold for community editing, and causes post owners to not earn reputation from votes on the posts. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 13 '18 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think the fact that I could (and in one case, did) link the Survivor Library is a good case for the question being too broad. There's an entire organization out there devoted to trying to preserve books about technological necessary to rebuild a modern-ish society. Pre-computer. The kinds of stuff that actually would help. And even they can't narrow it down to less than "literally everything." $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 19 '18 at 6:58
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I think they are worldbuilding all right. The problem is - is there really a way to answer them objectively? Or for the answers to be good subjective? I'm really unsure about this, and seeing what kind of answers these attracted I tend to be on "no" side: partial answers, strange opinion answers, low quality frame challenge, write your own - between these we can clearly see bad ones, but which one is actually good? Why would writing the perfect book be a better / worse answer than pointing out an existing one...?

For the "best book" bullets, first it might be a matter of opinion what "where to go" is worthwhile and what isn't; second is about showing something is possible - again, might be a matter of opinion what's worth showing; and finally 3rd and 4th only points out lack of constrains. If it can be edited to more clearly show what's really needed, and which answers are better, I believe it should. If it is on the "good enough" side already, I can't tell.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the question predicates the answer should be existing books (though it could be more clearly stated). That said bad answers do not automatically mean the question is poorly written, though I'd agree it can be an indicator. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 10 '18 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @James That's why I'm not saying question is bad, only pointing out reasons I see it as iffy. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 10 '18 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Molot This is threading the needle between opinion and expert-qualified opinion. I see three answers on physics and my own on chemistry that explain in detail why you would chose the books you do. The arguments having been made, the OP can choose the best by the criteria he outlined. I think this is sufficiently fact-based $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 10 '18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Does it NEED to be “objective” or realistic? I presume the OP is trying to optimize a work of FICTION, in which case, realism is nice but not critical. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jan 18 '18 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @WGroleau the whole point about Stack Exchange philosophy is that answers need to be objective, or at least good subjective as in linked blog post. That's why every (almost?) site has "primarily opinion based" close reason and it is not a matter open to discussion. So yes, generally it does. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 18 '18 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ I know there are characteristics common to many SE sites, but there are also differences (hence each site has its own FAQ). In a site devoted to developing fiction, that particular philosophy doesn’t seem important. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jan 18 '18 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @WGroleau it is especially important to have objective criteria to judge answer right or wrong, better or worse here, when it is not guaranteed by the topic. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 18 '18 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ To judge fiction as right or wrong, when the OP made it clear he/she is looking for opinions. Whatever. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jan 19 '18 at 2:01
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Like any other series of questions, each should be taken on its own merits

There are some fundamental subjects, maths, physics, chemistry, where it's potentially possible to answer the question.

Other subjects are more derivative, medicine for example, requires so much fundamental knowledge of chemistry, maths, and physics that in its own right it could well not be answerable.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes. Let's make sure we don't blanket close questions just because they are part of a "series" (as much as I dislike that concept in the context of SE, but that's a different issue and my own opinion). However, let's also not take this as some kind of blanket statement to not close questions that should be closed. Even questions posted by diamond moderators can be closed by the community; each question should be judged irrespective of who posts it. If these questions were posted by a 1-rep newcomer, would they be equally well received by the community? (I'm asking; not saying they wouldn't.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 13 '18 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Concerning your last sentence ("[...] 1-rep newcomer, would they be equally well received by the community?")... the answer is no. While there is some level of protection in the way rules are supposed to be applied equally to all, that is often not the case. It is a common sight on SE to see people treated differently because of things like their rep amount. In fact, I have seen comments that literally say things such as "+1 because your 200k rep could use a few more" or "+1 because you are [famous person]" and seen low-rep people judged more harshly for being low-rep. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Jan 15 '18 at 22:00
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[Updated]

Many of the complaints have centered on a lack of background knowledge that we can assume the reader to have, which is a fair complaint. I've chosen the year 1800 as a stage for when these books will be found. I hope that helps with the too-broad and opinion-based complaints.

Not too Broad

While the 'universe' of possible books and articles is broad, limiting them to 3 selections forces decisions. If I had not provided selection criteria, it would easily be too broad.

Not opinion based

While opinions certainly figure into an answer, the books presented can be objectively compared for fitness to the purpose. Granted, I'm not usually fit to make those judgments but that's why I asked WB.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a more specific purpose might help these questions. Chemistry, covers everything from crystallography to protein folding, to inks and dyes. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Jan 10 '18 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings true, chemistry does cover all those things but my intent isn't to cover everything. It's to get someone started to go exploring on their own. Every subdivision of field could have a question dedicated to it. $\endgroup$ – Green Jan 10 '18 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Green You might want to emphasize than that the goal is "help the people learn as much chemistry as possible" (although, quantifying how much chemistry someone knows is a little subjective). $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jan 11 '18 at 19:20
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"Too Broad" would mean that any question that would try to answer the question would have to write books to do so. In the case of these questions the answer only has to reference three books (and explain their reasoning).

"Opinion-based" means that basically every possible answer is exactly equally valid. But there are enough constraints to show that certain books are better than others (see the very explicit "The best book choices will:" part with four constraints) and we as a community can therefore judge which answers are better and which are worse. There may be lots of possible answers, but as long as we can somewhat objectively rank them against each other the question is fine.

Therefore I think these questions are on-topic.

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    $\begingroup$ For the "best book" bullets, 1) it is a matter of opinion what "where to go" is worthwhile and what isn't; 2) is about showing something is possible - again, matter of opinion what's worth showing; and finally 3) and 4) only points out lack of constrains. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 10 '18 at 14:56
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"Too many".

Three Four questions of the same kind lead me to wonder whether there is going to be a question for each one of the fields listed in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_academic_disciplines

Should there be a specific stack-exchange open for the "three-books" section?

If we think that these three books series is useful/not-opinion-based, then it could be more usefully re-done in a single wiki answer for the question "three books for..." where each answer provides three books for each field listed above.

What would limit someone else to then start the "one animal for..." section, or the "two tools for...", or "three famous historical figures for...", or the "four ingredients for..."?

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The question cannot really be seen as too broad; indeed, it is very, very narrow. Possibly too narrow.

Opinion-based though, perhaps. However, not to the degree that some suggest here. For example, someone said elsewhere that there are way too many college textbooks about the same thing so how do we choose which one to use; you don't! I skimmed over one of the questions linked, and I did not see a request for a specific ISBN. So, if I were to answer this with math as the basis, a very reasonable answer could be (compressed here) "Knowledge of basic arithmetic likely would still be prevalent; that won't just disappear because of an apocalypse. We can probably start with an algebra book. Build on that with a trigonometry book and a calculus book. There will be topics missing, but this will cover most of what you need for applied science."

Likewise, I could answer this type of question from my own field, software engineering, and it need not be very opinion-based - at least not any more than World Building in general. A book on low level systems programming, one on compiler construction, and one that summarizes the linguistic concepts of many programming languages. If someone whose field is in electrical engineering answered the same type of question about their field, you then get the budding electrical engineers together with the anxious software engineers who are waiting for hardware.

If the topics are left to be only the very generic ones provided so far (ie: the "3-book series" is not continued to specific fields), such that the electrical engineers are left to work with only the chemistry books, then the answer becomes "Pick the 2 most crucial fields that rely on chemistry, and provide 1 low-level book per field (ex: an electrical engineering book that covers macro-sized circuits and how to make them), and 1 book that provides a generic chemistry foundation." There's not much opinion to that, and it's difficult to argue: anything else, and your books might as well be paper weights since you cannot implement them.

In World Building, the assumption is that the question has some specific fictional world in mind, be it for book, movie, game, or otherwise, there is a world in mind. So it is not broad to say to the world builder (the OP), "Pick the 2 most crucial fields within that topic for your world". Indeed, that works well with fictional World Building and adds flavor to the world to think of a couple important chemistry-reliant fields, a couple important physics-reliant ones, and so on. And the question remains relevant to others, as other world builders will have a different pair of fields that works well in their world's story. OP gets what they need and interested readers wondering the same get what they need: Stack Exchange has filled its role.

What does strike me as odd is "3 books." If this is on topic, can someone else start a "2 book series," copy-paste all the 3-book series questions and replace all 3's with 2's and post new questions? And again for 4? The series-author did address this issue, however, acknowledging that 3 is arbitrary and chosen as a baseline. Likely, this was done specifically to narrow down the question so that it was not too broad.

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