See this question: History of Worldbuilding - The Flying City

Should questions such as this be considered on or off topic?


The question asks about the first date when a concept was put in a story. That's not worldbuilding, but plain literature history. If I have a question about literature history I ask it on the pertinent SE community.

That the OP states that it helps them in worldbuilding, doesn't make it a worldbuilding question, same as asking "how do I conjugate to be in space?" remains a grammar question and not a space exploration question.

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    $\begingroup$ You seem to deny that history is a resource. By finding out what previous world-builders did helps us to formulate our own ideas and build on them or indeed avoid reinventing the wheel. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Please post an answer making that argument and see if people agree with you. :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 25 '19 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Your answer should explain why it's specifically relevant to worldbuilding and how it actually helps you to build a world. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 25 '19 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Even more, if a question is not obviously about worldbuilding, it helps to specify in that question how it is a worldbuilding question. $\endgroup$ – user Feb 25 '19 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Tim B - I will at some point. However I know that Meta is inhabited by a cadre of hard-liners who can't get their heads around any new idea whatsoever. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @a CVn - That is a fair point. I'll do that. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ I think this has parallels to the Stack Overflow "Boat Question" meme: You can't just stick "for Worldbuilding" on the end of an unrelated question, e.g. "What is the best snack to eat while Worldbuilding" $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Feb 25 '19 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal I think my answer to the old question Is a “real world” question off topic? applies there... $\endgroup$ – user Feb 25 '19 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal - So the history of world building isn't related to world building? That makes no sense. How does that have the least similarity to 'eating a snack'? $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ ""how do I conjugate to be in space?" - How to conjugate "to be" in time travel was an important part of Douglas Adams' universe. Admittedly that might be better dealt with on conlang but in itself conjugating a verb isn't necessarily off-topic. Maybe aliens have a fourth person singular and plural. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK My example was taking it to an extreme, to emphasise the point: The "for Worldbuilding" part of your question was entirely superfluous, because deleting it doesn't change the question, and shows it as common form of Science Fiction & Fantasy question. It isn't about building worlds, it's a history question about worlds that other people have already built $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Feb 25 '19 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal - In the old days artists would be apprentices to the great masters. They would study their works and then build on their techniques to develop their own style. The same applied with classical music. It is a long tradition in any area of creativity to be willing to learn from previous masters of the trade. Note, I'm not talking about writing skills - I'm talking about learning world-building skills. I simply can't see an objection to that. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Learning world-building skills would be on-topic. But that's not what your question was about. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Feb 25 '19 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK "In the old days artists would be apprentices to the great masters" "I'm talking about learning world-building skills" So, again, how does knowing the year when an idea was first used influence your worldbuilding efforts? $\endgroup$ – user Feb 25 '19 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @a CVn - It tells me who wrote what and when. From there I can read the original author and learn from them. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 15:43

I might consider it on topic in meta, but it's not in its own right worldbuilding. However it is one of the staples of SciFi.SE as it's an element of existing (commercial) worlds, which is very much their field.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that referring back to Aristophanes, as one of the answers did, has much to do with commerce. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Meta isn't for "stuff that's off topic on Main". Nor is it for discussion about the site's topic. Meta is for questions and discussions about the site itself. $\endgroup$ – user Feb 25 '19 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, just because he's not commercial now, doesn't mean he wasn't commercial then. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 25 '19 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix - You know you're being illogical. Would you put a ban on anyone using this site who wrote a successful story or designed a successful game? If 'being commercial' is prohibited in the site rules, please direct me to that paragraph. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, the key separation between us and SciFi has always been the "existing world" versus "new world". Talking about existing works is the remit of SciFi, yes we refer back to existing works a lot to answer questions, but directly addressing existing works, as your question is doing, falls fully under SciFi not here. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 25 '19 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ "we refer back to existing works" Yes we do, and we also refer back to existing questions on the same subject. Thus there is notice taken of the internal history of questions on the site. Surely the external history of a given question is just as relevant. It helps us unwittingly appearing to pirate the work of others. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 25 '19 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK Yes, but that doesn't mean that every question encountered in the process of building a world needs to or should be asked on Worldbuilding SE, just as not every question encountered in the process of writing needs to or should be asked on Writing SE. $\endgroup$ – user Feb 25 '19 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Just to play devil's advocate, it's been stated here before regarding conlang questions that just because a question is on-topic on another Stack Exchange, that doesn't mean it's automatically off-topic on WorldBuilding. The fact that Chasly's question would be on-topic on SciFi should be irrelevant wrt. whether it's on-topic here or not, especially as she clearly has no intention of reposting it there. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Feb 25 '19 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy, and in most cases that would be entirely true, but with SciFi we tend to be two sides of the same coin. If it's on topic there it's almost certainly off topic here, and vice versa. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 26 '19 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy You're right that just because a question is on topic elsewhere doesn't automatically make it off topic where it is. However, several answers here have made an argument that the question is off topic where it is. At that point, whether to just close, or to migrate, comes down to a judgement call about things like likelihood of being on topic on the target site, and question quality. $\endgroup$ – user Feb 26 '19 at 9:38

To discuss it's relevance we should look at what the help center says is on topic for the site:

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for designers, writers, artists, gamers and enthusiasts to get help creating imaginary worlds.

[...] When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story.

[...] If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question.

The goal of the site is to help build your world, not to look for recommended readings/movies on the subject. Instead, this is brainstorming ideas for your world, which is not on topic.

Here are some examples of questions that would be relevant to worldbuilding:

  • How would a city be made to fly?
  • How would the layout of a floating city be affected by the fact that it's floating?
  • How would the inhabitants of a floating city survive without connected trade routes to other cities?
  • What effect does the size of the floating landmass have on the city?
  • What are some adverse effects that a floating city might have on it's population?
  • etc.

To summarize, a question about the history of a subject used in different worlds does not belong on Worldbuilding.SE, instead it belongs on SciFi.SE, more specifically its belongs on SF&F.SE under the history-of tag.


Worldbuilding requires expertise in a variety of fields. People need to know

  • Orbital mechanics.
  • Environmental science.
  • Geology.
  • Physics, chemistry, biology.
  • Even history.

But what it does not require is knowledge of science fiction and fantasy. However, there is a stack that requires expertise in science fiction and fantasy, where this question would be on-topic. There is no reason to extend our charter to cover something that is already covered elsewhere.

In general, when someone asks a questions that might be on-topic elsewhere but still related to worldbuilding, I think that it should be on-topic here. This is especially true when it is only questionably on-topic elsewhere. Because elsewhere, things may not be on-topic because they are purely speculative, with no real world analog. But here, speculative, even fictional, is our reason for existence.

In this case, we have a question that is for authors but is nothing about making a reasonable, believable world. In fact, it is specifically trying to find reasonable, believable worlds and do it a different way. We are not a one stop shop for anything related to writing. There is already Writers.SE and we are increasingly pushing away valid worldbuilding questions as Too Broad or Primarily Opinion Based. If we want more questions, we'd be better off adjusting the limits there.

This is amenable to a simple bright line rule that puts all these questions on one stack, which is preferable. There is no circumstance under which a question that is not of sufficient focus on that stack should be on-topic here.


Questions about how things were done in previous science fiction works are not on topic on Worldbuilding. The single exception is if the question is not about how it was done but how it could have been done. E.g. how could my story have a realistic light saber? That's on-topic here. But a question about how light sabers work in the Star Wars universe is not.

This rule cuts out this question entirely. But everything it cuts out would be on-topic on SFF.SE. There may be some questions that are Too Broad or opinion-based for either stack.

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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't specify science fiction, any previous fiction should be covered. (Star Wars is fantasy anyway) $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 28 '19 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ "But what it does not require is knowledge of science fiction and fantasy." just to expand slightly - I doubt you mean "we shouldn't use established fiction and fantasy to answer questions" because we do. But we don't make the questions very specifically about them. So if the question is about how a flying city can work, then an answer citing previous media that worked out rules for these should be fine. But pointing at the first flying city in fiction is not actually a relevant answer. It would only be if the work went deep in explaining how it works so it's irrelevant that it was first. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 1 '19 at 6:56

There Must be Lines in the Sand

If you went over to Stack Overflow and asked this question, formatted for their site. I.E., "Are History of Programming Questions On-Topic?" You would get a clear and resounding "NO!" This, despite the fact that the history of programming is very much a part of programming.

But it also clogs the site with questions that have very low value to the community. On an ultra-creative site like this, we often forget that one of Stack Exchange's mandates is that questions and answers should benefit everybody, not just the OP — and the claim "everybody can benefit from History of X questions" is simply fallacious.

Based on the basic idea that Stack Exchange is a group of (usually) happy volunteers with the goal of helping the community as a whole: both those who are here today and those who may come tomorrow...

  • If the question's value is basically for the OP alone, it shouldn't have been asked here. We are not here to be anyone's personal research assistant.

  • If the question has an incredibly narrow application, maybe it shouldn't have been asked here. This usually means the OP hasn't taken the time to re-scope the question to make it applicable to more people than him/herself.

  • If the question isn't directly contributing to the primary purpose of the site (if you have to start making arguments about why it's on-topic), then it probably shouldn't be asked here. The site really can't be everything to everyone. That's what Quora and Reddit are for and why they're so hard for anyone other than the original OP to use. Those sites are basically set up as individual research projects and whether or not anyone else is benefited is irrelevant. That's not what we do.

Having said that, is the current version of Chasly's question off-topic?

Yes, it is. But not for the reasons we're discussing here. It's too broad. SE's focus is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. A "best answer" can only be one that has a complete (or at least reasonably complete) history of floating cities in literature. A bunch of answers each contributing a piece of the puzzle is unacceptable because it breaks SE's basic mold.

In fact, if it weren't too broad, what Chasly's asking for is pretty good

Chasly's asking for a canonical answer. It just happens to be a HUGE canonical answer. Because it is the nature of people to post something, the question is likely to draw a lot of nearly useless answers: the antithesis of what SE wants.


I think asking about worldbuilding history falls on the other side of the line. Perhaps by only a smidgen, but it's there, nonetheless. The questions will (IMO) always tend to be too broad. Therefore, as a class of question, I vote no.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the first half of this post but not the second half. I'm interested that you think it's too broad as I don't think that it is at all, since we can have a definitive single answer and a very clear "best" where best is oldest. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 26 '19 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @TimB, Broad has nothing to do with definitive, clear, or best. And "oldest" suggests you need to re-read her question. Chasly's question is worded that she wants ALL the dates, ALL the history. A completely canonical response. I wouldn't be surprised if the concept goes back thousands of years or more. This particular question is a book. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 26 '19 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ Ahh, the question has been edited drastically since I first saw it. The original question asked "The idea of a city or castle that floats in the sky is popular. When was this idea first put forward?[...] The best answer will be one that gives the earliest date together with clear supporting evidence." $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 27 '19 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ So it's been edited to be more on topic for worldbuilding (successfully I think) but been made too broad in the process. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 27 '19 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB, I've been thinking more about this. I believe the question could be on-topic and not too-broad if (and only if) a single community-wiki answer exists where people add to the bulk of knowledge. This has its own problems (I'm not sure you can trust people to leave other chunks of the answer alone), but it would solve the too-broad problem by embracing cannonicity (if that's a word). $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 18 '19 at 20:00

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