"Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale" is an observation that the scales given in speculative fiction are often nonsensical (Source).


Let's assume that these incongruities are not simply a mistake on the author's part but are accurate depictions of the fictional world itself. What could explain these departures from our own reality?


The scales given in the series A Song of Ice and Fire seem absurdly exaggerated (Source). These figures and the official map are used to estimate the size of the setting, the "Known World," which comes to roughly 89-104% the size of Earth (Source).

I strongly question the accuracy of the official map, which seems completely unreliable (Source). It's clearly a wildly inaccurate map created by medieval cartographers using substandard data and tools. Nonetheless, it is treated by Martin and fans alike as an accurate depiction of the story world: official and unofficial estimates of distances and travel times are based on that map.

If Westeros is analyzed from a demographic perspective, it makes no sense for it to be anywhere near the size of South America (Source). The demographics of Westeros are more homogeneous than any feudal empire in Earth's history. However, because of the previous calculations any attempt to reduce the size of Westeros to a realistic figure also reduces the planet's diameter by over half, making it denser than the densest known mega-Earth K2-56b.

There are other instances where the Known World displays impossible physical properties:

  • The moon cannot be a satellite because it sits in a fixed position relative to the planet (Source). Assuming it sits at a Lagrange point then it should exert far weaker gravity, yet the tides operate at full strength.
  • The years long winters work similar to miniature ice ages and are accompanied by standard seasons (Source). The Citadel estimates the length of these ice ages based on the length of the day (Source). The two statements cannot both be true unless there are two spells: one to create the ice ages and another to create the normal seasons.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Philipp, Mołot, Hohmannfan, John Dallman, Frostfyre Sep 12 '16 at 17:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think this question is far too broad. Please try to focus on one property of a fictional world and how it could be explained. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Sep 12 '16 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ I read the title and the body is the opposite of that. You ask how to explain why it’s good and proper that writers don’t get scale right in the stories. The body is saying that they are not scale errors at all. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 12 '16 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: It's a cascade effect. In isolation these details might make sense but taken altogether it causes the world to become completely unreal. I doubt this was intentional. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Sep 12 '16 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ “justify the trope that writers have no scale” is not what the body is asking! It proposes to refute the trope, or show that it's illusinary, nit justified. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 12 '16 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: Then I suppose that's what I mean. How to justify having such weird scales in the first place? $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Sep 12 '16 at 17:37

You can't explain the trope away. Unless it's intentional information, the trope is for when people make unexplainable mistakes.

That's also not a great example of this trope, for a variety of reasons. Game of Thrones is Fantasy, not Science Fiction, and it takes upon itself no obligation to real world accuracy. The issues you raise don't really have to do with a sense of scale in their effect (they're better covered by tropes whose names start with "Artistic Licenses" and end with things like "geology" or "population biology"). Also? Magic.

The trope is for pieces of work like Star Wars, which is nominally science fiction. One example of having no sense of scale in Star Wars is how the size of the militaries are ludicrously small - smaller than many modern Earth armies - and we're expected to believe that they can fight a galactic war.

  • $\begingroup$ Upvoted, but now I am interested about the army sizes listed in star wars... The imperial fleet is basically endless-seeming in all canonical works... $\endgroup$ – Adam Wykes Sep 12 '16 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ The Grand Army of the Republic had 4.2 million clones in it. That is about 1 clone for every hundred thousand planets in the galaxy; at best, that's a planetary expeditionary force, not a galactic army fighting everywhere and anywhere. Warhammer 40,000 does it better. You need to be losing millions or billions of troops per day to have a plausible galactic army. $\endgroup$ – rsegal Sep 13 '16 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ Got it. Though to be fair, consider the nature of the beast - most of the galaxy was not part of the republic, that republic fielded that standing army on its own dime and it seems a fairly decentralized republic - it would make sense for that standing army to be supplemented by levies and local member state forces in times of protracted large scale conflict. Consider that the army of the united states on the eve of its rise to dominance (WWI) was basically nonexistent compared to the forces of Europe or even Japan. Republics without compulsory national service tend to rely on conscription. $\endgroup$ – Adam Wykes Sep 13 '16 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ The original clone army was 1.2 million. They had 4.2 million over the entire Clone Wars. That is smaller than the current army of the DPRK (6 million). Even if we heavily discount that and assume that most people in the army aren't those front-line soldiers, there are far more soldiers in east and south Asia than there are in the galactic army. Yeah, higher tech countries have smaller armies (the sum of all branches US Armed Forces adds to 1.4 million personnel) but that's too extreme. $\endgroup$ – rsegal Sep 13 '16 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not really trying to defend the number - after all what's the point of a clone army if it's going to be small? But if one wanted to defend the number it could probably be said that sending large numbers of people through space is very expensive, that the stated number doesn't include naval/marine troops, and that star wars armies will be much smaller than we are used to because of droids, automation, and the general uselessness of numbers when you have the entire Jedi council fighting on your side. $\endgroup$ – Adam Wykes Sep 13 '16 at 15:37

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