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SF Story Starters: Novum Writing Prompts

Science fiction 00001mstories typically arise from a novum, a scientifically plausible concept that is a “reality” in the tale. The novum might be an mechanical device like robot servants, artificial intelligence, or faster-than-light spacecraft; it also can be a hypothetical idea such as “The Earth is a scientific experiment run by aliens to determine the meaning of life” or “The government outlaws books.” The author then asks “What if?” exploring how the world with this novum is different than ours.

Among the problems of many novice science fiction writers is instead of introducing a new novum they rely on used furniture – that is, they borrow novums from popular SF series. After all, how many novels have you read that use starships exploring the galaxy for the Earth-based Federation? Barely changing names to appear as if you are not appropriating – a starcraft seeking M-class worlds for the Earth-centered Alliance – still doesn’t cut it as original or fully using the potential that science fiction offers to examine our culture or humanity.

To help SF writers, here are some novums of potential near-future inventions from which stories could be built:

Telepathic computers
What if almost everything made by man included chips that could read your brainwaves and do as you think – for example, the coffeemaker starts brewing coffee, the shower turns on, and the floor rug automatically warms for your bare feet when you wake up in the morning?

Hurricane reducers
What if tens of thousands of windmills were placed in the Atlantic to suck the energy out of tropical storms? Such a system could radically reduce wind speeds and storm surges at a time when global warming is heating up our oceans.

What if nanobots called respirocytes – which can hold up to 200 times more oxygen than our red blood cells – could be injected into the human circulatory system? How would this affect the military, sports, and other professions?

Pulse detonation engines
What if supersonic jets – which can make the hop from New York City to London in just two hours – were commonplace? A pulse detonation engine, which uses a fuel-air mixture to make faster than sound jet engines efficient, could do the trick.

Utility fog
What if nanobots, aka as “foglets,” could morph their shape at anytime? The interconnected foglets, managed by a tiny computer could instantly adjust seat belts to better protect passengers in a car crash or strengthen sections of a building to ward off wind in a tornado.

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