Science fiction stories 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:
Bag it asteroid retrieval
What if we captured and retrieved small asteroids – say up to 23 feet in diameter – by using a bag-like attachment to a spacecraft? The asteroid then would be pulled to a mineral processing station. How does this affect the space industry and exploration?
What if scientists could create synthetic cells that were entirely resistant to viruses? What if these synthetic cells could be incorporated into the human genome? How would this impact what being human means?
SuperEarth added to solar system
What if a rocky world twice the size of Earth but 10 times as far from the sun as Pluto were found at the edge of our solar system? How would world be explored?
Autonomous city services
What if to reduce street and sidewalk traffic, “smart cities” were constructed so that underground robots did menial chores such as deliver products and mail and go to and from buildings to perform maintenance? How would this alter society?
What if with new quantum computer technology we could design molecules? This would allow chemists and biologists to create more effective drugs and for engineers to fashion better materials that generate and distribute energy. How would this change civilization?
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