5 Cool SciFi Novum Writing Prompts

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:

Artificial photosynthesis
What if man-made leaves could utilize a process that mimicked photosynthesis to generate energy? How does this change the appearance of our cities and communities as real trees and shrubbery are replaced with electricity-creating plants?

Drawing water from air
What if sun-powered moisture-absorbing technologies could pull drinking water from the air for desert communities? How does this affect the redistribution of population, and what deep affect does this have on our culture?

Face paying
What if face-recognition technology allowed you to pay for consumer goods simply by flashing your face before a screen? What other applications might this technology have, from replacing passwords to locating criminals?

Paralysis Reversal
What is an electronic device implanted in the brain could reverse paralysis? The device links the brain’s motor cortex to the spinal cord below the injury.

Stellar Echo Imaging
What if we imaged exoworlds by examining the “echoes” that occur when naturally fluctuating radiation (from their suns) strike them? What would we learn about alien worlds through this method?