5 Novums for Science Fiction 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:

Helium-3 mining
What if Helium-3 were mined on the moon to power nuclear fusion reactors on Earth? How would this operation function?

Hypersonic vactrains
What if maglev trains and pneumatic tubes were combined to create a fast, new transportation system that connected major cities? The fastest train could reach speeds of 4000 mph, compared to 300 mph for maglev trains.

What if picotechnology – technology on the scale of trillionths of a meter (far smaller than nanotechnology) becomes practical and everyday? How will manipulation of the structure of atoms themselves change our lives?

Three languages left
What if globalization leaves the world with only three languages – English, Mandarin and Spanish? How does this affect political systems and culture?

Tropical cyclones in the Mediterranean
With global warming, by the 2060s tropical cyclones become common in the Mediterranean, wreaking havoc among coastal communities and major population centers. What steps will those cities and nations take to deal with the problem?