5 Novums for Generating Killer SF Story Ideas

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:

Biometric tattoos
What if a temporary tattoo could be placed on patients to measure their vitals, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature? An early version of this technology might use Radio Frequency Identification chips implanted under the skin.

Color scanner pens
What if you saw the perfect hue and could scan it with a pen that later could draw that exact color? How would this tool benefit not just artists but others?

Plant nightlights
What if we had glow-in-the-dark plants that did not need a battery or outlet to cast a light? The plant would be bioengineered with genes from luminous bacteria.

Underwater space colony
What if on a waterworld like Europa or Ganymede, we built spherical underwater outposts? How would the outpost use the surrounding water to create a breathable atmosphere and generate hydrogen fuel?

Virtual interior decoration
What if we could program our home’s walls to match our mood? For example, if tired of cold, gray winters in Minneapolis, why not change the walls to a Caribbean beach scene?