5 Novum 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:

Machine-favored communication
What happens to our social systems when most communication is human-to-machines rather than human-to-human? How do individual perspectives of other human beings change when we rarely have to interact with one another?

Ocean mining
What if the technology were developed to make mining of the sea floor feasible? Silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc all exist at the bottom of ocean in larger concentrations than on land.

Reincarnated facsimiles
What if through artificial intelligence and DNA sampling we could “reincarnate” people, that is create facsimiles of people who are now dead? What would be the rights of such people in a society?

Robot insect swarms
What if flying, insect-sized robots could work in coordinated swarms to conduct searches for missing children, to destroy real insects attacking crops, to identify gas leaks, and more? How does this affect people’s views that man has “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28)?

Ugly cloaks
What if metamaterials with light and sound bending materials advance to the point that we use them to hide large, unsightly areas such as construction sites, open pit mines, landfills, and so on? How does this blurring of the real and the digital alter perceptions of various social and political issues?