5 Great Science Fiction 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 flesh
Rather than eat meat from actual animals, what if it was “grown” in large cell cultures at factories? Will this increase consumption of meat or further decrease its intake over the years?

Canada, Global Superpower
What if climate change leads to massive migration northward, propelling Canada with its borders on three oceans and free trade with the United States, to global superpower status by 2100? How does this alter the world geopolitical situation?

What if devices could capture infrared radiation, which then converts carbon dioxide in our atmosphere into graphite, as part of an effort to fight global warming? How does the invention and possession of such devices shift the geopolitical balance?

Ocean wind farms
What if Western Europe and several other island and coastal countries receive the majority of their electrical power from wind turbines placed in offshore in the various seas or oceans near their borders? What affect does this have on the ecosystem and how does it make these countries vulnerable to attack?

Printed food
What if kitchens were equipped with a 3D printer that could make food like bread, pretzels or even pizzas? How does this alter people’s diets and health (à la the microwave oven of the 1970s)?