5 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts Based on Novums

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:

Biotic arches
What if cities built 30-story skyscrapers, consisting of four curved vertical sections that joined at the top and consisted primarily of botanical gardens, to absorb local carbon emissions? How many of these would have to be built to make a dent in global warming?

Epsilon Indi A colonization
What if interstellar travelers set up a colony on a planet orbiting this nearby K-type star? Because the star system is quite young – less than a billion years old – there’s no oxygen on any planet in the habitable zone. http://ourstellarneighborhood.blogspot.com/2007/07/epsilon-indi-abc.html

Tachyon communication
What if, to shorten the distance that signals must travel is space, communications were sent on beams of tachyon particles that can travel faster than the speed of light? How does such a communication system revolutionize settlement of the solar system?

Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket
What if we actually are able to develop this revolutionary space propulsion system, which would reduce trips to Mars to 39 days in the best-case scenario? How does this alter our ability to colonize the solar system?

Zettaflop computing
What if a computer is finally able to have the processing power of a zettaflop (1021 floating point operations per second)? On-chip photonic communication and memristor memory techniques may be required for this breakthrough.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.