5 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:

Carbon-breathing batteries
What if electrochemical cells sucked in CO2 to generate power for our many electronic devices or lithium-air batteries that utilize oxygen to generate power? How will this affect the popularity of electric cars?

Designer antibiotics
What if we developed drugs to destroy very specific forms of bacteria rather than use drugs hitting a wide-swath of microbes (which happens to cause bacteria not being targeted to evolve into superbugs)? Will this stop superbugs or bacteriological weapons from working?

40 Eridani A expedition
What if we found a planet orbiting this star in its habitable zone? An expedition to a terrestrial planet around this star might conduct studies to determine of there is a geological record of the red giant winds from 40 Eridani C before it became a white dwarf; ice ages due to the dusty space caused by Star C’s red giant phase is one possibility.

Malapert Mountain South Pole Multi-Spectral Observatory
What if at the bottom of the moon we installed a 100m spinning ionic liquid mirror telescope so that we could see the surface of extrasolar planets? How do the discoveries made by the observatory alter human perceptions about our place in the universe?

Volcano mining
What if we are able to mine previous metals and minerals from ocean volcanos, which are rich with such resources? How could this be made economically feasible?


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.