5 Novum-Based 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:

Asteroid survey mission
What if we launched a trio of cubesats that orbit the sun where they charted and tracked asteroids? Cubesats would be an extremely small payload while the sun provides power.

Artificial skin
What if we could grow artificial skin, that actually could send pressure information to the brain, and that could be transplanted onto humans who suffered severe burns? What other applications might artificial skin have?

Huffing and puffing space debris removal
What if air bursts, sent out of high-altitude balloons or airplanes, could push space debris into the lower atmosphere, where they would burn up?

Soft-bot asteroid mining
What if spacecraft that mined rubble asteroids for water, minerals and other resources were flat, pancake-shaped soft-bots? The soft-bots would launch the extracted rubble into space where it would be collected by an orbiting processing spacecraft.