5 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts: 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:

Choose your own actor
What if you could choose which actor/actress played a part in a movie or a television show? AI and access to previous digital recordings of performers will allow this to become a reality.

Creative cuisine
What if synthetic biology allowed us to create food that could be preprogrammed to spell out messages or to create pictures? For example, using an app you might ask the chef to mix up a chocolate cake in which the icing spontaneously arranged itself to spell “Will You Marry Me?” after it arrives.

Energy-generating floorboards
What if floorboards used electro-magnetic induction to generate electricity from footsteps? This electricity could at least partially power homes and buildings or in large-traffic areas perhaps even the entire facility.

Linear artificial gravity
What if we could create artificial gravity by accelerating a spacecraft in a back and forth motion rather than by rotating around a central point? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a system?

New York City seawall
As sea levels rise thanks to global warming, many coastal cities either will be swallowed up or will have to take countermeasures. For large cities that are economic centers – like New York City – seawalls are erected.