Five Writing Prompts for Science Fiction

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:

Bioengineered microbes for Mars
What if we created bioengineered microbes that would detoxify and enrich the soil on Mars so agricultural crops could be grown there? How might these microbes evolve?

Dr. Doolittle device
What if a device existed in which people could read animals’ emotions? How does this affect animal abuse and our keeping of animals in zoos? Would more people become vegetarians?

Laser-charged ion propulsion
What if we illuminated solar panels on spacecraft so that ion propulsion systems could be lighter, resulting in most efficient and faster travel? How does this push humanity farther to the edge of the solar system?

Nuclear pulse rocket
What if we exploded small thermonuclear bombs inside cusp-shaped magnetic fields behind a spacecraft to propel it speeds of 6200 miles per second? How does this make interplanetary travel within our solar system feasible?

Skyscraper suspended from space
What if a 30-mile high skyscraper could be constructed and worked/lived in? Its top would be anchored to an asteroid orbiting 31,000 miles about the Earth.