Science Fiction Story Ideas I’ll Almost Certainly Never Use Myself

I’ve always loved reading science fiction, and like coming up with ideas for technologies, scientific background, and general worldbuilding that I think would make good story elements. The problem is this: when I sit down to write a story using these background elements, and populate it with characters, they basically look around approvingly, say “Nice world you’ve dreamed up for us, thanks!”, and proceed to live the sort of lives that are fine for the people living them, but not so interesting for writing stories about.

Which is why I don’t actually write science fiction stories.

Still, I’d like to go ahead and write up my story elements anyway, for amusement value, and put them up here for anybody who is interested in that sort of thing. If by any chance anybody wants to use any of them (or anything suggested by them) for a story, feel free, since I’m not going to use them (and I promise not to give anybody any grief about it if they do). Not that I expect anyone to use them (ideas are cheap and easy compared to the actual writing, after all), but I don’t want to stop anyone who might. Note that these have varying degrees of originality. A lot of them have already been used, in fact. But why should that stop me?

This list will periodically get longer over time. So, without further ado, here we go:


Interplanetery/Intersellar Drive with Unusual Characteristics
This is essentially a teleportation-type drive, where a ship vanishes from point A, and reappears at point B. Either instantaneously, or in the time that it would have taken a beam of light to travel the same distance. The unusual characteristic is that it can only reappear at a point that has the same gravitational potential energy as the point it left. Which means it can only go from gravity well to gravity well. The justification for this is that it allows teleportation while conserving energy, and also making it difficult to violate conservation of angular momentum.

Ho hum. So what, you say? Well, this sets up a situation where:
– The further from the Sun you get, the easier it is to aim for other stars (because the target gets bigger, and you can go to smaller stars). So you definitely want to get well out there before making the jump.
– The gas giants, particularly Jupiter, become major transport hubs, because you can jump straight from the inner system out to the deeper part of their gravity wells, (or from deep in their gravity wells to the inner system). Once at a gas giant, it also becomes easy to move up and down the gravity well and jump further out.
– This gives a reason for there being particular chokepoints for transit, so that you can arrange for all the various types of warfare, piracy, and other things that require being able to find other ships easily without them also being able to easily get away.


The Ancient Universe
It seems that most of the stars in the Universe are dim red dwarfs, which are generally considered to be unlikely to have what we consider life-bearing planets. The planets would generally have to be so close in that they are tidally locked, which may be a problem for life. They also tend to be flare stars, which periodically irradiate their planets. So, we’d expect most civilizations to focus on other, larger stars for as long as they last, maybe the next 50 billion years or so.

The thing is, though, smaller red dwarfs last a really, really long time, on the order of a couple of trillion years. Then, long after other stars have burned themselves out, our stellar models indicate that instead of exploding or turning into red giants like other stars do, the red dwarfs will do something different. They will flare up to “blue dwarfs”, with about 1/3 the light output of our sun. These blue dwarfs will then burn stably for about 5 billion years, which is plenty of time for their previously deep-frozen worlds to get thawed and develop life.

So the situation is, these widely separated stars in the largely dark galaxies will periodically flare up and produce life. And when they go out into the Universe, around the remains of the other stars they will find a couple of trillion years worth of artifacts left by the previous civilizations (and maybe their descendants, modified to live in the cold and dark). A great setting for a weird-alien-artifacts sort of story, or an “elder gods” scenario.

Or for a “High Fantasy” setting, where the entire universe basically is saturated with a couple of trillion years worth of omnipresent technology from the nanoscale all the way up. This technology could have the feature that you really need for standard magic, which is for your surroundings to be able to interpret your language/gesture/rituals, comprehend what you are asking for, and then do it. The fun part would be if the author of the book knows that this is going on, and uses it to set limits on what “magic” can and can’t do, but the characters in the story don’t know. And maybe the reader doesn’t know either.

I was thinking specifically of a situation where, due to not knowing the language that the technology uses, the “magicians” have just discovered certain spells more or less by accident. And if they use the spells a lot, the technology adapts to their requests, and attempts to establish communication with them. So the best magicians actually start learning the control language, getting more and more powerful, until finally they get fluent. At this point, something would happen to them – maybe they get the ability to upgrade and move into the universal net of consciousness, leaving their world behind. But, back home, all everybody else sees is what appears to be a powerful magician ultimately getting eaten by demons. Which scares everybody else witless, to the point that they decide that magic is evil. What fun!


What if the young-earth creationists are sort of right?
In order for young-earth creationism to be even vaguely plausible, they need to discredit radioisotope dating of rocks. And to do that, you basically need a process that could accelerate radioisotope decay by about a factor of a million. So, let’s say that somebody at the Creation Science Institute went all-out studying radioisotope decay, and actually found a way to do this. Maybe some sort of “decay ray” that could basically induce anything that was at all radioactive to decay on the spot.

One could spend a whole story looking at theological implications of this. Or, one could consider the effects such a ray would have on:
-Rocks: immediately spit gamma rays/beta particles/alpha particles, irradiating its surroundings and heating up. If it was rich in potassium, uranium, or thorium, it might well melt, vaporize, or explode.
-Living things: immediate decay of all the radioactive potassium and carbon-14 would probably subject any organism to a lethal radiation dose. This could figure in a detective novel, where investigators are trying to figure out why these people are all dying of what looks like radiation sickness, but when checked are found to be completely free of any detectable radioisotopes


Wormholes that only pass heat (or disordered matter)

Let’s say that a method has been invented for creating wormholes, but for whatever reason (size, a potential energy barrier, or just a tendency to completely mixmaster anything that goes through them) the only thing that can pass through is randomized thermal energy (or maybe hot plasmas, or electromagnetic energy). This is obviously useless for transport, and only limited use for communication. But how about if one end is dropped in the sun? Instant power plant!

Variant: maybe it can’t have different gravitational potentials at each end, so both ends have to be on earth. Thermocouples running on temperature difference between poles and equator? What does this do to the climate long term?

Variant of variant: both ends have to be at same location, but can be shifted in time. So up in the temperate regions, run power plants on the thermal difference between summer and winter!


What if we just toughen ourselves (and a good selection of other animals and plants) up so we don’t need air?

Good for space-opera settings. If humans could live in the space environment as easily as we now live on earth, this opens up the whole solar system to the sort of “every asteroid is habitable” situation that you see in some of the very oldest SF.


What if a superhero with the strength of 10 men also had to eat (and excrete!) as much as 10 men?

I think the implications of this one pretty much write themselves.


Life-extension technique that extents childhood/puberty proportionately – what if people have child-like brain growth and development until their 30s, don’t care about sex until they are past 40, and then live to be about 400?

Lots of scope for considering what happens to society. Particularly if the late-maturing people also end up correspondingly more intelligent.

This goes along with a pet gripe of mine: you constantly see stories about superior humans who are more intelligent than normal humans, but also mature faster. This makes no sense when you think about it. Dogs and chimpanzees mature a lot faster than humans, but end up way less intelligent. I think it’s more likely that if you want greater intelligence, you’re going to have to invest more development time to get it.

Immune system/regeneration booster with drawback – about a year of near physical perfection, followed by horrible lingering death. Incentive to wait until one is very old to take it, and then go do things likely to get you killed?

This would be a good setup for “suicide squad” scenarios.

What if there are parallel universes, but the worlds on either side of the barrier don’t line up?

So you discover a way to hop from one universe to the other. Only problem is, this isn’t the standard “many-worlds” situation where universes next to each other are identical all the way up to some minor change in the recent past. Instead, they are all shuffled together randomly. So, punching through to adjacent universes just dumps you into intergalactic space practically all of the time, and interstellar space (but at least within a galaxy) most of the rest of the time. But, this could still be useful – for example, we could punch into the parallel universe, zip through where the earth is, and then pop out on the other side, just like having a tunnel through the earth. Or even just get into space easily – punch through, thrust for a while to get away from where the earth would be, and then pop back out in orbit around the sun. Much more convenient for getting into space!

And maybe, if the technology allows rapidly popping through a few billion universes, you might actually come out in shouting distance of a star somewhere.

The Weed of Crime (bears bitter fruit)
This would be more an element of a mystery novel. See, tomatoes (and potatoes) are in the same genus as the nightshades, which are highly toxic due to their content of solanine. In fact, both tomatoes and potatoes produce solanine in their other tissues, just not in the parts that we eat.

It would seem plausible to do some modification of some tomato plants (either by genetic modification, or maybe just by simple cross-breeding with nightshades) so that their fruit would be toxic. And then, our villain could sneak into the victim’s garden in the spring, do a little surreptitious transplanting, and then sit back and wait. The potential for complications comes up if the intended victim gets a bumper crop of tomatoes, and starts giving them away to friends and neighbors. The sign that something is up would be that solanine is pretty bitter, so we’d have people complaining about how this tomato dish tastes terrible, and then suddenly getting violently ill and then dying of what looks like a heart attack. This could be a more-or-less straight murder mystery, or a dark comedy where the perpetrator suddenly realizes that they’re about to unintentionally kill off most of the neighborhood, and tries to limit the death toll without giving away what they’ve done.

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