In science fiction and fantasy, there are many unpleasant truths about human life that we sometimes like to sweep under the rug. Humans have to eat, sleep, exercise, breath and lots of other inconvenient things that might seem like obstacles to the development of a story. Obstacles, however, are really opportunities in disguise, and in this week’s writing prompt, we will turn human necessities into creative avenues for the enterprising author.
A thousand years in the future, the human race lives in the last, dwindling habitable zones on the charred remains of our home planet, in a megacity that covers the entire surface of the moon, or perhaps on immense rings and spheres that orbit the earth. Science fiction settings and fantasy worlds can be idyllic or dystopian, grand or dismal. Whether beautiful or bleak, though, they sometimes suffer from shortcomings that would make human life impossible.
Where will people dispose of their waste in their megacity on the moon? What will people eat in their dwindling habitable zones? How will people breath on their rings and space spheres?
When faced with these questions, writers have two options. They may either brush off such questions and simply ignore them, or they can engage these human concerns head on and incorporate inventive solutions into their stories.
Human needs put strains on science fiction and fantasy settings, but these human challenges can also be important opportunities for writers to explore the nuts and bolts of their imaginary worlds.
In a fictional civilization of your creation, look for a creative solution to a very real human problem, such as the need for food, water, living space, the disposal of waste, and so forth. Invent a way for your civilization to tackle some problem necessary for human life and incorporate that invention into a story.
Any medium or style is welcome! However, for our prose writers, setting a goal between 750 and 3000 words would probably be about right.
Javier Ponce is not a science fiction author. He is an architect, and he has begun looking for ways to tackle science-fiction problems in real-life situations. “Singapore,” says science writer Lisa Winter, “has roughly 5.4 million people crammed into 716 square kilometers.” Like our lunar megacity or our habitable zones, Singapore does not have enough land available for agriculture to feed its population, a dilemma that Ponce thinks he can solve through an imaginative new system he calls “Floating Responsive Agriculture” or FRA.
Designs for FRA feature “large L-shaped structures that float” in the ocean near the coast of Singapore “providing some much-needed space to grow food.”
“The FRA is not designed to be a standalone unit or two,” Winter explains. “A network of the towers would surround Singapore, allowing all residents to have quick access to locally-grown produce…while taking up as little room as possible … in such a way that maximizes sunlight exposure while simultaneously minimizing shadows.”
Imagine a world where you can visit towering, floating farms full of fresh produce when you take a trip to the beach. It sounds like something that you could only find drifting in the seas of a fictional world, an alien planet, or the distant future, but you might be able to see them in Singapore in the next few decades.
Your mission this week is to solve a similar problem. As living things, humans are constrained by physical necessities that must be addressed in order for us to survive in any setting. Developing fictional solutions to these constraints can help writers add depth and dimension to their worlds.
Fictional solutions can also have very real application in the not-too-distant future. “We need imagination and fiction to communicate our visions in order to foster change,” says Simone Ines Lackerbauer, a communication theorist whose research explores the expanding worlds of cyberculture and virtual environments. “Every innvoation starts as pure fiction, so the more we imagine and envision, the more we will be able to innovate and to channel our imagination for positive change.”
Examples of this include the work the late science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, whose ideas—both fictional and scientific, would eventually help foster the modern satellite communication system that orbits the Earth at this moment. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, perhaps the single most prolific work of science fiction created to date, has lead to or predicted much of our modern technology, from the cell phone to the iPad to transparent aluminum armor—you read that correctly, transparent aluminum strong enough to stop bullets.
People read and watched the work of writers like Clarke, Roddenberry, and many others, and it inspired them to create what before existed only in the realm of fiction.
Like Clarke and Roddenberry, you can foster change and innovation for the future simply by picking up a pen and daring to imagine solutions to the problems posed by your own daring new realities.
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)