Friday, May 21, 2010

Real-World Stories to Kick Start Your Creativity

Before you lock yourself in your room and cudgel your brain into coming up with the next great premise for a killer story, just take a look around you. There’s inspiration everywhere. Here are a few gems I’ve run across in the course of my job as a news editor. Just take a gander, and maybe it’ll spark and idea or two:

Spiders at the Nanoscale: Molecules That Behave Like Robots
A team of scientists from Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have programmed an autonomous molecular "robot" made out of DNA to start, move, turn, and stop while following a DNA track.

Molecular robots, in theory, could be programmed to sense their environment (say, the presence of disease markers on a cell), make a decision (that the cell is cancerous and needs to be neutralized), and act on that decision (deliver a cargo of cancer-killing drugs). (Read more…)

This kind of technology seems tailor-made for the “But in the wrong hands it could be dangerous!” type of story, doesn’t it? Let’s say one of these young scientists develops a drug habit, or has some bad gambling debts, borrows some money from the “wrong” people. Let’s say those guys know what he’s working on. Maybe they know some people who want some samples they can program to do something else, like carry a highly communicable strain of avian flu.

Perhaps the little buggers are programmed to release it only after the command has been given. Which won’t happen until the populations of several large cities are infested. Naturally the young scientist, left for dead after completing his part of the deal, survives and develops a cure on his own. Now he must counteract the molecular plague carriers with his own strain of tiny robots before it’s too late.

D-Day: What Might Have Been

As the anniversary of D-Day approaches, Frank J. Dinan, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, shares his insight as to what would have happened if Hitler had chosen to use the deadly nerve gas Tabun, that he alone possessed, to oppose the D-Day landings.

The Allies could have been forced back into the sea with enormous casualties. The political repercussions of a D-Day defeat would have been devastating. Would another invasion attempt be made? Surely, not soon. The war would have been prolonged and could have resulted in the Allies using their still developing atomic bombs against Germany rather than Japan. (Read more…)

This seems like a classic jumping off point for an alternate history story. Imagine how the dominoes might have fallen. Perhaps Germany then uses the nerve gas on Russia, and Stalin tires of waiting for American aid and signs a separate peace treaty with Hitler. Seeing these two united powers, Japan then signs an accord with the United States.

It’s a completely re-arranged post-war world. The players are different, but the cold war and spy games continue as the quartet of wary super powers lick their wounds and wait for their opportunity to strike. The military retain the reins of power and civilian authority is suppressed. The perceived danger from afar is as great as the growing unrest within. In this new world order, which is the real threat?

Physicists Locate Long Lost Soviet Reflector on Moon

A team of physicists led by a professor at UC San Diego has pinpointed the location of a long lost light reflector left on the lunar surface by the Soviet Union nearly 40 years ago that many scientists had unsuccessfully searched for and never expected would be found.

The French-built laser reflector was sent aboard the unmanned Luna 17 mission, which landed on the moon November 17, 1970, releasing a robotic rover that roamed the lunar surface and carried the missing laser reflector. (Read more…)

These unmanned robotic missions are controlled by communication signals from earth. So what happened to this reflector 40 years ago? Has it been wandering around the moon all this time? Maybe the signal from earth was overridden by another signal from much closer. Perhaps by a consciousness buried deep inside the moon, something trapped eons ago.

And maybe it has spent all this time adapting and preparing the reflector to transmit its essence out of its ages-old prison. Now that the reflector has been discovered, the being will send its consciousness and take over the mind of whoever is at the other end of the transmission on earth. As soon as the reflector makes first contact with a receiver at mission control it will walk among us...

Scientists Find Ancient Asphalt Domes Off California Coast

Some 700 feet deep in the waters off California’s jewel of a coastal resort, Santa Barbara, sits a group of football-field-sized asphalt domes unlike any other underwater features known to exist.

About 35,000 years ago, a series of apparent undersea volcanoes deposited massive flows of petroleum 10 miles offshore. The deposits hardened into domes that were discovered recently by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). (Read more…)

The Woods Hole scientists have made a couple of deep sea trips to observe these big domes and take samples. What if on one of these excursions they took a bunch of sonar and high frequency listening equipment, and they find that—you guessed it—the giant domes are hollow? Cavernous even, with miles of space. Detailed readings reveal ancient towns and buildings, the remains of an ancient civilization. But everything is deserted. The decision is made to drill through one of the dome’s outer shell and see these marvelous edifices first hand. But just before breaking through, the listening instruments picks up a faint signal from the heart of the deserted city.

In pressure resistant suits and deep sea vehicles, our intrepid protagonist and his band of merry explorers journey through the eerie, underwater ghost town. As they reach the center, the signal is decoded. It’s a message, a warning to stay away. But it does not come in time, as beings of the deep long dormant are roused by the intruders. Too late the scientists realize the domes were not meant to keep outsiders away, but to keep the evil creatures of the depths from escaping their watery prison.

These are just a few of the tidbits I came across in the past few weeks that sparked a couple of the old brain cells out of their usual snooze state. Feel free to adapt these any way you want. Take them in totally different directions. Or better yet, use your own gray matter and keep your eyes open to the world around you. There are stories everywhere. All it takes is a little curiosity and the ability to sit back and say, “Hmm, wouldn’t it be cool if this happened…?”

-Jason Kahn
Mad Scribblings From the Edge
The Dark InSpectre

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