Savvy Saturday – Using the News

Sometimes, fantasy and science fiction writers get their best ideas from new discoveries and technological innovations that are going on in the world around us. For this week’s blog post, I’m going to highlight a few that might get stories spinning in your head. Ready? Let’s go explore the wild, exciting world of fantastical possibilities based on real life happenings…

Imagine if…you could transfer data from one device to another using your own body as a conduit.

AT&T has filed a patent for transferring data using bone vibrations and/or electricity through a person’s body, thus allowing an individual to transfer data from one device he/she is holding directly to another device, without data actually having to be publically broadcast. This would be a completely secure way of data transfer, since data wouldn’t go through the airwaves or over the Internet – it would just go through the owner’s body.

Of course, with just a little bit of fantasy or science fiction tweaking, this idea becomes even more interesting. What if data was able to be transferred from a device into a person’s body with a touch, and remain there until the person touched a different device that would suck up the datastream? Suddenly, spies could walk around a city with valuable, hidden data stored in their very blood and bones, with nothing detectable to sensors. A seemingly innocent transaction – something like picking up an electronic table to sign one’s name on a digital receipt – could actually be a transfer of top secret information. What’s even better is that you could have the establishment of “digital mules” who wouldn’t even have to know what they were doing to be used to an organization’s nefarious ends. “We want you to be a mystery shopper!” an organization might say. “Simply go to these two technology stores, and ask the manager to show you the latest models they have in stock, then give us a report on what you find – we’ll pay you!” Clueless shoppers would gladly participate to make a few bucks, while the organization could transfer data as often as it pleased between its agents at the different technology stores. How could you detect and stop this new version of “spyware”? How else could you adapt this technology to make a fascinating new story?

Imagine if…a culturally abhorred practice were found to have real and drastic health benefits.

A recent news article posited that a cannibalistic tribe in New Guinea actually preserved itself from various forms of disease through its ritualized consumption of human brains. Whether or not this connection actually proves true, it raises an interesting question. What if a practice that “civilized” people find repulsive is discovered to actually bring about a culturally sought after good?

One would imagine that a certain group of people would throw off cultural norms in favor of obtaining the desired reward. (“Cannibalism of one’s dead relatives reverses aging? Fantastic! Who cares about cannibalism if I can live forever?”) Another group of people would certainly reject the “evil” practice, and say that whatever the good might be, it would not be worth the sacrificing of morals to obtain it. (“If that is what it takes to live forever, then we were not meant to live forever!”) A third group would likely incorporate the practice into sacred ritual – turning something “not okay” into something legitimate under certain circumstances. Just as one expects to speak frankly with a doctor who is a complete stranger about topics that would be not appropriate to discuss with other strangers one might meet, “proper” circumstances and rituals could turn an otherwise detestable practice into one that is allowable in certain times in certain ways. (This is, in fact, how most cannibalism was practiced in cannibalistic societies. The dead were not eaten willy-nilly. In contrast, fallen enemies, or great heroes were eaten as part of ceremonies, at certain times, in certain ways, accompanied with much ritual and deeper meaning.) Whatever practice you decide to explore, make sure you take into account the three differing reactions that would be likely in your population.

Keep an eye out for other interesting discoveries or news reports that could inspire your storytelling! Truth is often stranger than fiction, but when fiction takes a truth and runs with it, the result can be magical. What are some other things you’ve seen recently that you could turn into an interesting component of a story?

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