A train derails in a Taiwan tunnel.

Marcos Hernandez Article

high-speed train filled with people leaving Taipei for a long weekend derailed after hitting a construction vehicle on the tracks.

The train’s first four cars absorbed most of the damage, crumpling inside the tunnel. The train had eight cars total.

Reports have the total number of passengers as nearly 500—of those, 48 have died and over sixty injured.

Turning this into a story, what if there’s an assassination target on the train? The kicker—they haven’t committed the crime yet.

A mix between the movies “Source Code” and “Minority Report.” The target? A young man who hacks the infrastructure of the United States in the future.

The story kicks off with a female Taiwanese agent on the train observing the target and charged with their protection. They know an upcoming attempted assassination will take place, but they don’t understand why or how.

Then, the train derails in the tunnel, and the young man is killed.

After the first chapter, the story goes back in time to the events leading up to the train’s derailment. The agent is explicitly chosen because they already know the target, having dated in the past. The target is particularly reclusive now, and the female agent shows back up in their life, trying to uncover why they’re a target in the first place.

The Taiwanese agent doesn’t know why the young man is a target because Taiwan doesn’t have access to the time technology. They find out because of a mole in the program.

The accident is portrayed again, this time with more emphasis on the relationship between the target and the agent. The agent survives with injuries while the target is killed.

After her recovery, she strikes out on a mission to discover why the target lost his life, despite her own government telling her the case is closed for diplomatic reasons.

Turns out, the mole is a high-ranking diplomat that doesn’t agree with involvement in foreign countries by the United States.

The agent deals with threats against her own life, eventually becoming paranoid about every action she takes.

She survives an assassination attempt, and her resulting unwillingness to leave her house effectively provides the same outcome the United States wanted in the first place.

Then, she receives anonymous intelligence—from the mole—that points to the man pulling all the strings in her own country. It’s her boss.

She convinces him to meet her in the train tunnel, still closed for repairs. There, she kills the traitor and walks away into seeming peace.

The sequel could be about how she’s become the force within Taiwan that does the United States’ bidding, but this time it’s through the mole—a separate faction in United States politics. She succeeds in stopping the other faction’s plans for another assassination.

The third book would have her discover that the “mole” was a farce from the beginning, causing her to question her role in the entire operation.

Other books could see her disavowed from Taiwan’s government forces and highlight what happens when Taiwan gets a hold of the technology themselves—she becomes the first in a series of time agents.

China is the cancel culture king.

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The backlash started after H&M stated that they won’t buy cotton from Xinjiang because of human rights violations in the area. In response, some of China’s biggest online retailers took the company’s products off their website.

Then, H&M’s physical locations were scrubbed—they don’t show up on major ride-hailing apps or map services. Their smartphone app has been removed from app stores.

Other companies are also in the line of fire after expressing concerns, including Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo, and Lacoste.

Crazy stat: The autonomous region of Xinjiang is almost twice the land area of the United States.

Turning this into a story, what if the technology existed that could remove people’s memories of whatever has been canceled?

The main character is a jazz club owner who insulted the country’s leader. He wakes up the next day and finds his jazz club closed, his accounts frozen. Returning home, someone’s already removing his belongings.

He tries going to the authorities, but there’s no record of his existence. His friends don’t remember him. When his wife sees him, nothing registers.

Searching for the last remnants of the life he once had, the erased man goes to the bed and breakfast in the country where he proposed to his wife. Amazingly, the owner, a kind old man, recognizes him.

Over time, the man finds out there are others at the bed and breakfast who were erased, that the owner is the last person who remembers them too. He meets and falls in love with a young woman from the town. Without a past, he’s free to be who he wants, adopting a personality that feels more authentic than his previous life’s.

As the story unfolds, the man finds out the woman was erased as well, came to the bed and breakfast, and started a life in the nearby town to be near the one person who knew who she was in her previous life. In fact, the entire town is made up of people who share a similar background.

His world is turned upside down when the country’s leader walks into the bed and breakfast, apologetic about closing the jazz club and wanting it reopened.

The man tries going back to his former life, with his former wife and assets, but finds that he misses who he was in the small town outside the bed and breakfast. He throws water in the leader’s face, gets canceled once more, and returns, only to find out that the woman has returned to her own former life.

The second book would center around the man setting up his life adjacent to the woman. He succeeds in getting her erased again, hopeful she’ll return to his side, but she ends up leaving him.

The third book would find the erased man meeting the country’s former leader, who’s now been erased.

Throw this all into a futuristic setting, with advanced technology for the erasures.

Does lowered sperm counts put the human species at risk?

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baby with brain

Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, thinks so. Her research shows that sperm counts fell nearly 60% between 1973 and 2011. She’s written a book about the implications of her research and says the impending fertility crisis threatens the human species.

Her projections suggest sperm counts fall to zero in 2045. Is she a modern-day Cassandra?

Swann blames the falling sperm counts on both chemical and lifestyle factors. In particular, there’s a significant focus on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, specifically PFAs and BPAs. These chemicals are well-known for their presence in plastics but are found in countless manufactured products.

While some scientists have pushed back on the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and fertility, what if sperm counts fall to zero in 2045?

In a world where fertility rates bottom out, all babies would require creation in a lab using the parent’s genetic material. It’s not a leap to imagine that genetic-editing technology plays a role, eliminating conditions like sickle cell disease.

If you can correct a genetic defect, why not have complete designer babies?

The story could center on an “oddball” couple determined to have a natural baby in a world where it’s believed impossible. Their best friends and family all advise they go to the lab. They finally cave and make an appointment.

They discover they’re pregnant on the eve of their appointment. Their friends deem the natural conception a miracle, and the word quickly spreads.

Scientists worry the baby will have genetic defects and use both media and lawsuits to encourage abortion. The future mother doesn’t cave; it’s all she’s ever wanted. The world waits in anticipation as the woman, now with a cult following, comes to the end of her pregnancy.

The cult deems the child the second coming of Christ when the baby’s born healthy, even though it’s a girl.

A potential second story could cover a battle within Christianity. Some priests accept the child as their savior, and others accuse her of being a false prophet.

Future books could deal with the child’s growing up with both a target on their back and as the object of adoration.

Saving biodiversity using a lunar gene bank.

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Scientists at the University of Arizona have proposed a new, tamper-proof way of saving genetic material: keep them on the moon.

The concept of saving genetic material isn’t new. Several seed banks already exist on Earth—the picture above is of one in the arctic ocean. The lunar gene bank just takes the efforts to a whole new level, extending the scope to all of the Earth’s species.

It’s an insurance policy against catastrophic events like nuclear war or supervolcanoes. Animals at risk of being extinct, like Florida’s manatee, can be brought back in the future.

What if a lunar gene bank was discovered by an alien species, which then duplicated Earth? Upon discovering the Earth-clone, the inhabitants of our ravaged Earth left, leaving a small group behind. They left instructions about re-seeding the Earth using the genetic material stored on the moon once the planet recovered.

The story could center on the descendants of the small group. They’ve existed without technology for centuries and live in farming city-states. One day, a rocket appears and seeds the genetic material—this is the prologue.

The arrival of the rocket lives on through the oral tradition until we meet the story’s hero, a young girl who experiences the world with the seeded animals and plants. It’s a survival story where the humans band together and defeat both bandits and wild predators.

The first story could center on the conflict with the bandits. The second story kicks off when the descendants of the original humans return from the Earth-clone after destroying that planet’s environment. The two groups coexist until the destruction of the actual Earth becomes a point of contention, kicking off confrontations about the planet’s future.

A woman wins the right to die.

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A judge in Peru has ruled that Ana Estrada has the right to decide when her life ends. She’s suffered from a disease that attacks her muscles for over three decades.

Peru outlaws abortion and same-sex marriage, so the government hotly contested her right to euthanasia from the start.

Once she decides to end her life, she has ten days to fulfill her plan. Her deciding factor? When she can no longer write. Anyone who helps is cleared from facing charges. 

Estrada hopes it serves as a precedent for others suffering from debilitating diseases. There’s one wrinkle: laws still prohibit assisting in another’s death.

Turning this into a story, what if someone wants out of an apparent utopia?

Borrowing from Brave New World, the main character sees through the illusion of the apparent “perfect society” and decides he no longer wants to participate. 

In this world, family bonds are nonexistent—citizenship takes priority. Everyone lives under constant stimulation from both entertainment and various state-provided drugs.

The book begins when advanced surveillance captures the protagonist’s first attempt at suicide. They transport him into their form of suicide watch. Then, the legal battles begin.

His lawyer is provided by the state, given the job with the expectation he’ll fail because he’s new and inexperienced. The lawyer’s particular skill? How much he cares. He tries to convince the main character there’s a point in living.

The main character has a series of suicide attempts thwarted—a play on brushes with death common in thriller stories.

The lawyer wins the case during the final battle, and preparations are made for the assisted ending of the main character’s life.

At the end of the book and the main character’s life, he decides he “might miss this place” as his eyes close.

A hidden message on Mars?

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NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover landed on Mars on 2.18.21 after a journey lasting over six months. NASA released the video of its descent, including a view of the parachute attached to the rover.

It’s a red and white parachute. At first glance, it looks like a random pattern. But hidden inside the colors is a message left using binary code. It says “Dare Mighty Things” and gives the GPS coordinates of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the quote is their slogan).

Turning this into a story, what if a message like this started a worldwide scavenger hunt?

The world’s richest man has passed away. His will says that his fortune goes to whoever follows the clues. The whole world looks for these clues, and a message in a lunar landing holds the first.

The main character would be a poor student obsessed with space—similar to Ready, Player One.

The first clue becomes mainstream after a few days, and by then, he’s already working on the second clue, which happens to be in a city near his home. It’s a wonderful stroke of luck. After he becomes the third person/team to discover the second clue, a wealthy corporation gives him their financial support—a company with an eccentric leader.

The opponents in the story are the teams and people also looking for clues. In the end, it comes to light that the company backing him plans on double-crossing him before he final clue so they can acquire the wealth themselves.

The story could take place worldwide, with 3-5 clues before the final “battle,” which is a logic puzzle similar to the sphinx’s riddle. Better yet, the last clue could be at the sphinx, and everyone gets caught up with the sphinx’s riddle, leaving space for the hero to identify the final clue’s true nature.

In short, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Ready, Player One in a worldwide scavenger hunt.

Scientists pull off communicating with dreamers.

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Researchers figured out how to communicate with people in REM sleep, getting sleepers to answer simple math questions, count flashing lights, and answer yes or no questions.

Before subjects fell asleep, they were told how to answer the questions: eye or facial muscle movements. Then, researchers used audio (words or beeps), visual (flashing lights), or tactile (light touches) cues to ask their questions.

The subjects were woken up after answering the questions and talked about their dreams. There were reports of hearing the narrator’s voice while at a party, seeing flashing overhead lights in a room, and feeling finger taps while fighting goblins.

The questions came through as both overlaid over the dream or came from a source within the dream. Anyone watching WandaVision—think about the agent’s voice coming through the radio.

Turning this into a story, let’s spin this technology further and have a researcher figure out how to insert themselves into the dream.

The story is about the researcher. Each day, they go into other people’s dreams as a form of therapy, helping them deal with PTSD, depression, or anxiety by addressing the trauma beneath.

We see the effects dropping into the dream world has on the researcher as they slowly become burnt out and lose the line between what’s real and what’s a dream. “Inception”, anyone?

The kicker is when a client comes in who uses the researcher to deal with post-war trauma. The researcher suffers their own trauma while helping the man deal with his, and they uncover that their ancestor was in an ancient war—the trauma has passed through the generations.

As the story unfolds, the researcher continues helping people with their own issues and, after work, goes into another dream state where they relive the events from long ago. Let’s call it the Maya battling the Spanish in the 1500s. Like “Assassins Creed,” in book form.

The researcher helps their ancestor end the war in favor of the natives, and they wake up in an entirely different timeline. Then, when they dream, they see their old self, helping people deal with their trauma.

Ribeye without killing cows?

Marcos Hernandez Article

A joint venture between Israel’s Institute of Technology and Aleph Farms created ribeye steak using 3D printing. They claim it’s the world’s first “slaughter free” streak.

For vegetarians for ethical reasons, instead of for dietary concerns, meat might be back on the menu.

The synthetic meat was grown by seeding bovine cells onto a substrate, where they proliferated until the result was indistinguishable from a real ribeye steak. It includes both muscle and fat found in the cut.

This isn’t the first time Aleph Farms grew bovine cells: they did it on the International Space Station in 2019.

This reminds me of “The Fifth Element,” a sci-fi movie classic. There is a scene where the alien visitor puts a small pill/token into a bowl, puts it into a microwave-looking device, presses a button, and out pops a whole chicken.

What if the movie showed the right idea but made it a touch too fast? In a futuristic story, let’s give every home a 3D printer and an ample supply of various types of meat cells: chicken, beef, pork, and fish.

In this world, the population of animals formerly used as meat sources would drastically reduce. Not because they’re slaughtered, but because as the tech became more widely used, the breeding requirements disappeared. Pigs, cows, and chickens are relegated to zoos.

There are zones where the elites can afford this technology, and outside these sequestered areas, the more impoverished populations still engage in small-scale farming.

The main character is a young girl who isn’t content with her life inside the zone and makes her way into the “wild,” where she discovers—and is horrified—with the killing of animals.

While there, she befriends another young girl and has a hard time squaring how someone who seems so normal can eat slaughtered animals. Over subsequent visits, she realizes that the people don’t kill animals because they want to, it’s because they have to if they want meat for their meals.

The world outside the zones is more community-focused and offers love and warmth not seen inside the zones. The girl from the zone is torn between her desire for community and disgust with their way of life.

Over time, the truth comes out that there is a deliberate attempt of the zone’s leaders to ostracize the more impoverished people by limiting their access to the synthetic meat. They claim to care about the animals but continue creating a stratified society where the less-fortunate are treated like beasts and driven to the fringe.

The friend from outside visits the zone and teaches the girl’s family about the true meaning of community. Throughout the first story, the community mindset infects the entire location until the new girl discovers the leaders still eat organic meat, and they kick her out of the sanctuary.

This creates the villain in the second story: the outside girl is determined to get back inside and bring everyone. They end up taking over the zone and distributing the technology into the surrounding area when they find vast reserves of the machines and cells required for synthetic meat.

Following books would be about the ever-larger forces trying to put a lid on the technological spread, and the series would culminate with everyone enjoying access to the technology.

Email sent by leafy greens?

Marcos Hernandez Article

At MIT, scientists won’t be surprised when they find out a field of spinach sent them an email. In fact, they were designed to do it.

The spinach leaves emit a signal using carbon nanotubes whenever they encounter nitroaromatics (explosives). Infrared cameras pick up this signal and send the email.

The plants have two types of nanotubes: one for infrared fluorescent emission and a reference signal that remains unchanged. As nitroaromatics are transported up the root and stem into the leaves, the emission intensity increases.

These results demonstrate the ability of living, wild-type plants to function as chemical monitors of groundwater and communication devices to external electronics at standoff distances.”

What if we turned the dial way up on this tech? Let’s use the coca plant and have them emit a signal whenever they come in contact with a human. The emails are sent to a drug lord using his own plants to identify trespassers on his operation. “Narcos” in a dystopian future.

One issue is the human chemical the plants detect. It could be pheromones, even though the existence of human pheromones is debated.

If the drug lord knows where his workers should be, anyone outside of that area would be a trespasser worthy of being shot.

The main character would be a Pablo Escobar type, known among the region’s poor as a Robin Hood-like character because of his local infrastructure investments but vilified by those in charge of the country.

One of his abilities is his bioengineering skills. Because of his plant-sensors, he’s able to elude capture, and authorities can’t figure out how he does it. Part of the story would be his ongoing research into better plant yields, improved highs from the extract, and eliminating overdoses. In fact, the “no-overdose” cocaine could be why he’s so powerful in the first place.

Each book in the series would have the drug lord dealing with a new enemy, such as a rival cartel or local businessman, with the state and national government serving as the overarching villain throughout the series.

The highest-selling American carmaker makes an all-electric pledge.

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Shelby GT500 Eleanor

GM, the largest carmaker by sales, has pledged to do away with the internal combustion engine by 2035. Put another way, gasoline is out, and electric is in.

GM’s four core brands are Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC. They are known for large pickup trucks, SUVs, and the Corvette.

The switch comes on the tail of news from governments worldwide about their plans to limit the sale of new gasoline-powered cars. The UK has targeted 2030 as the date for switching to all-electric, Japan 2035, and France 2040.

Turning this into a story: what if the world’s best getaway driver refuses to use anything but a gas-powered car in an all-electric vehicle future dystopia?

It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine all cars would be hooked up to internal computers in an electric-car future. As a safeguard against the driver losing control of his vehicle, the unnamed driver doesn’t want to risk using a car with a computer. His weapon of choice? A pre-computer sports car that runs on gas. In a nod to “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” let’s make it a 1967 Mustang Shelby GT500.

Part of the continuous struggles would be finding gasoline in an all-electric future—the gasoline infrastructure is crippled with the lack of new cars. Also, finding people who can repair this type of machine presents challenges. The driver can fix small things but struggles with finding the right parts. A montage scene could be the production of the correct materials and installation.

Each book in the series would have the driver hired by a new criminal or organization. The driver has a “Desperado”-vibe, a loner who blows into town then leaves when his job is done. There would be plenty of driving material for fans of “Fast and Furious,” complete with other team members who have computer expertise and can hack the cars of those chasing the criminals.

The battle of every book is the ultimate escape. In some of the stories, he could get away outright—these would be ones with criminals who have Robin Hood-style motives, criminals the reader ultimately roots for. In others, he cuts a deal to take down evil guys.