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Did you know a fungi can use radiation for fuel?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The discovery of the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans at the Chernobyl power plant has given scientists reason to believe the organism could be of use to humans on the International Space Station (ISS), where astronauts face much higher levels of radiation from the sun. 

The fungi was first described in 1894. Before the Chernobyl discovery, it was known for the negative effects it had on the human immune system. Now, it has been found that the fungus converts radiation into chemical energy using the pigment melanin, allowing it to thrive in areas thought to be devoid of life.

Scientists have derived melanin from the fungus and sent it for testing on the ISS.

Now, how could this be used in a story? Imagine a spacecraft coated with the fungus, absorbing radiation and using it to grow. It would have to be like a double-paned window, so there could be oxygen for the organism, and would therefore have a limited amount of space. One way growth could continue is if there was a continuous belt that moved very slowly, scraping away grown fungus and leaving room for more to grow at the far end. Since it’s dangerous to humans, it could be incinerated as soon as it gets scraped.

This could solve one of two main problems always addressed in stories based in space: the increased solar radiation. The other, decreased bone density, would have to be taken care of, but for a space-faring race there would have to be some loss expected. Might even lead to evolutionary changes over a long enough timescale.

The fungi could play a key role in the story, when, somehow, spores leaving the containment zone and get into the air supply. This could be a part of a horror novel, where this is just one more challenge to be overcome in order to make it out alive. 

If it was to make show up as part of a series, it could be found that somehow a member of the crew who becomes infected is able to use radiation to fuel themselves, leading to a race of humans uniquely suited to life in space. The series could follow the human crew of such a group of humans, who would have no need for food, as they visit other worlds and create new life on a far planet. 

A second novel could focus on their main source of radiation dying out, and them facing their extinction, and further stories could have them stumble upon alien life.

Did you know a discovered skeleton could be from the American Revolutionary War?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The skeleton was discovered beneath a historic house in Connecticut. Three other skeletons were previously found beneath the 18th century house, and experts believe all four could be the remains of soldiers who died during a battle in the area in 1777.

All four skeletons belonged to young men.

Taking this into story mode: this could be a ghost story. Their spirits could survive in the local area and influence events in the area over time. It would require some research, but what if the story is about a place, instead of a particular character? 

In different periods of time, the four ghosts could have influenced major events in the area, with different alliances forming between them as to the proper course of action. There would have to be a rule about no physical manipulation, but if they could infiltrate the dreams of major players they could alter the course of history for the town.

This could be any town, not just the town in Connecticut where the remains were found. Could there be a large-scale history of a city like New York, with vast amounts of spirits involved? Or could it be a smaller town, a fictional town like Macondo from One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the ghosts of ancestors come in to affect the lives of their descendants?

In order to get this to be a series, there would have to be a number of major events chronicled, each one affected by the spirits in different ways.

One feature: when the remains are disturbed, the ghost is sent to the “other side,” unable to affect the town again. 

The main character of the series could be a ghost hunter, someone who is able to sense when ghosts are at work and take steps to remove the influence by moving the skeletons to marked graves.

Maybe the ghosts are granted power when their grave marker disappears, forgotten to the world, and their final rest can only occur when they are given a proper gravestone once more. 

Did you know a virus has halted Chinese wildlife trade?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Wildlife trade in China was rampant due to their desire for traditional medicines and exotic foods.

In what sounds like it came from a doomsday novel, a market in a Chinese province has been ground zero for a new virus which has spread to humans. The fear caused by the virus has crippled travel and shutdown entire cities.

The market, located in the city of Wuhan, had snakes, pangolins, and porcupines available for sale.

Activists are calling for the ban on wildlife trade to be made permanent, saying the lack of regulation is systemic and could lead to another similar situation.

Story time: What happens when the entire population of the worlds most populous country are forced to stay home for fear of becoming infected?

What happens to the airline industry? The services industry?

What if this culling, instead of removing humans, is removing unsustainable businesses/practices, like the wildlife trade?

Could there be a resurgence? Would quality businesses then thrive from lack of competition, surging to the top and leading to new levels of growth?

A renaissance of Chinese businesses? The Chinese government could and would subsidize these ventures, leading to their international dominance. 

And what would a world look like where China was the leading technological power, instead of the United States? 

Did you know humans are still evolving?

Marcos Hernandez Article

It’s no surprise humans today look different than members of the same species who lived as hunter-gatherers before the agricultural revolution. Food access and lifestyle alone could account for much of the difference. 

This article lays out three way humans are still evolving. 

Core temperature is going down, from 98.6 degrees to 97.9 degrees, according to a recent study. This has led to a decrease in caloric requirements to heat our bodies.

Lactose intolerance has decreased. In the past, a humans ability to handle the sugar stopped after adolescence. Now, many people are able to drink milk and eat ice cream.

Bone density has decreased. This is a result of lifestyle, with modern humans not needing to perform as much physical activity on a daily basis.

This got me thinking. What are the other ways humans are evolving? More importantly, when coming up with story ideas, what was could humans still evolve.

Could the prevalence of screens cause a decrease in the ability to see far away? This wouldn’t be hard to detect, and could point to a future when humans no longer have the ability to see what isn’t right in front of them

More impactful, what if humans evolve to have different memory capabilities than we do now? The memorization of facts is useless, since all information is a quick search away. Likewise, with the ability to take pictures coupled with the lack of danger in modern society, there is no reason to observe the surroundings. What kind of children, and adults, would these traits produce?

Putting this into a story, there could be a future world where humans are similar to lambs for slaughter, ready for attack. Think Mongols, outsiders, barbarians, and politicians in this world offer protection in exchange for the ability to stay connected to screens in blissful ignorance. The story could focus on two young men/women, one inside and one outside. The one inside rejects the screens and is able to help protect the weaker humans, and the one outside (the barbarian) dreams of a life attached to a screen, unhappy with the physical nature of his culture. At the end of the book there could be an alliance OR books one and two could focus on each character and in book three the strike an alliance.

Did you know a gaming hotel is coming to Phoenix?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Atari has licensed its name to a series of hotels, eight in total, across the US. The biggest draw will be their focus on gaming.

Each will come with an esports studio and Atari gaming playground. Most assume the playground would be where average hotel guests would be able to find a gaming pc to spend their trip.

There’s also word that Super Nintendo World will open at Universal Orlando in 2023. The first version of the attraction is set to open in Japan, in 2020, before the concept travels across the Pacific.

All I have to say is: FINALLY! I’ve been clamoring for a vacation catered to gamers. I don’t spend much time gaming, just one day per week, but it’s hands down my favorite way to unwind. A visit to one of these destination, probably both, is in certainly in my future.

Two story ideas come to mind. In the first, it’s a classic murder-mystery, set during a major gaming championship. A cast of interesting characters, a murder weapon, an amateur sleuth.. this could be fun, and kick off a series of murder mysteries at various locations around the world, the same concept again and again. This type of story is so bingeable that it wouldn’t be hard to find a readership

The second story idea is if this technology is taken to the limits. What if nobody needs to travel anymore because they can go to the hotel, be kept on life support, and log into a virtual world? Better yet, what if there is an android for hire at their destination, complete with human-level dexterity and capabilities. OR, with androids that have abilities far-exceeding humans. There could be a whole subplot about whether or not anyone you meet is an android (ahem, The Hysteria of Bodalís) and the results of spending too much time plugged in. The major event that occurs at the midpoint of the story could be the removal of a power source, or a running out of credits, forcing the hero to achieve his goals/quest/desires outside virtual reality, in his own skin, after ignoring the development of his natural body for a prolonged period of time.

Did you know ocean acidification dissolves the shells of crabs?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has come out with a new study detailing how the increased acidity of the Pacific Ocean has caused shell damage to Dungeness crabs. 

As a native Marylander, it’s no stretch to imagine the same phenomenon happening here. 

When crabs have to devote more of their resources to the development of their shells, they won’t grow as large. Ask anyone who eats Chesapeake blue crabs and they’ll tell you, the average size has gone down. (Note: this could also be because of a number of other factors; the Chesapeake Bay has seen its fair share of struggles with pollution and overfishing)

This phenomenon, the disintegration of exoskeletons, was already found in various forms of plankton.

Ocean acidification occurs when there is an increase in dissolved carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide is released by the burning of fossil fuels.

One potential solution: GMO crops with enhanced carbon-storing capabilities. Their root systems would be responsible for the trapping of the excess gas, helping to keep it out of the atmosphere. 

Another solution, one that strikes at the heart of the problem: increased efficiency of energy sources that don’t rely on burning fossil fuels. A molecule has been created from the element rhodium which absorbs up to 50% more solar energy than today’s solar cells. Scaling this technology could provide a way out of the carbon problem by using the sun for a greater amount of the world’s energy needs.

This could create a story world in which humans can power all their devices without harming the planet. Flexible battery technology has just been announced, which could mean a much more connected future, with smart clothing now possible. This would just increase the energy demand required by each human. It brings to mind Neuromancer by William Gibson, or Death’s End by Cixin Liu, in which humans and machines are so interconnected the line separating them becomes blurred.

Imagine an entire culture surrounded by the GMO crops, where their ability to store carbon makes them protected by the government. Humans could be centralized in cities, with vast tracks of land dedicated to the GMO plants and high-efficiency solar cells. Then, we could not only stop the increased carbon, but reverse it. 

The series of stories could be a sci-fi western, where a lone hero goes from city to city in this futuristic world and helps the locals in their fight against those in power, performing extractions of people falsely imprisoned, and using their gifts with a weapon to complete missions, similar to a video game.

Better yet, what if this was written as a video game?

Did you know a liver can exist outside a body for a week?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Scientists have been able to keep a liver alive outside a body with a new machine designed to promote successful liver transplants. Somehow, it seems to improve the quality of the organ as well.

The machine mimics the conditions of a natural body, relying on algorithms to make sure all the proper conditions are met without the need for human supervision. It was tested on pig livers first, then on human livers deemed too risky for transplants.

This technology could revolutionize the market for liver transplants by extending the window from 24 hours to a full week. Average wait time for a liver is up to a year.

If the technology works, it could set the stage for a story in which organs are kept in storage for up to a year. Would this much time be enough to allow all people waiting for transplants to receive one? If so, what would happen without a wait list? Would people not have the same aversion to common behaviors which affect the liver, like alcohol consumption? The world could be a bunch of drunks, a wild west of sorts. Out of this world could rise a lone western hero, one who refuses to partake, rises to fame, then becomes the leader of a group of counter-culture individuals, like a reverse Joker. 

Elvis didn’t drink, and met Nixon about promoting a sober agenda.

Taking another route, what if all organs could be transplanted after an indefinite amount of time? Or multiple organs? Or bodies? If someone was about to die, could they receive a new body, choosing from a freezer full of potentials?

This could be an interesting series, where the hero of the story explores what it’s like to live his final days, doing whatever his heart desires, unaware of the possibility to receive a new body. Or maybe it’s a contest to receive the new body, with only one winner in a death game, and his decision early on forced his participation. In the end its revealed there is an entire bunker full of bodies waiting to be transplanted, and in subsequent books the hero works to unravel 1) a lingering problem the previous owner of the body got his or her self into and 2) the repercussions of being the reason he was forced into the death game in the first place, maybe the revenge of a loved one.

Did you know the planet can’t sustain the American diet?

Marcos Hernandez Article

According to scientists, the planet wouldn’t be able to handle everyone on Earth eating like an American. It isn’t close either; the planet would need an entire extra third of the surface area of Earth to produce enough food.

It comes down to the amount of meat prevalent in a Western diet and the costs to produce the vast quantities required if all humans could afford to eat the same way. 

Researchers in Poland came to this conclusion after measuring the carbon footprint required to produce meat, taking air, land, and water pollution into account. Their suggestion: everyone cut back on their meat consumption. 

As a meat eater myself, I don’t understand vegan/vegetarian diets unless they are undertaken for ethical reasons, both animal welfare and reduction of carbon footprints. Otherwise, it’s a suboptimal way to eat for health.

They say beef production is the most expensive, from an ecological point of view. 

In a related article, news has surfaced that our current food systems can only handle a population of 3.4 billion people. This is a problem, since the Earth is home to 7.5 billion humans. 

According to the article, there would have to be a major restructuring of diets (limiting meat intake) and food development, in which case approximately 10 billion people could be fed. This population is projected to be reached in 2050.

These two articles imply a future in which humans are forced to ration meat or create their own in a lab. In a dystopian future, is it such a reach that there are wars not for resources that have value themselves but for the resources needed to produce food for growing populations? The stage could be set in 2049, a year before critical mass is met.

Land would be at a premium, with the world transformed into the haves and the have-nots. Fast forward another generation or two and the richer countries could open a health gap between themselves and their poorer counterparts.

The main character of the story could be a Herbert Hoover type. During The Great War (WWI), Hoover was responsible for getting food to starving Europeans. He rode these humanitarian efforts into prominence and was eventually elected to be President of the United States without having voted in a single election during his previous life.

A fictionalized version of Hoover, set in a food-scarce future, where he rises to fame helping inhabitants of food deserts. The same trajectory, maybe with a tragic ending so he can die/retire a hero.

Did you know a NASA intern found a new planet?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The intern was 17, still in high school, and had been on the job for less than a week.

He was analyzing a series of data and found a system that looked like it had two strangely behaving stars. After bringing his finding to the attention of his mentor, the process to confirm the finding began.

While this article doesn’t provide much for an series, this could be a good beginning of a story. What if alien life chose this young man to find their planet, knowing he would be the one who could save them. Or bring about Earth’s destruction.

This could bring about a race between two factions, similar to The Three Body Problem, with one group thinking we should contact the aliens and the other wanting to hide. 

The one assumption I would want to throw into this concept is how time isn’t linear for the alien civilization. If they can see the future and the past the same way humans can look into the horizon, the selection of this student would bring about their desired future.

This brings in another idea I’ve been playing around with: what if there are alien ships surrounding the Earth in the future, or the past, and they’re just waiting for humans to be able to see through time? their existence would be in another dimension, and humans either would learn to travel through time and meet them OR they would get their at the slow pace of their own time and show up immature, by alien civilization standards.

It all comes down to humans hatching from the egg of their existence, the shell being time itself.

This concept has gotten off course but if this young man was chosen, by aliens or an AI, to find the planet I’m curious as to what will happen to him. I might have to write his story to find out. 

Oh yeah, if it’s an AI, it would have to be a calculation to bring about the most probable future instead of aliens who can see through time.

Did you know older tractors are being sought after by midwest farmers?

Marcos Hernandez Article

In auctions across the United States, modern farmers are opting to purchase tractors built before 1980, foregoing the latest computer technology. Their logic? By equipping their farms with the older machines they can save on repair costs.

Modern tractors are filled with computers, monitoring all the moving parts and telling users when repair is needed. However, if these machines DO break, farmers are dependent on repair specialists, instead of being able to fix it themselves.

This got me thinking. What if everyone trended towards older machines? Personally, I often find myself wishing my 2006 car had less computerized parts. Repair costs go down with less complexity so these machines are a better option over the long haul.

There could be a series of stories following small-town Americans. Initally, they are enchanted by the prospect of mechanical tractors, and in the end of the first book these mechanical parts could save the farm against a larger, more modern operation. Like Dodgeball, for farms instead of gyms.

Then, in future books, this logic could be applied for other parts of the lives of the main characters. Older cars, a shunning of computers.. the pull of the farm and Amish lifestyle has a large pull in today’s fast-paced society, with shows dedicated to a return to a simpler way of life. These shows highlight the relationships between people and their struggle to fit into the rest of the world around them.

To make this into a more sci-fi concept, and therefore something I could write and add to my catalogue, the main characters could choose to use current technology in an advnaced society: preferring to cook their food instead of have it instantly cook (like in the Fifth Element) and wanting to use normal cars when the rest of the world has hovercrafts.

The use of cars when the rest of society uses hovercrafts would provide an interesting backdrop for a series, with the twist being that hovercrafts are taken offline while the cars still run. To furhter the sci-fi nature there could be an overarching AI, one that the main character and his family never plugs into, and since they havent been analyzed they are the only ones who can save the world.