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“Open a new window somewhere in the world.”

Marcos Hernandez Article

WindowSwap is a website where users submit ten-minute clips of their view from wherever they are in the world. It grew in popularity in the middle of the pandemic, a way for would-be travelers to see the world beyond their immediate surroundings.

In seconds, website visitors can see New Jersey, Milan, Minsk, then London.

It’s a profound way of inspiring sonder, the sense that everyone else in the world has a life as complex as your own.

For me, it’s incredible to imagine just how many people there are in the world.

Turning this into a story: what if humans could travel between these windows in an instant?

It reminds me of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Specifically, the story about Brawne Lamia. In it, there’s a technology called farcasting. In essence, portals allow for instant transport across vast distances.

A vital part of the story and why the technology was never explained is that farcasting was given to humanity by artificial intelligences.

Since the technology is so far-fetched, any story I write would have to include a gift of the technology or make the technology so commonplace that no one bothers explaining it. Think about cars. Nobody bothers describing how they work; they’re just taken as a common occurrence.

The story would be about a private investigator who takes a case from a classic damsel in distress. The woman’s husband has gone missing. The investigator discovers he had made frequent trips to a small town. The further inquiry leads to the discovery that the town has its own mystery: the murder of a prominent community member.

A small-town, Sherlock Holmes-style mystery meets science fiction.

The husband ends up being dead, murdered by the local after discovering the community member’s attempt at buying the entire town. Eventually, the story comes out that the local was murdered because of infidelity, having nothing to do with the husband in the first place.

Further books in the series could take inspiration from Sherlock Holmes, mixing in the instant transport during key chase scenes. Clues could include Carmen San Diego style artifacts, with the investigator traveling worldwide in the hunt for the criminal.

A 6-figure painting was found in a dumpster.

Marcos Hernandez Article

A surrealist painting worth 340k was found in a paper recycling dumpster outside a German airport.

The story began when a businessman left a surrealist painting worth $340k behind in the airport. He contacted the German airport when he landed, and they couldn’t locate the forgotten item. Eventually, the police reached the sanitation company that takes care of the airport’s trash. Together, they found the painting in the dumpster.

What I want to know: who’s the employee who thought it was a good idea to put the painting in the recycling bin?

It would be interesting if the entire situation was part of a heist. What if the thief was waiting to retrieve the artwork and his plan was foiled at the last second?

An exciting story is if a sanitation worker realizes the painting is valuable and decides to return it to the owner. Using his contacts within the airport, he finds out where the traveler landed and sets off on a trip with his best friend to return the artwork.

They deal with the thief hot on their tail during their trip, trying to get the painting back. The key to the story is the sanitation worker never realizes they are in danger—a grown-up “Dumb and Dumber,” with the artwork as the briefcase of cash.

During their trip, they meet different types of people. One of them recognizes the painting but doesn’t say anything.

The story culminates at the businessman’s destination. The ally they met along the way turns up again to save them and the thief is taken to jail.

Further books in the series could follow the pair as they try and do good deeds but, unbeknownst to them, they end up in danger every time. For example, helping find a rare missing dog or ending up as stowaways on a stolen yacht–common white-collar crimes where the villains don’t want their cover blown.

A TV producer is poisoned in an attempted murder.

Marcos Hernandez Article

Netflix is making an adaptation of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Their newest problem: the attempted murder of one of the show’s producers.

Authorities in Shanghai have a suspect in custody, one of the producer’s associates. They’re chalking it up to a professional dispute.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy (read it if you haven’t; it’s fantastic). It tells the story of an alien invasion from a nearby star system.

Turning this into a story: the author of a book written about an alien race among us is mysteriously murdered when his book is released. Available only in digital at first, the book gains fame because of the untimely death, then is turned into a movie, and executives creating the film are murdered one by one.

It’s a murder-mystery story, with aliens.

The detective has to figure out if the aliens are responsible for the murders; are they attempting to limit the knowledge of their existence?

Potential aliens could be those who can take on a human form or exist in another dimension alongside us. One interesting concept would be if they live in another time but can travel through the fourth dimension just like we travel in our 3-dimensional world.

Similar to “The Ring,” but instead of consuming the information leading to death, the driver is attempted propagation of the knowledge.

Part of the story could involve the detective investigating both the murders and the presence of aliens in the first place.

The opponents are the potential suspects: rival movie studios and fellow sci-fi authors. The battle occurs when they are arrested, but the detective’s work in finding out about the aliens leads to a revelation at the end of the book: the aliens are real, and they’re walking among us.

The second book in the series dives into the alien threat and what the detective does with the knowledge. He becomes the murder target. All attempts are carried out by humans, so the aliens can maintain their secret.

In the third book, a child is found who can identify the aliens. The aliens turn their target on the kid, and the detective takes steps to keep him alive.

Future books could be about the detective and child fighting back against the aliens, who have infected every aspect of human life. One story could be about an alien who wants to expose his true identity to the world, and the pair have to save them from their fellow aliens.

The great thing about this story? The initial book about the aliens, their world’s mechanisms, and how they came to Earth in the first place is already written and wouldn’t require an in-depth explanation.

Ancient Aztecs built a tower using human skulls.

Marcos Hernandez Article

A tower made of human skulls was first found beneath Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015. A new report details the identification of 119 more skulls, bringing the total to 600. The skulls belonged to men, women, and children and were bonded together with lime.

The Metropolitan Cathedral was built over the ruins over three centuries, from 1573-1813.

The tower was built at the end of the 1400s, right around the time Columbus landed in the New World. The conquistador Hernan Cortes was on the horizon; he marched on the Aztec capital in 1519.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History notes that the Aztecs saw the macabre creation as a celebration of life, regardless of current attitudes about the grisly structure.

Turning this into a story: what if someone told the story of every single skull used in the tower’s construction? Short snippets of each person’s life, where they came from, what they did, how they died.

The storyteller is a scribe tasked with preserving their memory. In the beginning, we learn his skull is the last one placed in the tower, the capstone placed on top by the ruler of the Aztec empire.

The story would highlight daily life in Aztec Mexico before colonizers disrupted their culture. The stories of entire families, warriors, and bureaucrats would be told, with the tower and its construction unifying them all.

A driving force in the story could be a prophesied end of times event, which readers will know is the arrival of Europeans. While the event wouldn’t appear in the novel, it’s proximity on the horizon dictates all their actions.

The primary opponent could be an Aztec priest who wants the skulls used in another ritual. The scribe outlines the fight between the tower’s makers and the priest who opposes it’s construction between stories about individual skulls. The final battle takes place before the ruler of the Aztec empire, who decides the tower’s construction will commence with the collected skulls.

Ultimately, the dissenting priest’s skull is added to the structure as well.

Further books in the series could highlight different Aztec structures, telling the story of their creation or use. The series would culminate with the arrival of Cortes and the subsequent destruction of the Aztec relics.

A Chinese tech company develops face-scanning for a minority population.

Marcos Hernandez Article

The Washington Post reports that Chinese tech giant Huawei has developed face-scanning technology that identifies Uighur Muslims and alerts police. Reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, the technology has been in use since 2018.

The artificial intelligence surveillance system can scan a crowd and determine age, sex, and ethnicity.

Uighurs live in northwest China and have been detained in Chinese re-education camps, drawing the ire of human rights activists worldwide.

On reports of the news, soccer superstar Antoine Griezmann has cut ties with Huawei. He was a global ambassador for the company.

Let’s turn this into a new story, tying in the pandemic: What if there’s a way for an AI system to determine who’s sick, alerting local authorities and forcing them to quarantine?

It’s an excellent start to a surveillance state. It sets up the misuse of the technology through a unified effort from the company and their government.

In this scenario, people wouldn’t even have to adopt a new wearable tech or allow tracking via phone; the government would know their movements based on the cameras.

At first, companies can also leverage the data from the AI to sell more products through targeted ads with greater relevance. For example, they would see you shopping for shoes, then serve ads from shoe companies. This is similar to Google’s tracking, except it would transfer over to the real world.

Most would find the transition seamless and benefit from the increased relevance of products served to them on social media.

But what if the AI started pouring resources into high-spending people, ignoring those with less disposable money? Over time, they are left out of the surveillance complex and left to their own devices.

This would set up a stratified world between those who can afford to feed data to the AI and those who live on the fringes, made literal by their physical separation.

The hero of the story could be a wealthy young man who wants to learn more about the people who live “on the other side.” He tries visiting the areas that spend less and is ostracized because of how many ads are served to him on billboards and television.

In short, everyone in the less-wealthy parts of the state is exposed to his ads because the system knows he’s the only one who spends.

The story can hinge on him wanting to get out of the surveillance state, going so far as to get underground cosmetic surgery. He has a choice near the end: save the woman he loves by revealing his access to medical care or letting her die and preserving his anonymity. At the end of the novel, he’s discovered in his new skin.

Further books in the series would be about him battling the AI, first trying to get them to help those previously ignored, then taking down the entire system himself.

AI solved biology’s 50-year-old problem.

Marcos Hernandez Article

Google’s DeepMind has solved protein folding, a problem that has vexed scientists since 1972.

Proteins are made up of long strings of amino acids that fold into unique shapes. These shapes determine how a protein functions. By knowing the shape of particular proteins, scientists can figure out how a molecule will bind to it, leading to disease research and treatment improvements.

Their predictions have an average error of 1.6 Angstroms, or about the width of an atom.

DeepMind rose to fame when AlphaGo beat a human champion in the complex game of Go in 2016. The company took a similar approach to both challenges: training a neural network with vast amounts of information about the problem.

Turning this into a story, what if there’s a future world where all human scientists wait for artificial intelligence’s solution to their research problems? Instead of embarking on years of research, they simply plug the data into the neural networks and take action on the results. There could be multiple versions from competing companies.

Then, someone finds a way to upload their own consciousness into this world of artificial intelligences. “The Wizard of Oz” meets “Tron.”

The challenges from “The Wizard of Oz” are recreated in a computer simulation world that shares many characteristics with the digital world in Neuromancer by William Gibson.

The initial question the uploaded person wants to be answered is the meaning of life, a nod to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. They meet allies, go through various challenges, and at the end, discover the scary, powerful Oz-type character is, in reality, an old man, like the Architect in “The Matrix.”

The battle of the story could be returning back to the real world.

A second book in the series could be about protecting the digital world from businesses who want to monopolize it for their own private use. A third could be about a new AI system introduced to the digital world that can’t coexist with the others, leading to war inside the system.

The boyhood home of Jesus lies beneath a church.

Marcos Hernandez Article

The Church of the Nutrition–referencing Christ’s nurturing–was a pilgrimage site during the Byzantine period. This church earned its name because it was said to be built atop Christ’s childhood home.

Research published in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, published in 2013, presents evidence that this church lies beneath the Sisters of Nazareth convent in Nazareth, Israel.

And beneath this church lies the remains of a stone building from the first century AD.

University of Reading Professor Ken Dark says the house shows evidence of quality craftsmanship, which would be consistent with reports of Joseph’s trade. His new book, The Sisters of Nazareth Convent: A Roman-period, Byzantine, and Crusader site in central Nazareth, outlines the archaeological evidence accumulated over years of excavation beneath the convent.

The problem? There’s no way this can ever be confirmed.

What if a young boy is born who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and confirms the site as his former home? Similar to the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, or the Avatar.

The story could revolve around the child’s upbringing and attempts to convince the wider world of his legitimacy, told from his view. The Christian church’s political challenges would take front and center in the first book, both among protestants and Catholics. The story could highlight the boys dealing with his status while not yet performing miracles, second-guessing himself despite flashes of his former life.

One of the keys to his memories would be that he has no awareness of events that happen before his current age. For example, at ten, he remembers all of Jesus’s life up to the point Christ was ten.

The second book could be about convincing the Jewish population. Simultaneously, the reincarnated Christ takes steps in his education that put him on a path to performing the miracles ascribed to himself in the past via science.

In the third book, the miracles begin. Mainstream Christianity accepts him first, then the other religions do as well. The world splits into believers and non-believers, causing rifts common in every major institution, like Republicans and Democrats, Protestant and Catholic, Sunni and Shia.

The fourth book, and the rest of the series, could deal with coming to the point up and through Jesus’s crucifixion, where he isn’t killed. He has to figure out, on his own, how to navigate the challenges as the leader of a religion. In the final book, he brings about the prophecies laid out in revelations.

A single gene grows bigger brains.

Marcos Hernandez Article

A team of scientists from Japan and Germany succeeded in making a bigger neocortex in a marmoset fetus by tweaking a single gene.

The neocortex is the part of the brain involved in spatial reasoning and language.

Let the comparisons to replicating human evolution begin!

First, the ethical consideration: the pregnancy was terminated after 100 days.

The difference between a human and monkey brain is more than just size. There are differences in the relative sizes of brain sections, the number of folds present in the brain, and neurons’ production. All of these increased after the gene-altering.

Fun fact: the larger the brain, the more folds are required to fit inside the skull.

Turning this into a story: what if super-smart monkeys take over the world? Oh wait, that’s already been done.

What about an alternate history where it wasn’t just humans who evolved courtesy of the gene? A fantasy story about an Earth populated by the four types of great apes: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans.

The story could start millions of years after the split, in what appears to be a modern world. There are four great civilizations where a specific type of ape is most common. Each of the governments deals with other species in different ways.

Humans keep gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees in designated reserves.

Gorillas allow all species free reign over their lands.

Chimpanzees keep the other apes in separate reserves for each species.

Orangutans subjugate the other species, making them slaves.

The four main characters in the story could be one from each species who discover mental links independent of physical distances. Similar to “Sense8.”

First, they work to find each other. Three then discover that the fourth is held a chimpanzee held in orangutan lands. The first story could revolve around trying to get them free.

Subsequent books could be about running from orangutans trying to recapture the chimpanzee, fighting back against a government organization that wants to recreate their links for their own benefit, and discovering when apes are born with the connection.

A new monkey has been discovered in Myanmar.

Marcos Hernandez Article

The Popa Langur has been confirmed as a new species by a joint effort of scientists from three organizations. The hunt began when bones in a 100-year-old natural history collection were reexamined using modern technology, suggesting the species was separate from other monkeys in Myanmar.

They are named after Myanmar’s Mount Popa, an extinct volcano where the largest group of monkeys live (approx. 100 individuals).

This group makes up nearly half of the existing specimens. Unfortunately, the species is critically endangered–estimates of the total number still in existence range from 200-260.

This got me thinking: what if a human found themselves in a similar situation? Maybe a cohort of 250 is taken into space?

I’m reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time and imagine a similar start to the story. A group of people belongs to a cult that just so happened to be correct about a coming apocalypse. An alien saves the entire group, taking them light years away to a habitat built for them.

Humans have to navigate infringements on their environment by outside companies wanting natural resources, hunting, and losing their main food supplies. In short, everything endangered species deal with now.

The main character would be a child who grows up watching the interaction between the humans in charge and the aliens, the primary contact being between those in preservation groups.

I’m imagining a cross between Octavia Butler’s Dawn and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

This could easily be a series where some group members escape and adapt to life in a city and complete destruction and relocation of their habitat. The eventual assimilation with an alien species would end the human race.

Coronavirus variant spreads from minks.

Marcos Hernandez Article

Twelve people in Denmark have been infected by a coronavirus variant from a new animal carrier: minks. It’s a different type than the one responsible for the pandemic.

Officials aren’t taking any chances with a spreading outbreak and plan to cull the entire mink population.

There’s a potential silver lining from this newly discovered transmission vessel. With any luck, this news will kill rumors about the deliberate spread of COVID-19 from Chinese labs.

 A complete culling of minks on Danish farms will result in the death of between 15 and 17 million animals.

What if a more ubiquitous animal was discovered carrying a virus that could spread to humans? Maybe one that was important for US agricultural production?

In a story based on this scenario, we could look back at a more potent form of mad cow disease. With the entire US cattle population’s culling, a new synthetic type of meat and milk created in a lab would dominate the market.

The main character could be a young girl who raises a cow hidden in a cave, similar to stories of secret dragons. Then, when the animal is discovered, a race to save its life begins. First, with locals who try and kill the cow, then with scientists who want to destroy the last remaining specimen of the species.

The cow and the girl are aided by an underground movement that has been able to keep a few of the animals alive, unknown to mainstream society. The bulk of the novel could be the trip out of US borders, taking the cow to a place either in Canada or Mexico where it could live without worry. Similar to “Free Willy.”

Thinking about the idea further, it could actually be a dragon story and explain why dragons are so rare in the first place. I’ve never written a fantasy story before, but this could be my chance to pay homage to the numerous fantasy movies and novels I read as a child.