Scientists pull off communicating with dreamers.

Marcos Hernandez Article

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?

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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.

A fossilized dinosaur butt teaches scientists about dinosaur sex.

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dinosaur cloaca

The cloaca is an opening found in non-mammal vertebrates that enables urination, defecation, and sex. A fossilized cloaca, a rare finding, was found in northeastern China and is currently in Germany.

Based on the tissues, scientists believe both odor and visual signals informed potential mates about the dinosaur’s willingness for sex.

In another story (might seem unrelated at first, but you’ll see where this is going soon enough), a Harvard professor claims an asteroid called “Oumuamua” is really an alien spacecraft.

There are several reasons why he makes this claim, all based on peculiarities of the space object. It ultimately boils down to which is more likely: a strange asteroid or an alien spacecraft?

Turning this into a story: what if Oumuamua really is an alien spacecraft, and they are all shocked when they discover human females have two orifices for the three biological functions?

This would be a first-contact story and create a new story world for a series. The aliens have traveled to many solar systems and contacted numerous lifeforms, and earth is the first planet where the dominant lifeform doesn’t have a cloaca.

The hero of the story is a young scientist responsible for showing one of the alien visitors—who is left as an ambassador—around the earth, showing them our way of life. Think “Coming to America” meets “Dude, Where’s My Car?”

It’s discovered that aliens have already infiltrated earth and exist disguised as humans, similar to “Men in Black.” The scientist and his guest are responsible for finding and thwarting the disguised alien’s attempts at signaling for their brethren, who would come destroy the world.

Every book in the series would involve finding and stopping a disguised alien, each time interrupting their plans for signaling outer space.

A Pacific Northwest poaching ring was taken down.

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game warden holding deer skull

A group of hunters on the border between Oregon and Washington was arrested in 2017 for poaching vast quantities of animals. Game Wardens were alerted of the case after local hunters discovered deer carcasses with their heads missing. The case kicked into high gear when they found 27 deer skulls possessed by just two men.

After officials combed through their phone records, they were led to a much larger operation, one that also included killing bears, cougars, and bobcats.

Video evidence revealed children were brought on hunts, that the men murdered defenseless animals at close range, and that they often commanded their dogs to decimate the prey after it was struck down.

The men linked up via Facebook messages, sharing videos and pictures of their merciless killings. With the community fostered by social media, the poachers encouraged nonchalance about the wanton slaughter.

Their rationale behind the killings? The area had a predator problem, decimating the local deer and elk populations. Yet, they still participated in killing deer and elk themselves.

Exploring a story about game wardens investigating a poaching ring could be the first in a series about wildlife protection agents.

The hero could be a young female agent, a “city girl” running away from her past. Nobody believes in her abilities, but she proves her worth to her colleagues and the community throughout the story.

The villain would be the poachers. The story would unfold over a few months and outline the investigation, with personal threats made by the poachers. One of them could have ties with local authorities or with local elites, making them “untouchable.”

As a huge fan of Rambo—First Blood part 1 took place in the Pacific Northwest—I’d want to include a final battle scene where the game warden has to use her survival skills against the hunters as they close in around her. She doesn’t kill any of them, and by the end, she apprehends the poachers, bringing them to justice.

Other stories could include targeting different types of animals and poachers with varying sets of skills. For example, one is good with knives, one with long-range weapons, one with shotguns. Lastly, the poachers could have various ties with the community: the upstanding citizen, the unassuming restaurant cook, a group of like-minded men disenfranchised with the government and living on the fringes of society.

“Open a new window somewhere in the world.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.