Skip to content


Science Fiction Workshop Ideas with Fiona Atchison – 5th October 2022

Not all Laser Guns!

Stardate 76227 – time to boldly go where some of us had never gone before – the infinite realms of a science fiction workshop, led by club member, Litereight writer and self-confessed sci-fi superfan, Fiona Atchison.

Fiona asked, ‘What’s fascinating about sci-fi?’  Good question, because even if we’d never read sci-fi, we’re all bound to have enjoyed sci-fi TV programmes – Dr Who, Lost in Space, Blakes 7, Red Dwarf, Star Trek (cue enthusiastic nods and gasps of, ‘Oooo, yes. I loved that show’), or movies – They Came from Outer Space, War of the Worlds, Back to the Future, Star Wars. Remember the classic, Planet of the Apes? Who could forget the impact of its beach scene with Charlton Heston and the Statue of Liberty?

Isaac Asimov novels and Tomorrow’s World (an old BBC factual series about scientific and technology developments) were responsible for Fiona’s science fiction fixation. What particularly intrigued her about sci-fi was that many outlandish scenarios and technology imagined by writers have come true – think of Captain Kirk’s ‘communicator’ and compare with our mobile phones. If writers had never imagined technology such as video calls, tablets, drones and robots, Fiona asked, would they exist today?

All this led neatly to our first exercise – compiling a list of ten existing technologies/gadgets we’d previously included in our written work. My list consisted of Bluetooth, TV remote control, Fitbit watch, pacemaker. Others listed video games, emails, driverless cars, Satnav and facial recognition technology.

We looked through copies of New Scientist magazine provided by Fiona for gadgets or technological breakthroughs which appealed to us. Fiona then asked us to write the beginning of a short story incorporating one of our finds. A few minutes of head scratching and scribbling later, we were ready to share the results.  Sentient trees communicating on the wood-wide-web from Maggie B, and a universal vaccine to cure all ills but available only to the super-rich from Carey. Nigel used neuroplasticity; a brain and body trained to react against the norm. Maggie M’s character performed yoga movements which were captured and passed on to help another character relax, and Kirsty’s character checked her skin patch which could diagnose infectious diseases. My (unshared) piece was based on harvesting body heat to power LED lights (could come in handy this winter!)

Fiona gave us great tips to generate ideas:

  • Visually inspire yourself – watch science fiction movies/TV.
  • Watch the Gadget Show (Channel 5), Click (BBC News) and similar programmes.
  • Read old and new sci-fi books – see what ideas have been covered.
  • Look for recent breakthroughs via scientific journals/websites.
  • Stay up to date with current world news to use real-life scenarios.
  • Incorporate real science into how your story’s ‘world’ functions.
  • Think ‘What if…?’  to generate plot ideas.
  • Attend the 82nd World Science Fiction Convention at the SEC, Glasgow in 2024, Aug 8-12.

Fiona highlighted six science fiction inventions which all became real:

Credit cards – predicted by Edward Bellamy in his 1888 novel Looking Backward – citizens of a utopian society use cards connected to a bank to purchase goods/services. First credit card appeared in 1950.

Mobile PhonesStar Trek personnel in 1966 used the communicator 30 years before Motorola launched the first flip phone.

3D Printers – Star Trek: The Next Generation used the Replicator to create meals and every day objects. Today we have 3D printers replicating everything from tools to actual houses although not food … yet!

Driverless Cars – the idea of an autonomous car appeared in Philip K Dick’s 1956 short story Minority Report. In reality, the first driverless car was designed in the 1980s and could be operating on UK roads by 2025.

Drones – Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune envisions a tiny ‘hunter-seeker’ assassin drone. Today drones are used for filming, recreation – as well as being utilised for military purposes.

Domestic Robots – appeared in Karel Capek’s 1920 sci-fi play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and the word ‘robot’ stems from the Czech word ‘robotnik’ (meaning – forced worker). Today humanoid robots are being developed for healthcare, public relations, entertainment, manufacturing and many other purposes.

Fiona pointed out there are many types of science fiction to consider. Check out ‘Hard science fiction’, ‘Soft science fiction’, ‘Dystopian’, and ‘Space Exploration’.  And then there are subgenres – science fantasy, sci-fi horror, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, galactic empire, parallel universe and cyberpunk. Phew…the sci-fi possibilities are endless.

Our next exercise came from Fiona’s writing prompts…

Fiona M’s character was ready to hand over a fiver for a trial sample of delicious looking, if slightly charred, negative calorie food (if only!). John’s robot couple were perplexed by a wailing abandoned human baby … ‘Did you find its volume button?’ as were Nigel’s android pair, who were looking for the wee soul’s power source, while Maggie B introduced us to techy aliens getting irate over a game of Monopoly.

Our evening finished with an exercise in world-building for a short story or novel. We made notes on the science we would use, setting, time, inhabitants, storyline and main characters. I must confess my own effort, set on a galactic starship, read a bit like an episode of Star Trek TNG. However, Carolyn’s idea – a young man falling asleep on a train then wakening up and realising he knew everything about everyone he saw and what was about to happen to them in the future – was an interesting premise with lots of scope.

Many thanks to Fiona for an eye-opening and informative workshop. We all left for home brimming with imaginative ideas. But sadly, as I prepared for the long journey across the Ayrshire galaxy to the faraway outpost of Newmilns, I realised I’d forgotten to ask Fiona one question.

Will I ever be able to leave the Mercure and call Scott (my OH) on my ‘communicator’ and say – ‘Beam me up, Scotty’?


Linda Brown

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *