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I have a problem.  I have this song stuck in my head.

When you get a song stuck in your head, what do you do?  I generally hum or sing it incessantly for a few days, annoying the people around me, until I eventually manage to get rid of it (usually by replacing it with something else, which doesn’t actually help).

But I digress.

The point of this post is to wonder whether there is a story idea in this.  An unscrupulous advertising agency comes up with a song which is guaranteed to stick in people’s heads.  Probably by using some scientific method of stimulating brain waves in specific ways.  They intend to sell the song and/or method to the highest bidder to use with their adverts, but the government hears about it and sends agents to capture the lead scientist and force him to work for them.  Much running, hiding, lying, and other such shenanigans* ensue.


* On a completely unrelated note, my spellchecker recognises “shenanigans”.  I didn’t know it was a real word (though I’ve been using it for years).  Apparently it means “secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering, or silly or high-spirited behaviour”.

This guy, David Weinberg, is a radio producer.  It wasn’t always so – he used to be too shy to do interviews, and afraid that his stories would be boring and pointless.  He came up with an intriguing solution.

For three years, he wore a wire and secretly recorded every conversation he had.

He makes a few interesting points in the article, about the ethics of the situation, and whether it was worth it or not.  The one that strikes me most is this one:

The other problem with trying to record everything is that you have to listen to it.

Whatever you are recording better be damn good or part of a great story, because every second that the red light is on is a second being taken away from your life, because you have to listen to it later.

It occurs to me that the same could be said for writing a diary.  How often do you go back and read old diary entries?  I know a lot of mine begin with the phrase “work was ok” – as if I’m obligated to mention that I went to work, but there really isn’t anything interesting to say about it.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s a point in mentioning it at all.  Is there even any point in writing a diary?  In this world of frantically doing a million things, it’s nice to sit down and reflect on them, but if nobody ever reads it is it worth the effort?

Back to David Weinberg, it could be an interesting story – the man who records everything.  He accidentally records something he shouldn’t have – a meeting between spies, a criminal act, an illicit meeting between desperate lovers – and becomes embroiled in a plot which could end with… well, who knows?

This article in the New Scientist is all about how exercise affects the body and the improvement in health that it causes.  What caught my attention, however, was not the scientific details (interesting though they are) but the dramatic way in which the article starts:

IT’S 9 am in the office – time for my daily medication. As usual, I slink off to the fire escape for my fix. Twenty minutes later, I’m back at my desk, brimming with vitality and raring to go.

The image of him sneaking off as if taking some exercise is something to be ashamed of stuck in my head.  It brought to mind a future in which everyone has become immensely lazy (not so different from today, really), so much so that taking exercise would make you the odd one, the social outcast.  What would it be like to be a person in that society who had discovered they enjoyed exercise?  How would that even happen?

Imagine: a woman is driving across the country to meet with someone and her car breaks down.  She knows that it will be days until she is found by another person (and for some reason she has no phone), so she has to walk to the nearest town.  It’s only a mile or two, but she is so unfit that it takes hours and she is exhausted.  She expects to feel horrible, but the next day she discovers the deep bone-aching exhaustion somehow makes her feel more alive.  She walks again, and again, sometimes to get places, sometimes for no reason.  Her neighbours start to look at her oddly, and children won’t play with her kids any more.  What happens next?

There’s also the effect of all that laziness on the nation’s health to consider – exercise decreases the risk of heart disease, various types of cancer, dementia, and so on, and also increases memory and concentration.  With exercise removed, there would be more illness, and fewer people who had the concentration to get through medical school.  I sense a descending spiral of doom here.

Here’s the second random idea from the archive:

Write a story where men and women are segregated so much that they are literally from different planets*.  You’ll need a believable reason why this has come to be.

* Inspired, of course, by the title of a certain book about Mars and Venus.

We’re well on our way, it seems, to using UAVs to help co-ordinate disaster responses.  The UAVs, designed by Professor Nick Jennings as part of the Orchid research project, are semi-intelligent and can co-ordinate as a team to help the humans better.

I’d like to see a story from the point of view of one of the drones.  If they’re semi-intelligent, it can’t be that long before they’ll have a point of view, can it?

Alternatively, we build a huge fleet of them to help with disasters, but they get fed up and take over the world.  Not original, I know, but there’s a reason it’s been done so often!

A new aquifer has been discovered in Namibia.  It could provide water for the northern region (40% of population) for 400 years at current rates of consumption.

There are fears that unauthorised drilling could allow the smaller salty aquifer that sits on top of it to contaminate the supply, which is currently potable.

I’ve two thoughts:

If we’ve only just discovered this much water hiding under a country, how much else is there out there to discover?

And, how many stories could be inspired from this one little discovery?  You could have the large political drama about the use of the water that was discovered.  Or a smaller story about the fortunes of one family in the area and how it affects them.  Or a family who move to the area because of it and discover that it’s not that much different.  Or… the possibilities are endless.

How many more can you think of?

Wow, these guys are insane.  Brave, but insane.

They’re attempting to beat the record for highest free fall – currently standing at a staggering 24.5 kilometres.  The mind boggles.

Repeated attempts to jump from ridiculous heights have taught us a lot about how to survive it – don’t open the parachute straight away (you’ll take too long and freeze to death), and use a smaller “drogue” chute to stabilise you so you don’t spin too much, to name just two.

What really caught me about the article, though, was the story about a previous attempt, in 1966 by Nick Piantanida.  It was his third attempt, with mechanical problems on each of the previous ones preventing him completing the mission, and unfortunately this time was no better.

Everything was going according to plan, with the gondola at 17.5 kilometres on the way up, when the ground crew heard a sudden whoosh on the radio, followed by Piantanida’s startled voice: “Emergen…”

He never completed the word.

Not to make light of the tragedy, but I’m wondering; the crew came to the conclusion that there was a mechanical failure, but what if he’d seen something that startled him?  Could there have been some aliens flying by, or something more sinister?


Apparently, yob culture affects 1 in 5 businesses in the UK, and costs on average £20,000 per company affected.  And they expect the cost to rise as the economic situation continues.

Mostly it’s broken windows and doors, and graffiti, but also petty theft and intimidation.
So I was wondering, would there be a point where there were so many young people out of work that the yob-damage overtook the economic benefits of businesses, and everything collapsed in an ever decreasing spiral of despair?  It might be interesting to do a story from the point of view of one of the yobs, who doesn’t think anything of the broken window that was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused the collapse of western civilisation.

How would it feel to be that person?  Would they ever find out that they were responsible?

Is the quest for immortality wasteful?  This interview with nonagenarian philosopher Mary Midgely agrues that it is, although I’m not sure she’s using the same definition of “wasteful” as I am.  Ultimately, her argument seems to boil down to “there are too many people already, living longer doesn’t guarantee better quality of life, and the prospect of dying concentrates the mind on all the good stuff you could do before then”.

Long lives and the absence of disease are common topics for fiction, from Ancient Greeks to Captain Jack Harkness, not to mention the more obvious examples.  It’s one subject on which everyone is practically guaranteed to have an opinion.

So what do you think?  Is immortality desirable?  Should we all die after a set number of years?  Does it depend on other factors?  Start your debate in the comments!

There is a council estate in Scotland where 80% of the primary school children play musical instruments.  It started as part of an experiment when Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh, noticed that although the council were putting lots of effort into physical regeneration of the area, there was almost no spend on spiritual regeneration.  He had seen a similar scheme in Venezuela, La Sistema, and decided to try it in Scotland.

So now 450 children practice musical instruments after school three times a week, are in an orchestra, and are demonstrating increased confidence, better concentration in school, and all sorts of other benefits.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose own musical education began in a Sistema when he was five years old, is patron of Sistema Scotland and has been keeping a keen eye on its progress.

The charismatic 31-year-old says: “Music can change society. It changes family and community because they have access to beauty, to sensibility, to creativity and to discipline. These are elements for a good citizen of the world.”

The benefits are not just limited to the children – the adults are getting involved as well, with their own orchestra and music lessons.

The organisers expect many more Big Noise orchestras to errupt over the next few years.

I wonder what the world would be like if in some estates and villages everyone was in an orchestra?  If the trend was not limited to the musical arts, but grew to include dance, drama, painting, sculpture, and writing?  What if, in the future, every estate, every village, had a focus?

I could see it being an interesting place to live.  Your neighbours would all have similar interests to you, and moving house would be a lot more complex as you would need to consider the artistic focus of your new area as well as what the houses were like.  And then of course there would be the pushy parents, who would choose where to live based on what they thought their children should be learning, not just at school like at present, but in the arts.

If the foster care system did not adapt with it, imagine the fate of a child who lost their parents.  Not only would they have to deal with emotional trauma from that, but every time they moved foster carers they might end up in a different artistic focus area.  There’s a story in there somewhere, I’m sure!

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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