Learn About the Past to Write a New Future with Extra Sci-Fi

By Celia Owens

The next school year is fast approaching, so it’s time to take advantage of the last few dog days of summer. Fire up the grill, have some fun in the sun, and get started on that science fiction novella you’ve been thinking about all summer. Need some more inspiration? The STEM Read Team is here to help with the fascinating Science + Fiction Virtual Webinar Series! Each month authors and scientists meet to discuss how science fiction can help us shape the future.

Fortunately inspiration for fabricating fantastical fables of future phenomena does not have to wait until the next Future Telling Webinar! Student authors can find inspiration by exploring the history of sci-fi with Extra Sci-Fi, a series of short videos that covers everything from the English class classics, to the nearly forgotten works that inspired previous generations. This love letter to all things classic sci-fi was produced by the team at Extra Credits, an educational YouTube channel that produces weekly videos on world history and video game development.

Extra Sci-Fi goes beyond writing analysis to delve into the authors, world events, and philosophies that shaped the genre. Below is a list of some of our favorite Extra Sci-Fi videos along with writing prompts student authors can use to practice their own sci-fi writing skills.

Frankenstein

  •  Mary Shelly set the groundwork for sci-fi by writing a fictional story based on the recent scientific breakthroughs of the time. Create your own short story around a modern scientific breakthrough. Why is the breakthrough you chose important? How will it change the world?
  • Frankenstein’s monster built his life philosophy by reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, Plutarch’s Lives, and Paradise Lost. These three books were important to Mary Shelley, and she included them in her own work to reflect how they had affected her own life philosophy. Write a short story where you are a mad scientist who finds Dr. Frankenstein’s old notes and recreates the monster today. You give your monster three books to read so he forms a healthy outlook on life. What three books do you give your monster? What do you want your monster to learn?
    • Bonus: Give your monster a smart phone with three apps. What apps do you give him and what does he learn about the world from them?

1984

  • George Orwell’s life, philosophy, and writing were inspired by his experience in the Spanish Civil War. What event in your life has shaped your life philosophy? Write a short cautionary tale about a dystopian future where no one learned the important philosophical lessons you did from that event.
  • 1984 is the story of a man who is unhappy living under totalitarian rule, and his struggle to find meaning in a world he finds unjust. Write a short story from the perspective of someone who is content living under the gaze of Big Brother. For example, a powerful politician or a citizen who believes propaganda. What can you learn from writing from their perspective?

Fahrenheit 451

  • Ray Bradbury believed that censorship was only possible when everyone in a society supported it. Imagine the world of Fahrenheit 451 years before the story begins, when books are still legal. Write a short story about how society turned against books. What started the anti-book movement and what made so many people join? Is there any good reason for joining an anti-book movement?
  • After the one-day war, the main character of Fahrenheit 451 helps rebuild society with his fellow book advocates. Write a short story set 100 years later in a world where reading books is the only leisure activity, and your main character finds an old form of entertainment in the ruins of a city. What do they find? What happens when they take it back home and show it to others?

Ursula K. Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness

  • Ursula K. Le Guin wrote stories based on her own experience that expanded the genre of sci-fi. In The Left Hand of Darkness, she combined her childhood memories of studying anthropology with her perspective as a feminist author. Write a short story set in the near future, and the main character is writing a report about you for a school project. What unique perspective did you bring to your stories? How did your work change the genre of sci-fi?
  • Le Guin created the planet in The Left Hand of Darkness to present her readers with a world that did not follow traditional gender norms. Write a short story where another Ekumen envoy lands on a different planet that refuses to join the planetary confederacy. Why do the residents of your planet decline? What could your readers learn from this strange new world?

Forgotten Foundations – The authors of these sci-fi classics valued creative ideas over accessible storytelling, so their work did not become popular outside of the most dedicated sci-fi fans. However, their willingness to explore all the weird potential in sci-fi went on to inspire generations of authors and lead to common sci-fi tropes like cryptid investigators and robot rebellions.

  • Do you believe it is important to write on the cutting edge, even if it means your work will not be popular? Think of an idea you have avoided writing about in the past because it was “too weird” and write a short story around it.
  • Experimental sci-fi authors did not just explore new stories. They also explored new ways to tell stories! An unfinished play, a travel log, and a romance novel with a prophetic twist are all unique ways of telling sci-fi stories. Write a short story in a way you have never written before. How did a different style of writing change the story?