New Scientist Essay Competition

Inspired by a Hebridean friend, writer Robert Macfarlane wrote a book called Landmarks, which we reviewed earlier this year. This was an act of homage to Earth, designed to awaken us to the potential loss of our links to the land, and it contained nine glossaries with thousands of words for precise aspects of land, nature and weather, taken from more than 30 languages and dialects of Britain and Ireland.

After the book was published, Macfarlane came to recognise that a “dark twin” lurked in the shadows, a book that would capture words that belong to the new epoch so shaped by humans that it is named after us – the Anthropocene.

In his essay in our Christmas edition he pondered what the new glossary would look like. What new words will we need to describe the planet? And which words will die? This is your chance to shape the linguistic direction of the Anthropocene.

Please send us up to 50 appropriate words or phrases that you think best describe the planet and our effect on it, and we will publish our favourites in New Scientist. Three lucky winners will receive a copy of Macfarlane’s book Landmarks.


To enter, just email your words, name and contact details to, or click here enter your words now.

Or you can send your entries by post (but please also include your email address) to MacFarlane Anthropocene words competition, CultureLab, New Scientist, 110 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6EU, UK

Terms and conditions

This competition is open to anyone aged 18 or over, except for employees of Reed Business Information Limited and any company involved in the sponsorship of the competition.

Entry is open only to subscribers and registered users. Submit your entry, including your name and email address, via email using the email address or email link provided on the “Macfarlane Anthropocene words competition” page. Entries must be submitted in the name of a single individual. The individual submitting the entry is the only individual who will be entered into the competition.

Only one entry is permitted per person. No purchase is necessary.

New Scientist shall not be responsible for technical errors in telecommunication networks, internet access or otherwise, preventing entry at this website.

Entries must be received by 15 January 2016 at 18:00 GMT. Entries made after this time will not be counted.

Every effort will be made to notify the winner by email by 22 January 2016.

Submitting your entry constitutes your consent for us to use your entry, name and photos (if applicable) for editorial or publicity purposes.

Reed Business Information Limited reserves the right to ask for proof of age and evidence to verify the identity of an entrant at any time, and may use any channels and methods available to carry out checks of any details provided. Entrants may only enter the competition in their own name. Entries submitted through agents or third parties will not be accepted.

You hereby warrant that your entry will not infringe the intellectual property, privacy or any other rights of any third party, and will not contain anything which is libellous, defamatory, obscene, indecent, harassing or threatening.

Winners’ names are available by writing to “Macfarlane anthropocene words competition”, New Scientist, 110 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6EU, UK.

New Scientist reserves the right to change or withdraw the competition and/or prize at any time.

By entering the competition, entrants are deemed to have accepted these terms and conditions.

Reed Business Information Ltd, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS. Registered in England, No 151537

By Simon Ings

Writers often hear this question: where do you get the ideas for your stories? Replies are generally terse. “The mortgage company’s final demand” is a favourite.

Waiting around for inspiration is a mug’s game. Far better to put yourself under some pressure.

The US science fiction writer Harlan Ellison once pulled off a stunt to make the point. At the close of NBC’s Today show in April 1981, interviewer Tom Brokaw held up an envelope containing a piece of paper which read, “August afternoon a person walking along a rocky beach in Maine picks up a pair of broken sunglasses.”


At 9:45am, Harlan Ellison climbed into a window of a Fifth Avenue bookstore, read Tom’s words for the first time as the crowds looked on, and then began to write. Five hours later, “The Night of Black Glass” was completed.

In that spirit, we’ve partnered with Sci-Fi-London and to run an exciting short story competition, the 48-hour Flash Fiction Challenge. The competition will take place over the weekend of Saturday 8 April 2017. We give you the title and a piece of dialogue. Then, using those elements, you write us a story not exceeding 2000 words. We toyed with the idea of giving you just five hours to write your masterpiece. But we were feeling generous: have 48. The best story we receive within that time will be published on New Scientist’s website and the author will receive £500 and a VIP pass to Sci-Fi-London, which runs in London from 27 April to 6 May 2017.

To enter, visit SFL.TO/NS48FF now and register for this competition: that way we can contact you at the right time with the title and dialogue you’ll need to complete your story. Remember you will only have 48 hours to create your original masterpiece.  Full details can be found at

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