Working title: Contact Novel
Explorers and Earthicans
So I've had this setup for a scifi novel kicking around in my head for a while.
The story begins on earth, roughly 30 years from now. Explorers arrive from interstellar space and tell the Earthicans that they need to buy material to refit, refuel, and relaunch their starship. They will trade information and technology for the material, but it will not be cheap. Earthicans must put tonnes into orbit for each small bit of tech. Fortunately, the project bootstraps itself. Once earth acquires fusion power and a skyhook, they will be home free.
Side plot: Earth of the future is pretty bad. Wars over energy are routine. People are starving in the US. NASA is long since de-funded. The explorers are sad, but detached. Their mission is not charity.
The other main plot: We tell the story from the point of view of the interstellar explorers, whom the Earthicans never get to see face-to-face. The explorers are solid-state beings living in the computers of the starship. This is the only way to build starships, there is no room on board for living beings.
But the explorers were once physical beings. They live in a rich virtual world, where they envision themselves as the crew of a scifi starship from television shows from their own past.
Possible ideas for conflict: Maybe the effort to restart a space program that will undoubtedly cause short-term deaths. Maybe the new space race leads to wars on earth, even as the end of war is within grasp. Maybe most Earthicans hate and fear the ETs and do not want to trade with them. Maybe once Earthicans find out that they are not "alive" as they understand it (re: culture of life), Earthicans refuse to trade with them.
Side plot: The explorers mission is---so far---a failure. They have visited half-a-dozen systems in search of more advanced technology. So far they have found nothing. They and other groups of explorers find a lot of empty systems and some dead civilizations (most died off with a nuclear holocaust, others at other stages in civilization). Several declined civilizations (These are tough for the explorers: they must spend a lot of time and become archaeologists in search of tech they don't know exists or not.) And several civilizations like earth, that have become stagnate. As much as they act indifferent to the humans, they are secretly collecting as much information as possible (TV signals, later they tap into the Internet (how?)).
- Childhood's End. Aliens who don't reveal themselves for fear that earthlings will fear them.
- The Fountains of Paradise. Space elevator. Starship refit.
- Anything to do with Transhumanism. Uploaded Solid State intelligences.
- Star Trek: First Contact + Enterprise. 21st century Vulcan/Human interaction.
- Contact. Of course. I never liked the ending, though.
- Battlestar Galactica. Can a toaster be a person?
Note: I list a bibliography to (1) resolve any accusation that I steal ideas from somewhere. Of course I do. (2) list those works that I would like to disassemble. Most of these have underlying assumptions that wish to explore.
Assumptions: Starflight is expensive. So expensive that the highly advanced civ that the explorers come from is only able to launch a handful of ships. The alienciv is partially composed of solid-state beings. They are restricted to a handful of systems, whose resources they use most of. They have a large population, and face Malthusian population problems. As a solid state being lives, it's memories grow, and it needs more prosessing power and computer memory. So even without adding much population, resource consumtion-per-capita continues to grow. In many ways, the scientists of Alienciv can no longer solve the basic problems they are SSBs must peiodicly erase their own memories to keep from becoming bloated, insane, or from using too many resources. This is called byteloss (compare to weightloss). SSBs reproduce in several ways, with copying being the simplest. The urge to reproduce is powerful. Evolution happens on a memetic level, too. Alienciv hopes that its explorers can discover something to allow them to overcome the limitations on their live. Or to discover some great porject they can devote themselves to, other than pure science. Other that art. Other than survival. So far, little luck. They havn't even discovered a compertabe civ. They feel very alone. Alienciv has ocationally discovered Very Bad Things. They won't talk about them. Memitic viruses? Borg? Space pirates? The explorers are perfectly capable of mining asteroids and jovians to relaunch. They choose not to because they _want_ a peaceful exchange of ideas with the Earthicans. If they started strip-mining the Sol System, Earthicans might get upset. Therefore they start with the assumption that Sol "belongs" to Humanity to avoid friction. The explorers park in High Earth Orbit. Far enough that they are safe from ICBMs yet close enough that earth can ship them material. They have no landing craft. (Starships are 97% drive and fuel: no room.) The explorers have no "magic" techology. But they are smart. The Explorers secretly hide a tiny robot inside a meteor heading for Earth. The robot is contained within a sherical heat shield and survives the crash. It taps into the internet and allows the explorers to learn as much as they want to know about humanity. A reduced copy of one of the Explorers is with the robot. He communicates with the Explorers ship with short bursts of encrypted information. No magic. The explorers most reliable encryption scheme is a simple one-time pad. They can break public-key encrytion. So can the most advanced computers on Earth. The explorers can make copies of themselves to leave as a colony in the Sol System. They choose not to, because they want to give Humanity a chance to grow. The UN tries to put together a coalition to treat with the Explorers. Funding for shipments would be collected from all nations and tech would be distributed to all. This plan fails miserably. Nations of the near future are no more likely to work together than they are today. The Explorers would rather broadcast to the entire world, rather than one nation. All exchanges of information between Earth and the Explorer's ship are public. All of this is to keep one nation from subjucating the rest of the workd. Yet some nations are in a better position to use the tech than others. The explorers don't offer to sell much than can be used for military purposes. They don't offer to sell the starship engine. The starship can travel at a maximum speed of 0.5c. It can't carry more fuel and it can't shield from radiation well enough to go faster. As it is, the computer systmes are delicate and must be rebuilt from scratch each voyage or two. It will take decades to relaunch. In addition to rebuilding the ship, they must build a launch platform that is several times larger than the ship. After launch is complete, the platform will self-destruct. The Explorers are Futurama fans. They start refering to residents of Earth as Earthicans in jest. The term "Humans" emphasizes that the Explorers are alien. The term "Earthings" is scary to Earthicans because of conotation. The "twist" is that Humans aren't capable of being civilized enough to trade with the aliens. Their destiny is in their hands and they fail miserably. At first. Here are the protagonists of the story. The heroes are those who work to make the trade happen. There is no glory in violence. There is glory in working together for the good of Earth. The explorers are funny people. They crack jokes all the time. In Official Communication With The Earthlings, they are serious. In thier secret communications among themselves, they crack jokes all the time. "What did the Organic Being say to the other OB?" I still don't have a punchline for that one. Maybe every SSB joke will begin "What did the OB say to the other OB?" Each one with a different punchline. Our heros have secret dealings with the Explorers. The humor convences them that they like the explorers. Earthicans eventually buy plans for a fusion power plant. It is huge. Many GWe. It only has a handful of prerequisite technologies, such as composites that can handle high temps and a very-high critical temperature supeconductle. Most of the construction is big and idiot-proof. It uses no computers. It is made of a lot of steel and concrete. It is very self-contained. It was designed by the alienciv to be sold to a wide range of civs, so it does not assume a lot unnessisry prerequisite knowledge. Humanity uses that design for centuries before they decide to improve on it. The first new design was a failure. The second was a huge success. Other tech: efficent, large scale water desalinization/purification plants. (Often constructed as an add-on to a FPP.) Superconductors for use in power transmission. A design for high speed rail based on the new superconductors (this design is not too much better than ones that Earthicans came up with themselves after buying the superconductors). Very good thermal insulatorss. Better pavement. A few construction methods. Most are not too radical, just simpler and more efficent than what the humans came up with. All alien infrastructure and building designs are designed to last for a long time. They would never think to build something like a house out of wood. Space Elevator: the only space-related technology. The Explorers don't want Earthicnas to emigrate from their planet or to begin using too many space resources until they have learned to live on Earth, peacefully. Population will likely jump as a result of nmore energy, after almost stabalizing. Science. With the technology, the Explorers feel that they are teaching the Earthicans to fish. And they are not overloading them with tech that they can't handle. But science. Half the fun is in the discovery. "If we just told them our latest formulations for the Theory of Everything, what then? It would be centuries until they could find experiemntal evidence for or aginst that theory. In the meantime they would be too disheartened to try." No single piece of tech that the Explorers share is based on a scientific principle that humans have yuet to master, with the exception of material science. It tooks years to understand supeconductivity after it was first used as a techology. Similarly, Earth scientists are left to study "Type III" superconductors on their own. Even the fusion reactor. As soon as they see the design, plasma physicists bang their heads and think "Why couldn't I have thought of that! I see exactly how it works, but I never would have stumbled onto it." But what about Xenobiology? "Why not share our discoveries?" the Explorers wonder. [???] The age of the Alienciv is on the order of a hundred thousand years. The Explorers left around ten thousand years before. Every few stops, they construct a massive directional radio array and broadcast reports back towards home. Earth has never noticed these directional brodcasts because they are directional. Duh. Alienciv knows that interstellar colonies are not useful for getting rid of excess population, due to the nature of their civilization and of interstellar travel. They found only a handful of colonies, choosing star systmes carefully, and launching a small fleet of starships to each one. The colonies exist in case something very bad happens to the original system. No colonies are within four thousand light-years of Sol. Alienciv has a Kardashev nmumber of around 1.3. There is a movement to expand as rapidly as possible. Another faction is more conservative. Every so often, the explorers stop in an uninhabited system and build great telescopes to scan closeby systems for signs of life and civilization. They chose to visit Sol because they detected O2 on Earth, a sign of _something_ intersting.