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
- Anything to do with Transhumanism. Uploaded Solid State
- Star Trek: First Contact + Enterprise. 21st century Vulcan/Human
- 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.