Maybe I just don't have time to read like I used to, but I find more inspiration in nonfiction than fiction. E.g.
- Captured By Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe by Joel Achenbach. This book swings from the scientific evidence, to UFO believers, and back to the limits of human knowledge, with a recurring theme of "wanting to believe" vs. "where are they?".
- Vampires, Burials, and Death by Paul Barber. You'll never look at vampires the same way again.
- The Medieval Machine, by Jean Gimpel. The "dark ages" weren't quite as dark as all that.
- The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon. Forget "netrunning"; real computer crackers use "social engineering", and nearly everyone in the party can help.
- The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. Not only is the Gnostic interpretation of scriptures intriguing, the history of Gnosticism demonstrates how an organized dogmatic religion backed by state power eradicates less organized and less militant "heretics". (See also the history of the Cathars/Albigensians.)
- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. I'm reading this now; not only does it touch on medical research, but evolving definitions of "death", the history of cadavers in medical research (donated, scavenged, and occasionally manufactured), and in an upcoming chapter the question of how aware severed heads are.
Consider these story hooks:
- Assuming the speed of light is truly a limit, what would motivate an alien species to come here?
- What if "greys", "reptoids", etc. are really a smokescreen for the REAL aliens? What if "aliens" aren't from the stars at all?
- Imagine the vampires in your game aren't elegant (sexy?) nobility, but ill-tempered peasant semi-corporeal ghosts bent on causing chaos?
- Imagine if the peasants in your next fantasy game had waterwheels, crop rotation, and other technologies with far more lasting effects than magic.
- What if the cyberpunks in your next game abandoned their cyberdecks and conned megacorp employees the old-fashioned way?
- What if a brand new religion appeared in your fantasy world from overseas? Or what if a self-proclaimed "prophet" from an existing religion swayed believers to his harsh, dogmatic version and branded the Old Believers as heretics?
- Imagine what lengths anatomists in your fantasy world might go to for corpses to dissect, especially if religious or secular authorities disapproved? What if their findings contradicted religious dogma or scholarly consensus? (I actually touched on this one as a player in one game, before my character went wholly to the dark side.)
Of course, these are the sorts of things that intrigue me; comb through your nonfiction bookshelves and see what story hooks you can come up with.
"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
- Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)