Galactic Empires?

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Laer Carroll

Aerospace engineer turned writer
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I've published 13 books and 9 shorter works. All are in the same science fictional universe, with some characters crossing over to other works. Until recently all took place on Earth. Then I wrote a book that ventured out into the rest of the solar system.

Now I'm traveling into interstellar space with a new book and I have to give thought to that larger context. Just how am I to handle that setting? Is there a galactic empire? Several empires?

Tentatively I'm taking James Schmitz Hub universe as a guide. My human interstellar community is a flat pancake located in one tenth of one of the four spiral arms rather than the entire galaxy. The community is very advanced and shares that space and its surroundings with twelve other very advanced species. All are peaceful; they are too rich and diverse to launch acquisitive wars against anyone. It also shares all that volume with about a hundred less advanced space-faring species some of which are predatory, some horribly so. There is also one or more super-advanced species with godlike powers.

So far that addresses the physical scale of the galaxy. It also addresses the possible biological variety of the galaxy and other galaxies. What about the socioeconomic side of an interstellar community?

Schmitz posited that the great distances between star systems would dictate that a star-spanning human government would be a loose confederacy of star systems rather than a federation or republic or monarchy. That makes sense to me. I also feel with Schmitz that the size and complexity of human populations of individual solar systems makes any tightly controlled interstellar governments impractical.

He also described it as deeply capitalistic to the point of including some very predatory companies little different from criminal enterprises. I feel that's a stretch though it would make for more story possibilities. We'll see as my latest book progresses.

How do you deal with interstellar empires in your stories?
 
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Cephus

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A lot of that depends on your level of technology. The longer it takes to travel between the stars, the less rigid the structure will be. If the government can't impose its will on outpost worlds because it takes a year to get a ship out there, then the outpost isn't going to much care what the central government has to say. That's far different than if they can have a dozen starships on your porch in 12 hours. My universe has a huge military presence, ships everywhere, available quickly, but they tend to focus on the most economically profitable systems and the others largely get left alone unless something major happens. It's a scale, between those who really follow the law and those who see it as a suggestion.
 

ChaseJxyz

Writes birds and bird accessories
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When you're world building a nation, kingdom, or empire, the most important thing is how information gets from one place to another. It was really easy for the American colonies to get up to no good because it would take a very, very long time for the King of England to learn what's going on and send a response. Nowadays the President can communicate instantly with his armed forces anywhere in the world and crush dissenters if he so chooses. Mars is 5-20 minutes away, so if the Tesla Colony starts to rebel against Earth, dialogue will be tricky (and not to mention how long it would take to send space marines to Mars to forcibly take back the colony or whatever). The easier it is to move information between areas of a government body, the more tightly controlled it'll be, but also the more the average citizen will feel like a part of that community.

So what is the communication tech like in your story? How quickly can troops or government entities be mobilized? How self-sufficient are the worlds? Like the big conflict in The Phantom Menace was there was a trade dispute with Naboo, and they weren't getting imports, and at some point they'd starve to death maybe? But it's a nice big green planet with lots of water with giant fish monsters in it, what supplies do they need to be shipped in? If this was, you know, Tatooine or Corsucant or Mustafar or Space Burning Man Planet then, yeah, I can see why they'd need food to be imported on the regular. Can some Evil Company like The Spacing Guild or CHOAM control a planet in your setting by blocking trade?
 
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Kjbartolotta

Potentially has/is dog
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My sf setting has no ftl and is generally in a crappy state so you’re lucky if you get a unified solar system. There are a few very decentralized interstellar cultures based around trade, religion, or shared history, and a good number of secret societies trying to coordinate and hold together interstellar civilization, but everything is just a complete mess and any actual galactic empires are viewed as a sheer impossibility.
 

JJNotAbrams

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A current idea I'm working on is that it takes place in the outer edges of the galaxy. The wild and unknown regions of space far away from the expansionist powers that usually huddle closer to the galactic core.

The biggest amount of territory an expansionist power could have, however, is probably 100 worlds to 500 max. Any more and those powers probably crumble under their own weight.
 

AlanHeise

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My universe has the earth empire starting without FTL capability. By the time of re-contact with the story planet, FTL is becoming part of Earth's technology. Earth is becoming involved with several space race empires, one of which is hostile and war is part of the larger story line. I also believe that travel time will dictate how large or how much control the empires can have over their planets. My main story planet does not want the control of earth over certain directions their society want to grow towards. This is part of my story interest to pose the question of this resistance to part of earth's materialistic society. The ability of the planet to resist being forced to comply is part of the story line for me. My universe will use the war, the distance and the benefits of the new planet's inhabitants to see if they can resist being forced into parts of earths society that they do not want. How much control your earth will have over things outside of the solar system, or even other empires, should be up to what your story is posing as its story line and what you want to pose to the reader.
 

iBleed2

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While not exactly sci-fi, my current work features what you would classify as galactic empire. When I built the empire, I constructed it into several highly regionalised segments that share similar culture. The worlds farther away from the capital share less and less with the culture of the empire, and their trading comes primarily from outside the empire. These people are shunned as semi-outsiders in society. I didn't build FTL travel but instead have a spell that allows for rough cosmic travel. It's fast but not very comfortable. Outside powers exist but they are fragmented and aren't much of a factor.

If your empire is more of a side piece to the overall story, I would just build the basic structure of it and write. The ideas will come but don't get bogged down too much with the world building. It's such a slippery slope!
 

Smiling Ted

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Everything depends on the expense and speed of interstellar travel and communication. Jump points give you the imperial navies of "Mote in God's Eye" and the Vorkosigan Saga. Unlimited hyperspace gives you Foundation's Galactic Empire. Ansibles and STL give you LeGuin's Hainish cycle. And pure slower-than-light gets really interesting. In fact, I've got a story coming out next year in Analog ["Rebel Feed"] in which a planetary economy gambles on the tech that may be available from an approaching fleet of slow ships...
 

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