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Galactic Empires?

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Laer Carroll

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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?
 

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

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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

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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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I think a permanent, whole galaxy spanning empire is a bit of a stretch regardless of tech level if you consider just the amount of resources and energy required to maintain it. Not a hard rule of course, it ultimately doesn't matter so long as the story is a good read.

I also do like the extreme capitalism part. Its fair to say that it probably wouldn't be recognizable to us as capitalism today (more cutthroat, maybe forms of sanctioned violence, etc), but it would have sprang from it or something similar. Mega-corps as mini-empires within?

What I am enjoying in my writing is really a multitude of empires in various states of development and how they interact with and see each other. The really old ones are incredibly advanced but are stagnant or shrinking. The upstarts are violent and expansive but less god-like. And then you have all of the fallout from their various misadventures - galactic destruction, economic upsets, refugees, etc.
 

dickson

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In my WIP there is a galactic empire that is as much an empire as was the Holy Roman Empire. It is a loose confederation made up of fifty or so squabbling intelligent species mostly on the far side of Sgr A* as seen from Earth. There is a figurehead emperor on a planet that is the nominal administrative HQ for the empire, but in practice each species is left to run its own affairs within a common legal framework, rather like the EU. With, however, the exception that it is possible for one species to make war on another under strictly limited rules of engagement policed by robotic authorities.

If this sounds like a setup for “What could possibly go wrong?” you are not wrong to think so.

By use of a network of hyperfast travel links (aka Alcubierre drive, though one human observer prefers “riding the Alcubierre Cyclone“) it is possible to travel from one end of the “empire” to the other in less than a terrestrial year. Communication links operate on a faster timescale, but can still take months.
 
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Cerasus

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I think a permanent, whole galaxy spanning empire is a bit of a stretch regardless of tech level if you consider just the amount of resources and energy required to maintain it. Not a hard rule of course, it ultimately doesn't matter so long as the story is a good read.

I also do like the extreme capitalism part. Its fair to say that it probably wouldn't be recognizable to us as capitalism today (more cutthroat, maybe forms of sanctioned violence, etc), but it would have sprang from it or something similar. Mega-corps as mini-empires within?

What I am enjoying in my writing is really a multitude of empires in various states of development and how they interact with and see each other. The really old ones are incredibly advanced but are stagnant or shrinking. The upstarts are violent and expansive but less god-like. And then you have all of the fallout from their various misadventures - galactic destruction, economic upsets, refugees, etc.
Kinda reminds me of Stellaris; particularly Fallen Empires and MegaCorps. Love it! :aliensmile:
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...
Haven't read the entire Hainish cycle (just The Dispossessed), though I loved the idea of an instantaneous communications device and its implications on the interstellar community (and how everyone there vies for control over such a breakthrough). Notwithstanding the anarcho-syndicalism and mutual cooperation portrayed in the book, which is the main part of the story I guess (but, sadly, not of this thread). :censored
By use of a network of hyperfast travel links (aka Alcubierre drive, though one human observer prefers “riding the Alcubierre Cyclone“) it is possible to travel from one end of the “empire” to the other in less than a terrestrial year. Communication links operate on a faster timescale, but can still take months.
I always wondered what would be the "best" — or should I say, the most appealing — form of space travel. Hyperspace (from SW) seems a little bit too convenient for my taste... However, warp travel (as shown in Star Trek) made more sense.

Though I like the idea that you cannot control it at a whim but, instead, have to find some kind of a "space current" or a hyperfast travel link as you say; much like 18th-century ships were at the mercy of good wind conditions and whatnot (especially during naval battles).
 

dickson

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Kinda reminds me of Stellaris; particularly Fallen Empires and MegaCorps. Love it! :aliensmile:

Haven't read the entire Hainish cycle (just The Dispossessed), though I loved the idea of an instantaneous communications device and its implications on the interstellar community (and how everyone there vies for control over such a breakthrough). Notwithstanding the anarcho-syndicalism and mutual cooperation portrayed in the book, which is the main part of the story I guess (but, sadly, not of this thread). :censored

I always wondered what would be the "best" — or should I say, the most appealing — form of space travel. Hyperspace (from SW) seems a little bit too convenient for my taste... However, warp travel (as shown in Star Trek) made more sense.

Though I like the idea that you cannot control it at a whim but, instead, have to find some kind of a "space current" or a hyperfast travel link as you say; much like 18th-century ships were at the mercy of good wind conditions and whatnot (especially during naval battles).
My motivation for having a character refer to hyperfast travel as a kind of cyclone had more to do with Dorothy and Kansas that the age of fighting sail, but I do like the opportunities for getting in trouble it promises!

In my version the waypoints are engineered. Navigating them takes skill, but it is possible for two starships to exchange cargo containers during passage through a roundabout, even when the vessels are traveling in opposite directions.

A natural topic for playground speculation throughout the galaxy is what happens if two starships collide inside a waypoint. Nothing good.

Returning to your idea, you want to be sure you’re going to end up in the right neck of the galaxy, so your navigators will have to find a kind of firing solution before committing to passage. Anxious times all around.

And what happens if you end up in the wrong neighborhood? I’m reminded of Gene Wolfe’s “There are Doors,” in which you can walk through a door and find yourself in a radically different world. If it’s not where you want to be, you must not turn around! The only way out is to immediately step backwards.
 
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Mediocrates78

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I've just started my first story but my idea is sort of an Imperium of Man style system inspired by Warhammer 40,000 where you have each world / colony pretty much left up to their own devices but there is an overarching military government that only interferes in case of dissonance or Heresy to the higher powers which are held as gods. The military isn't there to control the worlds but to irradiate anything that's considered a 'threat to Humanity'. And they are everywhere. It's set in the well distant future so interstellar travel is quick and easy. Brainwashing inside of the military is absolute and the attitude of the civilian worlds ranges from zealous adoration to abject terror at their might.

I'm going with a 'small town' approach where the MC comes from a previously unknown colony of humans (I explain how that happens) who've devolved into almost ogre-like tribes living underground (literally under a rock) for thousands of years and only remember the old Imperium as a combination of an ancient religion, myths and fairy stories. that way I can describe what he sees and experiences from an almost primitive level of understanding.

My only problem right now is I keep wanting to make the enemy race as insectoids kinda like the Tyranids from 40K, the Zerg from Strarcraft or the Bugs from Starship Troopers but I feel like that trope's been done to death. I'm thinking that because this is my first story and it's almost certainly not going to get published or anything like that I should treat it more as a learning experience and go with the overused tropes that I want to use rather than trying to stretch a little further and come up with a more unique alien species.
 
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NBswriting

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How do you deal with interstellar empires in your stories?
So far, my writing has mostly been fantasy, although I've given some thought to the idea of galactic empires. Unless you're going pure fantastical, I highly doubt you could ever see something like the "Nazi 2.0" Empire from the likes of Star Wars. It's just too messy- how does each planet even keep track of what time it is across thousands of other worlds when different parts of modern American states can't even reconcile Daylight Savings?

In my mind, a true "interstellar empire" would likely be something closer to the Holy Roman Empire, which existed from the year 800 until 1806. Rather than a single country, the HRE was basically a nightmarishly complicated bundle of smaller fiefdoms, dutchies, and other territories. Rebellions, infighting, secessions, and conquests were pretty much constant problems for a Holy Roman Emperor to deal with. Taking that to a galactic scale, there's plenty of room for interesting conflict. That said, if a true autocracy were to ever expand across multiple solar systems, it would likely only cover a tiny portion of a whole galaxy. Maybe it could form a confederation with a neighboring empire? I don't know; my brain's just going wild now.
 

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