The Worlds Revealed

In partial apology for the lack of artwork thus far, I bring you a map of the Associated Worlds, constellation by constellation!

[The Associated Worlds]

(Click through for the full version. Caution: it’s a big image, 3049 x 3030.)

Key-wise, gold constellations represent the Imperial Core and Fringe, blue the mainstream Associated Worlds, purple the Expansion Regions, and green the Periphery. Red constellations represent the off-the-edge-of-the-map places, namely the Leviathan Consciousness and the connected constellations of the Voniensa Republic. Thin lines are interconstellation stargate connections; thick lines are special high-capacity arterials.

The major connected sets of those are the Worlds’ major trade routes: in green, the Lethíäza Trade Spine; in red, the Mercantile Corridor; and a rough circle in black at the edge of the major Worlds, except where it shares a link with the Spine between “58” and the Azure Fade, the Circumferential, or Golden Band.

I’ve annotated the approximate locations of the major powers, and also (in small text) of a few minor powers that have been mentioned and about which there might be curiosity.

(Oh, and when it comes to those constellations currently numbered – the aforementioned “58”, “E76”, and “P13”, et. al.? Apart from a couple of potential spoilers, that’s my innovation space/creative breathing room. Pay no attention to the Doylist explanation behind the curtain.)


Question: Frequency of Life

And one more:

How about approx. population density/sapient life occurrence frequency/percentage of races successfully achieved spaceflight without rendering themselves extinct etc. of Associated Worlds?

Well, now. If you were to compare the number of species around the place in the Worlds to the total number of star systems connected, what you would get is something on the order of one sophont species per 40 to 60 star systems. Once you eliminated all the digisapiences, neogens, post-technological speciation, polytaxic species, nomads, and suchlike that complexify the issue, anyway. (95% to 98% of those haven’t rendered themselves extinct; it’s rare that people manage to screw up that completely, especially once starflight is available, but the ones that have are rather prominent in the news and history books for obvious reasons. Maybe 25% of them had interplanetary flight/in-system development when contacted.)

Of course, that’s completely non-representative.

The Far Horizon Probes that Ring Dynamics and the Exploratory Service use to decide where and when to expand the stargate plexus are programmed with certain biases, mostly towards interesting things. Like, say, the blue-white giant star Leytra in the middle of the Ringstars constellation, or the Eye-of-Night black hole, both unique features. But also, always, the signs of intelligent life (which, of course, further biases it towards species advanced enough to produce radio signals or other features observable across the light-years).

So that’s not the number of species spread over 10,000 systems, because the 10,000 systems connected to the Worlds are spread across a volume of space – an oblate spheroid with axes roughly 3,300 ly by 4,100 ly by 2,000 ly – that contains maybe 100,000,000 star systems. So, the prevalence of sophont life is more like 1 per 400,000 star systems in the aggregate. (I’m erring to the high end, here, since pre-technological star systems are effectively invisible except at close range.)

Local population density varies widely throughout the Worlds, of course, just like it does in the greater Galaxy. (Some bubbles are life-rich, some are less so, some have been scoured entirely clean of life by, say, supernovae and gamma-ray bursters. Plus, of course, the inner and outer thirds of the galaxy tend to be life-poor compared to the central band: the former because of the high radiation levels near the galactic core, and the latter because of the lack of necessary elements.) But that’s the average, and the Worlds bubble is… average, maybe a little on the high side, by galactic standards.

Trope-a-Day: Realpolitik

Realpolitik: The Ministry of State and Outlands would love to be able to pursue such interests as the Empire has (which generally excludes its private interests, who tend to pursue their own foreign policies) with this much ideology-free pragmatism, but since the Empire is a strongly ideological libertist-technepraxic state, they have more often to confront the reality that they’re working for a governance, on behalf of a people – and drawn from that same people – who find some polities out there just too disgusting to deal with.

Played rather straighter with the Presidium of the Conclave of Galactic Polities, which is much more pragmatic – despite the ideological slants of its members – in the interest of preserving the stability of the Associated Worlds and the approximate neutrality of its institutions.

Trope-a-Day: One World Order

One World Order: Averted.  Most species have more than one government.  Even the Empire, huge as it is and prone to casual memetic imperialism and absorption as it also is, has spawned splinters – not just the individual Renunciates and Renegades, but some actual other eldraeic governances created by minority factions that just couldn’t get along with the overall libertist-technepraxic consensus. (Given the predicates of said consensus, Imperial relations with these are usually, albeit not always, remarkably toxic – with the splinters being seen as something between heretics and just plain old bastard-coated bastards with bastard-flavored filling.)

Many governments also include more than one species.  Looked at either way, no-one speaks for all.

Also, even the supposedly all-encompassing Associated Worlds and Conclave of Galactic Polities don’t encompass everything.  The Voniensa Republic prefers to stand aloof from the whole situation, smug gits that they are, and horrified by the sheer lack of control of the whole thing.  There are plenty of still balkanized planets around, whether the countries have come together to create some international body to deal with offworld affairs or are each trying to conduct their own interstellar policy.  And, heck, encouraged by the fact that at least two of the major powers in the setting are functioning libertarianesque polities that shamelessly encourage this sort of thing, there are a lot of independent habitats out there that have taken advantage of the vastness of space to declare themselves the Sovereign Polity of Brad & Janet, pop. 5, or just straight-out sovereign not-owned-by-any-government individuals, m’kay?

Unity is not where it is at, today.

Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

In The Shiny Brightness of the Far Future…

In response to a wondering, which response grew too long to post as a replying comment.

Mark Atwood:

I do have to wonder what the Republic could possibly gain by invading the Empire. If their xenophobic political factions gain power, their cause is better and cheaper served by just destroying their edge routers and gates to dual systems. Unless their plan is to send expeditions to those dual systems, and then destroy the Ring Dynamics gates instead.

It’s not about the gain, so much, any more than, say, the Cold War.

On one level, it’s because they’re both expansionary civilizations, the Republic and the Worlds. (I say the Worlds rather than the Empire because it’s the Worlds as a whole that they have an issue with; and, also, they’d have to fight a long way through a lot of people to reach the Empire, although they may hit up some distant Imperial ecumenical colonies.

…not that that stops some Worlds polities from complaining about the Empire fighting its war on their turf, the ungrateful sods.)

Even if the Republic destroyed the connections along the Borderline, and even if everyone in the Worlds agreed to let it alone (unlikely), the fundamental problem remains: they’re competing to absorb new territories (they’re less xenophobes than neophobes, to be fair to ’em), and they have to, or they’re going to end up surrounded and an isolated backwater.

Worse, and what really keeps Vonnie planners awake at night, is that as a centralizing/hierarchist civilization/polity, they’re starting to reach the limits of their control span and their grip on their outer territories is getting a little, ah, wobbly. The Worlds doesn’t suffer this disadvantage, because it’s not one civilization/polity, it’s lots of them, and a good few of them (such as the Empire, the Photonic Network, etc.) aren’t centralizing/hierarchist, they’re delocalized/cooperatist, and aren’t going to hit the limits of their control span any time soon, if ever. So to a certain extent, they’re gripped by some urgency on this point.

But even more importantly, they perceive each other as mutual ideological foes and existential threats. They represent contending visions of the future. And, indeed, most of the differences they have arise from that split. They have lots of differences, some familiar, some less so:

  • planned economy vs. free-for-all
  • ephemeralism vs. immortality
  • computers as tools vs. computers as companions
  • naturalism vs. augmentation
  • restricted technology/warts-and-all people vs. superempowering technology/better people
  • control vs. trust

etc., etc.

But it all boils down to that the Republic is, at its base, conservative/preservationist. (Note: not as in current politics; insofar as kalatri domestic politics can be mapped onto anything Earthwise at all, they’d be pretty seriously progressive and humanist [well, kalatrist].) The future they offer is based in their ideals of preserving sophont nature and its supreme inherent value – the kalatriness of kalatri, the humanness of humanity, all of that; it’s a universe by, for, and of natural species “baselines” for ever and ever, amen, or at the most what “natural” evolution makes of them. (At least until the cold and the dark of the post-stellar era comes along and wipes ’em all out.)

The future the Worlds have to offer – no, let’s say the future the Empire has to offer —

Well. It’s principally the Empire that are the foremost exemplars of this, but the Worlds in general are the home of all sorts of social and technological experimentation that offends the Vonnies’ principles. They dislike the Equality Concord, etc., too, almost as much.

Anyway, that future is vaguer, because it involves any number of people chasing down independent dreams just as hard as they can, but the Empire and other similar polities in the Worlds are charging hell-for-leather for singularity after singularity, pausing briefly at uebermensch on their way to postmensch, with – especially in the Empire – all thought of constraint stripped away and considerations of eldrae, etc., “nature” thoroughly discarded in favor of their Vision Of What Ought To Be. But what we, and they, can be certain of is that it doesn’t belong to the baselines. It’s going to belong to ancient immortal consciousnesses enshrined in organic crystal computers and multilayered collective consciousnesses and Vingean Powers and the long, slow, massive thoughts of an entire galaxy turned into a constellation of computronium moon-brains that may, with some small parts of itself, sometimes remember individual incarnation and play at flesh once more. Unaugmented baselines – well, they just can’t compete. It’s a future of gods and angels, not men.

And these visions are intrinsically incompatible. Thus:

The Empire has to stop the regressive tyrants of the Republic from condemning the galaxy, and possibly the universe, to a future of such petty mediocrity. And the rest of the Worlds, squabbling and disagreeable as they may be, don’t want that future either.

The Republic has to stop the madmen next door, and especially the Empire, from turning all the “real” people in the galaxy into monsters more machine than man and/or the reservation pets of unleashed technological demon-gods.

(And they’ve got to do it now before they’re too strong to stop with the Republic’s weight of metal. Whatever the official public line might be, the Vonnie strategic planners are well aware that 99% of the time, baselines fighting a mature postsophont intelligence can be summed up as “You Lose”.)

Trope-a-Day: Generican Empire

Generican Empire: Well, the thing to remember here is that the Empire of the Star was named long before it ever got into space (and has many stars, besides).  It’s actually named after a philosophical symbol rather than anything physical.  (In fairness and trope-compliance, they could have called it the Eldraeic Imperium, or some such, except (a) back on their own world at the beginning they didn’t feel like offering up such a blatant statement of world-conquering intent, and (b) once they got out among the stars, they didn’t want to sound like a bunch of race/species-obsessed jerks.)

By the time it acquired the alternate soubriquet of the Eldraeic Transcend, evidently people figured they’d already established their credentials on the polyspecificity front.

(The third alternate name, the “Bright Empire”, is actually a given-in-scorn-adopted-in-pride name originating with a news editor’s slip of the tongue and an unfortunate phrasing in an interstellar explorer’s autobiography; as such, in the Imperial mouth, it can make you sound isolationist, hegemonic, or even belletrist, and in the outworlders’, either distinctly pro-Imperial or distinctly sarcastic, and should thus be used with caution.)

Anyway, back on topic: most star nations hang some sort of non-generican name on themselves.  The ones which don’t are often considered suspicious, maybe even likely to be rogue – sort of the way that, on Earth, any country calling itself a Democratic People’s Republic is definitely some sort of creepy-ass dictatorship.

Averted somewhat by the “Associated Worlds”, which isn’t all that creepy – it’s just that a name that Generican is all that the various people included under that moniker could agree on.  They are all worlds (well, mostly, but the drifts that disagreed didn’t push that point too hard) and they are loosely associated, at least galactographically.  Everything else may vary.