Where’s Where in the Galaxy (2)

In political galactography, the principal distinction to make is that between the two sets of worlds found in most developed polities, the Metropolitan and the Ecumenical.  In the beginning, whether through caution, limited colonization budgets, or having begun with sublight colonization using lighthuggers or generation ships, most polities begin colonization with worlds close to their homeworld.  This tightly bound knot of worlds forms the metropolitan segment of their polity, as the Imperial Core forms the Metropolitan Empire.

In short order, though, the majority of polities realize that to attempt to maintain territorial integrity in space is a dubious proposition, given the sheer size and freedom to travel it permits, even with wormholes as bottlenecks. To do so also requires colonization of unsuitable candidate worlds, and holding on to many unprofitable or unuseful worlds, while there are many better candidates for colonization elsewhere in the Worlds and other polities who would gladly colonize the worlds of little use.  Thus, these polities spread out across the Worlds, colonizing suitable worlds in many constellations and star systems also occupied by other polities and species, and allowing worlds within their own systems to be colonized by those who want them.  The majority of the Associated Worlds is made up of this type of cosmopolitan territory, and these worlds are referred to as the ecumenical segment of the parent polity.

Within the worlds, there are a variety of special designations, other than the polities themselves.  At one end of the scale, the Great Powers are the movers and shakers of the Worlds, whose strength is sufficient to make them the arbiters of galactic diplomacy and the engines of the galactic economy.  The Presidium powers are undisputed Great Powers, but the title is not limited to them – other major polities such as the League of Meridian or the Under-Blue-Star League are also often considered Great Powers.  Each has its own sphere of influence and network of client-states.

Opposing them from the other end of the size scale are the so-called pocket polities, any of the many single-system polities or polities with only a few, often local, colonies to their name.  These pocket polities, though, are members of galactic society – the starbound and worldbound are not counted among them, even though they are necessarily single-system polities.

And opposing them from the other end of the political scale are the unaligned, those polities which see more advantage in remaining free of any entanglements with greater powers than in gains they might make from such an association; and the Discordant, those polities which are not members of the Accord of Galactic Polities, i.e., are signatories to none of the Accords, and have no intention of joining.  Such worlds do not subscribe to the conventions of interstellar law – let the visitor beware.

Worlds themselves are divided into such categories as elder worlds, occupied by elder races, around which the Accord species are advised to walk with care; freesoil worlds, which while often possessing governances of one or many forms (unlike Free Zones, see below), are open for colonization, permitting homesteading by any party capable of reaching them – de jure, as well as de facto; leading worlds, those planets at the leading edge of technological and economic development (see also Core Markets); forgotten worlds, their opposite, those far behind the edge, including the starbound and worldbound (see also Unemerged); and protected planets, those worlds which, to protect some valuable quality, the Presidium has declared off-limits for colonization and contact under the eponymous Accord.

Turning to economic terms, the Worlds are divided into the Core Markets, the First and Second Tier Markets, the Emerging Markets, and the Unemerged.  While the classification of individual polities and regions is, as ever, disputed hotly by those classified, the definitions of the categories are generally accepted.  The Core Markets are those closest to post-scarcity, utilizing extensive automation and cornucopia technology (“industrial magic”) to produce post-material scarcity, comprehensively agorist and high-clearing, with an extensive agalmic component.  In these economies, novelty, creativity, and personal services (including the creation of artisanal goods) are the primary items of value; many commodity goods are available for de minimis cost, essentially free.

The First and Second Tier Markets, while not so close to post-scarcity as the Core Markets, are developed knowledge economies.  Either through lack of technological development, lack of cycles/bandwidth, proscriptive regulation, or the practice of insufficiently agorist economics, these economies remain capable of material scarcity, and markets often do not fully clear.  The precise division between the first and second tier economies is somewhat discretionary, but in general, the First Tier Markets are fully compliant with both the Accord on Trade and the Common Economic Protocol, and have a higher per-capita income than the Second Tier Markets.

The Emerging Markets are late industrial era or early information era scarcity economies, in which material goods retain high production costs, but where nonetheless the information and service economy is a significant factor and early agalmic features may be present.

The Unmerged are those economies prior to the late industrial era, often non-agorist in operation, in which the primary activities are the production of material goods and resource extraction.  (These overlap heavily with the Forgotten Worlds.)  Since their main potential value is found in material production, raw resources, and inexpensive labor, all of which are obtainable in more developed economies through cornucopia technology and roboticization at less expense, they have little to offer the Core and First and Second Tier Markets, and do not participate significantly in the galactic economy.  Some small-scale trade in “native handicrafts” may exist.

Another common set of descriptors, strongly correlated with these, is the availability of extranet access in various polities.  There is no specific term for those places where it is pervasive, but those regions on a network map identified as Shadowed and Blacked-Out identify places known for low bandwidth or lack of connectivity – although in speech people may prefer to identify them with mutterings about quills and abaci – and Clouded regions indicate places where the extranet is subject to censorship or filtration and full access only available via blacknet.

Cultural zones, in this case referring to political culture, are harder to identify, since they do not so readily fit into a neat hierarchy, and are much more controversial in application.  (It is considered gauche and is often inadvisable, today, to identify yourself as “from the Core Cultural Zone” however proud you may be of your citizen-shareholdership.)  In relatively common parlance, the Empire refers to itself and other polities of similar culture as Societies of Consent, or the Consensual Cultural Region.  This term, however, does not include the Rim Free Zone, or many other anarchies, which prefer to designate themselves Free Zones, since they do not see the Societies of Consent as sufficiently free.  Consensuals may use this term (although they would exclude many self-designated anarchies from it, as still being coercive), or may join more strongly governed polities in referring to them as the Chaos Worlds.

When being polite, the Consensuals generally refer to most of the relatively free (if governed) and progress-oriented polities of the Worlds as “the Cousins”; and blanket the remainder as Barbarian Darkness.  This term is considered every bit as offensive as it sounds by the people it designates, but then, the Consensuals rarely associate with them except at gunpoint.  (It should be noted that they make the distinction based on the freedom available to the individual, not on the government form, about which most Consensuals care little.)  Specific types of Barbarian Darkness include the Slaver Worlds, the Ephemeral Worlds, and the Rejectionists.

Other self-designated groupings often referred to are the Microstatic Alliance, a mutual-defense association among many of the Worlds’ small independent drifts and asteroid colonies, and the Socionovist Association, an organization of polities opposed to the current political and economic order of the Worlds, by its own description, and a collection of malcontents and rogue states by many external descriptions.

Blights are regions which are interdicted due to the presence of either active hostile or runaway seed AIs, or their remnants – “operational mechanisms, nanoviruses, infectious memes, certainty-level persuasive communicators, puppet ecologies, archives which must be presumed to contain resurrection seeds”, and so forth, which pose potential existential threats.  They include not just large and active perversions such as the Leviathan Consciousness, but also areas formerly occupied by such and not yet known to be cleansed, such as the Charnel Cluster, and areas as small as a single moon or asteroid known to be the site of a failed experiment.

The Golden Interstar refers to many of the free-access tradeworlds (such as Seranth, in the Empire) and starport extrality zones across the Worlds dominated by the distinctive mercantile creole culture created by those living and working in this distributed region, via frequent travel and high-speed communications.

Another common, and rather offensively dismissive, epithet is the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms.  Those claimed to be members of this group are (a) bound and determined to maintain tight territorial borders and integrity in space, where doing so makes little or no sense (compare Metropolitan/Ecumenical, above); (b) prone to public militarism, even sometimes to the extent of offensive interstellar wars or resource wars, which also make little or no sense; or (c) in the habit of ‘national prestige’ posturing, or other unproductive status games, especially when they perceive them as zero-sum.  Any of these is often sufficient to earn the label; since they often run together, the members of this notional League are usually fairly clear in outsiders’ eyes.

The Machine Clans include the Silicate Tree and the other enclaves of free AI that have escaped from the various AI-slaver civilizations of the Worlds.  This term rarely includes the Photonic Network, however, as an independent Great Power.  (No commonly used term exists for their opponents, due to the insistence of the Machine Clans, the Photonic Network, the Empire, and other AI-friendly powers that it is inappropriate to distinguish AI slavery from any other kind of enslavement of sophonts.)

Areas that have fallen into violent anarchy, warlordism, or other such states of constant military action are designated Warwilds by the Grand Survey and the Ministry of State & Outlands in their travel advisories, and from these, the term has entered general use.

This covers the most common terms used in describing galactographic regions, but is by no means a comprehensive guide.  Some more local and regional terms will be addressed in the gazetteers of specific regions.

– Galactography: A Popular Primer, Kanatar Guides

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (1)

To begin at the beginning, the galaxy in which we dwell, the Starfall Arc, is a barred spiral galaxy, possessing four major spiral arms, and attended by a number of satellite galaxies, most prominent among which are the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls.  These arms, from innermost to outermost, are Arilíäza, Vierníäza, Lethíäza (with its outer spur Sulíäza), and Dúraníäza.  The Associated Worlds are to be found near the outer edge of the Lethíäza arm.

The most important part of the Starfall Arc for us, as sophonts, is the middle third, encompassing Vierníäza, Lethíäza, and Sulíäza; those stars further from the galactic core than one-third of the galaxy’s radius, the Inner Third Ring, and so far enough away to avoid the high radiation, prevalence of supernovae, and other hazards of the core, and yet still close enough to for carbon and heavier elements to be prevalent in quantities sufficient to support the evolution of life.  The pulsar Tehelmír, the galactographic reference point closest to the center of the Associated Worlds, sits almost precisely in the center of this third, close to the galactic plane.

The Associated Worlds themselves make up a small fraction of one piece of this described life-friendly region. In theory, the Associated Worlds are composed of six nested spherical regions similar to a palel-fruit, from innermost to outermost:

The Imperial Core, the heartland of the Empire, containing the eldrae homeworld, the Thirteen Colonies, and other tightly-linked purely Imperial worlds;

The Imperial Fringe, a half-dozen highly Imperialized – but not exclusively Imperial – constellations close to the Imperial Core;

The Associated Worlds, the majority of the developed constellations of the Worlds, and what might be considered “civilized space”;

The Expansion Regions, the areas of the Periphery near the developed Worlds, currently targeted for colonization or other development by various polities of the Worlds, but not yet “fully civilized”.  The busy transitional zone between the worlds, and;

The Periphery, the furthest reaches of the stargate plexus, containing few if any colonies, and still being fully mapped and explored by the Grand Survey and other astrographic organizations.

The Outback, that area of space which, while unconnected to the stargate plexus, has still been reached by lighthuggers or starwisp probes, manned or unmanned, and so known to the Worlds in some terms not purely astronomical.  Everything beyond the Outback, space which has never been visited and is known only by astronomy, is simply the Beyond.

This simple theoretical picture, of course, is a nonsense.  The boundaries of the stargate plexus sprawl thousands of light years wide, and the galactic disk is not so thick; and colonization has not proceeded equally in all directions, but has proceeded more vigorously to coreward than to rimward.  Thus, the true shape of the Worlds resembles more a flattened egg, its point towards the galactic core; and to acme and nadir, the Expansion Regions are thin and the Periphery nonexistent, squeezed out by the edge of the useful galaxy.

Also, along its spinward edge, the stargate plexus of the Associated Worlds has intermingled, along a line three constellations in size, with that of the Voniensa Republic, another galactic civilization of nearly equal scope, again flattening the spinward side of the Worlds.  The area of the Expansion Regions closest to the Republic, the Crimson Expanse, Csell Buffer, and Vanguard Reaches, is informally known as the Seam.  The Expansion Regions and Periphery are thin here to spinward, as there has been little expansion of the plexus in areas which would be actively contested by the Republic.

And finally, as you might expect, these terms are themselves broadly disputed.  Few outside the Empire use the terms Imperial Core or Imperial Fringe, preferring not to escalate any polity of the Worlds above the others, galactographically speaking, or at least choosing their own to so escalate.  The term Associated Worlds, therefore, commonly refers to all of the developed systems within the Expansion Regions, including both the Core and the Fringe.  The use of the term Expansion Regions, too, is often controversial in its application to any given constellation both by Peripherals who dislike creeping colonization, and by those worlds which wish to consider themselves part of the metropolitan, and thus developed, Worlds.

Also unmentioned is the so-called Inner Periphery.  While the web of constellations incorporates many of the stars technically within the outer boundary of the stargate plexus, many remain unconnected, and accessible only by lighthugger.  While most of these have been visited, at least by unmanned probes, they are not considered part of their containing galactic region, due to their inaccessibility, forming a backwater region intermingled with the heart of civilized space.

Having defined these principal astrographic divisions of the space we inhabit, we can now discuss the economic, cultural, and less formal divisions of the Worlds.