Writing Talk: Interplanetary Civilizations (Case Study: The Galactic Alliance) Part 2

In Part 1 of this short series of posts, I talked about the first part of Planetary Defense Command’s series of posts about galactic empires, or interplanetary civilizations in general, where he went into actual science to look at how densely populated a galaxy would theoretically be, and some of the ramifications of this, and I looked at that from the perspective of a writer who has created an interplanetary society for my book, A Greater Duty, and discussed how I approached the creation of my Galactic Alliance.

This time around, I’ll be discussing the next parts of the series, in addition to going into more depth on my book’s primary setting.

In the second and third parts of Planetary Defense Command’s posts, the following topics are discussed: the issue of how a Galactic Empire, or other interplanetary civilization,  function from an economic perspective, with faster than light (FTL) travel, and the topic of what the point of the empire or civilization is.

First, he goes into the importance of FTL travel to such a setting, as due to the immense nature of space, the existence or nonexistence of FTL travel will have a huge impact both on how the setting works generally, and in determining what stories you can tell. For instance, a civilization that takes years to cross will have to be less centralized than one that can be crossed in days, and, of course, the expenses involved in traveling. Even if FTL travel is fairly common, it can still vary in speed a great deal. Consider Star Trek, where it takes decades to cross the galaxy without the aid of a wormhole or cheating (looking at you, Voyager), to Star Wars, where it can be done in a matter of days (though, most of the time, it takes as long as the plot requires,), or Mass Effect, where intersystem travel requires the Mass Relays to allow it to be done quickly. Building on this, we also have to address the question of how accessible FTL travel is to people. Again, consider Star Wars, where it seems almost anyone can get a decent hyperspace-capable ship, with franchises like Star Trek and Mass Effect, where you very rarely see individuals with ships capable of FTL travel. Furthermore, the efficiency of travel also impacts the organization and running of the central government, as Planetary Defense Command points out. He also gets into some fascinating areas relating to economic matters, but I won’t really get into them, as economic concepts such as how individuals could amass wealth in an interplanetary setting don’t really play into the story or my creation of the Galactic Alliance.

Part 3 of Planetary Defense Command’s series, however, provides much more for me to get into. Here, the question being asked is: “What is the point of this galactic empire (or civilization)? And why do some of the story’s characters support it while other seek its downfall?

And what does this empire or civilization see as its purpose? To enrich itself? To express power? To keep the peace? To spread and conquer? To maintain political stability?

This choice on the part of the writer is important due to the effect this has on the story. Telling a story of corporate intrigue, or of an uprising against the corrupt, greedy core worlds? Then you’d want an enrichment-focused civilization. Want to tell a story about a power struggle? Then you go with a civilization run by a military strongman who has just died, leaving his subordinates to fight over who next takes the reins. And so with the others as well. We can, of course, look to our own history, take civilization types that work for the story we want to tell, and just alter it in the necessary ways to make an epic, fun sci-fi story.

The next part of the post deals with how these civilizations are managed. Planetary Defense Command gives a couple of examples, and again the practical issue of the size of this civilization matters. In the case of the strongman, if there are only a dozen, or a few dozen inhabited planets he controls, he could have a subordinate govern each one and stay involved. But if there are dozens, hundreds, or more, it’s simply too many, and he’d need more levels of bureaucracy, to the point where the empire might be run by that rather than the central authority figure—at least in practice. The same goes for a Star Wars style senate. With a few dozen, even a few hundred representatives, be they of a species, system, or planet, could function. But again, with thousands or millions, the senate chamber would become the senate city. Add to this the communication issue. If there’s FTL communication, meeting can be held and votes can be cast from anywhere, and if not then a space must be built for the senate.

That done, we can return to the choices I made in these areas as I created the Galactic Alliance. First off, I made the choice early on to follow the example of Star Wars in treating FTL travel as merely a means of getting characters to and from places rather than as a plot point or a scientific thing. All that matters is that hyperspace travel exists, is widely accessible, and it gets people places.

Building on my setting that has widespread FTL travel and FTL communications with some limitations, I chose to follow the general models of Star Wars and Mass Effect, where we have a central location used as a center of government for the interplanetary society.

However, I drew more on the real world for the creation of this society, at least as I developed and revised the story over many years (for reference, the original story idea is over a decade old, and even then I envisioned the Galactic Alliance as inspired by the Star Wars government), though over time, as I studied history and became much more aware of global affairs, I drew more on that to craft the Galactic Alliance.

The best way to describe it, I think, is that my Galactic Alliance functions fairly similarly to a United Nations or a European Union. Each system has a representative (sometimes referred to as a species’ representative, as several are centered only on one system), and those representatives make up the Assembly, which meets on the central world of the Alliance. Each system does run its own affairs, but the Assembly, and the chairman it chooses, does have significant ability to determine broader Alliance policies, and all member world are at least officially bound to abide by these decisions and laws. And while such meetings could theoretically be held from longer distance, the representatives are intentionally brought to a central location, as it reinforces the power of the Alliance’s central government, as does the centralized Alliance military, designed to take the place of individual defense forces (most races and systems rely exclusively on the Alliance’s military, as well as a small, paramilitary peacekeeping group that, while largely independent, does answer to the Assembly.) There are, however, a number of systems that resisted that centralization and maintain their own, often sizeable fleets. So we have a system of government that ostensibly leaves local affairs in the hands of local governments, but very much established a power center for itself legislatively and militarily. This allows me to introduce a variety of problems and conflicts here, which play into not just A Greater Duty’s story, but also future books in the series. (And, I imagine, readers might glean my own opinions of the real-world inspirations for the Galactic Alliance based on the events of the book.)

Ultimately, the Alliance’s purpose is (or at least was) to provide some central authority to the myriad of planets and peoples in that region of the galaxy, unifying them under one currency, one set of laws (at least in regard to major things like trade and interplanetary relations), as well as to centralize the military and security, with its military (though as mentioned above several systems refused this, but did still provide some form of assistance to it), as well as the paramilitary Scions of Justice organization. For the Scions, I drew on sci-fi and fantasy staples like the ranger or the Jedi, uniquely gifted people (artificially gifted, in their case) who generally operated alone or in small groups, enacting justice in both small and large-scale situations. However, I also pulled from Mass Effect’s SPECTREs, who were more solo actors and tended to be more “ends justify the means” if it protects the civilization. My Scions take a more middle ground, though many would fall under the spectrum of “bad cop” (in the sense of  not-being goody-two-shoes all the time, with focus on getting the job done, while still at least technically remaining within the bounds of the law and their own rules.)

All beyond this, each system/planet has their own government, which varies wildly from democracies to monarchies, etc.

In the end, I picked and chose from ideas from other pieces of fiction, real-world examples, as well as from what the story required (both A Greater Duty and its sequels.) It’s been a lot fun creating this setting, and I think that even beyond the “main” story I will be telling, it has opened a lot of creative space for fun, space opera/space adventure stories, and you can bet I will be taking advantage of that down the line.

For now, though, this has gone on long enough, and I kind of already addressed the main topic of Planetary Defense Command’s fourth and final part of the series on Galactic Empires/intergalactic civilizations. I’ll most likely make a quick wrap-up post touching on what he wrote in that article, as well as a little bit more on my Galactic Alliance, and maybe talk a bit about A Greater Duty itself on this site for the first time.

Until then, keep on reading, writing, and galaxy building!

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