Interstellar States

Most science-fiction worlds are really rather boring with how the various species are politically organized. Every species has a single state, and that is it. Or you might have quasi-federal systems in which each species constitutes one federal state. One could look deeper into how this might have originated in an American cold-war mindset, but I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. And also not really interesting.

Thinking about how species with multiple states could be organized in a space setting, I came up with the following five types:

In the first case, we have the simplistic unified state that collects all the planets inhabited by a species under a single government. I think it does have its place in a setting that isn’t about big empires fighting each other, but as a kind of government that most other species see as a strange oddity that defies the common logic. You find this in all of the big powers in Star Trek. Even the Federation, which is a singular state that includes all the homeworlds and colony worlds of several species.

The second example has a politically unified homeworld, with its own colonies and outposts, but several of the full size, self-sufficient colony worlds have gained their independence as their own sovereign states. In such a model, it seems quite likely that relationships between the independent colonies and the homeworld might be somewhat strained or hostile, as the homeworld clearly still has a policy of maintaining direct power over some colony world. This is the political order that we see in The Expanse.

In the third example, the homeworld is a unified state, but all the self-sufficient colony worlds are sovereign states as well. The homeworld does not have special status, other than likely having the largest population. I think this model would work quite well for loose confederations, where the homeworld is used to granting colony worlds independence once they reached a certain size. This only makes sense if the homeworld believes it will still get the full economic benefits from having funded the colonies’ construction. Something very close to this model can be seen in the human Systems Alliance in Mass Effect, which I think is actually a federal republic based on the United States, in that the parliament is located on a space station that is not part of either Earth or any colony.

The fourth example is where things start getting really fun. You have several sovereign states that each have their own colonies. I think this might be very well in our future at the end of the century, when the economics of space exploration make joint international research stations like the ISS no longer a necessity, and nations can fully fund their own separate stations. This is what I have in mind for the less advanced species, but much of my ideas for this setting are about seeing past the blind determinism of progress that defines most of 20th century sci-fi, and so I think I’ll also have some very highly advanced species that have this system anyway.

The fifth example is a variation of the fourth. In this case the homeworld still remains unified, but some of the colony worlds have become independent. I  plan to use this only for one species, because this is probably the messiest of them all.

All the examples here are only with up to four states, but you could easily have 20 or 30 states for a single species. But that would be practically impossible and of little use for anyone, so more than four or six would be overkill. I also don’t plan on writing up all the star systems of known space, only maybe 30 or so. So of the potentially 50ish sovereign states in known space, I’ll probably fully develop only half a dozen at the most.

Interstellar Trade Language

ITL was developed as a simple and elegant solution to enable easier communication between space ships and inside space ports. It is a fairly straightforward language with simple grammar and single letter based writing system. What makes ITL special, and uniquely suited for interstellar communication, is that the written script can be pronounced in three greatly different ways. The three ways to pronounce ITL are designed in a way to allow all the species of known space to speak in at least one of them. In theory, mastery of ITL requires the ability to understand all three form of pronunciation, which is one of the first things taught in language classes once learners have mastered the script, but even when people can only understand one of them they are still able to communicate through writing, as all three forms use the same letters.

Fluency in ITL is a requirement for almost all jobs in space and it’s the most common second language in most education systems, even before other local languages. In many frontier colonies with colonists from different countries of a planet, it has even replaced the traditional lingua franca of their homeworld, and for many spacers its the only language they know.

While all species are able to pronounce one of the forms of ILT, there is an uncountable range of various accents even within people of the same species. Some species have a harder time than others with understanding heavy accents, but in most cases it’s simply a matter of hearing the accent spoken for a few hours to fully understand it.

Not all species have a hearing range that can detect the full voice range of some other species. People traveling to systems where this is an issue for them when talking with the local population often wear hearing aids that shift their voices into a range they can hear. All personal communicators have the same feature and capture voice as it s spoken to play it back at a different frequency simultaneously. Better models are even able to amplify voices to the hearing range of other species and not just the species for which it was made. For visitors to other planets and stations, whose voice needs amplification to be fully audible to the locals, it is considered common courtesy to do so when possible, rather than to depend on them to fish out their own comms to understand what is being said to them.

The three forms of pronunciation are designed so that all species can pronounce one of them, though many are anatomically able to pronounce more than one. Talking to other species in the form they commonly can be an endearing party trick, but is almost never expected. Only one species has ever shown the ability to speak ITL in all three forms of pronunciation, but ironically they are the most isolationist species, that also uses very little verbal communication in general.