“Voyagers” was the working title for the first iteration of my science fiction setting. To differentiate the second attempt, the revision, I’ll call it Future History because my approach will be different: Instead of just arbitrarily making up stuff as I go along, I will attempt to “simulate” the future until I get to a large interstellar society.
Matters of Time…
Of course Voyagers had a worked out timeline too. In fact it was quite thorough – about 14000 words. The problem with the timeline was that I created it before the setting’s map was really done. As a consequence, none of the events outside the solar system really had a “sense of place”. This is especially a problem for the “near future” events, that is, the ones from the early years of human space exploration. Now that my map is fairly well worked out, I’d have to go back and retrofit the timeline. And there are certain problems with the map, too. I have no doubt I can make it work with relatively little effort, but I have the feeling I would be chasing consistency issues for a long time.
.. and of Space
Then there is another issue with the Voyagers setting. It covers way too much territory. There is absolutely no way I could ever hope to completely map a couple of billion cubic light years of space. About the only way to do that is to do what Traveller did: They basically compressed their universe into a flatland and split it up into a 1×1 parsec hex grid. The Voyagers map didn’t depict the z-Axis either but I have always been keenly aware that it was missing. When you map out galactic distances, that’s okay to an extent – the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across and its disc is only about 1000 light years thick. But when you combine it with space ships that can only travel a fraction of that 1000 light years distance in one trip, well, then you have to have your third dimension.
Compressing a Setting
After mulling these issues over, I decided that a viable approach might be to scale things down. Sure, I won’t quite have galaxy-spanning adventures, but do I really need to? The design goal for Voyagers had always been “reasonable realism” – that is, cutting corners only when necessary for the story. This is a science fiction setting rooted in H. Beam Piper and Robert A. Heinlein fiction – it’s not Star Wars.
So what kind of scale do I need, anyway, at the upper end?
- According to the Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Empire had 1.5 million member worlds, and 69 million “colonies, protectorates and puppet states”. Assuming that this averages to one system each, 71 million star systems in total, this is the number of star systems you’d realistically find in a slice of the galactic disc 6000 light years across. Sure, not all of the star systems in that slice will be inhabited or even have planets, but it still illustrates the point: The Star Wars Galaxy is a pretty empty place.
- Traveller’s Third Imperium and its 11,000 member worlds – all of which are one system in one hex each, as discussed above, theoretically fits into a sphere with a diameter of 200 light years or so.
What this means is that you can have – in theory – a lot of diversity in a fairly small volume of space. Some other science fiction settings I liked never used more than a dozen or two worlds. Larry Niven’s Known Space comes to mind; the Wikipedia article lists 22 worlds and that includes Earth, the Belt and even Kobold. I don’t think I was ever bored by that setting.
So in the end I can use a much smaller setting. To make space exploration more interesting, I always intended to put a limit on jump drive technology. In my prototyping of a map of near space, I assumed a limit of <9 light years per jump. I quickly found out that 2300 AD, GDW’s “hard” science fiction role-playing game, found a sweet spot with the limit they chose: 7.7 light-years. More than this, and there won’t be much of a tree-like structure to space travel; much less, and mankind won’t be getting very far: There is a choke-point between Ross 154 and Lacaille 8760 where a 7.36 light-year jump is needed. In the end, I decided to stick to the same 7.7 light year limit.
Outline of History
I am a firm believer in having a purpose to a setting, a concept, before building it. I don’t have to adhere to it if things just develop differently but I like to know where I am going.
The science fiction setting will have several “stages”:
- “Near Future” – Earth-bound science fiction
- Interplanetary exploration and colonization
- Interstellar colonization
These are fairly straight forward. Now, I have also need for a stage where not all colonies have access to the same technology, and where they are not all governed by a central government. It must be possible for “adventurers” to come to a star system and discover a human colony on one of the worlds, one that may not even remember Earth. Clearly, this requires for a lot of time to pass – and for some sort of breakdown of or at least lull in central control.
- Time of Earthside wars
- Recovery and unification
During the Earthside wars, the power blocs of Earth slug it out for some reason. The war spills over into space, of course, and to the colony worlds. A lot of them decide that getting involved is not only a bad idea, they also don’t really believe in the war. So they eitherjust continue with business as usual, or even declare themselves independent.
After the war, Earth finally gets its act together and unifies under one strong alliance – or perhaps the more powerful colony worlds even step in and enforce peace. Be that as it may, after the dust has settled Earth is in control of only a core set of colonies. The edges of human space have frayed away – the worlds there are now independent, and colonization of new worlds continues without central planning, control, or even approval. Human space expands outwards at an unknown rate.
This could form the springboard to an Interregnum, to continue with the almost axiomatic course of human space exploration, or perhaps Terra just becomes complacent – if some outer colonies can develop for a few centuries without interference, the Empire could arise and become powerful and eventually return to invade Terran space.
So now I have a rough plan. Time to get cracking – there’s a Galaxy to be colonized.