As promised in my introductory post, I’m going to use this space to dive into some of the worldbuilding behind my new Breaker of Empires series. Valiant Dust, book 1 of the series, comes out in just a couple of weeks, so this seems like a great time to talk a bit about the hidden skeleton of assumptions and decisions that lie beneath the people, places, and events of the story.
One of the sins we’re supposed to avoid in modern novels is undigestible exposition. That’s a fancy way of saying, You stopped telling the story to describe some part of your world in too much detail. I think that’s a little bit demanding on the part of the reader since I can think of many places where I was more than happy for the information in books I was reading, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care to deliver the exact right amount of exposition at the exact right time. Not every reader’s going to have my same level of tolerance, after all, and poorly done exposition can be bo-ring. Fortunately, a website post is the perfect place to dive into this sort of information and really drill down on things that I think are interesting or important, but just don’t really fit in the narrative. If readers care about it, they can come here and explore Topic X to their heart’s content. If they don’t, no problem–it’s not clogging up my story.
Okay, so onto today’s Worldbuilding Assumption #1: Who Wants a Planet?
In my Sikander North universe, the first answer I came up with was simply any population on Earth that missed out on a country of their own. History is arbitrary and cruel; some cultures/religions/ethnicities succeeded in securing self-governance for themselves, and others didn’t. Estonia’s a nation-state with about a million Estonians; Kurdistan is not, despite the fact that there are about 28 million Kurds. It turns out there’s a term for this: stateless nation. And if you’re trying to extrapolate future history, it’s reasonable to wonder how it might treat stateless peoples.
If people ever get the chance to leave Earth and settle new worlds, I imagine that some of the people who got dealt a bad hand by history might be at least a little interested in finally establishing a state of their own somewhere off-planet. Not everyone, of course; many stateless peoples see their homeland as their homeland, and aren’t interested in correcting the wrongs of history by giving up and moving to different territory somewhere else. But others might. I think there are dozens of planets in the Breaker of Empires universe settled primarily by people looking for a chance to preserve their own culture or religion or language when the means finally became available.
I’m not planning on exploring this idea for each and every disenfranchised group I can find. That would be condescending and obnoxious on my part–these aren’t my stories to tell. But I think the concept is important to building a plausible future history and explaining how human cultures vary and compete from planet to planet, which is a pretty crucial element in building a universe that features Great Powers and worlds that are dominated by Great Powers. It would be easy to do this wrong, so I plan to incorporate it into my storyline only when it’s needed. In fact, there are really only two stateless-peoples-turned-star-nations that feature in Valiant Dust: the Khanate of Kashmir, and the Republic of Montreal.
The Republic of Montreal is an example of a very successful move to the stars by a disenfranchised population. In this case, it’s the Quebecois (forgive the missing accent marks, it’s hard to do those in this editor). I’m not taking any sides on the question of Quebecois nationalism; I’m just suggesting that a couple of hundred years from now in my universe, enough Quebecois harbored enough desire to give it a go somewhere else that they settled a world they called Montreal. Thanks to fortunate stellar geography and a rich home system, Montreal was well-positioned to blossom into a Great Power when the technology of the age finally permitted the establishment of interstellar nations. Rather ironically, the Montrealais are now an imperial power with colonial possessions of their own–for example, the planet Gadira, on which much of the action in Valiant Dust takes place.
The Khanate of Kashmir is an example of a different sort. It was founded by Sikhs (there are about 30 million Sikhs in the world today, and they haven’t had a state of their own since the Sikh Empire was defeated and absorbed into British-ruled India in 1849). But Kashmir was much more remote than Montreal, and largely fell out of contact with the rest of humanity during the centuries after its settlement. Although it was one of the most promising systems colonized by humanity, with two reasonably Earthlike worlds and rich resources, its isolation meant that it fell generations behind the steadily advancing technology of worlds in closer communication with each other. As a result, Kashmir fell under the control of the Commonwealth of Aquila, another Great Power. In a different sort of irony, the Kashmiri Sikhs who’d long ago left Earth to govern themselves on a distant world found themselves part of a new empire.
(I should note that the people of Kashmir aren’t straight-up Punjabi Sikhs. Sikander’s family name is North, and at one point Sikander observes that he has many Hindu friends back home. A lot of history that I just don’t explore in Valiant Dust happens between today and the year 2200, which is roughly when the people who settle Kashmir leave Earth. Then another 700 years or so before Aquila succeeds in establishing its dominion over the Kashmir system. In terms of culture and religion, that’s a lot of time for things to evolve in unexpected ways. But that’s another hunk of exposition.)
Is every “colony system” in my universe inhabited by people descended from stateless populations in the world today? No, not at all. For example, Gadira was originally settled by a very powerful Islamic state that formed a star nation known as the Terran Caliphate a few centuries from now. Gadira “withered on the vine” in the years leading up to the events of Valiant Dust because the Terran Caliphate fell into decline and gradually lost control of its own far-flung systems. The ancestors of the Gadirans made out just fine in the lottery of history, and only the decrepitude of a first-generation interstellar empire in the face of hungry new second- and third-generation empires left them defenseless against domination by the Republic of Montreal. In my world-building so far, I’ve sort of mixed it up. And added aliens, too.
Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for Valiant Dust in early November. And I’d sure appreciate it if you help spread the word about the book–if military SF isn’t your thing, maybe you know someone who *would* like it. I can’t stress enough how important those first-month sales are to a book’s long-term success!