Gliese 4291 III "Sparta"


Star Gliese 4291 K3 V 70.2 LY from Sol in Aquarius,
(Pisces Austrinus Sector)
Planet III
Diameter 10 587 km 0.83 D♁
Gravity 9.8 m/s² 1.0 g♁
Day 31.0 hours
Year 167.8 local days 0.592 a♁
Atmosphere 1.8 bar Oxygen 0.29 bar
Scale height 8.5 km
Oceans 78% water Tidal range 1.2 m
Climate 18 °C (mild) Obliquity
Illuminance 56 klx 52% as bright as Earth
Spaceport scale 2 ground facilities
Escape speed 10.0 km/s
Low orbit 156 km Period 81 minutes
Population 660 million Density 13 /km²
Agricultural villages,
clustered industry
Households Women & children: matrilineal clans
Men: workforces, crews
Social unit audience
Social quirks • gender segregation
• gender-based occupational taboos
• bizarre courtship
Values • male beauty, female power
• female stability, male mobility
Taboos • lasting or exclusive sexual relationships
• inappropriate means of livelihood for gender and guild
Economy Communal manors, workshops, and mills
Development 3.8 (Industrial Revolution)
Inequality subdued Gini:
Currency ring ℟ 1 = SVU 1.6
(100 cents) 0.32
Government federal parliamentary matriarchy
(self-perpetuating bureaucracy)
Head of state Notary-General of the Great Republic
Chief exec Premier (during the confidence of Parliament)
Capital Menelaion
Legal quirks • Trial by professional judges
• Death penalty for murder; mutilation for rape and mayhem; corporal punishment

Gliese 4291 III is a small planet with a large iron core that has given it Earth-like gravity, a strong magnetic field, and and ample primordial heat. Deep extensive oceans and thick air cool the narrow tropics and keep the climate mild. Except on high mountains the polar ice melts in Spring. The colony, Sparta, is predominately rural, studded with country towns that rarely amount to even small cities.

Agriculture depends mostly on plantations of advanced biofab crops. These produce sophisticated materials for export and local craft production. Farmland, mines, and quarries belong to communes of related women. Commerce, manufacturing trades, fishing, and aquaculture are in the hands of unions of unrelated men, many of which own local monopolies or exclusive fishing rights. The level of development is pre-industrial, with imported machinery used in some large workshops, but no mass production. The economy grows slowly along with population as more land is brought into plantation, but it does not develop because Spartan institutions do not support industrialisation.

Women on Sparta live in matrilineal “communes”, with generally at least one hundred and sometimes a few thousand members. Communes own tracts of land in common. They occupy large homesteads together, which amount sometimes to palaces. Communes elect their officials, but offices are held for life or until promotion. Authority and privileges accumulate with the old, and cling for generations to successful lineages, but the members are nominally equal co-owners of the land and homestead, so material circumstances cannot diverge too far. Women on Sparta take pride in living on the produce of their land. They process produce and purchases for domestic consumption, but consider it a hardship or a shame to make things for sale. Few communes are so rich that they can hire outsiders to mine and quarry for them, still less to work their plantations, so all women are close to rural work.

Boys are adopted between the ages of fourteen and 22 (local years) into “unions” of men, where they serve as apprentices a while before graduating into the occupation, trade, or profession that their union follows. Some unions are guilds, owning a local monopoly on some skilled trade. Others are the crews of ships or the workforces of significant shipping lines. Others own valuable fishing rights. Others are in effect departments of government, police forces, or the judiciary of a court circuit. In any case it is felt a hardship to live by unskilled labour, and a shame to make a living outside the occupation of one’s union. Only the poorest unions hire their junior members out as labourers for women’s quarries, mines, and fields.

Unions do not always conduct their business as a single collective enterprise, and even when they do the proceeds are not shared on a strictly equal basis. Nevertheless, men work for shares and not for wages, few profits accumulate to individual entrepreneurs, and discrepancies income are not large. No men inherit fortunes nor leave bequests, and unions are inclined rather to consume lavishly than to invest savings. Opulent unions are common enough, but vast fortunes of capital are not.

Itinerant occupations are prestigious for men, a stabile lifestyle carrying a whiff of effeminacy. A man who cannot live in a cabin on a ship likes to live at least symbolically in a vehicle, such as a boat (even if it is permanently moored) or a mobile home (even if it is up on blocks). When men must live in buildings they like them to be set on piles over water, styled as vehicles with skeuomorphic wheels or gunwales, or at least to be nominally temporary structures of wood and canvas and not effeminately permanent masonry.

Social mores on Sparta strictly forbid any enduring sexual or domestic relationship between a woman and a man. The norm is for men to display their charms in public performances, and for each to put out to whichever woman takes up his general proffers. These displays take place in social spaces called “audiences”, where according to the style of the place men may sing, dance, play music, perform displays of strength, agility, and athletic skill, take part in athletic contests, recite poems and comic monologues, or present plays or operas. In any case the performers’ physiques are the main appeal; courting men dress gorgeously and revealingly.

“Audiences” range from cabarets to concert halls, from beaches to village squares, from handball courts to football stadiums. Men and women gather there to meet, socialise, keep up with fashion, drink, dance, sing, watch a game, cheer or heckle the “talent show” and maybe, if the fancy takes them, pick up a one-night stand. Audiences are the main venues in which women socialise outside their commune, men outside their union. At one extreme, touts and impresarios manage audiences like night-clubs, attempting to attract desirable and exclude undesirable performers and patrons. At another, a band or troubadour may set up a cabin in a romantic spot, brew a fragrant toddy, and sing loudly enough to be heard at the next village. That sort of thing is risqué: a male display that only one woman can respond to is considered indecent.

The government is a hierarchy of local, county, provincial, regional, and global parliaments, but these are only nominally democratic. In practice only women, the leading figures of prominent clans, are elected. There are no parties competing over policy; the parliaments simply negotiate tax-and-spending deals between clans and regions. Besides, all the executive departments are “unions” of career functionaries, run by their own senior members, and little subject to political oversight. Women make the laws and pay the taxes, but men carry out the government services: little is done of legislation, taxing, or service provision.

Law enforcement on Sparta and the suppression of banditry and piracy is carried out by guardians , trained from childhood, supported by the state, and permanently denied family, wealth, and political office. Each county has its own union of guardians, made up of a mess under a master in each locality, all under the command of an itinerant marshal with elite deputies . The higher divisions of government each have their own company of rangers under a captain . Most rangers’ unions recruit some adult guardians from lower-ranked unions in their jurisdiction. In accord with Spartan norms, rangers are usually peripatetic, with their headquarters in a caravan or flagship. Guardians dress in voluminous crimson uniforms with bronze accessories, and wear distinctive insignia to indicate which company they serve. They are the only people on Sparta who routinely wear armour and side-arms.


Autumn Dragon Bay is a picturesque expanse of limpid turquoise water surrounded by spectacular limestone hills. It covers 1,500 square kilometres and is set with thousands of limestone spires and islets, each jauntily capped with green tropical forest. The hills and islands are riddled with caves and grottos, gorges and arches. In many places past masters have carved astonishing friezes and statues to attract amorous art-lovers. Famed minstrels in acoustic grottos serenade passing boats. Celebrated beauties dive off towering cliffs into the sea. “Ten thousand” rafts and houseboats moored gunwale to gunwale in the east end of the bay, make up the City of Men , a huge dockland and floating village.

Kiddervik, on the Averno river, is the largest inland port on Sparta. Produce from half the Averno basin is loaded onto barges and riverboats there. The Cumaean pastoral unions drive their herds on annual rotation to birth prime cuts in the Kiddervik shambles, and to display prodigies of horsemanship at the Kiddervik gymkhana . The Glenguile commune gathers large rents on commercial property and town houses, notoriously flirts with banking, and occupies the famously huge and magnificent Glenguile Palace in Kiddervik.

The Grand Skenion is an opera house in Menelaion, the capital city. It is an architectural marvel and one of the oldest institutions on Sparta, but the luthier’s union that owns it regularly demolishes and rebuilds every structure on the site whenever the last member dies who remembers it being built. The Grand Skenion intersperses productions by travelling opera companies with a prestigious talent quest.

Scenario of an operetta

A bass, a tenor, and a comic baritone are shipwrecked on The Isle of Night . They lament their homelessness, destitution, and the deaths of their union. Three ladies (two counter-tenors and a boy soprano, singing contralto, mezzo, and soprano) overhear, and sing a trio about the bass’s strength, the tenor’s soul, and the baritone’s enormous moustache. They go to meet them, but the men are dispirited and do not flirt, so the ladies escort them to the market to look for work. Offered separate adoptions by a ship’s crew, a band of stockmen, and a company of rangers, they hesitate to be parted, and take work for wages on the docks. The ladies lament that the leads are too discouraged to perform, and hatch a scheme to disguise themselves as boys and trick the men into inadvertently making flirtatious displays by asking them for demonstrations of methods and technique. Just when they realise that they cannot go through with this indecent trick their grandmother the Queen (light baritone in drag, singing contralto) appears and sends them to their rooms. The Queen then hatches a plot with a jealous and malevolent judge (bass-baritone) to have the leads hanged as pirates. They are arrested by the Chief Ranger (basso profondo), but the ladies escape their dormitory and inform him of the plot. The honest ranger confronts the corrupt judge in a duelling bass duet, overwhelms him with a fortissimo low E, and throws him to his death from a high place (a stage dive into the audience). Released, the leads audition for the adoptions offered with displays of acrobatic dance, the ladies take that as good enough and throw them favours, and the honest ranger dances a fandango with the queen. Finale in chorus.

Imperial presence

Sparta is guarded by a destroyer, eight monitors, and an orbital tender of the Imperial Navy, with a commander IN as senior naval officer. The residence guard is a platoon of marines under a lieutenant, the resident is a minister-counsellor brevetted as minister plenipotentiary, and each assistance service is represented by a single attaché. By far the greater part of the Imperial presence is the company of engineers finalising construction on the new spaceport, and the Spaceways employees arriving to staff it. The Empire gives the impression that Sparta is just how it likes a colony to be.

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That’s not what I expected from a world called “Sparta”, although I see the analogy. How did the society take this form?

If you disregard the perioiki and put robots and bioroids in place of the helots, then squint a bit, Spartan society looks like women living on and controlling landed estates while the men leave their mothers at eight to live in barracks and undergo intense training for a highly specialised occupation. That’s the point of similarity.

The colony didn’t start from an attempt to do Sparta and morph into what it is. It started from a bunch of ideas intended to give women the stability, wealth, and family support necessary to raise children in dignity and comfort, independently of men and free from possessive lovers. You can’t call it a feminist scheme, because it wasn’t based on an axiom that the sexes are equal, but it was an attempt to redress the inequality of the sexes structurally — by paying women for bearing and raising children out of the rent of land. Then when the social engineers squinted at what they planned and squinted at “Sparta without helots and perioiki” they thought they had a marketing pitch that wouldn’t repulse men.

Then it diverged from the plan for four hundred years.

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