Here’s what I have written about the colonies in general for Flat Black in ten pages of tiny type. I wouldn’t mind being able to cut about 150 words (14%), so tell me what you think is obvious or redundant.
There are a thousand inhabited worlds with a total population of 842 billion humans and parahumans. Far fewer than a billion people live in space habitats.
The thousand worlds are physically diverse. Their stars range from K5 to F0 with outliers to M0 and B9. Average surface temperatures range from -12°C to 60°C. Gravity ranges from 0.45g♁to 1.58g♁. Atmospheres range from 0.24 bar of 40% O2 to 11.4 bar of 85% He. The driest world is 8% covered in water; the three wettest have less than 1% dry land. Apparent days vary from 10.4 hours to 48 hours, and about a hundred worlds are tidally locked to their stars so as to have no day and night.
The societies on these worlds are also madly diverse. The oldest is 856 years old; ten new ones were established last year. Population density ranges from 0.044 to 132 people/km2, population from 9.9 million (not counting new worlds with only a few thousand recent arrivals) to 21.5 billion.
Different colonies have every known form of government: monarchy and dictatorship, oligarchy and aristocracy, ochlocracy and isocracy, direct and representative democracy, feudal and bureaucratic hierarchy, theocracy, plutocratic kleptocracy, anarchy, chaos, and civil war. Many worlds have several colonies on them, each with a separate government and sometimes a distinctive society. The laws vary. Their enforcement varies. Courts vary, and in some colonies none exist. The punishments for crimes vary.
Different colonies employ every known mode of production: hunting and gathering, swiddening horticulture, nomadism, corvée agriculture, slave labour, agricultural and industrial manorialism, market capitalism, distributism, social-democratic redistribution, technocratic dirigism, bureaucratic collectivism, syndicalism, post-labour communism and post-labour pure capitalism.
The degree of economic development varies tremendously. No world is truly low tech—all have at least high-tech crops for their primitive farms, and the materials and medicines those crops produce—but some amount to extremely poor parts of the ultra-tech economy. The ten poorest colonies can only manage a division of labour comparable to Iron Age craftsmen’s workshops, and struggle to afford critical imports. The six most developed worlds (“the Suite”) achieve a division of labour that is only possible with markets of a hundred billion consumers, and make products more sophisticated than Old Earth ever managed.
The colonies’ social structures are madly various. Families may be nuclear, or if extended may be matrilocal or patrilocal, polygynous, polyandrous, based on line or group marriages, have different structure in different social strata, or not exist at all. Households may consist of a single family or contain many, or they need not be family based at all. Some societies have individual households or barracks-style households. Some have different household types for different social strata, life stages, occupational castes, or genders. In some societies the main social unit through which people participate in social life is their family or clan, in others their neighbourhood, their workplace, their age association, their guild, or a more-or-less formal club with or without an ostensible main purpose.
Along with all this structural variation, colonies also have distinctive quirks and social features. Some have dress codes. Some are nudist. Many have nudity taboos of various strengths and extents—it may be required (and perhaps sufficient) to wear a veil or mask. Body modification has an important social significance in some cultures; on some colonies it is used to effect a metamorphosis between life stages. Many societies have distinctive sports, crafts, performing arts etc., which may be pervasive. Some colonies have religions, or ritual and ethical systems effectively equivalent to religions. Some have an elaborate system of formal manners. Some have important gift-giving customs. Some have duelling codes. some practice ahimsa. Some practice cannibalism. The variety is bewildering.
Each society has different values and taboos, which are often unstated. In many it is expected that people will try to get ahead materially, and this ambition attracts sympathy: it is a social value. On others it is discreditable to outdo one’s peers or to exceed one’s proper station: material ambition is a taboo. Among the huge variety, societies value achievement, career, conformity, creativity, ebullience, fame, grandeur, love, modesty, popularity, power, progeny, reputation, “respect” (deference), sex, wealth wisdom, a “whole” life, a “good” death, a grand tomb. People seek their societies’ values, they interpret others as seeking them. They disguise and hide breaking taboos.
Perhaps the one universal is parochiality. Almost everyone feels that the customs of their people are human nature and their taboos, moral law. Most aren’t unaware of other worlds and societies—they learn about them at school and view sensational media. But most people never take an interstellar trip in their lives and few travel frequently. Other worlds don’t seem important or even feel real, accounts of their customs are mentally filed as trivial exoticism.
Each colony is sovereign over its own territory out to the “edge of Space”, the altitude where aerodynamic flight is barely possible below orbital speed. The Empire has power to meddle only where FTL travel, weapons of mass destruction, and massacres are at issue. Colonies that control a whole world, or that are at peace and co-operate with their neighbours well enough to conduct effective orbital traffic control, may conduct orbital operations and place satellite and orbital habitats within their worlds’ Hill spheres and below escape velocity, but these are supervised by the Imperial Navy. The Empire may issue charters for operations and habitats in deep space to be conducted by colonial enterprises, but these remain subject to Imperial sovereignty.
Each sovereign colony appoints senator to represent it at the Imperial capital, an Agent to represent it at the Imperial sector HQ, and the justices of an Imperial District Court to issue warrants and try cases under Imperial criminal law. It also receives an Imperial Resident Minister as quasi-diplomatic representative of the Imperial government and supervisor of Imperial activity.
Where a world or colony has no effective government, or is politically comminuted into tiny states beneath Imperial notice, the Imperial Senate appoints a Protector to exercise its rights against Imperial encroachment, but this does not extend to such a Protector appointing a Senator.