The typical inhabitant, when asked as to his origin, might perhaps cite his native world or, more usually, his local district, as if this place were so extraordinary, so special and widely famed that its reputation hung on every tongue of the galaxy.

— Jack Vance, Whyst, 1978

The overwhelming majority of people in Flat Black live in the colonies, which is to say that they are the citizens and inhabitants of a myriad of states and territories on a thousand inhabited planets and moons. Of roughly one trillion population, only fifty million or so are Imperials, and no-one lives on Earth. The thousand worlds occupy a sphere 350 light-years across, centred on Sol and the ruins of Old Earth. The sphere's diameter is only a fraction of the 1,000-light-year thickness of the Galactic disk, and it contains only one 35-millionth of the volume of the Galaxy. Of the thousand inhabited worlds 633 — the “primary colonies” — were settled directly from Earth between 856 years ago and 459 years ago. The remaining 357 worlds were settled within the last 49 years and are still frontierish.

Only half a dozen worlds were at all cosmopolitan when the flow of migrants from Earth was cut of by its destruction. The great majority had only small populations with narrow economic and social bases, and a great many had been settled by various religious and secular utopist and separatist groups that made deliberate efforts to create ideal societies on radical plans. Almost none have turned out as intended, but the societies have not reverted to any sort of familiar default. Isolated for four to five hundred years, the primary colonies have developed a mad variety of incompatible and mostly bizarre cultures. Nor has the advent of commercial interstellar travel over the past century or so driven any sort of convergence. Interstellar travel is not terribly expensive (at least for people with incomes in highly-developed colonies), but it is time-consuming. The average distance from an inhabited world to its nearest neighbour is about 14 light-years, and liners travel at approximately one thousand times the speed of light, so the shortest possible interstellar trip in most cases takes five days each way. Interstellar trade in non-perishable goods is viable, but passenger flows are thin, and not sufficient to exert a significant cultural influence. Literature and movies can indeed be transported cheaply between the worlds, but lacking a cultural common denominator they usually appeal only to enthusiasts and scholars, or in shallow fads. Social and culturally, Mankind has never been more various.

The various colonies are also very economically diverse. A small group know as “the Suite” exploits the economies of scale available through interstellar transport to conduct an economy richer and more sophisticated than would be possible on any merely planetary scale. At the other extreme remote colonies with small populations, bad government, and undeveloped economies are so poor, and can afford so little of sophisticated technology, that the bulk of their populations might as well be living in the Iron Age.

It is of great importance that the colonies are independent and self-governing. The wealthy colonies are deeply suspicious of any possibility that the Empire might develop a base of power on any world, and the governments of the weak and poor colonies are jealous and afraid of Imperial meddling. Therefore the Treaty of Luna strictly prevents the Empire from exerting any authority within a sovereign colony, and the Imperial Senate applies a strict scrutiny to Imperial conduct on inhabited worlds. When the Senate passes an “intervention act” to authorise the Empire to intervene in any colonial disaster, or an “establishment act” to provide for interim government on any world that is being newly settled it always provides for limited goals and terms of engagement, strict oversight, and a definite expiration of Imperial extraordinary authority.

The history and changing technology of colonisation has imposed a certain structure on the sphere of human settlement.

  • Forty-two worlds within 62 light-years Sol were settled in the first century of colonisation, a time when only few destinations were available. Those that flourished attracted thick flows of migrants from all over Earth, which continued and increased for 160–260 years. They tend to be populous, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated. The ones that languished and failed and are now poor and not so populous and sophisticated, but their original settlers represented traditions and institutions that were prominent on Earth in the 22nd century, not the narrow interests and fringe groups that were able to dominate whole planets when hundreds were accessible.
  • Between sixty and 130 light-years from Sol the colonies are progressively younger, and never achieved a state of development such as might attract numerous and urbane immigrants. They were established when numerous destinations were available, and tended more to be influenced by fringe groups of settlers with special social interests. They were young and small when the flow of migrants and manufactures from Earth was cut off. Few had viable industrial economies. They suffered worse economic collapses. On the other hand, at this range marginally-habitable planets were not settled.
  • At the periphery of the original sphere of primary settlement — between about 130 and 146 light-years from Sol — there are worlds at which no general migrants ever arrived, only the pioneering crews of terraformation engineers. These worlds never established a local manufacturing base nor received a full range of agricultural and manufacturing supplies. Such colonies suffered terrible privations in the age of isolation, lost a great deal of technology, and in many cases sank to primitive conditions.
  • Beyond 145 light-years from Sol all the inhabited worlds are recent settlements made in the last fifty years using faster-than light transport. Only the more salubrious planets in this range have been settled, and though the colonies are still essentially engaged in the business of selling land to immigrants rather than having fully developed economies, they are largely inhabited by well-equipped immigrants from the wealthy and populous colonies of the Core. There are frontier societies, undeveloped, but not poor, and in most cases developing rapidly.

Lists of inhabited worlds as at 606 PDT

Colonies involved with the Empire before the Survey program

Copyright ©2014, by Brett Evill

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Copyright © 1988–2015 by Brett Evill