Across the planet today, there are around two hundred different countries, between three and eight thousand different languages, and more cultures (and subcultures?) than anyone could possibly count– if they could even find a reliable definition of culture in the first place. Or put another way, our Earth is both very big and very small.
This is the sort of thing that comes to mind after watching entirely too many episodes of Star Trek in a row. Or pretty much any science fiction TV show or movie or video game or book, for that matter. Compared to our own, all the biggest, grandest worlds that we’ve created are just so small, so limited.
And some of that is by necessity. Take the aforementioned episodes of Star Trek*, for example: if you only have a little less than an hour to tell a complete story, then you just don’t have time to develop a complete and complicated set of geopolitics for your strange, new world, and to try it would be to take away from the story you actually want to tell. When a bunch of humans, Klingons, and tribbles all end up on the same space station, we don’t need to know anything about the inner workings of Klingon geopolitics in order to enjoy the episode.
Even in the infinitely more complex Deep Space Nine that spent numerous episodes exploring the conflict between the Bajorans and the Cardassians, both species have only a single culture, and any hypothetical divisions among them are ignored. It seems there is no such thing as Northern Bajorans and Southern Bajorans, and even those separate groups that appear as the series progresses all stem from the same basic culture, only different in the way they react to their common history. And again, that’s not a bad thing. Even as simple as it is by real world standards, it’s plenty complex enough for the purposes of the story.
That being said, I’d love to see a story that plays a little more with the ramifications of multiple major powers on a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel. What would happen if American explorers made contact and formed an alliance with the Greys from the planet Heru at the same time that Russian explorers hit it off with the Purples on one of the same planet’s other continents? And what would happen if the Greys and the Purples didn’t get along?*
I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly the sort of question that science fiction was born to answer.
* It strikes me as I write this that I’m poorly enough read in science fiction that someone may have already written such a story, and I just don’t know about it. If you happen to know one, do mention it in the comments below, as like I said the idea fascinates me!
3 thoughts on “[Blog] Great Big Planetary Empires”
You’ve watch enough Stargate to know they have touched on this in several episodes. While I can’t think of a story where different Earth explorers met different alien cultures, there are several where different Earth explorers met the same alien culture and several where one Earth explorer met different alien cultures.
My memory says non of those combinations ended well.
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Shoot! I had meant to mention Stargate and completely forgot. Still, even in Stargate, once you get off Earth, the cultures for each planet tend to be fairly homogeneous. Even the Tok’ra and the Goa’uld are roughly similar, and arguably more of a counterculture than a separate one.
Though, like in Star Trek, that choice almost certainly serves the story better than the alternative.
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