Empires are something of a staple in science fiction, and they’re often evil empires. Or at least evil emperors. Asimov’s famous ‘Foundation’ series starts off with an empire in the first throes of disintegration, Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five series has a weak emperor whose power is usurped by a ‘trusted adviser’ (think Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII) and then there’s the most famous galactic empire of them all – Star Wars.
It’s a tempting concept, having one powerful ruler in charge of everything. Earth’s history includes a number of powerful, very well run empires. The foremost was Rome, but others include the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the British Empire, the Napoleonic Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Based on these terrestrial examples, an empire is defined as “a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom.” As the power of one particular political entity grows, it expands, gobbling up its neighbours. One of the best examples in relatively recent history was the expansion of Prussia, amalgamating a collection of autonomous small kingdoms into the modern political entity called Germany. Even more recently, after the end of WWII, Russia extended its influence over much of Eastern Europe to become the USSR, an empire in all but name. Stalin may not have worn a crown, but an emperor is just another form of dictator.
Are we ever likely to see an empire comprised of a collection of planets, though? It’s hard to imagine. We’re talking vast distances between the planets, which will probably be in different star systems. Perhaps if we reach the point in our technology where travel between star systems is achieved in weeks or days, then the concept of an all-powerful central entity might be feasible. After all, the Rome Empire encompassed such far-flung regions as Britain and Egypt. However, it would also depend upon strong government at a local level, with an allegiance to the central body.
Eva Caye has come up with a new version of a galactic empire in her nine-book series, “To be Sinclair”. In the first book, Dignity, we receive enough backstory to understand that the Sinclair family led a mission from Earth to colonize a planet. Since the Sinclairs provided most of the money to finance the trip, they became kings. Others who contributed large sums became dukes, with their own lands. Because the Sinclairs controlled the wormhole technology enabling space travel, they expanded their influence to other planets, and became Imperial.
Unlike stories like Dock Five and Star Wars, which concentrate on the rebel efforts to defeat the empire, Caye’s books are about the imperial family, and the constraints and responsibilities they must contend with as part of their daily lives. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for members of the British Royal family, especially in these days of insta-media. Privacy is virtually impossible. Everything they say, everything they do, is subject to scrutiny. But the British Royal family has no real power. Eva Caye’s Emperor has power. And with that comes enemies, assassination attempts, sycophants and hangers-on.
I’ve written a review for Dignity. You’ll find it over on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade blog. Do take a look.
Meanwhile, what do you think about Galactic Empires? Do you see if happening? Please share your thoughts.