A Scene from the Unityverse

“Wait, the federal judiciary has it’s own military?”
“Kind of, yes. Legally, the marshals are restricted to enforcing the decisions of the courts, and the only reason they’re so heavily armed is due to the possibility of an armed force – whether independent or planetary – could be a litigant in a legal dispute. As for the possibility of the courts overstepping their bounds, well, all law depends on people…and most of Orion’s military power rests with the worlds.”

Art: Three Main Characters

I’m still trying to catch up with my buffer. To help with that, I decided to sit down and draw some faces. I don’t think you’d have any reason to know this, but the universes that these three characters are from are the worlds that have stuck in my head the hardest. It’s strange, but how much time I spend thinking about a universe doesn’t really relate to how much effort I put into externalizing it.

When I sat down to draw these faces, I decided to try something. I combined using ballpoint pen for the hard edges and used pencil to fill in the darker areas. I have to say, I like the effect.

If you like this picture, please support the House Apart on Patreon.

Some Thoughts Inspired by the Romanian Constitution

I read through the Constitution of Romania because I had heard that the two houses of their parliament had different originating jurisdictions – that is, that each house had areas of the law where they were the primary mover of legislation. I was curious about this because I had an idea of something similar with the legislature of the Planet Branwen, where one chamber dealt with the economy and other generalities, while the Senate handled specifics, including dealing with the agents of Unity.

How the Romanian system works is that a piece of legislation is introduced in the House of Deputies or the Senate, depending on what the bill concerns, and if it’s passed in the first house, it’s passed to the other. From there, the second house can either pass the bill as is, or propose amendments and send it back to the first. If the bill is returned, the first chamber can choose what to do with the amendments, either accepting them or rejecting them.

Having such a system on Branwen might be an interesting bit of worldbuilding, but much like the concept of organic law – areas of the Romanian law that can’t be altered during lame duck sessions – I don’t think it’s something that could easily come up during a story. A much more fruitful area for that would be the office of the prefect.

Prefects, in Romania, are people the central government station around the country to manage the various local branches of the national government. They coexist with various local governments, and the relationship between the local governments and the prefects are constitutionally defined as non-hierarchical. I’m not sure how this works in practice, but there’s a similarity to an office in my fiction I’ve been calling the rector.

While the prefect is stationed in a community, the rector is not stationed on a planet. Instead, they are stationed in a system, and largely exist to coordinate the functions of the federal bureaucracy in the space around the planets, and to make sure that the central government can actually respond to crises. It’s the non-hierarchical nature of their relationship with the worlds that I’m interested in, really. I like the idea of who’s in control is defined by if the event takes place within a planet’s atmosphere, or outside of it.

Art: The Technician’s Angst


This piece is messy, but that’s what I was going for.  The perspective is jarring, the cityscape in the background is somewhat nonsensical, and I didn’t use the entire paper for the drawing, all of which reinforces the theme of living in a world you can’t quite understand.  I still kind of want to use the rest of the paper for something, though.

Thoughts on Space Travel

Any story that wants to feature an interstellar society must overcome two distinct, but related problems.  The first is the sheer distance between the stars, while current scientific evidence implies that traveling between them in a reasonable time is impossible.  The second is the difficulty of getting out of a planet’s gravity well.

For my own space setting, I want several qualities for the FTL system, beyond simply getting from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time.  The first that it requires infrastructure that only an interstellar government can provide.  The second is that it allows for the physical positions of the star systems relative to each other to be important.  The third is that the FTL system allows for causality to be maintained (that is to say, no time travel).

The most obvious way for FTL to need infrastructure is for it to require literal structures, like giant stargate floating in space.  The most obvious way for a stargate to work is by creating a wormhole that connects to another gate somewhere in the universe.  Unfortunately, a straight wormhole network would both make the distances between the stars irrelevant, and allow for time travel.

However, a constrained class of wormholes could serve my purposes.  A kind of wormhole that becomes more difficult to create and maintain as the non-wormhole distance increases between the ends, and who’s ends are always the same amount of time apart from each other.  It’s not perfect; there’s still the small matter of being able to see an image of yourself at your destination before you depart, but that’s a minor edge case in terms of time travel.

I now have a form of space travel that depends on infrastructure, allows the distances between the stars to matter, and disallows for most forms of time travel.  This form of space travel consists of entering a stargate – an artificial structure that creates a wormhole – and traveling to another stargate, which will be exited sometime after the original entrance.  This would require some kind of exotic matter, but that can come from pretty much anywhere.

However, while this kind of travel does well for moving within a settled territory, it does not extend to outside systems controlled by the gate builders.  I am willing to postulate a second kind of space travel, much slower than the first.  I’m not even sure that this kind of travel needs to be FTL, so that traveling between systems takes years.  I still want it to go at relativistic speeds, if without that inconvenient time dilation.  Perhaps the secondary system could be useful for moving within systems as well, or even for shortening the trip through the stargate.

As to the second aspect of space travel, escaping the gravity well of the planet, I think the solution could be related to the gates.  Before I can explain how, you must first understand that in the theory of general relativity, gravity is the curvature of space-time.  The fact that space-time can bend is what allows wormholes to exist in the first place.  Therefore, any civilization that can create wormholes can manipulate gravity.

The most straightforward way to use gravity manipulation to leave a planet is to flatten or even invert the curvature of local space, essentially rendering the vessel taking of weightless, or in the case of inversion, in possession of negative weight.  Such anti-gravitational techniques would have a number of alternate uses, such building ridiculously tall buildings.  It would also be usable in atmospheric transit, although it is questionable if such applications would be more efficient than present-day methods.  This paragraph sounds like technobabble, even though I know what every word in it means.

My conception of interstellar travel depends on gravity manipulation at every stage.  Laying this fact out has lead me to contemplate placing anti-gravity vehicles everywhere in my setting.  I am not sure that everything I put out here is completely scientifically accurate, but as my science fiction is shaping up to be fairly soft, I believe that I can get away with muttering something about ‘quantum gravity’ if I’m called on it.

Unity-verse: The Guilds.

I cannot describe the Labor Party without describing the guilds.  There was a point where being a guild member was equivalent to voting for Labor in my head.

First, a note on manufacturing in the future.  Imagine a factory that is so fully automated, that it only needs a single person to look after it.  This person – let’s call them a factor – would look over the machinery each day, making sure that nothing broke overnight, and nothing needs maintenance to keep running.  Perhaps the factor can handle whatever repairs are needed themselves, maybe they need to call someone else, but in any case, a factor has a job that’s more skill-intensive than time-intensive.

Why is there only a requirement for skill, and not time?  Because if something is worth paying somebody to do repeatedly for hours everyday, it’s more economical to build a machine to do it instead.  The net result of all of this automation is that there isn’t much need for what we would call unskilled labor.

Now, economies are not static things.  They change and grow in response to stimuli, developing new organizations to meet needs.  In response to the lack of demand for unskilled labor, there arose organizations to convert the unskilled into the skilled – guilds.  The guilds are organizations that impart skills to their members.

I envision the guilds as being older than the federation, and interstellar in scope.  I see the guilds coming from one of the original worlds that made up the federation, a world where electorates for the upper houses were determined by career rather than by territory.  The guilds spread through the federation, and on Branwen, the guild members – guilders – formed their own distinct subculture.

In this subculture, there is a distinct belief that people should be deferred to in the areas of their expertise.  This expertise is gained by doing a job, and doing it well, whether that job is fixing pipes, coding programs, understanding and arguing the law, or even the crafting of government policy.  It is from this background that the leader of the Labor party in the Senate comes from, and why he tends to hold pundits in contempt.

I am not sure, however, how the guilds interact with the rest of Branwen, or the rest of the federation, for that matter.  I’m not sure how guild membership is determined, although I am aware a person’s parents can help people join.  I also want the Technician to be able to impress someone with her skill.  I also haven’t decided enough about interstellar society to understand how the guilds interact with anything up there.

I need to think harder, both on the guilds themselves, and how planets interact with each other.  I need to pin down how FTL works, and how it allows people to live between the worlds.  If nothing else, writing this post gave me a direction to direct my thoughts, and that’s a benefit in itself.

Politics of the Planet Branwen

I had originally wanted Branwen – the planet that the Unity story would take place – to be a typical planet.  I have since realized that there can be no such thing as a typical planet.

The planet Branwen is defined by three major regions: the City, which contains most of the population and is the seat of governance for the world, the Countries, sparsely populated hinterlands that provide food and other resources, and the Oceans, inhabited by the nonhuman species known as the telks or the telka.  Ruling above these regions is the global government, headed by the Executive-General and controlled by the Global Parliament of Branwen.

Branwen is governed by a system that bears some resemblance to a bicameral semi-presidential system.  The first chamber, the General Assembly, is directly elected by the entirety of Branwen, using some system of proportionate representation.  I’m not sure if I want the entire chamber to be selected by a closed-list system, or if I want an open-list or a mixed member system, but at any rate, there would be a large number of Members of Assembly would be elected by no particular group of citizens.  The Assembly would largely be concerned with regulating the economy (mostly through taxes and appropriations) and would be largely uninvolved in the plot.

The second chamber of Branwen’s parliament, the Senate, would be much more involved with the actual story.  The idea would be that while the Assembly took care of the economy in general, the Senate would deal with specifics, including the actions of the agents of Unity.  The Senate’s power to do this would, theoretically, derive from the fact that the senators are elected by the people of each Country and canton of the City, in equal measure.  I think five for each would suffice, simply because it’s a nice number.

The Presidency is a bit of an unusual thing.  My inspiration for it is the British legal concept of the Crown-in-Parliament, where the Monarch kind of makes up their own house of parliament.  As such, I envision the president of Branwen acting as some combination of legislator and executive, mostly acting through appointments, and otherwise serving a chief negotiator with off-world powers, including the Federation.

The President would be elected by the various national governments, in a manner reminiscent of the President of India.  These national governments would also select the President’s advisors, who make of the other part of the Presidency.  In much the same way the Federal Councils provide a control on the Directors, the advisors provide a control on the president.  I’m not quite sure how they do this, but I’m picturing the president needing a certain amount of advisors to act, and that these advisors can resign at any time.

Branwen practices a form of executive-legislative dualism; that is, the executives are not allowed to be a part of parliament.  I’m envisioning a group of politician that are associated with the parties, and generally specializing in government administration.  Two unusual traits of Branwen’s executive are 1) the cabinet members are considered to be subordinate to parliament, and 2) the executives can survive independently from one another, that is, the dismissal of any cabinet member, even the Executive-General, does not always result in the entire cabinet being replaced.

Now that I’ve explained how the world is governed, I can tell you about the world itself.  I’m going to take it region by region.

The City contains billions of people, both human and telk, in a relatively small area, even if this area is still large enough to be seen from space.  Due to the population density, there is a need for a strong government, capable of ensuring that water, waste, electricity, and other things are taken care of.  However, because of the sheer population of the City, it needs to be divided into manageable chunks.

I mentioned above that the City is divided into cantons, first-level divisions each equal to a country, and containing hundreds of millions of people each.  Each canton is divided into some number of wards.  Sometimes, these wards are stacked on top of each other, such that getting from one to another frequently involves an elevator.  Governing this nonsense is a headache and a half.

The City government resembles a federation of federations, a federation of the cantons, each of which is a federation of wards.  The areas of sovereignty for these sub-units are guaranteed less by constitutional law, and more by the fact that it would be ludicrously complicated to switch anything from one level of government to another.

Legislatively, the City has a form of tricaremalism.  The three houses would be the Council of Residents, representing those that live in the City, the Board of Trustees, representing those that work in the City, and the a chamber representing the governments of the cantons.  The Council of Residents is self-explanatory.  The Board of Trustees exists because of the sheer number of people that, while not living in the City itself, are still economically dependent on it.  The Board of Trustees would be based largely on similar bodies in the cantons and wards.

The  third chamber, representing the cantonal governments, wouldn’t exist so much as because the cantons are considered sovereign by right, but more because the City government would desperately need to coordinate with the cantons to make sure, for example, that the ground doesn’t crack open and release thousands of tons of raw sewage onto  the streets.  I suppose it would end up looking like the EU’s council of ministers, with each configuration being made up of experts on one kind of infrastructure.

The Countries don’t need nearly as much coordination between them, and if anything like the City government exists for them, it isn’t nearly as important.  The Countries themselves differ from each other greatly.  I might want each canton to have its own character, but they are still urban areas that are fairly close to each other.  The Countries, meanwhile, take up the rest of the planet, covering every kind of terrain on it.  Their laws and customs would be determined by the part of the world they found themselves in, even if they all grew from the same root.

Governmentally, they are all some kind of elective democracy (as required by the Federation), but beyond that, I see no reason to restrict them from any stable system.  These systems seemed to be produced by legislatures that are stronger than executives, but as the Countries are subordinate entities, I suspect that they can get away with things that would be unstable in sovereign polities.  Regardless, only a few of the Countries would be involved the plot, and I think I could think of things as they came up.

You may have noticed that the Oceans didn’t get any representation in the Senate.  This is because the telka are, at the beginning of the story, largely separated from the rest of the planet.  I figure that aquatic species are unlikely to develop a concept of Westphalian sovereignty, and as such, see nothing odd about living in and around a different polity.  The humans accept this because Branwen is mostly ocean, and the telks have an easier time getting resources out of them.

I want the telk system of democracy to have descended from monarchy in a different way than it did here on Earth.  I want their first parliament to have replaced the king outright, becoming the a collective sovereign.  This isn’t too different from the various countries on Earth that practice parliamentary sovereignty.  The chief difference are first, that they never developed the role of head of state, with unity instead being focused on parliament itself, and second, that they never developed bicameralism.  The first explains where the humans got the idea of a collective presidency from.  The second has much more interesting implications.

No bicameralism means no federalism, or at least a limited amount of it.  I suppose that the telka’s solution to a population becoming unmanageablely large would be to devolve a new parliament, or even effectively release a segment of the citizenry from their rule.  I think that the presence of the humans could complicate matters, however.  If the dominate group of telka tried to retain control of their population as a counterweight against the human government, that could cause issues with the populace, especially among those that live near and with the humans.  And now you understand why the telka are having a rebellion.

One last note is on the political parties.  The three major political parties, at least among the humans, are the Whigs, the Trads, and Labor.  I haven’t decided much about the Whigs, my thoughts on Labor are mostly concerned with their leader in the Senate, and the fact that they are involved with something called Guilds (which really deserve their own post), and the Trads are an alliance of religious groups.  The President and the Speaker of the Senate, if you remember that picture, were Trads, the Executive-General was a Whig, and the Senate Labor leader was, of course, a member of Labor.

I figured that the politics of the City would mostly be controlled by a combination of Labor and the Whigs, while the Countries would have a much greater proportion of Trad governments, with Labor being almost unknown if you get far enough away from the City.  I figure that each party would be associated with an interstellar organization, either something like India’s alliances or the EU’s parliamentary groups.  I might actually want the organizations to be full blown parties, but regardless, I know that I want such organizations to be involved in the Telk Rebellion.

Results of Research

Have you ever just wanted to talk about the things you’re research has taught you?  That’s what I want to do.  I have learned so much about legislatures and governments around the world in the last few months, and just kind of want to ramble about them for a bit.  There’s a bit of world building involved with my thoughts, but it’s not the kind of worldbuilding that would ever come up in a story.

The first thing I want to talk about is China’s weird nested legislature.  The highest legislature in the People’s Republic of China, the National People’s Congress, consists of nearly 3000 representatives.  These representatives are elected through a series of indirect elections, and mostly serve to elect the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is a permanent body that generally looks like a normal legislature.  The exact functioning of Chinese politics isn’t important here, but I am absolutely fascinated by the idea of that kind of nested legislature.

I say this mostly in the context of an interstellar federation in the Unity-verse.  You see, as a country’s population goes up, the size of it’s legislature tends to go up at a rate equal to the cubic root of its population, such that a country with a population of 25 million will have a lower house of 300 people, while a country with 90,000 citizens will probably have one with closer to 50 seats.  Scaled up to an astronomic scale, a polity consisting of trillions of individuals would have a parliamentary chamber whose size was in the five-digit range.

Intuitively, these seems like way too many people for effective governance, although the idea of a plenary session being held in a sports arena has its own appeal.  Adding on to this is the question of whether any person can effectively represent hundreds of millions of people, which is what the math of a cubic root ratio would require.  One idea I had was that a representative sample of citizens would be taken from each planet, and they would be shipped off to the capitol and elect representatives from among themselves. However, I suspect as the electors would be dependent on the representatives that had been elected during the previous term, I suspect that such a chamber would simply propagate itself.

An interstellar federation, being a federation, would also have a chamber where the planets are equally represented.  I have no question that the delegates in this chamber would be selected by the world governments.  I could see it butting heads with the other chamber, especially if it, too, was indirectly elected.  All-in-all, my ideas for the second chamber are the most straightforward.

I first encountered the idea of a strong upper house being characteristic of federations in Arend Lijphart’s Patterns of Democracy.  (I read the 2012 edition, if you’re curious.)  One of the other observations that the author made was that as a country grows larger, it begins to act more and more like a federation.  For example, large unitary states tend to have devolved sub-national legislatures, second houses that are composed on a regional basis, etc.  From this observation, I began to wonder what would happen if a federation was made out of sub-units large enough to act like federations themselves.  Would they need to add a third or even fourth house to make sure everyone was heard?

From this thought, I considered giving a third chamber to the leagues, the political divisions of the worlds based on their physical characteristics, which in turn define some very important things about the lives of the planets’ inhabitants.  I imagine that this house would be the weakest of the chambers, more like the House of Lords than the US Senate.  Its role wouldn’t be legislating as such, as much as advising the other houses on legislation.

As for a fourth chamber, for my ideas on that, I think I have to go into the the executive branch of the federation for a bit.  Rather than the standard presidential system, where the head of government is elected independently of the legislative branch, or parliamentary system, where the head of government is selected by the legislature, I think I want to go with a directory system.  In a directory system, there is no distinct head of government.  Instead, the heads of the nations ministries or departments are directly selected, and lead the nation’s government as a group.  As far as I know, only Switzerland uses this kind of government, although you see something a bit similar at the state level in America, with several officials being elected independently of the governor.

For this directory, I’m envisioning seven offices, consisting of the Directors of Internal Affairs, External Affairs, Finances, the Military, Justice, Science, and Commerce, as well as a Federal Coordinator, analogous to the Federal Chancellor of Switzerland, selected and dismissed by the first seven.  While needing debate and deliberation for nearly anything that happens to the entire federation might seem excessive, consider how long it would take for anything to travel from one star system to another.  If something has the possibility of affecting the federation as a whole, they have time for debate and deliberation.

This time for debate and deliberation brings me to my idea for a fourth house of the interstellar parliament.  This idea is inspired by the Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the European Council).  The Council, also called the Council of Ministers, serves as the upper house of the EU, and consists of ministers from each member country.  The interesting thing about the Council of Ministers is that it meets in 10 configurations of 27 members each, where each configuration is a meeting between each country’s minister of whatever that configuration deals with.  Thus, the agriculture configuration consists of ministers of agriculture, the environmental configuration consists of ministers of environment, etc.

From this idea of configurations, I get the idea of a series of legislative chambers, each dealing with one specific area of policy.  Specifically, I conceive of a series of bodies that advise each of the seven Directors, introducing even more debate and deliberation into the governing process.  It’s not like they don’t have the time.

I enjoyed finally getting these ideas out of my head.  There’s almost no chance of any of these coming up in a story, being far too distant from the action, but I still enjoyed writing it.  The only group that’s liable to ever come up directly is the Directory, and even then, it would mostly be agents reporting to the Director of Internal Affairs.

It took me a few false starts, but I enjoyed writing in my informal voice, once I found it.  It let talk about ideas I had, without turning them into an actual work.  I think I’ll have to use it more.

Sketchbook: Telk Anatomy Study


I wanted you to have some idea about how the telka stand and sit, and that they had four arms.  Despite the fact that I’ve had the idea of these aliens in my head for some time, I’ve never really thought about how they sit.  I had some vague impression of them standing hunched over, and from there, got an idea about them hopping around like kangaroos.  But I didn’t think about how they sit.  I guess they keep their tails off to one side, because it would be awkward if they sat on the tail.  I think they should slouch forward, so that there’s room for the tail behind them, though.