Monday, November 22, 2010

Let’s talk fictional governments.

In the continuing saga of world-building techniques, today we’re going to sit down and take a look at building fictional government systems. This is actually not that hard, since real governments are so mind-bogglingly stupid that you pretty much can’t make your fake one seem any worse.

Chances are if you’re writing fantasy, you just have a fairly standard monarchy going. However, it is important to note that even at the very height of feudalism, the king did not make every single little decision about the country. Even an “absolute monarch” has more important things to do with his time than decide exactly what percentage the tax on pork should be. Sure, he might decide whether or not pig-meat should be taxed, but he’s got way better things to do with his time than handle the nitty-gritty.

This is one part where you get to make up words without sounding stupid. Take a look at some of the various titles for government positions around the world. You can pretty much string together random syllables that are common from the language you’re speaking and it’ll sound like a neat high-ranking government position. “Triumvier” is a great example.

It is important to keep in mind that even a feudalistic fantasy realm has to have a working economy. Or not, actually, in the Course Books we learn that the land of Rowen is in almost complete economic collapse, with around 30% of the population having turned to banditry. Of course, most of Rowen is basically an autonomous collective, so they haven’t exactly got a strong central government.

So in a fantasy realm you get a lot of options, but basically none of them are democracy. Look at the trouble we have properly tallying votes and preventing fraud in 2010, with The Internet, and… stuff. Imagine trying to give just every man in your medieval kingdom a vote, its just not happening.

An easy solution it to reduce the segment of the population that’s allowed to vote. Maybe it’s only wealthy land-owners that get a vote, and perhaps they only make up 1% of the population. Each of them could simple send a couriered letter to the central government with his vote.

The Scion of the Storm (the upcoming sequel to Author of the Gust), I actually took advantage of the failings of large-scale democracy in a less-advanced culture to create an important plot-point. Now, the tech level was roughly equivalent to early 18th-century hear on earth, by which time democracy was working on a large scale in some parts of the world, but there was still a weakness. In the Antelope Books story-world, the planet consists of many islands. Sail rules the day, and it takes weeks or even months for anything to get anywhere. While they do posses rudimentary telegraphs, most of the planet relies on ships and paper mail. Taking advantage of this, the antagonist installs his own people in several key vote-collecting positions, thus allowing him to decide what the people voted for. In this way, he essentially takes over the world.

You have quite a few options when paper is widely available and literacy rates are high, but things get even more interesting when you flip the coin.

On the other side, switching to sci-fi, your options are nearly endless. It would be fairly hard to accept a technologically advanced civilization with an absolute monarch, but constitutional monarchies work just fine.

Absolute monarchs tend to stifle technological advancement, as their primary goals tend to involve living for their own pleasure. But, in fiction there is always the possibility to work around this. In the Course Books story-world, we know of two such civilizations. The first is the Kamians, who while they have something similar to an constitutional monarchy going, there is typically an emperor with a great deal of political power. They get around the problem by being a warlike race of violent socipoths; so the emperor is perfectly willing to shop at thrift stores and eat canned beans if it means his country has more money to build guns with. Here, the emperor orders vast resources poured into scientific and military advancement, because they’re trying to conquer the world.

The other civilization is the M’KHarens; who, as a nation, date clear back to the Dynastic Period of the Mage Wars. They have always had an emperor who is an absolute monarch, and while they practice limited democracy on the municipal level, it is the emperor who makes all the big decisions. How, then, do they succeed in being a technologically-advanced major power in the verse?

The M’KHarens have always followed the system of having a “scholar king”, which essentially means the emperor is smart. There is a royal family and a royal line, but they are well known for being extremely learned. The next Emperor begins his training in boyhood, when he would be carefully groomed for the throne. Science, mathematics, philosophy, economics, the future king studies all of it. The royal family may even include several princes, all essentially competing to see who can be the smartest, because the emperor will always chose his most competent heir.

In this way, when the emperor makes appointments, he chooses wisely, and for the good of the people. He lives to serve his country, not his selfish desires.

So, yeah, you basically need either the war-king or the scholar-king to get away with a monarchy in a technologically-advanced civilization, otherwise you need some form –ocracy to be square.

But, on the plus side, you do get to make up more cool words.

Read The Path to Ascension and The Road to War to see more concrete examples.

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