The world currently consists of about two hundred countries: sovereign states, most of which are members of the United Nations (UN). They tend to be durable entities with rather stable borders.
The world of the future isn’t divided up in this way. At least not according to a couple of recent novels I enjoyed very much. I refer to:
- Europe In Autumn (The Fractured Europe Sequence Book 1), by David Hutchinson, which I’ll refer to as EiA.
- Too Like the Lightning: A Novel (Terra Ignota), by Ada Palmer, which I’ll refer to as TLtL.
EiA is first on the list by alphabetical accident, but it provides a good starting point. One character describes “Europe as a glacier… calving icebergs.” A second compliments him on the analogy, remarking that Europe is “calving itself into smaller and smaller nations.” Then the protagonist speaks.
“Quasi-national entities,” Rudi corrected. “Polities.”
The term Polity can be used to denote any kind of political entity. Thus it is useful in Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe, which includes many and various “pocket nations” set up by aristocratic heirs, microethnic groups, and… but you’ll have more fun if you read EiA and let Hutchinson tell you.
The fractures in Fractured Europe are the increasingly numerous and difficult borders. The European Union’s Schengen Agreement is dead. The EU itself still exists, but as little more than a source of “noises in the UN”.
The setting of TLtL could hardly be more different than that of EiA. It is the twenty-fifth century, rather than our own twenty-first. It is the planet Earth, rather than the continent Europe. In TLtL, travel between continents is rapid and routine; in EiA, travel between small adjacent polities can be difficult and dangerous.
TLtL’s main polities are Hives, which are defined, not by geography, but “by shared culture, philosophy, and, most of all, by choice.” There are seven Hives. In order of population, they are: Masons (31%), Cousins, Mitsubishi, Europeans, Humanists, Gordian, and Utopians (4%).
The world is governed by an Alliance between the Hives. There is a world capital, Romanova. It was built by the Masons. Property is divided among the Hives by population.
Nationality survives in TLtL. Some characters wear “nation-strat” insignia. The Mitsubishi Hive is marked by rivalry between its Chinese, Japanese, and Korean members. Some other systems of identification, such as gender and religion, are frowned upon.
Despite their contrasts, EiA and TLtL have much in common. Each is science fiction by definition (although I’m not going to get mired in the discussion of what is meant by the term science fiction: or nation, or…)
Each is about the polities and politics of a particular future. Polities and their borders aren’t just background for the plot and characters.
There are many such novels. I was going to include another recent and well-received science fiction novel:
- Infomocracy: A Novel (The Centenal Cycle), by Malka Older.
Note that each of the three novels is the first in a series. (Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series is already complete. Palmer’s sequel, Seven Surrenders, is about to be published.) Science fiction currently seems to deal more in series than in stand-alone novels. This may hold especially when the fiction is concerned with political science.
One of the reasons I didn’t include Infomocracy is that this post is already long enough. I hope that this will turn into a conversation about recent fiction about future polities. If so, I’ve held the floor for long enough, and I’ll watch and listen now.