2

Background

The book series I'm working on can basically be summed up as a science-fantasy series that starts out leaning much more on the fantasy end of the spectrum but moves more and more towards the sci-fi end of the spectrum as it progresses until it looks like a cross between the Legend of Korra and Star Wars by the end.

The way this happens is that the setting is essentially a brutal, 19-year-long war between the galaxy's biggest powers that industrializes the wider galaxy in what is practically the blink of an eye.

Setting and plot details

At the outbreak of war, the three main powers can basically be summed up as follows:

Ishga

  1. Based on the culture of Victorian-era London

  2. Ecumenopolis similar to Coruscant from Star Wars

  3. Technology so advanced it's basically indistinguishable from magic

  4. Had its industrial revolution about 200 years ago and has been led by a royal family that bullied weaker planets for land and resources while greedily hoarding its own advancements ever since (however, a new king named Michael who is a supporting protagonist has ousted the old dynasty and wants to both democratize the planet and end and atone for the oppressive system of colonialism for which his forefathers are responsible. However, this is complicated by the fact that many of these colonies will be needed to win this galactic equivalent of WWII.)

  5. One main planet but has colonized several previously uninhabited worlds around it for use as farming colonies to feed itself and has bullied resources out of and taken land from worlds that are inhabited, to the detriment of those who live there.

  6. By far the most populous of the three main powers, being home to almost half the entire galaxy's population

Aurea

  1. Based mostly on Greco-Roman culture, but three of the outlying provinces are descended from various waves of settlers from elsewhere and are based mostly on Zulu, Mongolian, and Maori cultures respectively.

  2. The military is based on the late Roman imperial system (but with Kommnenian-era Byzantine technology and weaponry), and the government is essentially the Roman Republic with a non-term-limited US President called the "Dominus" in lieu of Consuls.

  3. Least populous of the three main powers.

  4. Aurea's current Dominus (president) is our main protagonist, who is a close friend of King Michael of Ishga, and will spend the first few books both defending Aurea from Tate's minions and implementing an absolute ton of reforms to rapidly modernize the planet.

  5. Aurea is a single planet.

  6. Like all preindustrial worlds, Aurea conducts space travel with Startreaders, which I outlined in the context for a previous question.

  7. Those three outlying provinces I mentioned are composed of people groups completely separate from most Aureans, were conquered by the Aurean Government a few centuries back, and have a complicated relationship with their identity as Aureans, as well as with the Aurean Government.

Caput Tatiium

  1. Most of its population is composed of dozens of tribes based on various Native American and Inuit cultures that live in rural areas. However, its government and military are mostly run by the detribalized urban population of mixed tribal heritage. This detribalized population only exists, however, because of a policy implemented a few decades back by Tate, which kicks rebellious tribes off their lands, forcibly disbands them, and scatters their people into various cities spread out across the planet.

  2. Led by Tate, a rogue mutant of Ishga heritage whose mutation gives him talent with magic that rivals the Gods' powers. Tate is the main antagonist of the series and bases his worldview on the Ishgas' previous oppression of the galaxy. He sees the galaxy as so thoroughly ruined by Ishga colonialism that he wants to either conquer it all and rule it himself to fix the damage or find and use a combination of long-lost ancient artifacts to summon the 3 primordial beings of the galaxy and have them create a new galaxy in his own image. His plan switches back and forth between the two depending on how well he is doing in the war (when he is winning and controls most of the galaxy, he is fine with the first plan, the second is his backup in case he starts losing). Tate rules Caput Tatiium as an absolute monarch.

  3. Second most populous of the three main powers.

  4. Has spent the past three decades or so industrializing and modernizing its military with stolen Ishga technology acquired through Tate's allies in the galaxy's criminal underworld. However, most of these benefits have only reached the cities, and there is a massive wealth and technology gap between the cities and rural tribes.

  5. Uses its location on the far western edge of the galaxy (which has a reputation for being a barely inhabited backwater) to hide its massive industrialization projects and expansion through UNISYN.

  6. Originally called Navayu before Tate's rule

Various UNISYN Colonies

  1. Before Tate's rise to power on Caput Tatiium, the vast majority of habitable planets in the galaxy were uninhabited. Seeing the golden opportunity, Tate, along with several prominent members of the galaxy's criminal underworld set up a massive pyramid scheme disguised as a legitimate company in which UNISYN sold people land on these worlds, and these people were rewarded for getting friends of theirs to buy in and get friends to join as well, and so on and so forth. The profits from this are basically what keep Caput Tatiium financially afloat.

  2. The majority of the war will be fought here.

  3. UNISYN worlds occupy the vast majority of the galaxy's area.

  4. The vast majority of these worlds side with Tate and their inhabitants form the bulk of his military.

  5. UNISYN Colonists are comrpised of all of the peoples of the galaxy, but those of Aurean, Caput Tatiian, and Ishga descent form a narrow majority of the population of these worlds.

  6. Combined, the UNISYN colonies are second in population only to Ishga and will grow rapidly even as the war goes on.

Rest of the Galaxy

  1. Composed of 10 Worlds: Planet Squid, Aztlan, Awal, Arturia, Ryu 97, Ryu 108, Atlantea, Bharatam, Vigam, and Rinascita

  2. All are generally at early Renaissance levels of technological, military, and societal development.

  3. Vigam, Aztlan, and Atlantea all have parts of their land under Ishga rule, Arturia has a history of oppressive Ishga rule in the past (although the current ruler has put this behind him and is a close friend of King Michael), and the rest all have some sort of unequal treaties with Ishga (kind of like the ones set up by European powers with China after the Opium Wars).

  4. Combined, these worlds are more populous than Aurea but less so than the UNISYN worlds. Many battles of the war will be fought here as well, as they are the cultural, historical, and magical heart of the galaxy and are home to most of the artifacts Tate needs for his ritual.

  5. These worlds will tepidly side with Ishga and Aurea at first, but many of their citizens have Tatian sympathies and all of these worlds change hands at least once during the war. Aztlan is the exception as Tate simply takes an artifact he needs, commits an almost total genocide on Aztlan's populace for reasons not relevant to this question, then leaves.

  6. The vast majority of both supporting protagonists and supporting antagonists are from these worlds.

Now that we have that massive info dump out of the way, here is my question:

Does having the reforming but still colonialist world of Ishga and the sort-of-colonialist world of Aurea portrayed as mostly "the good guys", while the (on paper) anti-colonialist (but incredibly hypocritical) world of Caput Tatiium portrayed as mostly "the bad guys" make it look like I am promoting colonialism rather than being anti-colonialist?


I already asked this on Worldbuilding SE and they closed it and told me it belonged here, so here it is.

3
  • 6
    Could you sum up your verse politics better... it's a large info dump and I'm not sure it's the best formatted and goes into a lot of stuff I don't think is necessary. Can you sum up the relationships and conflicts between your nations in 1-2 paragraphs. I don't need details like the inbred nature of the monarchy.
    – hszmv
    Mar 29 at 13:31
  • @hszmv I fear I've created such a complex political system that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to deliver this information concisely. I assure you when I actually write the books, I will make sure to sprinkle this information in gradually instead of delivering it all in a huge infodump. For the purposes of this question though, that is not quite possible. However, I was able to cut some extraneous details from this such as the ones you mentioned, but I could not drastically shorten this. Mar 29 at 13:42
  • 3
    I haven't read your huge info dump, only your final paragraph where you ask the question. It seems that you're asking for a literary opinion, on a piece that hasn't been written yet (?). Think about what you want to convey with your series. Does the ending portray colonialism as good? As bad? Something in between? Do the characters question colonialism at all? These questions will help you make the series exactly what you want it to be, whether you know this or not. There is nothing better that one can do than this, regardless of what it conveys in the end. Mar 29 at 14:17
4
+100

Don't fight the allusions to colonialism, lean into them.

100% morally flawless protagonists are just as boring as 100% morally despicable antagonists. Acknowledge that not everything in the "good guy" empire is all fine and dandy. When you feel that what they are doing is similar to colonialism, do your research on why colonialism is generally considered a bad thing, and wonder if the same negative consequences would occur in your world (and when they don't, find a good explanation why they wouldn't and mention that explanation).

When it turns out that what your "good guy" empires did wasn't actually that good, then don't shy away from mentioning that. Acknowledge that they did things in the past which were immoral and are still doing some of these things. Give them some critics who call them out on how their empire is built on oppression, forceful cultural assimilation and exploitation. Make sure those critics actually do have a point and are not just strawmen to be shot down.


One of your sources for inspiration, The Legend of Korra, actually did that in its first season. The antagonists do have a point. The political system of Republic City is not a republic at all. The city is ruled by the most powerful benders, while the citizens without bending powers (the vast majority) have no political representation whatsoever. And when the threat of the Equalists becomes more serious, the rulers double down and actually start to oppress non-benders.

1
  • Although the content is similar to my answer, I think you did a nice job articulating the sentiment. Morally ambiguous with room for improvement. +1
    – DWKraus
    Apr 2 at 13:26
3

Controversy and Emotion:

There are lots of publications about industrialization and colonialism, and it's a really complex topic. If you want your writing to have a plausible feel, not just a pat anticolonial one, you have to embrace the complexity of the situation. I read a controversial but well written article suggesting colonialism was a net benefit for Africa despite the numerous abuses, but it was shamelessly criticized by largely emotional arguments. There are so many, and with such differing opinions, that I'm leery of picking out some to reference. If you are fair and balanced, pointing out the goods and evils of both involved, your story may be able to come across as a complex tapestry of the issues involved.

Until I researched the topic, I had no idea how vile some of the colonial powers really were (I never equated 'Belgian' with 'evil' but I do now). Conversely, the local rulers were also horrifically brutal and many of the interventions of the colonial powers were attempts to stop some pretty horrible abuses and genocides. Life is a messy story playing out over and over again, and there are never simple answers.

That being said, being neutral may not guarantee you get published. Publishers and literary agents are NOT neutral and impartial, and may not welcome thoughtful and balanced (this goes for both sides of the socio-political spectrum). Neutral may get you called pro-colonialist by one side, and anti-colonial by the other. But for my taste, seeing the good and evil in both sides is the only real choice that makes sense. It is in the messy ambiguity of life we find what is real, not just what we want to hear. That is great drama. Anything less is selling out to promote a cause.

2

No, but there's a fine line

Look, it's your story. If you think that the story needs to be told, tell it. Just know that, there's a fine line.

Your characters are allowed to be horrible people with horrible views (such as racism), but you aren't.

When you're writing a story to get a political point across, you've crossed the line.

Also, please don't write about cultures that are unfamiliar to you, or else it will seem like culture appropriation (even if you didn't mean it). So make sure to research the cultures you've based your story on very thoroughly to avoid offending a certain ethnic group or religion.

Sometimes even the best of us like the worst characters (ahem, Darth Vader fans...).

You're allowed to write from the point of morally corrupt and evil characters. You just have to make it clear that the book is not about supporting colonialism, it's to tell your character's story.

Does that make sense?

2

Why do you worry?

Science fiction is a field where readers are very open to extreme political positions, from radical anti-male feminist utopias to violent totalitarian fantasies. If colonialism is your message, part of SF will embrace it. And if colonialism is only the setting for your escapist fantasy, what is there to be worried about anyway?

Think of publishing under a pseudonym.

2

Colonialism isn't a moral issue (on the scale of a nation)

Historically, colonialism has never ended because of moral reasons. It was always a power struggle :

  • The colony becoming strong enough to claim its independence.
  • The colonizers becoming unable to control their colony (too weak, too strong opponents, etc)
  • The most powerful faction within the colonizer state finding a more benefitting way for them to profit from the old colonies.
    (France, for example decided to decolonize most of its African colonies because they knew they could put dictators and industrials working for them at the head of the new "independant" country).

King Michael may be a good guy, not Ishga as a whole

He may have a moral stance on colonialism, but in a realistic setting (I assume it is given the inspiration sources you cited), he won't change a nation politics through charisma alone.
He must have strong allies, good popular support, a good strategy etc.
As Ishga is still colonialist, he will face a strong colonialist faction.

The colonialist faction(s):
They will be the key to what message is conveyed about colonialism : you could use them to make a more precise statement about colonialism and its negative or potentially positive aspects as to not be misunderstood.
Their conflict with both the King and Caput Tatiium could be an interesting and quite simple way to do that.

The anti-colonialist faction(s):
They can bring more nuance to the "good guys" side of Ishga for example by having amoral motivations for supporting King Michael (similar to what I mentionned regarding France's "decolonization").
Or just being conflicted between their interests and their morality.
They could even be a nuisance for the King by publicly advertising immoral motivations for decolonization, strengthening either the colonialists or Caput Tatiium.

Through these other points of reference, you should find several ways to make the reader understand what your stance is on colonialism.
Of course, as it is a highly political and sensitive subject, no matter how well you explain it, you will be criticized on both sides.

PS: I also feel like your big info dump was not entirely necessary. Try to convey your ideas in a more consice way, it is a very good training as a writer.

1
  • 1
    I agree on the infodump, but nice job parsing it out anyway.
    – DWKraus
    Apr 2 at 13:28
1

If you have to ask whether you're promoting Colonialism with your writing, you already know the answer; of course you're promoting Colonialism. Don't write the story. The only thing you can do now is give up all ambitions to be a writer and never put pen to paper again.

Although, I fear the problem here is deeper than that. You appear to be guilty not only of promoting Colonialism, but also of engaging in cultural appropriation. Unless you happen to actually be a mixed-race Native American/Zulu/Inuit/Maori/Mongolian/etc... What gives you the right to write about cultures you have no connection to? Obviously, you would need to include those cultures and others to properly represent diversity, if you were going to write a story. But you personally are not the one to do it. Again, you must give up all ambitions of writing anything, ever.

/end sarcasm

You have to make the choice for yourself; does writing this story matter more to you than "the message" your story may or may not be perceived as sending?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.