Ian  S.  Bott

Writer and artist

My empire's bigger than your empire

When comparing one interstellar empire with another, census officials and financial lizards talk about things like populations, manufacturing capacity, and gross domestic product.

However, most ordinary emperors just count how many inhabited systems they own.

In the early days of interstellar expansion, people counted inhabited worlds, meaning those where there was an established human presence.

This measure soon gave rise to problems and ambiguities. Alongside the primary world, do you count all the moons with permanent bases? Some of them were nothing more than observation posts manned by a handful of staff, clearly not worth counting, but others were larger than some planetary colonies. What about those planets with no surface populations, but with a thriving flock of orbiting bases? What about the large mining populations spread thinly through an ore-rich asteroid belt? Exactly what constitutes a "world" was becoming a nightmare of arbitrary and meaningless definitions.

An inhabited system is defined simply as a star system containing a self-supporting permanent population. This measure makes no mention of how the population is distributed or housed, so avoids many of the problems of earlier definitions. The "self-supporting" qualification has some more specific definitions attached, but essentially ensures that the system has enough critical mass of population and resources to be significant in political terms.