By William Garrett Cothran
At some point everyone has come across a TV show, film, novel, or even video game in which a world is presented in grand detail. From the impressive technological city of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII flanked by smaller towns ranging from icy peaks to sunny coastlines to the more infamous Domination of the Draka with its sprawling Afrikaner led super state you can find so much in so many stories which depend not merely on the characters presented but the world in which they live. Of course, one also is likely to encounter something called the Space-Filling Empire. Some vague lump on a map or referenced in passing which is to explain away why sections of the world are not explained in any shape or form.
More often than not a Space Filling Empire is presented in works of alternate history. They are not the focus of the story but an aside. An attempt at fleshing out the world to a greater degree. Be it simple laziness or it not being important enough to get into minute detail a Space-Filling Empire shall appear one does not see the point of coming up with lots of different countries. Add to this lack of knowledge over specific regions which would only detract from the core story being told. Whatever the reason why a Space-Filling Empire is made one should recognize that the idea is itself a fascinating, some would even say fun, aspect of Alternate History that one should not ignore.
Any Space-Filling Empire depicted in fiction can take on whatever shape or form the author deems proper. Yet with in this is perhaps three main variations upon the theme: space filling to space fill, the joke of space filling, and of course embracing the empire.
Space-Filling to space fill is a simple matter of needing to fill in details about the world but lacking the drive or not seeing the need to go into great detail about it. It is somewhat a cliché in Science Fiction or more future history to have not a Space-Filling Empire but a union of some kind in its place. This of course is not all that odd given the existence of the European Union but in Alternate History this tends to be taken to greater extremes. Nearly every example of a victorious Nazi Timeline includes a large continent spanning German nation. Man In the High Castle has one extreme of this in which the entire globe is divided up between the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. Wolfenstien: New World Order is a video game which takes this even further but having the Third Reich control all of the world and even bits of Venus for some reason. Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail has a vague German Empire superstate which encompasses much of Europe and bits of the Middle East. Draka series, mentioned above ends in the world are large super states split between the Draka and their western counter parts. One could complain but S.M. Sterling was nice enough to include just enough impossibly attractive blonde superwomen to distract the reader accordingly.
The joke of Space-filling is not as common but should be recognized because it fits in the notion overall. Some authors are aware that the concept of Space-Filling Empires and play along with it. Thomas Anderson, author of the Look to the West series, did this in spades with his inclusion of the Space-Filling Empire. Anderson went into detail about the Royal African Company and it being rejuvenated in its African exploited under the leadership of a Mr. Space and a Mr. Filling. The joke writing itself. While not inherently required the notion of recognizing the silly aspect of a Space-Filling Empire which working to make it fit into the world at large is a positive thing for the narrative overall.
Embracing the empire is when an author or maker of a counter-factual strives to play up both the vague aspects of the space-filling empire, but also work to use that notion within the narrative itself. The most readily recognizable example of this kind of Space Filling Empire is in George Orwell’s 1984. There is Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania. Three nations which span the entire surface of the planet and only these three nations do so. Now one could say Orwell just had little interest in explaining the culture, history, leaders, and more of any nation beyond Oceania, however this would in turn ignore that 1984 functions because of the lack of information of the outside world. While Orwell could have given much greater detail about Eastasia and Eurasia that section of the novel is mostly explained in a textbook like fashion. Up until Winston Smith reading Goldstein’s book Eastasia and Eurasia are depicted in the most vague of notions. The story is for the better in this fashion as 1984 is a tale about information being manipulated and distorted by the state for their own needs. A fully fleshed out Eastaisa is merely “it is Oceania but with an Asia flair” and the same goes for Eurasia. True Eastasia practices Death Worship but it is the exact same thing as Oligarchical Collectivism which would take away from the overall narrative. Plus, frankly the world of 1984 is not so interesting as to have everything laid out before the reader to fully understand.
Now with all of this explained out what is the point? Is it just some aspect of Alternate History one shall encounter but which must in turn be accepted without question? The answer shall lay in that Alternate History is at it’s core an exploration of the possibilities of the world throughout history. While it cannot be expected for all authors to craft in-depth explanations of all nations and cultures within a work it is hardly asking too much for one to place a focus on the world at large. The difference is between what is vital to the narrative and which is merely window dressing. In 1984 or Look to the West the Space-Filling Empire serves no real purpose to the story overall. It adds to the overall world and gives hints at the world at large as well as it’s history but both stories do not depend on a specific region being fleshed out.
If one looks to Man in the High Castle however you will discover that the story requires explanations of the world beyond large colored blobs on a map. While the book explains things in somewhat minor detail the television show on Amazon Prime goes into greater depth presenting not merely the large globe spanning German and Japanese Empires but also the lesser puppet states. The Pacific States of America in the West Coast of North America, the Neutral States (officially the Rocky Mountain States) in the center and Nazi America in the east. These three are added by being key features in the television series and thus explaining why so much detail is added. Thus one is able to tell that in the Japanese side of things there is at least lip-service played to the notion of independent states while the Nazis are just in direct control over everything.
It thus should be stressed that this is not an all-encompassing explanation of the subject of Space-Filling Empires. Nor should this be viewed as a critique of any specific work or author. Rather it is recognizing that Alternate History like so many sub-genres of literature, film or television has with it specific aspects. These aspects should be both recognized for their flaws and at the same time embraced for what makes Alternate History unique. By doing this the medium as a whole can find new avenues to focus upon and also not take itself quite so seriously from time to time.