Midnight Worlds – Background
This is the background overview of a hard sci-fi setting I've been developing for a novel. I've been working on some elements that I thought might be of inspiration to this subreddit, but since context helps I figured I'd post up the basic backstory first and refer to it in subsequent posts.
In 2078, a resource dispute between the United Americas (UA) and Russo-Chinese Alliance (RCA) led to the outbreak of the First Interplanetary War, with the European Union (EU) siding with the UA. Over the course of the war, Earth would be struck twice by redirected asteroids, the Olympus settlement on Mars would be obliterated by nuclear bombardment, and many orbital colonies and asteroid bases would either be deliberately destroyed or suffer catastrophic failure due to lack of supplies. By the conclusion of hostilities in late 2079 with both sides agreeing to peace terms brokered by the UN, the death toll had approached two hundred million. The devastation wrought upon the Solar System was so complete that the conflict became known colloquially as the Doomsday War.
In its aftermath, the strength of the major powers waned heavily. The UA suffered political and economic collapse in 2080, fragmenting into its constituent states, while the EU turned its political focus back inwards to its Earth holdings. The RCA, being reliant on extraterrestrial imports to meet its energy needs, sharply scaled back military funding and enacted domestic rationing programs while struggling to rebuild its space-based assets.
United Nations Space Administration
The greatest change, however, was in the formerly-weak UN. Pressured by the minor powers, in particular the rising Al-Wahda Caliphate (AWC), the UN passed the Space Property Recognition Act in 2081. Where before only governments could claim space property, and even then only by mutual policies of recognition, the Act entitled private corporations to hold property off Earth. Disputes would be resolved by the newly-formed UN Space Administration (UNSA), funded by a modest per-kilogram tax on all launches departing Earth. To provide security, the Act also established the United Nations Orbit Guard (UNOG), an international quasi-military entity, as a subsidiary of the Administration.
The Orbit Guard, primarily recruited from veterans on both sides of the conflict as well as civilian leadership, had three primary tasks. The first was to perform inspection of civilian shipping, enforcing UN laws as necessary, and mediating disputes between corporations on-site. The second was to provide security for Earth, Luna, Mars, and the colonies by monitoring for unauthorized asteroid orbit changes, performing search-and-rescue, and ensuring the unrestricted flow of desperately-needed resources to Earth. The third, and least publicized function, was to gather intelligence on the major powers and report to the UN, in the hopes of preventing another war.
Over the next ten years, the UNSA would grow from one thousand lawyers, inspectors, and bureaucrats to over fifteen thousand full-time Earthside employees plus a UNOG contingent of three thousand spaceborne officers.
Prior to the Doomsday War, Earth-based corporations had been responsible for the bulk of resource extraction and import. Because the century-old Outer Space Treaty ostensibly prevented ownership of extraterrestrial assets, corporations extracted resources under the authorization and military protection of their parent government. To remove the need for governments to assert control over space-based assets with military force through de facto adverse possession, the Space Property Recognition Act enabled private ownership of extraterrestrial assets. This paved the way for the corporations that survived the war to drive reconstruction.
While Lawrence & Maybury, a UA-sanctioned company, had originally driven Lunar colonization in the 2050s in the hopes that Helium-3 mining would become profitable with the seemingly imminent advent of fusion power, fusion never materialized and the company was acquired by Adastra in 2081. Adastra repurposed the lunar base to produce hydrogen propellant from ice, and used it to supply outbound transports to Vesta and other locations in the Asteroid Belt. With Adastra selling propellant and supplies to other corporations, mining operations expanded greatly, satisfying the nuclear energy needs of twenty billion Earthers with shipments of uranium, thorium, and lithium.
Due to the political and economic collapse following the Doomsday War, corporations with extraterrestrial holdings found new challenges. The collapse of the United Americas flooded the civilian market with military-grade spacecraft, weaponry, and related hardware as former UA members and the downsizing RCA military liquidated their stocks. As corporations were now legally entitled to control and protect their assets, many seized the opportunity to equip themselves for the task.
While initially the UNSA sought to prevent the militarization of civilian organizations in space, in 2083 a team of American salvage operators inspecting a wreck in high Martian orbit were killed by an automated weapons platform left over from the war. After this event, American support for 'defensive' weaponry grew and, under pressure of US lobbying, the UNSA quietly dropped the issue.
For the first two years of its existence, UNOG spacecraft intervened in corporate disputes to prevent damage to property and life by taking belligerents into custody. However, the agency was soon accused of partisan favoritism in its mediation- a claim not entirely without merit, as despite UNOG's best efforts some of its commanders brought personal biases from their participation in the war. The UNOG shifted its focus to collecting evidence for legal cases brought to the UNSA, only employing military force to serve UNSA warrants, protect Earth, and provide humanitarian relief to non-combatants.
With the UNOG keeping a watchful eye, the major powers were unable to directly threaten one another. However, through their sponsored corporations, the US and RCA adopted the practice of supplying, training, and aiding organizations that furthered their interests. Retired spaceframes were sold cheaply, and military expertise provided through personnel contracts.
Notably, the RCA-sponsored firm Templar, which began as a repossession service for Russian banking institutions, acquired a mercenary reputation after it began the use of paramilitary operations to repossess defaulted property. It exploited distance from Earth's legal systems to carry out quasi-legal or outright illegal use of force, effectively hijacking ships for ransom, while simultaneously offering protective services against their imitators.
Over the course of the 2080s, the AWC aggressively expanded its presence in space, redirecting several metal-rich asteroids into Earth orbit. As the Caliphate came into competition with the RCA, the much-weakened US saw the opportunity to equip and supply the AWC to resist RCA economic and political dominance. AWC and RCA corporations (including Templar) began to carry out military action in a limited, but thinly veiled proxy war, as the AWC sought to establish itself as a superpower while the RCA attempted to maintain control over extraterrestrial resources.
In 2094, a revolution on the EU's Vesta colony would bring international tensions to the flash point.
So, that's the setup. There's heavy private enterprise in space out to the Asteroid Belt, primarily exporting fissile materials to supply Earth's energy needs. Corporate militarization sets the stage for renewed conflicts, but on a much smaller scale than the near-apocalyptic total war. A UN body attempts to keep the peace and provide mediation, but lacks the resources to keep full control, and mostly serves to watch the major powers and keep them in line.
The overall objective is to create a reasonably plausible context for the militarization of space by private enterprise, a staple of sci-fi, without relying on unrealistic technological caveats or logical handwaves. The goal of the writing is to explore the nature of political identity, and how it gradually changes in a colonial setting.
The next post will be talking about how exactly this economy works, what people actually do up in space, and where political conflict arises.