The year is 2060. Mankind has made the leap to the stars! So have his problems.
- 2010s: economic stagnation. Corporations save money by increasingly offering employees benefits in kind (e.g. housing, company shops accepting scrip).
- 2020s: China starts fully-robotic lunar mining, bootstrapped from a minimal initial payload and teleoperated from Earth. Many of its launches fail, and Moon-built robots are nothing like as efficient as an Earth-based mining system, but they're individually cheap enough that it doesn't matter. Other countries steal or reverse-engineer the technology and develop their own robot-based space industrial programmes, also working in zero-g fabrication and sampling of earth-grazing asteroids. Meanwhile decades of psi research finally produce something vaguely useful: intense drug and surgical therapy can, in many people, produce psychic abilities, though side effects can be severe.
- 2030s: After a sudden upsurge in terrorist attacks on LEO satellites (it's entirely possible to use a domestic autofactory to build a "backyard launcher" which can loft ball-bearings to orbital altitude), and a computer-based sabotage that cripples China's lunar mines for a month, nations begin to redevelop manned space flight. There are plenty of designs; a hasty revision of the Outer Space Treaty allows nuclear-powered space drives as well as weapons, and nuclear-thermal rockets soon become the primary means of getting into orbit, while a variety of drives are used for getting around in deep space.
- 2040s: An asteroid-mining mission discovers Planck-mass black hole kernels. Careful manipulation of these (first on earth-orbiting space stations, several of which are lost, and then on deep-space research platforms) leads to a mechanism for FTL travel. Interest is very limited at first; this changes when a corporate expedition to Alpha Centauri comes back with exotic biological samples that become the basis for a range of highly-effective antiviral drugs. Corporations rush to make the first claims to new star systems.
- 2050s: The buzz wears off and the hangover kicks in. While most corporations now have one or two good earners from offworld compounds, none of them has ended up in a dominant position. Poorly-earning colonies get reduced supply shipments; some of them declare independence, and if they're too small and poor to be worth taking back are allowed to get away with it.
There are two major types of power bloc on Earth: the supranational federation of governments, and the corporation. The rulers of each believe that they have laid claim to all the important functions of government, and left the dross to the other.
Federations have territory and citizens, raise taxes, run welfare programs for the unemployed, and have military forces and currencies. Corporations have facilities and employees, pay taxes (in theory), have pension plans for former employees, and have security forces and internal markets.
The major difference, in fact, is that thanks to generous readings of the Outer Space Treaty (1967, revised 2034) governments are unable to assert territorial claims off Earth. All off-world settlements are (at least nominally) corporate-owned.
There has been a general amalgamation of governments into supranational power blocks, with six major powers now in existence. None of these is overtly at odds with any of the others; there hasn't been an inter-state military action since the 2010s. When the world isn't looking, however, it's another matter.
Now includes Norway, Switzerland (on special terms), Moldova, Turkey, and the Balkans. Israel has expressed interest in joining.
The EU is generally seen as a talking-house rather than as a coherent projector of foreign policy. The Royal Navy and Bundesraumwaffe are among the more credible second-rank space forces, but all too often they end up looking on and waiting for authorisation to intervene.
Exerts "brotherly protection" over the former Soviet territories that hadn't already joined the EU (Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria, and the southern republics).
Russia's resurgence began in the 2020s, when Vladislav Chernov rose to the presidency. A former oil baron (and, rumours said, crime lord) turned politician, he didn't seem like much more than a thug; when he started calling himself "Titan" (Titanium), the rest of the world laughed. But the people of Russia (with some careful intimidation) responded to the new strong hand, and with only minor purges Titan managed to restart the Russian drive for expansion, with a more smiling face than the Soviet Union had displayed.
When Titan started to waver in the 2040s, his daughter Nadezhda took over smoothly (sending Titan to a private compound in the Crimean resort town of Yalta "for his health") and remains in power to this day.
The Voyenna-Kosmicheskiy Flot is the second-most-numerous space fleet, but is generally held to be more fragile than it looks.
Includes the USA, Canada and Mexico, and was spun as an extension of NAFTA, though unification was unpopular with many citizens of all three countries. Currency is the Amero, though US dollar bills are still in informal and illegal use.
NAU Forces include the NAU Space Force, third-largest of the top tier fleets but second in technical sophistication behind the Pacific Rim.
Includes all of Africa south of the Sahara; the Mediterranean states are attempting to join. Pan-Africa bootstrapped the last of its mineral resources into a space-launch infrastructure and technical training programme; the best of its graduates are employed by the corporations, and it makes enough with launch fees and taxes on their salaries to keep the economic miracle going.
The Unión de Naciones Suramericanas incorporates all of the Americas south of Mexico. Dominated in practice by Brazil and Argentina, it generally holds to more left-wing policies than the other federations - though this is certainly relative.
Or "Japan and its satellites" as it is less politely known - though Australia makes a strong showing too. Has a small, very high-tech space force, but officer quality is somewhat variable.
The remaining independent countries are mostly too poor to be interesting to the federations. These include most of the Arab states (though some are now trying to join Africa or Europe) as well as China and India, which are trying to go it alone.
The People's Liberation Army Navy Space Force (PLAN-SF) is the largest and strongest space fleet in existence. Most of it is kept in Earth or Lunar orbit.
In the wake of the oil price collapse brought on by space-based energy, most oil companies went under. The ones that were smart and quick enough to move into the fringes of their former business survived: RosToExMoShell is most active in space-based power (and satellite maintenance), mining (mostly for fusion fuel), and plastics manufacture (using the remaining oil and substitutes).
RosToExMoShell has substantial security forces but little spacelift capacity for humans; its ships are mostly bulk freighters.
"An Undertaking of Great Advantage", or UGA as it is formally known, began as a British retail investment operation on the Christmas-hamper model. Unlike many such companies, it made enough profit to buy a number of small banks at the pennies-on-the-pound sale prices of the late 2010s, and has taken advantage of debt restructuring to grow quickly from that base.
In the present day it is primarily an investment firm, but has acquired a patchy collection of other companies as collateral on defaulted loans, either unsaleable for some reason or of interest to the management. In spite of its impenetrable inner workings, it presents a friendly face to the retail banking user.
UGA operates several high-speed courier ships and other communications infrastructure; it has no offworld colonies.
One of the few businesses to have survived the demise of the commercial software industry, Clockwork Minds writes and modifies software to order. Computer hardware is still a part of the business, though a relatively low-margin (and hence minor) one. More recently it has been developing into microscale genetic manipulation (programmable viruses and bacteria).
Clockwork Minds operates a small number of offworld colonies extracting exotic organics to use as microscale tools; it operates a small fleet of field-service ships and a large security force.
Bayer Pfizer Glaxo was formed in 2037 by the merger of Bayer-Glaxo with Pfizer. Its primary interest is in drug development, but it has significant reach into other chemical industries as well as the usual multinational array of random brands. It has very substantial off-world holdings (some ten planets) and security forces to match, including a small but well-equipped space fleet.
Better Living largely takes the "other half" of BPG's business - development and sale of medical hardware, primarily replacement limbs and organs but also including drug-delivery systems, biomonitors, and other smaller equipment. Its off-world holdings are primarily unrelated to its main business, being used for resource extraction and biochemical searches (the results usually being licenced to BPG or another company).