Recent History

RogerBW

1 Decay of Earth

Nuclear/biological destruction of large parts of the Middle East, in a combination of terrorist and counter-insurgent acts; Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Lebanon are uninhabitable to this day. This eventually gives rise to the Rightly Guided Republics, but more immediately caused humanity collectively to decide that large-scale fighting on Earth just wasn’t allowable any more.
Discovery of FTL: Professor Tara Shears predicts the existence of jump points, and some years later these are verified by a deep space expedition.

2 Initial Exploration

Alien biospheres pull all sorts of unexpected tricks.
Rumours of Space Ancients. Sightings of strange craft? Allegations of “psionic messages”. Eventually, ruins (possibly of the same species, possibly of several) found on several worlds. We seem to have missed them by mere centuries. No corpses have been found. (Mainstream theory: these were outposts, not colony worlds.) There are at least three “Churches of the Return of the Star Brothers” looking forward to seeing them again.
“First contact” protocols are written (and still unused!) based on that encounter. (They get updated every so often. Some bloke in an office has to do this, and never expects them to be used.)

3 First wave colonisation

3.1 The Hatching of Humanity

Idealists plus downtrodden masses - usually not on the same ship. Population pressure back home.

3.1.1 The indentured labour schemes

Are sold as making your own way, having space to live and have children, a rural idyll (atmosphere optional). There are some very good results from this and a few less so.

3.1.2 The Objectivist colony

Rumours of cannibalism. In any case they all died. Somebody back home on Earth got very rich off it.

3.2 Space station disaster

Realisation that colonies need a parent government/nation to prosper.

3.2.1 the artificial intelligence goes mad

3.3 a really useful product from an alien biosphere

3.3.1 anti-agathics

An exploratory company discovers it - then the government takes it off them - then the UN takes it off them. Anti-agathics extend lifespans - but patented (Legacy) The Prince Charles Effect: younger folk tend to strike out on their own to the frontier because they’ll never inherit. The military still likes people young (because they think they’re immortal) but people often have second or third careers if they’ve got to the top (or as far as they’ll go) in one.

3.4 a different kind of colonialism

There are no natives to exploit. This is an honest version of what old colonialism claimed. You have to import your workers (people or robots). Exowombs can make babies, but not replicants. You can clone new limbs, but educating brains has to be done the hard way.

3.5 the Olympics get really complicated

Catering for different kinds of gravity, etc. (More generally: design political system round long travel delays, or try for local independence? Various attitudes from different powers.)

3.6 VR entertainment becomes huge

It’s necessary in outposts, and popular everywhere.

4 Competition, jealousy and greed

4.1 First (small) interstellar war

UNAS vs Zhonggua
Nobody knows how interstellar wars will actually work; they have to learn fast. Lots of logistical failures. Where do you send the forces? “Fighting in the dark with a machine gun.” (This is TL9-10 missile and railgun era) Development of system of picket ships, shore batteries, etc.

4.1.1 Attacking worlds is tried, but is not militarily useful enough to justify the outrage

4.1.2 Peace conference

Returns to status quo ante bellum. Revision of Geneva Conventions in light of new tech and circumstances. Treaty making worlds one jump from Earth neutral.
Both governments turn inward for a while skimping on off world investment.

4.2 the indentured labour uprisings

4.2.1 a really oppressive colonial government

Space Belgian Congo

5 the big recent interstellar war

UK and European Federation (N Europeans) vs Novaya Europa, Russia & S Europeans

5.1 development of much better space drives

(cross system in days not weeks) (military use first, of course) Developed in SAS/Australia. Sold to both sides at once; both surprised that their big tactical surprise didn’t work.
The industrial spy didn’t live to talk about it. Though there are rumours.

5.2 famous battle at Dirac with new space drives

5.3 ends (2339) in stalemate and impending exhaustion

SAS, UNAS, African Union broker peace treaty

6 Recent History

After the war, many ships were sold off. Warships had weapons and the more sensitive electronics dismounted; they’re used for survey work, system defence fleets, asteroid mining, and some of the smaller ones even as private yachts. Merchants were sold as-is.
The people who were officers in that war are now in positions of power. At least some of them regard the war as their glory days, and are inclined to fall back on the thinking that served them well then.
The technology developed during the war has changed things. X-ray lasers and antiparticle beams work mostly like the UV lasers and particle beams they replaced, but most crucially ships can now get from place to place in days rather than months; this is provoking a tactical revolution (not to mention an attempt to get by with fewer ships).
It’s long enough since the last fighting on Earth, and weapons are powerful enough, that pretty much everyone accepts it would be a bad idea. The war was basically about colonial possessions.
The current tech level was reached during the war. New ships have an overpowering advantage over older ones (they can accelerate harder in combat and get from place to place much faster too). But ships take a while to build, and there are plenty of new ideas that haven’t seen battle yet.
The Bundesraumflotte is the other hard hitter in the northern European alliance. There is a slight tendency to emphasise protection over firepower, but German warships aren’t all that different from British ones, and indeed many modules may be built by one country or the other and used by both. Naval training is separate but there are frequent exchanges.
Other countries in the alliance tend to operate smaller and shorter-range ships, and shore batteries over their colonies. The Finns came up with some near-suicidal but very effective uses for small craft and mines during the war, and everyone still looks at them a bit edgily.
Earth is tending towards becoming ossified - “this is the way I’ve always done it”.
Legacy: SF tends to be about meeting aliens, time travel, rather than other sorts of FTL.

6.1 think-tanks try to work out how to win the next war

7 Other Powers

European Federation - the northern half of Europe including Scandinavia; technically includes the UK but the British colonisation effort was separate from the rest of the European one. Strong ally.
Novaya Europa - southern Europe and east into Russia. Strong enemy.
Rightly Guided Republics - what’s still habitable out the Arab world, and much of northern Africa (I’ll update the European map at some point). Nominally Islamic in much the same way that the UK was nominally Christian in the late 20th century: it informs their thought and many people feel sympathetic to it, but when it comes up against something practical it usually loses. Weak ally.
UNAS (United North American States) - USA, Canada, Mexico, and gradually spreading into South America too. Relatively little space colonisation but a very high-tech navy. Medium ally.
African Union - the rest of Africa once you get away from the Mediterranean. Determined to catch up and overtake the great powers, and to be fair sometimes does a decent job of it, though their territory is very small. Medium enemy.
Zhonghua - (Slightly) Greater China. Solid space forces, but tends to go for diplomatic rather than military attacks (though sometimes blindingly unsubtle, just to keep people on their toes). Weak enemy.
Symposium of Asian States - Japan, India, and everyone else in the region that doesn’t want to be part of Greater China. Neutral to weak ally.