On Mondays I write background essays on the Shine Cycle, my fantasy series-in-preparation. Today I’m again writing about a place where a small but significant part of the saga is set.
The Hope Cluster is a star cluster above the Shine and Wild Empire. There are at least five star systems in it, at least three of which have inhabited planets. None of these planets is ruled by a single government, and most are in fact patchworks of different kinds of governments, widely varied cultures, and different ways of organizing society.
The cluster has strong interplanetary trade within nearly every system, and interstellar trade between a few of the more advanced systems. Trade beyond the cluster, mostly with the Shine and Wild Empire, began when explorers happened on the cluster, causing the natives to think beyond their own few stars.
I’ve done most of my thinking about the cluster actually on one planet in particular. It doesn’t have a name yet; in my notes it’s designated “Hope 1-1.” It’s a roughly Earth-sized planet, and actually very Earth-like in many ways. Its western hemisphere is almost entirely covered by water, with innumerable islands scattered across it, somewhat like our South Pacific–though this is affected by the climatic patterns. The eastern hemisphere is basically one large continent, but it contains several bodies of water that could be called small oceans, like our Mediterranean but in some cases somewhat larger. Due to differences in the planet’s tilt and orbit, the planet’s climate is not symmetrical with respect to the equator; most of the northern hemisphere is almost sub-arctic in climate, while the equatorial regions are temperate and the southern region is tropical. This geography complicates the planet’s trade, but does not impede it because it is rich in natural resources.
According to what we can piece together from some notions (legendary or not is hard to tell), this planet was colonized in the first days of the universe, even before the area of the main world that the Shine Cycle is concerned with was formed, then itself colonized the remaining systems. The cultural and technological level dropped precipitously after colonization, so the interplanetary and interstellar trade is a relatively recent development.
Besides the human inhabitants of this world, there are the Musico, a centaur-like race native to another world in the cluster that is renowned for the quality of their work as artisans. There are also many of the same races and creatures that are found elsewhere in the saga, including elves and dragons.
Not long after beginning trade and diplomatic relations with the Shine and Wild Empire and its allies, the Hope Cluster was attacked by the Dragon Empire as one of the opening moves of the Second Galactic War (which soon became the First Interuniversal War). Only the use of the recently-invented spider-ship (by which the Hope Cluster was already connected to the Empire because of its vast implications for interstellar trade), and the fact that the Dragon Empire attacked the military and mining outposts in the nearby Despard Cluster first, prevented the Hope Cluster’s capture.