Le Starquis de Nebulavignon: The Noble Feuture
A couple of things that've been taking my attention lately: The beautifully made and deeply complex classic anime series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and the new Battletech computer game, latest iteration of the fictional setting originally created for its namesake board game in the 80's.
Both sci fi works involve a trope I'm fond of that slots perfectly into the theme of this blog: neofeudalism and neonobility in a far starfaring future. Arguably the most famous incarnation of this is the Dune series, but it pops up a fair amount in science fiction.
I like fictional universes in which the Duchess of Nearer Asteroidia quibbles over hydrocarbon mining rights with neighboring House Solarwind of Castle Void because they remind us that human societal change is not a one-way conveyor belt into the incinerator of history. Just because we did things a certain way a long time ago and don't now doesn't mean nobody ever will again, and to assume such can be dangerous.
It also gets us thinking about how and why a noble house comes into existence in the first place. Certain families have crests and lands and titles and mottos like We Ride The Comet, and that status is portrayed as eternal forward and backward, an ingrained quality with no edges. Of course, that isn't the case. A noble family has to originate somewhere.
It's a common lesson for a character in a story to learn: They bleed as red as us, and Death still knows their names. We're no different. And that is almost completely true. Almost. The difference is that one of their great great someones was special. That person did something spectacular, something heroic. Usually something in war, because war is what humans do most of the time. That ancestor led the star wing that broke the orbital siege, or saved all the Ringlords of Saturn, or drove the ice raiders from the Martian polar village. That ancestor did something noble.
Because their heroic actions were of a certain grandeur, heroism was deemed a fundamental part of their being, a blood trait that would pass down through their descendants forever. That's the point at which their last name changed from black text on white to bright green in a gothic font above a cool picture of a rampant lynx with a plasma sword in its mouth above the phrase Carpe Ignis.
Granted, that's the intended/ideal/naive scenario. Joe Shmo, given enough backing, could simply burn through the stony fortress vaults of Pluto, decapitate whoever was sitting in the Hades Throne and declare himself Duke Joseph of House Shmo(With Glory We Shmolder). The Queen of Arcturus could pass out earldoms like candy to anyone who donated enough neutron star embers to the royal coffers.
Still, any system can and will be corrupted to whatever extent that system can bend until either it breaks or it's periodically repaired. And while I don't want to come off like I'm defending hereditary nobility, I don't know how much worse your great grandpa being a hero and passing that heroic sheen to you is than your great grandpa being a titan of industry and passing a billion dollars to you. At least the former comes from an ancestral deed that was not merely impressive, but good, and the pressure to live up to someone who was a hero might be better than the pressure to live up to someone who made a ton of money.
Let me reiterate - I don't think hereditary nobility is a good thing. At all. My point is rather that vast hereditary wealth isn't necessarily that different, and fiction that portrays nobility existing in the future can help remind us of that.
That said, I'll take that Barony of Ganymede post any time somebody wants to tap my shoulders with a space sword.