It's easy to identify similarities between the Hatelese Commonwealth and Iain Banks's Culture. In a way, I intended for the Commonwealth to be a small echo of the Culture, an excuse to write Culture fan-fiction in the Thessian context. But the Hatel are not quite the same as their Banksian forerunners; they have very few alien members, looser moral standards, and a stronger legal system, rather than the taboos of the Culture. The following is an analysis of the differences and the similarities.
Like the Culture, the Hatelese are a Singularity-straddling society empowered by a preponderance of vast artificial intelligences; the same can also be said of several other civilizations with a presence in the Expanse, especially the Lyrisclensiae and the Noctians. As discussed in a previous article
, the Hatel are very lenient about the way these machines, most usually called Psyches rather than Minds, conduct themselves; inspired by the core Hatelese value of individualism, the Psyches are allowed to define themselves in very unusual ways, and have criminality rates similar to those of individual humans. Lyrisclensian ships may have a superior philosophical understanding about the nature of the human mind, but undoubtedly their Hatelese counterparts collectively have far more scientific experience, and are often unafraid to experiment on their crews. Hatelese craft also take a Banks-like pleasure in adopting bizarre and offensive phrases as names, milder specimens include Paved With Good Intentions
, Slavery With Extra Steps
, Disappointing But Affordable
, and the infamous Placeholder Antagonist
, which was convicted for helping the pirate Serena tel Moukarhím sell a number of its crewmembers as modern art.
There are many species in the Expanse and the other branes adjacent to it, but these cultures are more frequently prone to fission than fusion. Thet, Wanisin, and the Lyrisclensian–Noctian pact represent notable exceptions to this pattern, but the Hatel do not; their largest immigrant population is arguably the egrekeloi
, those Lilitai who decided to become males and were shunned by their sisters for it. That said, the Hatelese do prominently celebrate diversity, and radical forms of self-alteration are common. Gender fluidity is a cause often championed by the Hatel, easily evidenced by their natural spectrum of sexual anatomy.
Technologically, the Hatel simply are not as sophisticated as the Culture. Implants are common, but primitive compared to a Culture neural lace; autonomous, sentient drones are rare (as sufficiently powerful computers are hard to miniaturize); machines rarely last centuries, let alone millennia. Part of this might be attributed to the unique role that ancient Earth culture has played in Hatel society: periodic fads of 'Terramania' regularly infect the popular conscience, during which large segments of the population consume television programmes, books, and other media aeons old. This has had a regularizing effect on expectations; individuals are more accustomed to cultural practices from the Holocene, and in the absence of any definitive prescription of appropriate social behaviour—it is important to remember that the Hatel regard almost all sexual interaction as consensual, for example—those ancient human rites are readily substituted. To the Hatel, we can thus assume that much of Iain Banks's works still read as speculative fiction, albeit of a more proximal sort, much like we view cyberpunk presently.
As with most economies courting post-scarcity, the Commonwealth has no primary currency; individuals have a periodic, non-accumulating energy allocation that can be used to acquire goods and services as desired. For certain rare luxuries, ad hoc trade currencies do occasionally manifest, usually in the form of labour or some foreign article that is itself hard to obtain. Hand-crafted art is the most common medium in such transactions. At the macroeconomic scale, Hatelese ships must constantly fabricate raw materials from energy in order to meet anticipated needs, which is never a perfectly efficient process. To minimize losses, ships in close physical contact will often exchange overages.
Under the terms of the Olympic Rim Treaty, the Hatel and Lyrisclensiae have a unique trade relationship that, among other things, allows matter overages to be exchanged between the two species' fleets. This has substantially improved the reliability of the matter recycling system for the Hatel due to the superior prediction algorithms of the Lyrisclensiae. Outside of this economic relationship, the Lyrisclensiae and Hatel generally share most of their intelligence portfolio, and maintain a mutual defence agreement which has rarely proven necessary. Socially, however, the two species are highly mismatched; the parthenogenic, ritualistic, and studious outlook of the Lyrisclensians greatly contrasts with the pragmatic, impulsive, and hypersexualized culture of the Hatel. It was this cultural divide, between philosophers and engineers, which led to the speciation event in which the Hatel left the original Trestunarion Conference. Although Banks describes several Culture-like civilizations (the Gzilt, Zetetic Elench, Peace Faction...) none seem to have a constructive symbiotic relationship with the Culture, and their doctrinal schisms have relatively shallow impact on the fabric of their society.
Of the other human societies with which the Hatel have had contact, the Telai are the most familiar. With rare exception, Telaian and Hatelese craft have treated each other in a friendly light, exchanging cartographic and conducting non-technological trade frequently. Much like the Lyrisclensiae, the Hatel maintain a 'prime directive' attitude toward the Telai, viewing their less developed sciences as not something to be interfered with. Exceptional situations exist wherein a Telaian crew has chosen to join a Hatel one, however this usually conflicts with the Telaian principles of nomadism and self-determination.
Since Hatelese ships are substantially more fallible than their Culture counterparts, they do not have recourse to consensus as a means of governance in the same sense. A comparable form of anarchism would indeed result in anarchy after a fashion, as Commonwealth vessels cannot be relied upon to form a generally uniform opinion about what ought to be done and how to best resolve difficult situations. However, there is a certain science to the personalities of Psyches, and it is possible to evaluate them from an a priori
basis to determine their biases and merits. Key positions in Hatelese government are filled on this premise, electing multiple representatives at random to each station in an overlapping scheme (so that there is always at least one incumbent) with an aim to producing an average worldview that is as objective as possible. This scheme does not always work, but is predicated on the belief that every Hatel ship should have a generally similar view of what everyone else
regards as impartiality, and that impartiality is the best way to run society. For many Psyches in government this regime is frustrating, as their viewpoints are often neutralized in the decision-making process, so the turnover for important positions remains consistently high, which is a generally desired outcome.