Great Houses Through the Ages, The

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As the Sol-system based First Federation expanded, the centralised government was increasingly unable to control the far-flung colonies and periphery regions, or curb the growing power of the megacorporations, many of which were now more powerful than entire worlds, and were establishing colonial fiefdoms in the out-systems. During the centuries of the later Federation, the Age of Expansion and the following Establishment and Empires ages, terragen civilisation expanded into the ever growing periphery, while at the same time establishing what was to be known as the Inner Sphere, a region of roughly 500 LY radius.

During this period the executive leadership great megacorps became entrenched family business, usually guided by a tutelary AI. These became the so-called megacorp Houses. Other Houses are more like Owner families or Inherited Money. In the case of Clade Stevens an entire House descended from a single clonebatch of colonists.

During the Empires era the League of Trade Associations and the nascent NoCoZo provided some stability, but outside their influence the Inner Sphere was divided up between the Great Houses, while pirate bands, cyborgs and feral tweaks wreaked havoc on the borders. The leaders of the Great Houses, the successors and descendants of the mighty megacorporations that had dominated terragen space in the preceding centuries, jockeyed into position as they prepared to carve up the known universe in a treacherous web of alliance and deceit.

Thus House-dominated society was characterised by periods of stability or stasis lasting centuries, punctuated by coups and revolts. In extreme case there would be several coups in a few years, especially during turbulent times; with the expected wheeling and dealing at the top of these entrenched organisations.

Each House had its own mythology of ancestry and descent and kinship - a combination of fact and folklore. Many Houses developed their own "house gods", AIs and systems that have been in the family for millennia. The tracing of bloodline - i.e. geneline - would certainly be important as a means of authentification. Among the Genen the mythos of the Holy Blood is central, and some even trace the link back to the old Sangreal and claim they possess it.

While many of the great Houses were to be fairly shortlived in the grand scale, although often lasting longer than the small planetary empires around and under them - in some cases as much as a thousand years. Others continued and maintained their grasp on power for an even longer period. The presence of these long-lived (the House hyperturings were for all intents immortal) stabilising influences resulted in long-lasting houses with dynamic internal politics.

The great revolution that was the Second Federation and its associated ontology was one reason for the fall of the "old style" Houses. Each House had its own specific ontology, and these squabbling standards were soon rejected once the Second Federation version came into wide use.

Another reason for the decline of many of the old Houses was the rise to power of the great archetypal AI gods. These ultrapowers simply assimilated the biont Houses, as inevitably each House found a commonality with a specific archailect archetype. Sometimes entire alliances were absorbed whole, such as the defection of the Lupus-Harrell Communion to the Cyberian Foundation in 3876, or the Solar Dominion's inclusion of the Tye - Kamrar - Mullica Alliance as a new Favoured Client Subdominion in the 3900s. Many Houses simply ceased to exist, except as ossified remnants among sentimental eccentrics in isolated habitats, living on tourism and the novelty value of their conversations. Others remained, but as clients of the Archailects, and over the centuries they gradually lost all traces of identity, becoming assimilated into the larger society.

A few of the old Houses not only survived but actually flourished. These were Houses that embraced the changing conditions, and were able to adapt to them and use them to their advantage. Among these powerful Houses are the mighty vec house of Metasoft, which of all the Houses is the only one to evolve itself to archailect status; Cygexba, with its corporate culture; the ubiquitous Genen with their complex tradition of blood-ties that was unaffected by the standards issue; Silicon Generation, House Stevens with its emphasis on the pure clone geneprint, and many more continue to shape aspects of galactic society.

Other old-style Houses were able to survive, almost as "living fossils", away from the main centers of civilization. Among the less travelled worlds, where there is less competition from ultrabright grade hyperturings and posthumans, the old Houses have been able to continue "business as usual".

Despite agitation and enthusiastic efforts by pro-House propagandists and memeticists, the period of fragmentation that followed the Commonwealth of Empires did not lead to the expected rebirth of the House system, at least not within the well-travelled old world regions. Among the more developed worlds of the Inner Sphere, the government by Aristocratic House was widely considered as a quaint anachronism of the past, and far too inflexible for the modern galaxy. Despite the fact that some of the new clades of the time did indeed refer to themselves as "Houses", they had none of the associated emphasis on Tradition and Geneline that characterised the original, pre-Second Federation, Houses.

In the outer volumes and on the periphery, and in many more isolated and less connected inner sphere and middle region worlds and solar systems, the situation was very different indeed. Here the Archailects have less influence; especially away from the nexus, and isolated corporate and plutocratic lineages can easily degrade into hide-bound traditions of old money. Those that are intelligent, adaptable, and lucky enough can then establish themselves once again as the monarchs and aristocrats of those worlds.

The emergence of so-called "new Houses" in the various backwater regions has been devastating for some old style House Aristocracies that have ruled there for many thousands of years. Faced with smarter, fresher, more cunning and more ruthless newcomers, there is little indeed they can do.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Anders Sandberg

Initially published on 26 June 2000.