“The entire character of a base and its inhabitants can be absorbed in a quick trip to the Rec Commons. The sweaty arenas of Fort Legion, the glittering gambling halls of Morgan Bank, the sunny lovers’ trysts in Gaia’s High Garden, or the somber reading rooms of U.N. Headquarters. Even the feeding bay at the Hive gives stark insight into the sleeping demons of Yang’s communal utopia.”
— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “A Social History of Planet”
Upon construction of a Recreation Commons, the player is treated to another passage from Brother Lal’s social history text. And this one is a gold mine of potential insight. In particular, it usefully describes what it might be like for someone with cultural sensibilities similar to the player’s most likely are to observe the societies the other faction leaders are building according to their ideologies.
Fort Legion is a Spartan base. According to Lal, their Recreation Commons take the shape of a series of arenas. It seems logical to infer that the games they host are probably most similar to modern mixed martial arts rings, where the idea is to determine through competition the best martial art and the finest practitioners thereof. It follows that being able to physically dominate another in an encounter is a route to status and respect among the Spartans, as befits a warrior people.
CEO Morgan, on the other hand, builds what sounds like an analog to the Vegas Strip whenever he needs to entertain his people. This is even true at Morgan Bank, an outpost of the Morganites that is presumably dedicated to high finance. Intriguing, as financiers aren’t usually the kinds of people who prefer games of chance which they can’t rig in their favor. It seems that it’s different among the Morganites: the willingness to take financial risks in pursuit of gain is likely something they highly prize. Or, more cynically, perhaps it’s the lower classes who are gulled into complacency by Morgan’s casino operations as they relieve the workers of their meager wages. Lal does not provide comment one way or the other.
Next, it seems as if Gaia’s High Garden might literally be a garden populated by Earth plants. At least mostly. The description of “sunny lovers’ trysts” implies that the Gaians have built something like a fancy English garden, complete with hedge mazes and little nooks with benches and fountains. It doesn’t seem like that would be such a luxury, until you realize that it must be built under a climate-controlled dome to keep out the hostile alien sky. After all, it’s not much of a lovers’ tryst if both parties have to wear spacesuits.
Lal’s passing reference to his own capital’s commons shows that his people are smart and boring. Just as you’d expect. One of the Peacekeepers’ special faction advantages is that they get one extra Talent per every four citizens. Presumably this is modeling the sort of people who kick back and blow off steam at the university library with a copy of Lal’s new thousand-page discourse on comparative sociology and faction governance.
And last, Lal’s scathing description of Yang’s budding utopia gives no doubt that they’re blood enemies. To hear Lal tell it, Yang’s society is a dystopia straight out of a ’70s science-fiction movie. From his description, you can almost see the hundreds of shaved heads marching in to the blinding white cafeteria, each carrying their tray, and then all sitting down and devouring their tasteless gruel. Every motion in unison. Every motion as perfectly efficient as they can manage.
Every time I analyze one, I keep thinking how amazing it is that Reynolds is so efficient with these fictional quotes. In just a handful of words, he’s given insight into a bunch of different fictional places, in the voice of another fictional character writing what might as well be a textbook. And it all works!