I was just poking around the Caucasus region, when I came across an ethno-linguistic map of the place. It actually makes for a half-decent, idealized model of the Empty Quarter.
The Balkans aren’t too bad either, but it’s too big, and frankly, too civilized.
Also: not enough massive empires bordering it, while the Caucasus has Russia, Turkey, and Iran as a set of large, powerful, and perhaps aggressive neighbours.
As for Alternative Imperia…
This article (and the accompanying video) does a nice job in outlining the geographic structure of the Russian Empire, why it’s just so big, and why the life-and-death strikes always comes from the West (and not, say, China).
Translating it into the Third Imperium, you’ll have to assume something like the following:
- Barriers – perhaps Rifts (as in Official Traveller) protecting the frontiers of most of this vast empire – except in the Solomani Rim;
- Most of the human worlds coreward of Capital are uninhabitable – but it’s vital that they be lived in, as they provide strategic depth for the Imperium the next time the very wealthy and very aggressive Terrans make a drive to Capital;
- So there must be a continuous train of food freighters, to rain food on these expensively maintained outposts;
- And the massive infrastructure costs of controlling massive amounts of uninhabited space is a permanent weight on the Imperial budget;
- Big empires with a ton of hostile, subject nations need tight centralization, a massive secret police force, and the occasional atrocity to keep everyone in line;
- Given the choice of being smaller and richer (and with far less strategic depth),or being bigger and poorer (and lots of land to trade for time), always go big;
- Given the choice of being free (and so possibly disintegrating, and so being very vulnerable to outside invasion) or being slave (and so staying strong together, and so successfully resist the outsider), always go slave.
I think that long term, this is a loser’s strategy: there’s something about an tyrannical empire that just naturally brings about its own fall. (See: corruption; technological change; free market vs. state-controlled levels of growth.)
Still, the Sprawling Empire can be effective for a while. And yes: sometimes, there really are bad guys out there who want to wipe you out, and for many people an enslaved life under a violent loon is far better than complete national extermination.
But putting your trust in centralized empires and above the law secret services is still a fatal flaw. The commercial trade empire of Britain – and the neo-feudal, decentralized nature of the official Third Imperium – has its own problems, but it’s definitely a better bet (and a nicer place to live) than a centralized tyranny.