O Brother, Where Art Thou?

It doesn’t matter if I am writing stories set in fictional worlds and universes, or playing online games like Mushes — one of the first things (if not THE first thing) I look for or create is a map of the setting. It anchors the stories and provides a foundation for the setting to be built on. Imagine a book like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones without a map… readers will be so hopelessly lost in the story.

By contrast, many TV shows (especially Sci-Fi TV, of which Star Trek is a prominent example) have no maps of their worlds/universes — I assume this is done on purpose so that the ability to tell stories isn’t hampered by the confines of a map. Fans then pick up the slack and try to cobble together maps; it’s just part of our human instinct to codify things! There are MANY versions of Star Trek galaxy maps out there, but here is a simple one that seems to have the basic essentials that most agree with:

MapAB

So this one’s got commonly-accepted layout: the Federation in the middle, Romulan to the northeast, Klingons to the southeast, Cardassians to the west, Ferengi in the northwest. Even some of the more nebulous ones are in the most popular locations: Breen further out to the northwest, Gorn south of the Klingons, Tholians south of the Gorn. I’ve seen maps with Tholians on the west side next to the Cardassians, but that would contradict some stories where the Klingons invaded Tholian space. In fact, even the STO map roughly conforms to this layout, so personally I’d call this the right placement.

I like the relative sizes of the various political entities illustrated in this map; there are some maps out there with gigantic Tholian and Breen territories that stretch far to the west, such as this one below. Even disregarding the placement of the Tholians, I find the relative sizes of those two entities problematic, when it is repeatedly said in various sources that the Federation, Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire and the Cardassian Union are the four major powers of the Alpha/Beta Quadrants.

maplocal3

Maps like these do bring up questions about the TV shows. Now I’m not going to think too hard and nitpick minor mistakes or plot holes, but there are a couple of things that I think are pretty glaring.

DS9 is especially problematic because the show deals with a lot of geopolitical issues, and the latter half of the series focused on a large-scale territorial war with the Dominion – both of which relies on a realistic galactic map to make sense. So if the above map(s) are accepted for the relative positions of the various political entities, then some serious questions need to be raised, such as:

  • The Federation-Klingon war of 2372-73, according to the Memory Alpha entry and supported by what was seen on the show, began with a massive Klingon invasion of the Cardassian Union and a lot of subsequent military action between the Federation and the Klingons in that region… including commitment of the “bulk of the Klingon Defense Force”. Honestly, the logic there just doesn’t click that the Klingons need to cross almost the entirety of Federation space to get to the Cardassians, and in a major war with the Federation, the Klingons decided to commit the bulk of their fleet to Cardassian space rather than defend their own borders.
  • Likewise, when The Sisko and Garak manipulated the Romulans into allying against the Dominion, it is said that “Within hours, the Romulans struck fifteen bases along the Romulan-Cardassian border, opening a second front to the war.” Well…. there never is a Romulan-Cardassian border, not unless the Cardassians have by then completely overrun Federation territory in the north and extended their borders right up to the Romulan doorstep.

Oh! But it gets worse. Here is an example of a popularly accepted placement map of the Star Trek Universe. Again, many variations exist, but they all roughly conform to the general layout.

galaxymap6

This map is actually very generous in keeping the sizes of the Alpha/Beta Quadrant powers small compared to the overall galaxy map. Other versions show them as much larger. So here’s the problem: It is well-established that it takes 4 days at Warp 5 (normal cruising speed?) to travel from Sol to Qonos. If we look at this map, let’s say it’s two of the square sectors away from Qonos, so each block is 2-days of travel time at normal cruising speed.

And how far away is the Delta Quadrant, where the Ocampa is shown? Not sure, but roughly speaking, probably around 100 blocks. Now 100 blocks x 2 days/block = 200 days. It’s not a weekend excursion, but 200 days isn’t exactly 75 years either. This is a huge inconsistency in the premise of Star Trek; it’s not the fault of Voyager, but rather the rest of the series. Think about it — if it only takes nine months to travel from Borg space to the Federation, or a year for the Dominion to do the same, we would’ve seen them LONG AGO. The commute time between the various quadrants being prohibitive make sense for Star Trek’s setting, it’s Warp speed that’s the problem — it’s way too fast. To make the galaxy as vast as it needs to be, you should need approximately a year to get from Sol to Qonos.

Yeah, that won’t make for interesting TV though; who wants to watch a show where it takes years to get anywhere? So we’ll just have to not think about this too much and vaguely wave our hands a lot!

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3 thoughts on “O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  1. Warp speed isnt too fast it does actually take years to get to many places. the TV shows however give the illusion of greater speed just to make the 60 minute show work. You see this is virtually everything Hollywood does, any scene in a city that you are familiar with will show huge discrepancies as a car turns a single corner and ends up across town.

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  2. None of their maps ever really made much sense. Especially that top one that has two “DS3″s – one up by Betazed and the other down by Orion. Maybe it was a typo.

    I remember seeing this one game recently (Elite Dangerous, I think?) where they actually made a pretty faithful 3D reproduction of the actual, real galaxy. From what I’m told, it’s pretty accurate to what’s actually out there. I wish STO had that or something similar.

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  3. I think all of these maps suffer from being 2D, and the fact that the territories of each empire would be populated by millions of stars according to current astronomers’ findings, which would be far beyond even the Federation’s capability to police, administer, colonise or even chart unless Starfleet and civilian space faring agencies/private explorers numbered tens of thousands of ships and several hundred millions of personnel. That isn’t really supported by the canon. I think its more reasonable to have tiny dots of the empire’s chosen colour representing spheres of influence around each system claimed by an empire, with strength of influence changing in hue depending on various factors. The Federation’s dots could be larger to represent its diplomatic and political influence, but they would still be separated by vast distances of space and stars they’ve barely visited, let alone integrated into their space.

    I think space exploration in the Star Trek universe would be as much about exploring ‘nearby’ stars as looking beyond territorial frontiers, especially as those millions of stars would probably not have been integrated into empires spanning several hundred to several thousands of years.

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