Hydraulic Empires

In order to maintain the irrigation systems that allow life to flourish in the desert, the kingdoms of the west strictly regulate the flow of water. The governor's Department of Public Works is constantly at work patching dams, fixing broken pumps and dredging canals. New water mains can only be cut after a careful environmental impact study assures the Department Secretary that the flow of precious water will not be reduced.

This absolute control over such a basic necessity of life has given the average western governor unchallengeable authority over his citizens. He is not only the head of state, he is also commander-in-chief and high priest rolled into one. The slightest insolence by a farmer can be punished by shutting off his water supply. Banishment results in more than mere homesickness; it invariably means a scortching death under the desert sun. Because all farms are located along well-mapped irrigation canals, no one can hide from the draft board, the state police or the tax collector.

In these hydraulic empires all power comes from above. Unlike the kingdoms of the East, there is no independent class of warlords to threaten the governor's position. Instead, the army is composed of Lifers: young boys taken from peasant households and raised in communal barracks to be soldiers. They are allowed no ties to the outside world. They are forced to renounce their parents and they are forbidden to marry. They remain warriors for the rest of their lives, rising through the ranks, and their only allegiance is to their comrades-in-arms and to the governor. Although they are lavishly rewarded for their service, there is still the constant threat of ambitious army officers staging a coup, and this has tended to change dynasties once every century or so.

The civil service is also staffed by men who have been raised from childhood for the job, but no usurping dynasty has ever risen from the bureaucracy because it is composed entirely of eunuchs. At first, the religions of the west imposed taboos on such willful and inhumane mutilation, but the need for a docile bureaucracy eventually overcame revulsion, and the religious leaders who continued to object were replaced by more agreeable colleagues.

The absolute authority enjoyed by hydraulic emperors mean that they are much more free to embark on whatever hare-brained scheme pops into their head. The can mobilize the entire peasantry for massively wasteful building projects such as the Pyramids of Albuquerque, the Sacramento Tower, the Floating Isles of the Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Labrynth. Also worth noting is that all the hydraulic empires have legalized polygamy because what fun is being Supreme Master of the Visible World if you can't have a harem?

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Last Updated June 2003

Copyright © Matthew White 1999-2003