The Technology of the Commonwealth Empires

One of the key challenges of designing the alternate-reality world of the Commonwealth Empires  is getting the technologies of the world right.

When I started writing, I knew a few things about this alternate British Empire. One, they  never went through the first world war as we know it. The first world war led to enormous advances in mechanization; this is a war that started on horses and ended in tanks. The second world war saw immense leaps communications technology (as allies and axis struggled to coordinate assets worldwide while simultaneously trying to crack the others’ networks).

Future London – a scene from Star Trek: into Darkness

So my Britain, I theorized,  invested enormous amounts of effort on robotics and human modification. And food supply, seeing as how it had to manage the large and unwieldy nation of India.  All of this came at the expense of communication, so we have soldiers that routine undergo surgery and body modifications – but no Internet. There are radiograms – radio shrunk down to the size of mobile phone – but no undersea data cables or satellite links. Technology, devoid of the Internet services we take for granted, would largely be decentralized: the electronic paper that Eliot Grimme carries operates on solar power, is highly rugged and resilient, and can slot in with other ‘sheets’ to form larger displays with more compute power.

In fact, the only thing even closely resembling geostationary satellite networks are the three Angels Interitus: three very crude satellites that will drop a tungsten payload from low-Earth orbit, obliterating cities outright. This is American scifi writer Jerry Pournelle’s idea ( resurrected; it’s something that the present-day US (in our world) seems to be giving serious thought to.  The Angels and Britain’s Tin Soldiers – walking semi-amphibious dreadnoughts crewed by advanced AI – form the bulk of my Britain’s military might. A touch of Pacific Rim there.

(Oxford Comma by @HelpThe99ers on Twitter). Sadly no, we don’t have an Oxford Comma Jeager, but dammit, I want one.



I have at least six major technological blocs; the Tsarist Soviet Union, China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the Germans.  West Europe, Britain and the British colony of America share much the same tech.


Russia, as we know from the real world, has had a long and fascinating history of doing tech in different ways. As a child, I remember reading an 1970’s Reader’s Digest story: the defection of Victor Belenko, a Russian MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’ fighter pilot who defected and landed his plane in Hakodate, Japan, during the reign of George Bush Sr.

It was the first time Western experts had managed to see the MiG-25 up close – and to their shock, the feared fighter – one of the fastest aircraft in the world at the time, and still one of the fastest – was build out of stainless steel and vacuum tubes. Hell, this was the plane that terrified the US into building the F-15, and this thing had rivets on the hull. It was welded by hand. The vacuum tubes mean it was enormous resilient to extreme temperatures, could withstand an EMP, and gave it a ridiculously powerful radar.

It was the fighter jet version of the AK-47. If we get hit by aliens using EMPs, I’m saving up for a MiG-25.

Russia’s way of doing things did not stop there. We know that in the 1970’s, Glushkov proposed a statewide Internet analogue ( and Brusentov’s team built Setun-70 (which sadly was the last ternanry computer this world ever saw): Both were innovations that would have changed the face of tech in this world. The ternary computer, especially: 1,0,-1 -> as compared to the 1,0 binary that practically every computer uses today.  Instead of 2^(x) possibilities, they’d have 3^(x).

In the real world, these things were scrapped because of political infighting. But in my alternate Russia, these things happened; the scientists who proposed them had the ear of the Tsars.  As a result, the Russians have a working Internet. They use ternary computers. They have jet fighters that are enormously resilient. They have the closest thing to a proper aerospace program.


The Bamboo Curtain is a thing. Much more research is needed, but here’s what I know of them so far:

  1. They are enormously prolific in infantry warfare: they rely on massive regiments kitted in mass-produced power armor. This mirrors China’s scale of armies since their earliest days.
  2. They are a closed economy – China actually has the scale to pull this off
  3. There is a curious set of technological difficulties for computers when dealing with Chinese languages ( My theory was that this would have shaped the development of technology in China: specifically, they use analog computing that closely mirrors how the human brain work.
  4. In fact, the Second Song Emperor (a resurrection of the original Song dynasty) is wedded physically to the Great Computer that runs all, sees all; a part of the Emperor is always present in the lives of everyone.


It’s hard to postulate a good technological advantage for the Ottomans, but a few things have always stuck in the back of my mind:

  1. The Mechanical Turk – an elaborate hoax that defeated chess players around the world for over 80 years (
  2. Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu, the author of the first surgical atlas from the Islamic world. We know that the Ottoman Empire was remarkably focused on healthcare.
  3. Taqi al-Din, who around the 1550’s invented a steam jack driven by a rudimentary steam turbine.
  4. The Ottoman volley gun from the 1600’s.

I posit, therefore, that the Ottoman Empire specialized in medicine and in developing and licensing technology to other nations; couple this with the region’s oil, and you have a trade empire that relies on massive commercial might to safeguard their position and culture in the world.  It seems to fit.They have huge walls and massive stationary defenses that you really don’t want to run into. They have trade relations with both China and the West -remember, this is a nation that sat astraddle the legendary Silk Roads that spread culture, ideas and tech in the real world: we can think of this as the real nexus of the Commonwealth world. See Peter Frankopans’s The Silk Roads (and, for a short glimpse of the tech at the time,

Much of their wealth has been focused on terraforming inhospitable conditions – such as the deserts due south of the Empire borders in Africa – into oases. Not unlike the Middle Eastern bloc today – where Israel is a major technological research hub and the Arabicnations turned their oil wealth into glittering cities in the desert.


Highly isolationist. Japan in the real world suffered from technological stagnation; hence the events leading up to the Meiji period, where they re-invented themselves. Both Japan and Germany share commonalities in their armed forces: the Germans have the fearsome Teutonic Knights – raised from birth for battle – and the Japanese have their Samurai. Both use elaborate and complex power armor, preferring massive investments on each soldier instead of China’s mass-produced approach.

I’m actually taking some inspiration from Overwatch here.

Both Germany and Japan have not just knights; they have feudal systems under one leader of almost religious status and accord baron-like power to their knights and samurai. Both are split into clans and rival states that often work at cross-purposes, despite officially operating under one ruler. This fits in with how the German Knights and the Samurai actually did things.

Where they differ is in political loyalties. The Germans have powerful links to the Vatican, and the Crusaders are constantly at the gates of Jerusalem; the Ottoman Empire often relies on their defenses and British troops to keep the religious at bay. The Japanese stick to their own.

Of course, there’s more to be sketched out in this world – we’re just skimming the surface here – but welcome to the world of my Commonwealth Empires. Let’s see what else we discover as I write.

3 thoughts on “The Technology of the Commonwealth Empires

  1. Very proud as a fellow Sri Lankan to see Yudhanjaya’s work recognised worldwide and looking forward to your new series. The rationale for the setting seems really interesting and well thought out. A lot of thought seems to have gone to make the Empires distinct, but in a logical manner – guess the “points of divergence” would go back at least to the 7 Years War / US Revolution era based on this.
    A few points on the MiG-25: I too quite enjoyed Reader’s Digest Author John Barron’s ‘MiG Pilot’ way back in the day. It happened in ’76 during the Gerald Ford Administration (Not Bush Sr). And the MiG-25 may not be best choice for the “one aircraft to fight an alien invasion”. It was designed as a highly specialised aircraft – optimised to intercept the likes of the (canceled) US B-70 Mach 3 High Altitude Bomber – capable of a brief high speed dash and just 4 large missiles to intercept a predictable flight path (not manoeuvring targets). The closest NATO analogies would be the cancelled predecessor of the SR-71 (YF-12) or the cancelled NAA F-108, Avro Canada Arrow etc.
    When the potential target (B-70) got cancelled, many of the aircraft were repurposed as high speed high altitude reconnaissance aircraft – like a tactical version of the SR-71. Other were used as “straight line high altitude interceptors”. It was a very high maintenance aircraft with respect to the engines, which, unlike an SR-71, could not sustain the Mach 3 max speed for long, nor could it perform manoeuvring combat. The Vacuum Tube based Avionics, while rugged, also were prone to the same issues that Tube based electronics were susceptible to. The USSR did take these learnings to heart, and developed the MiG-31 as a successor, losing the straight line speed / super high altitude, but becoming a long range interceptor with more efficient engines, like the Tornado ADV interceptor.
    For the “Fighter to use in an alien invasion scenario”, how about a more rugged yet truly reliable multirole design – the SAAB Vigen, able to operate from unpaved roads, Navalised Aircraft such as the Hornet, which are made to be more rugged for career operation, and also multirole aircraft? The original F-15, having been able to land with a wing sheared off, a Tailplane blown off, also available in multirole variants? Or the Russian Su-27 family and derivatives – essentially a “larger and rugged version of the F-15 on steroids” – also available in fighter / attack variants?

    1. You have a very good set of points. Now, since posting this, the setting got steadily more and more Bioshock – but I still want to explore this theme of “lateral thinking using withered technology” (a Nintendo saying) in in a series that I can’t talk about (yet).

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