Culture, of course, varies greatly, even within the Empire, but some generalizations can be made, largely thanks to the uniformative influence of the New Terraformers.
The upper classes of the Reach cluster around three specific groups: the Imperial Senate, the Old Admiralty, and the Officer class. The Senate is a branch-off from the Admiralty and, of course, only exerts power within the Empire. The Old Admiralty and the Officer class were original features of the New Terraformers.
Within the Empire, the top class centers on the senatorial families – that is, present or former senators and their extended families (by blood, marriage, or adoption) to the third degree. The Imperial family is at the very top, of course, but dynasties come and go, and almost always arise from the senatorial ranks.
The rest of the upper class, including the top class outside the Empire, centers on the Old Admiralty. The Old Admiralty consists of members of the College of Admirals and their families (by blood, marriage, or adoption). The upper class also includes non-Admiralty people of great prestige, such as leaders of planetary governments, high clerics, ministers and officers of high rank, and major old landholders. However, it helps if these non-Admiralty people have been in their position for a long time, and it helps even more if their families have been in that position even longer.
The upper classes of the Reach have, at their best, a fair amount of noblesse oblige. The social ideal of the upper class includes charismatic leadership, a firm grasp of political, military, or economic affairs, some patharchy, and a good to excellent cultural education. A good technical education is eccentric. Stereotypical features include pure New Terraformer blood, arrogance, generosity, self-centeredness, a concern with eugenics and conditioning, and an interest in gambling or stun-dueling.
Upper-class stereotypes include the vapid twit, the rake, the charismatic crusader, the autocratic curmudgeon, and the schemer.
Forms of reference/address–
Imperator: Empress/Emperor, Your Majesty
Immediate Imperial Family: Princess/Prince, Your Highness
Extended Imperial Family: Duchess/Duke, Your Grace
Senator: Senator, Domanta/Domant
Immediate Senatorial Family: Patricienne/Patrician, Madam/Sir
Extended Senatorial Family: Honeura/Honeur, Madam/Sir
Admiral: Admiral, Domanta/Domant
Immediate Admiralty Family: Patricienne/Patrician, Madam/Sir
Extended Admiralty Family: Honeura/Honeur, Madam/Sir
The Officer class centers on Officer families, the supposedly loyal subordinates of the upper classes. They correspond to petty gentry or upper middle class. The central members of this class all have good educations, often technical, and white-collar jobs. Only first-degree relatives can neglect these criteria and remain in the class. Not all the members are actually descended from Officer stock, though this is a plus; career and education are more definitive, especially career and education for two or more generations back.
Forms of reference/address–
Officer: Officer, Madam/Sir
Immediate Official Family: Madam/Sir
There's Officer class and then there's just middle-class. However, the two classes overlap in power by quite a bit. The difference comes at the end of the education. People of Officer class are in a family tradition that concludes education with the same Goverance Aptitude Tests used by senators and admirals. The plain middle-class don't. They don't because it isn't in the family tradition, or they can't afford it, or they have a traditional antipathy to the aristocracy.
The middle classes are, as ever, the repositories of academic and technical learning. As ever, the upper end of the bourgoisie – the Officers – aspires to enter the aristocracy. The social ideal is a well-educated professional white-collar worker. Bourgoise class markers include interest in financial affairs and anxiety to display good taste.
And everybody else is proletarian. There is overlap with the bourgoisie and lower aristocracy in power and money, but the proletarian background entails some form of physical work.
The proletariate has a wide range of status within itself. It includes, (roughly in order)
bluecollar new money minor
personal servants of the upper classes
servants of the middle classes
personally owned slaves
corporately owned slaves
The upper proletariate contains even more technical learning than the bourgoisie, though less academic learning. Cultural learning to any high degree is regarded as eccentric. The social ideal is a hard worker with no social aspirations or political interests. This ideal is more imposed from above than in the other classes. Proletarian class markers include tastes for mass media and crude fleshly pleasures, indifference to public affairs (or a truculent preoccupation with them), interest in machinery, and exotic ethnic background.
This class system descends with modification from the military and quasi-military hierarchies of the New Terraformers. This system includes thorough, early, and repeated examination of all children for job aptitudes. This aptitude examination system is, in fact, fairly good, but has become a nearly sacred tradition in Imperial Space. The results qualify a child for a wide variety of jobs, but in practice, the child is quickly steered into a career the same as its higher-ranking parent's, or one very much like it.
The center of this aptitude testing scheme is the Governance Aptitude Test (GAT), the backbone of the meritocratic system brought to the Reach by the New Terraformers. Theoretically, senators and admirals should have GAT scores in the third standard deviation, officers in the second standard deviation. This remains reasonably true in practice, but not all who are qualified, or who have the potential to develop qualifiation, receive the proportionate rank, and people who are merely related to those qualified often enjoy many of the privileges of their kin.
There are no differences in status according to sex. Status does increase with age. In most places, there is a preferred religion (in the Empire, Ideolatry, though being secular is no handicap at present). There are racial differences: Old Settler blood can be a disadvantage, but the degree of disadvantage varies greatly. It can also be an advantage among countercultural sub-cultures.
As always, consists of government officials, clerics of the dominant religion(s), and officials of major private organizations such as unions, businesses, and business organizations. No surprises.
Includes most unassimilated Old Settlers, psis and magicians (hedge-wizards at low end of the social scale), neo-humans, AIs, democrats & other anti-meritocrats, abolitionists, Timonians (in most places), Christians, Pantomorpheans. But anyone can join, the watchwords being liberté, egalité, exoticité.
Includes tutors and the programmers of educational media, science scholars (though most teach or lecture, research concentrating in archeology and history), patharchs and serious psychics. There is a moderate overlap with the counter-culture.
Exists online more than any other sub-culture, notably as the collection of VRs known as the Glitterzone. Includes all artists, high and low.
Includes Koliots, pirates, privateers, slavers & smugglers, active democrats & abolitionists, in addition to just plain crooks.
New Terraformer culture valued individuals in a very functional way, subordinating them to Great Causes – initially, of course, the cause of spreading life by terraforming. At best, this cultural bias can produce a sense of noblesse oblige in the upper classes; at worst, it can degenerate into the institution of slavery, as it has done in many Imperial dynasties.
One becomes a slave by being destitute and in enough debt, or as a penal sentence for certain crimes, or by being caught outside the Empire by a slaving privateer. One leaves off being a slave by buying one's freedom from the Imperial Labor Ministry and one's owner (unless the owner waives this as a gift), or, of course, by escaping.
In some slaving dynasties, slaves can only be bought from or sold to the Imperial Labor Ministry or non-Imperial parties. In others, this regulation applies only to certain classes of slave that must be carefully regulated, e.g. violent criminals or people suspected of psi talent.
A slave with special talents – a psi, a doctor, or a technician, for instance – may be valuable as a source of free services. Most, however, work at menial service jobs that a non-slave culture would do with robots. Harmless or trusted ones may be house servants. Many check and clean machinery, buildings, and streets, or work in the recycling or terraforming industries.
Slavery also exists outside the Empire.
Between long lifespans and ecological concerns, birthrates are low. In most places, there is state education and child care (including the tradition of early aptitude testing and career tracking), along with the expensive and high-status option of private education. Childcare and education are performed by a workforce of tutors and nannies, rather than by sending the children to creches and schools.
The Empire reckons adulthood to begin at 30. Lower ages are commoner elsewhere in the Reach.
Aristocrats and upper bourgoisie may promote favored adult outsiders, or otherwise confer honor, by adopting the outsider into the family, typically as child or sibling to the adopter. This is a public declaration, and generally entails a change or addition to the adoptee's name, but has no real legal implications, since the adoptee is an adult. Social implications, however, can be very great, and there are public registries of these adoptions. Recinding or renouncing an adoption is almost unheard of in real life (as contrasted to drama) and is a deep disgrace or insult to the rejected party.
First marriage usually happens between the ages of 40 and 50, in the general population. (It can be much earlier among Old Settlers). The usual form is a term-limited monogamy, for 10, 25, or 50 years, but lifetime partnership is not rare and is often regarded as an admirable goal.
The funerary custom is cremation, then burying the ashes under a memorial tree. The tree is planted on family property or in memorial groves, with an identifying plaque.
Sports with Reach-wide popularity include: soccer, hyperball (VR soccer in 4D), wrestling, stunner dueling, and marksmanship. There are, of course, dozens more.
Aristocrats, especially Imperial ones, are notoriously fond of gambling. This may make it even more popular than normal among commoners. Dice and cards are common, but betting on the winners of games, races, and duels is most popular. The GigaPot lottery in Aondoar is followed everywhere in the Reach.
Dueling, with stunners, is both a sport and a social institution for venting aggression and settling disputes. It is legal on all but the stuffiest planets of the Reach, and everywhere in the Empire, though sometimes there are restrictions on the classes or class differences of the duelists.
Duels may be straight contests of speed and aim, or may form part of a stalk through prearranged or impromptu systems of cover. Depending on the degree of formality, there may be judges, seconds, or an audience.
Mass media is there, as popular as ever, but not classy. Mass media is for the masses. The elite, and those who wish to appear elite, may watch popular entertainment but do not talk about it socially.
See also the documents on Fashions.
The visual arts employ a large variety of media and can reach arbitrary degrees of detail and realism or surrealism. The subject matter of these techniques is usually representational or allegorical. Allegory is given more critical attention, since it ties in with ideology and the religion of Ideolatry.
Poetry is a vigorous art, in Universum, the leading forms being historical and mythological epics in verse, and short comic or romantic verses. All levels of society enjoy poetry, though not the same poems. Verse drama waxes and wanes in popularity over the centuries. Historical themes are now in fashion. You can get poetry recitation on the mass media.
Popular prose forms include tales of aristocratic intrigue, love stories, historical fiction about the Reach, and SF about far away places such as the Old Ecumene or the Core.
Dance is divisible into folk, ballroom, liturgical, and street. Liturgical dance is part of traditional Ideolatrous worship, and has been adopted by many other Reach religions. Street dancing is a more boisterous variant on the folk-dance forms.
Literature features symbolist devices and allegorical themes, even when the story is ostensibly literal. Favorite genres include historical romance and SF about the Old Ecumene.
VR tourism is presently in fashion, mostly of real, contemporary scenes in the Reach.
The following is a list of significant features in the New Terraformer culture and its descendants:
These features are common to all humanity of the period, being based on technical advances:
These features are particular to the New Terraformers and their descendant cultures: