More of All the Stars is now up, so it's high time we talk about the empires. The Exterran Federation is technically a unified political body, but most of the Stretch is actually run by de facto local powers. They refer to themselves as "empires" and model their societies around notable empires in human history, updating the hardware but leaving the "software" - the cultures - untouched. In the backstory, there were many of these empires (nearly as many as there are real-world cultures), but during the timeline of All the Stars, there are just four significant ones - the others having collapsed, been destroyed or simply faded into irrelevance.
We've already had a glimpse inside one of these empires - the Taiyang, based loosely on the Han Dynasty. Those of you who've followed the Cavalcade of Rejection series or downloaded the book (another free weekend is due after Christmas, by the way) will have seen the Taiyang mentioned a few times. It is at once a traditional society and a highly advanced one, expansive and yet insular, inquisitive and yet suspicious of outsiders.
One of our major characters, Yang Yizhen, is a Taiyang insider of sorts and through his behavior will demonstrate what the empires are like. This is a man not comfortable in the relatively familiar surroundings of the Federation because it's not familiar to him. He is used to a world of rules, ritual and order. You've already seen a bit of culture clash between Yang Yizhen and the modern, worldly Jennifer Shen, and there will be more of that ahead.
The idea behind the empires was to give the Stretch some flavor beyond that of the trope-driven settings of most space colony-type science fiction (such as that of the Federation-controlled words which we'll be seeing in the next few chapters), and also to give the universe some room to grow. The next planned novel - dubbed The Space Beyond the Heavens - would have been set primarily in the Taiyang Empire while also exploring Paz Castilia, the Spanish/Iberian empire. The other two - the Greco-Roman influenced Tetrarchy and the Persian-influenced Alshams Asha - along with the various as-yet unnamed minor empires would have been fertile grounds for short stories and side novels down the line. Perhaps they'll yet show up in some future project.