The Federation of the Hub
Self-Maintaining Science Fiction Universe

Essay by
James H. Schmitz
November 1965

The Hub begins to take form

Early in 1961 I was made aware that the Federation of the Hub had acquired a fragmentary but definite form in my imagination. Previously, over a period of nine years, I had done four stories — three novelets and a novel — which employed the Hub as background. In the novelets it had been given only nominal attention. The human characters of the series had to be members of some civilization, and "the Hub" or "the Federation of the Hub", vaguely located near the center of the Milky Way, was a handy label. The stories themselves were played out on remote worlds barely touched by the Hub's culture, so there was no need to go into that in any detail. Nevertheless, a number of statements about it were made; various further thoughts occurred. An early, very sketchy outline of the Hub had come into existence.

In the novel A Tale of Two Clocks, written in 1959, story requirements developed considerable further detail about the Hub, particularly in regard to various official and semiofficial organizations. In fact, I had established and recorded a good deal more about it than I realized at the time. But I felt no inclination then to do more with the Hub. After finishing the novel I became involved in work which had nothing to do with science fiction, and it was a year and a half before I got back into that area of writing. Then I turned out two SF stories, found myself temporarily out of sufficiently attractive-looking plot material and started looking around for something new.

The Federation of the Hub occurred as a possible plot background. But my immediate feeling was that the novel already had presented whatever was of interest about that civilization and that I should set up something else.

Newsworthy events and adventures

And then it struck me that this assumption was nonsensical. In the real world we open a newspaper and, along with the usual national and international maneuverings and crises, we find that the past twenty-four hours have produced a swarm of personal events and adventures of enough interest to seem newsworthy to the editors. All this on present-day Terra.

I'd presented the Hub as having over thirteen hundred civilized member worlds and unlimited interstellar space about it, open to exploration. During any one of the Hub's standard days, obviously, there would have been an enormous number of occurrences in this gigantic area which should make interesting stories. If I wanted plots set in the Hub, I had only to establish what some of these might have been. I'd look for stories equivalent to what a present-day editor might consider a newsworthy personal experience and select what I needed from those.

This worked very well. Utilizing data I already had accumulated on the Hub, its people, etc., and extending and amplifying it variously, I soon had on hand

  • the plot of a criminal gang to rob and destroy a deluxe restort hotel ("Lion Loose"),
  • a detective in search of buried treasure ("The Tangled Web", published originally as "The Star Hyacinths"),
  • mutations brought about by gene manipulation ("The Other Likeness"),
  • the encounter of a young girl and her pet animal with a pack of the pet's wild relatives ("Novice"),
  • and a freighter captain who finds himself adrift in uncharted waters ("The Winds of Time").

Set against the bigger stages of the future and its possibilities, these became larger events, with more angles and ramifications, than their earthly, present-day equivalents might have been. But essentially they remained individual human experiences.

But the Hub is not all-encompassing

And now I made a mistake. Having written up these stories and rather liking the manner in which they retained a relationship among themselves through the Hub and the particular time period of the Hub into which they were placed, I concluded I could write any science fiction plot in the same manner. I dug up a number of old and new plot ideas and tried to fit them into the Hub background.

None of them would fit in. In our world of reality France is not situated in the south of Africa because it isn't, ocean liners don't fly because they don't, the mastodon is extinct because it is. A story which contradicts such facts is fantasy. The Hub had acquired a parallel fictional reality. Any number of stories were possible within it but the ones I had selected were not. The Hub's accumulating weight of evidence was flatly against them.

I gave up at last, found backgrounds more suitable for my plots and wrote them up that way. One genuine Hub story, "Undercurrents", a lengthy sequel to "Novice", was written in this period. It was staged on Orado, planetary seat of the Federation's Overgovernment, produced a great deal of additional information about the Hub's internal organization and other matters, and was incidentally a remarkably difficult story to write. After it was done, almost a year passed before I was again able to devote time to science fiction.

Autonomous activity in the Hub

This was the end of 1963. For about a year, up to my neck in other work, I'd given very little conscious attention to the Federation of the Hub. Nevertheless the area had retained a kind of autonomous activity. Spontaneous notions about it would come up at odd moments, and I'd type them out and file them away for future reference. When I finally got around to thinking purposefully about science fiction plots again, I discovered I had more Hub story material on hand now than I could handle.

This is apparently a process of association. The Hub is not a dream universe; it is influenced and modified too far by conscous writing techniques for that. But it has its own organization which not only rejects illogic and incongruities but attracts related material to what is present, atempts growth. Its principal characters and other factors, dealt with once or twice, remain in vague motion, crystallizing new story elements about themselves. I should like to be able to report that such Hub-engendered plots also practically write themselves. Unfortunately that isn't the case. I'm provided with an impression of something going on which may carry considerable detail in it, but which still needs to be laboriously clarified and organized into a complete fiction episode, iin the usual manner.

The stories gather, circa 3500 A.D.

I discovered also that the Hub meanwhile had developed a temporal structure. The first two stories I had written about it, in 1952 and 1956 respectively, were not part of the same time period as the later ones. The first ["The Vampirate"] must lie approximately five hundred years in the Hub's past, the other ["Sour Note on Palayata"] about fifty. Later stories however are very closely grouped. A three year span covers them all, and the majority fit conveniently into the last year of the three, the current here-and-now of the Hub which I've pegged at 3500 A.D., an interval adequate to contain the developments which lead from our time to its evolution near the heart of the galaxy. Like our world of reality, the Hub possesses an active present, a known past, and a future that is anybody's guess. So far eighteen stories, varying from a few thousand words to novel length, have been published about it or are scheduled to be published.

How many more will be published depends on the continuing tolerance of editors and readers as well as on the time I will be able to divert to the Hub or want to divert to it. Aside from these factors, the Hub seems capable of maintaining a flow of fictional developments a dozen writers couldn't exhaust so long as they didn't introduce elements calculated to terminate its paper existence with some cosmic calamity or other irredeemable event. Generally, the more that's told about it, within the limits of logic and consistency, the more the raw story material contained in it seems to proliferate.


— James H. Schmitz

First published in —

Science Fiction Review (Franson/Sandin)
Number 41, November 1965

© 1965 Robert W. Franson


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