The nearest celestial body, the Moon, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment to terrestrial explorers, much of it deserts of grey sand, it’s seas shallow and bitterly salt, it’s most advanced animal life snails, slugs, and insects (albeit often of most formidable size), it’s plant life generally of a pallid or grayish mushroom or fungus type, the most developed of which is the closest thing to an intelligent species, the Lunar mushroom-men, which herd the giant snails and live in their empty shells, and dealt with the unusual arrival of human beings by trying to ignore them as much as possible. (Fortunately for them, mushrooms do not seem to catch any human diseases). There are no picturesque ruins. There are some mines and a penal colony, but generally the Moon does not attract many visitors or compel much excitement. (Well, unless one is infected by one of the fungal spores which sprout in human flesh, or attacked by one of the various predatory insects, some of which have nasty habits similar to the spider-hunting wasps of Earth. That can be exciting, I suppose). The dark, or more precisely, facing away from Earth side of the Moon generally tends to have even less pleasant forms of wildlife, and generally is visited only by the most suicideally brave of big-game hunters.
Mercury, with one face forever locked to the sun, is as cold as the polar icecap on its night side, and burning hot on the day, with the few landings so far having taken place in the twilight area, which is vegetated and habitable if you don’t mind the constant winds. (Regular settlement has been discouraged by the need for an armed battleship escort to scare off the Sun Dogs). In said region are to be found the ruins of an extinct civilization, which appears to have reached great heights of development and art and civilization before mysteriously coming to an abrupt end (some nattering nobodies from the Jovian moons will sneer that Mercurians are so well thought of by terrestrial explorers because 1. They are no longer around to be exploited and 2. Like Martians, they were humanoid, and not in the creepy uncanny valley way, either. Such critics are of course no better than they should be.)
The fall of the Mercurian civilization has inspired some fine gloomy poetry and epigrams, but in fact the Mercurians, an easily bored species, all went off on a cruise of Indefinite Length on a passing galaxy-circling Starjammer around the time humanity was moving from “pointy stick” to “pointy stick with a sharp rock tied on.” (As there were only thirty million Mercurians, while the Starjammer, with its moons-wide white Aether wings, was two thousand miles long with a crew of one billion, they were all able to find jobs as dish washers, pillow fluffers, etc. to pay their way).
Various terrestrial scientists have heard rumors of this tale, but refuse to believe it, based on the obvious fact that so advanced a people would never travel steerage. The White Spiders boast that they killed off the Mercurians, in an effort to shine up their fearsomeness (the fact that their rampage through London was interrupted by a teenage girl with a rolled-up copy of the Times is something they have yet to live down).
Mercury is orbited by the ten-mile wide Tin Moon, which does indeed look like tin, dimpled here and there by asteroid collisions: it is however made of something much harder than tin, since all efforts to cut, burn or explode ones way into it have failed so far. (To be fair, working conditions are not improved by the tendency of the Sun Dogs to be attracted to such exploits). It is in fact a Shaper Artifact, although its exact properties and capabilities are a secret kept by the Mumby family and some friends. (Storage of Mrs. Mumby’ former bodies and instant space-warp transportation to all parts of the solar system, mainly. Also a sort of cabin in the woods for those times a Shaper wants to be herself).
Venus is hot, humid and tropical where it is not hotter, more humid, and tropical enough to alarm a Brazilian, but is not as discouraging to settlers as Mercury. It is a planet dominated by its blue, green, and blue-green plant life, which in many cases have developed pump-type circulatory systems and the ability to amble about on their own, even some trees being capable of locomotion: some plants are downright carnivorous and quite aggressive. Animal life tends to be fast, small, quick-breeding, and very paranoid, save in the seas, where aside from some rather unpleasant floating seaweeds, animal life is in a stronger position, and at times achieves sized considerably more substantial than anything terrestrial. (There are some parts of the Venusian oceans which are best visited by flying ship rather than surface boat, and preferably at heights of over one hundred and fifty feet).
Three Venusian plants are particularly well known on Earth. The Gloomy Gourd, which as part of its life-cycle undergoes a remarkable mimicry-related transformation, will when grown around human beings take on the crude appearance of a human face (they rarely manage to do noses), making them popular whimsical gifts. For certain reasons involving their growth patterns Gloomy Gourds always have lugubrious, grumpy, out-of-sorts looking faces, which for many adds to their charm. (If one has pets, they are best kept out of the greenhouse while the gourds are growing, or they may become confused and take on a distinctly feline or canine appearance).
Secondly is the most infamous plant in the solar system, even more so than the terrible Brain Violets of the Callisto swamps, the Changeling Tree. Rather than wasting time with seeds and fruit and delicate sprouts and so on, the Changeling Tree when it flowers releases abundant quantities of a pollen-like substance, which is in fact not technically pollen (something which will fertilize another plant) but a form of tiny seed, a sort of germ which infects any animal that inhales it and turns it into a well-nourished young Changeling Tree. Local animals have defenses, from hibernating underground during the flowering to elaborate filtration systems in their nostrils, which at least improve their odds, but humans have no defense, and the 20,000 inhabitants of the first large Venus colony were almost entirely wiped out, or perhaps tree’d out. The trees only flower once every fifty years, but ones in different locations run on different clocks, and the pseudo-pollen can travel far on the wind, so for a number of years colonization was restricted to a few very isolated and barren locations, until in 1852 certain revelations occurred that brought down a government…but I get ahead of myself.
Thirdly is of course the Sentient Shrub, an intelligent form of plant (therefore, incidentally, immune to the effects of the Changeling Tree), capable of trotting about on its roots and manipulating things handily with its fronds, although it prefers to root itself overnight. Although on its home planet the Sentient Shrubs are a primitive race without even coal-burning stoves, seeds raised on Earth usually become stalwart subjects of the Empire, and have become botanists, gardeners, and soldiers, in which role they are particularly useful in that as plants, they can have rather more holes shot in them before becoming ineffective than, say, Irishmen.
There are a great many valuable plant products from Venus, with medicinal, ornamental, gustatory, construction, etc. uses, but to go into detail would bore all but the professional botanist. It need only be said that the Venusian plant-hunter is a valiant man (and occasionally woman), wearing their protective filter masks at all times, sleeping rough, and often, as they hunt for new and valuable plants, hunted themselves by some of the more aggressive shrubberies.
(Speaking of aggressive shrubberies, Earth nowadays suffers from various sorts of invasive species imported by incautious explorers: some are merely annoying and perhaps queasy-making, such as the giant Martian Hogweed: others, like the Venusian Wandering Rhododendron, can become a serious problem).
Mars, the planet of picturesque canals, crumbling porcelain towers and rusty red deserts, is the home to an ancient fallen civilization: indeed, to several ancient fallen civilizations, since cultures have been rising and falling on Mars for a very long time. The current dominant Martian species (or at least the one the British commissioner considers dominant: the Mole-people might think otherwise) is humanoid, and indeed somewhat attractive in a thin, elf-eared, russet-skinned sort of way, their hair various interesting shades of blue, purple and indigo. Although some pockets of urban civilization still survive, most of them live a fairly primitive semi-nomadic existence amidst the colossal ruins of their former civilization, making their humble clothes, tents, and rowboats out of the paper produced from the Martian canal reed. However, they have not entirely forgotten the glories of their past, and can be induced to drone on about them at some length about them simply by using the words “primitives” or “natives” in their earshot.
Said natives being fairly thin on the ground, the planet can expect to see much growth of terrestrial colonization in years ahead, unless recent Unfortunate Events throw the Course of Empire entirely off the rails, if I am not mixing metaphors. Already the planet is home to considerable new industrial development, the Moons housing the great machine-making manufacturies of Sir Waverly Rain, and the poles being the location of the major crystal-growing farms of the solar system. (Cultivation of crystals is one of the ancient sciences of Mars that has never been lost, and the polar farms grow everything from the finest windowpanes to perfectly clear crystal blocks many meters thick, suitable for the exploration of the depths of the Jovian atmosphere).
Martian warriors still ride into battle against their clan enemies on the backs of giant worms, wielding their deadly curved throwing blades and naked except for their jeweled harnesses, like the ancient Celts disdaining to shield their bodies from harm. Like the ancient Romans, the hideous Mole-men cheat, by wearing armor and using guns, and by the time the Duke of Marlborough brought the first military expedition to Mars, the invention of dark glasses for daylight fighting had allowed them to grind nearly a quarter of the Martian surface beneath their lumpy heels. The British army was generally content to leave the conquest of the Mole-Men to a later date, but British secret service agent Sir Richard Burton went on his own deep into the Mole-Man territory and led the natives in a successful revolt after infiltrating the capital of the Mole-Men in a clever and malodorous disguise. As a result Burton is the most popular Earthling on Mars, has been granted by acclamation various grand old Martian titles (including “Warlord of Mars”, a position vacant since before the fall of Troy), and has taken the position of a mediator between the Martians and their British rulers, much to the annoyance of many British administrators theoretically his superiors in rank (they don’t fancy his Martian wife, either).
The Mole Men have been driven underground again but not destroyed, and they seem unlikely to be become contented subjects of her Majesty anytime soon: the British army is not well versed in tunnel fighting, and the dastardly Mole Men, cheats that they are, keep collapsing their tunnels on invaders. There has been some talk about piping toxic Jovian gases into the tunnels to winkle them out, but so far fears of a public and Church outcry over such potentially exterminatory methods have delayed such plans.
The Asteroids are very various, and many remain unexplored due to sheer time constraints. Settlement generally has taken place in those areas where they tend to clump together, so a reasonable amount of real estate can be found fairly close at hand. Due to the challenges of putting a flag and sentry box on every little piece of rubble, the British have reluctantly allowed the French and other Lesser Nations to settle here and there in places they haven’t claimed yet, as long as they do it where they can see them and keep an eye on them.
The denser settled asteroid clusters are now being linked together by space rail, which requires less risky navigation than ships do, and do not require onboard alchemists. Given the relatively non-resistant nature of the Aether, such trains can reach tremendous speeds, crossing asteroid clusters thousands of miles across: their only shortcoming is the need to occasionally add in or remove a few ties and sections of rail as the more distant asteroids slowly drift in relation to each other and compress or stretch the tracks. Such trains are equipped with special small-asteroid proofed windows, which are also guaranteed 100% resistant to the efforts of the most clever and persistent 10 year old to open them. Due to the lack of up or down, it is possible to run two trains simultaneously on the same track, one running on one side, one on the other.
Aside from mining, space-fishing, low-gravity agriculture (the wheat can grow a good deal higher than an elephant’s eye), cultivation of Aether plants and various space-industries, the Asteroids are also a refuge for the odd and eccentric, where every man, woman, or thing can have their own castle free of annoying neighbors, even if it is only a big rock. Self-expression can take many forms, some rather obsessive, such as the man who took a decade and a great deal of high explosive to reshape his asteroid into a 100-meter bust of Queen Victoria. (It’s only a so-so likeness, but the man has clearly put so much work into it that most are too polite to point this out). There is the Welshman’s Crumble, an asteroid that has been inhabited for nearly a quarter of a century in spite of the fact it is in fact a cloud of loose rocks none more than six feet in diameter, the habitations resting on a platform precariously perched atop some of the floating rocks. Or Vestibule, inhabited by agoraphobics, who live in its hollow interior comfortable with their sky of solid rock. And then there is Abnegation, an asteroid inhabited by a particularly gloomy Presbyterian sect; being unable to pay property taxes on an actual asteroid of their own, they made one, knitting one out of brown string held in shape by a framework of Venusian bamboo, and smearing it with coal tar to keep it reasonably airtight. They keep their artificial gravity generator on low all the time, partly to save money, and partly to keep the asteroid from collapsing on itself from its own weight – light as it is, it has grown over the years: as a result their current generation of children are notable for their height, thinness and likely inability to walk if they ever moved to Earth, which does indeed help to keep the kids down on the space farm.
In most cases the asteroids require an air generator plant and an artificial gravity plant to keep said air from escaping before respectable people will settle there, but a few of the larger ones have an atmosphere of sorts, and in some cases pre-British intelligent inhabitants (Aether fish and plants are of course to be found on all the airless asteroids). These include a couple degenerated Martian Lost Colonies with most peculiar habits, and the Threls, a humanoid (roughly) race similar to the Hobgoblins of the Jovian Moons, but with only 1/10 of their volume. They are notable (as much as for anything) in their efforts to warm their damp, chilly little world by wrapping it in a wool blanket, and many of them have emigrated off-asteroid in search of employment payable in wool or currency exchangeable for wool. There are also reports of a small mouse-like race of people living in burrows (with doors) on small blue asteroids, but oddly enough they have always only been seen by people in a hurry to get somewhere else and therefore unable to stop and investigate: no deliberate effort to find them has so far been crowned with success, and some have argued that they are merely a rumor or tall story, with the more philosophically minded suggested they might be a form of wandering self-sustaining hallucination.
Some people dispense with a solid footing altogether, and simply have their homes towed into space, following some lonely orbit of their own: this is relatively rare, though, since it is rather lonely, and much past the Moon the delivery bills become quite extravagant.
The Starcross Hotel has been sold to a real estate company with plans for developing the asteroid: now that a temporal anomaly no longer brings the seas of ancient Mars to its front door every day (or mind-eaters from the distant future to its rooms), the major former draw is gone, but the hotel _is_ very attractive and the automated staff are of the very best quality.
The Moons of Jupiter are quite populous, and hold a variety of civilizations which used to war with each other all the time, over a course of millennia killing billions of each other and reducing their worlds from an extremely high level of technology to a merely Modern Industrial level. Before they wiped themselves out entirely, a fortunate military accident with mind-modifying spores rendered the locals constitutionally allergic to warfare, a fortunate circumstance from the point of the Empire, which had no problem establishing a protectorate over the Moons, in spite of their still advanced-enough-to-be-troublesome technology. (The effect was not hereditary, but since the affected all raised their children to be peaceful, the habit of avoiding warfare has so far stuck). Mind control spores are still used on some of the Moons, but only for advertising purposes (they are banned on Earth for fear of their being used to influence unduly the Political Process).
Quite a bit of their formerly more advanced technology is still retained, to which the general British reaction has generally been the sensible one of copying it when possible and declaring it inferior to the British variety if not. (For example, the propulsion method of their little brass saucer-ships that shuttle between the planets is still to be duplicated by terrestrial engineers, but lacking the range, speed, and protective Aetheric bubble of an alchemically driven ship (none have ever reached Earth) there is little reason to try).
The most prominent Moons are Io and Ganymede, the water Moon, whose amphibious inhabitants build their great cities half in and half out of the water. Although most Moons have only one native intelligent species, centuries of peace have led to a thorough intermingling of the species, so if one sits in a comfortable chair at an outdoor café in the great Ionian trading city of Ph’Arhpuu’xxtpllsprngg (AKA Farpoo), one can see the full pageant of the Jovian system walk or scuttle or crawl by as you drink your spiced trilobite milk.
(One might note that Farpoo, the most populous city in the solar system, is pretty much the _only_ city of Io: the majority of the population lives there, and all other settled locations on the Moon are mere villages by comparison: it has been a spaceport for over ten thousand British standard years, and the inhabitants of the Jovian moons often simply refer to it as “The City.” The local’s pride of place is immense, and sometimes British residents will admit that it’s at least a lot bigger than London, if you can get enough drinks into them).
Native Ionians are the species most often seen in other parts of the Solar system, four-armed, no-nosed,  short but heavily muscled beings, popular as space workers and engineers. They carry out a friendly competition with humans as to who grows the finest mustaches in the solar system (the Ionians are at a bit of an advantage here, since both their genders grow them). The foregoing applies to the adult Ionian, of course: they are generally more maggoty, and rather less socially adept, before they pass through their chrysalis stage.
Ganymede, the capital of which is known to Terrestrials as Spooli, is as mentioned a wet world whose principal inhabitants are amphibians. Predominant are the anemone people or Polyps, whose glowing head tentacles (not that they actually _have_ heads) change color to match their moods: they share the underwater parts of their cities with the crab people, friendly and peaceable sorts even by Jovian standards. The Polyp’s wild cousins of the outer seas communicate through a form of telepathy opaque to other species, but the civilized anemones have learned to create sounds to communicate with other Jovians, producing even a passable form of English by controlled release of gasses from their central body cavity. (Of course, this method is more suited to Dutch). Their vision is most unusual: they lack ordinary eyes, but their entire skins are light-sensitive, allowing them to generate in their secondary brains a complete if somewhat fuzzy 360-degree panorama of their surroundings. Both the civilized and the wild versions can throw powerful electrical bolts to defend themselves, but the urban anemone is usually far too polite to show off this ability save in Mortal Peril. Ganymede is also home to large and alarming-looking sea creatures known as Bluurgs, which find work as water taxis on other moons and rarely demand payment beyond conversation and back scratching.
(Spooli is sometimes referred to as “the Venice of Space”, which amuses Spoolians, given their city was half in and half out of the water eight thousand years before anyone bothered to settle certain mud flats at the head of the Adriatic).
The Jovian Hobgoblins rule none of the Moons, and indeed have forgotten which Moon they initially originated on, but they have communities on every even barely livable rock, and are one of the spicier elements in the cultural goulash of the Jovian system. Humanoid but big-nosed, pointy-eared and bow-legged, invariably argumentative and quarrelsome, they vary rather widely in shape and size, and some argue they are relatives of the Threls, which both emphatically and indignantly deny.
Also commonly seen in major cities, what appear to be hundred-foot long, five-inch thick millipedes scuttle over the walls and roofs to avoid being stepped on: these too are Jovian intelligences, a race of poets and philosophers which can’t help giving other species the creeping willies. They are commonly known as billipedes – they do not actually have a billion feet, but due to their tendency to shed old, worn legs and sprout new ones, nobody has ever been able to take an accurate leg count. They hibernate for roughly seven months at a time, during which other urban residents use them as clothes lines or to hang festive banners or streamers from. Then there are the six-armed green women of Europa, celebrated in many unprintable sailor’s songs, the doughy-men of Callisto, the Tricephalids of Chumbley, the many-armed balls of fur known to humans without extra tongues and double palates as “Dweebs” …but it would take too long to tell all, we have still further planets to touch on, and we have not yet visited Jupiter itself.
The clouds of Jupiter support a rich ecology of floating, flying, sinking and rising species from tiny air-plankton to miles-wide Titan Jellies: brave hunters from the Moons descend into the terrible winds aboard armored pressure-ships in search of the merely two-ocean-liner sized Wind Whales, whose immense bodies can be processed into a variety of useful industrial products. Their activities are meanwhile barely noticeable by the dominant and largest species on Jupiter, which are made mostly of clouds and lightening, the intelligent storms of Jupiter, of which Old Thunderhead, more vulgarly known on Earth as the “Great Red Spot” is the oldest and largest by far. Communications are generally established by pulses of electro-magnetic fluid or “radio”: the older and cleverer storms can often reply with sound, speaking by modulating thunder. The storms are insatiably curious about the greater universe, bound as they are to their world, and the larger ones can brew up strange and valuable gases in their depths to exchange for stories and news. They are traditionally considered to be Gods by many of the peoples of the Moons: given their millennia-long lives and ability to extend themselves hundreds (or in the case of the larger ones, thousands) of miles into space for short intervals and swat space fleets like flies (if flies were slow, bumbling, easily swatted things), this is perhaps not surprising.
One final moon of Jupiter bears mentioning: Querp. Querp is actually a 100-meter sphere of by now quite spoiled cheese, put in orbit some forty years ago by a wealthy Englishman to win a bet, bankrupting himself in the process. By now its odor can be detected nearly a thousand miles down-Aether by human noses, and some sensitive-nosed inhabitants of the Jovian moons claim to be able to tell when it is at closest approach without looking at the sky.
Saturn is of course is the home of the White Spiders, an asteroid-born, low-gravity species which inhabit its rings, creating cities out of webbing connecting the various rocks and ice chunks together. (They are not actually Spiders, having 12 legs rather than eight and living in hive-like communities with multiple castes varying in size and specialization, but then they do look a lot like spiders, don’t they? Webs and everything? Righty-ho.)The oldest race in the solar system, older than the moons and planets, they also hold grudges longer than any other species in existence, and for the crime of existing on planets that used to be floating rubble inhabited by Spiders before the Shaper came along to collect the mass into said planets , they have wrecked countless civilizations since the beginning of planetary intelligences millions and millions of years ago. Living solely for revenge has rather taken it out of them, however: their technology has not advanced in ages and they have dwindled in numbers over the mega-millennia: the destruction of the Martian empire was to some extent their last hurrah, and recently their ability to destroy the British Empire was shown to be distinctly limited when they failed to get their pincers on the ancient Shaper artifact their plot depended on.
Still, they retain enough scraps of their ancient science to be quite dangerous, and new plots are being hatched as the news spreads around the rings of the failure of Mr. Webster’s clan (the clan war leader, like most Spiders, was a neuter female, but since humans are led by males, and large spiders tend to have deep, rough voices anyway, the choice of a male persona seemed obvious in dealing with humanity, rather going into long explanations of spider gender identity…).
White Spiders reportedly are an extremely wide-spread species, inhabiting many solar systems in this and more distant galaxies: indeed, the Shapers have left a number of solar systems in their primordial state of floating rings of rubble and ice tied together with cobwebs, as reservations, so to speak, for the Spiders: it’s therefore really quite unreasonable for our Solar System’s Spiders to hold a grudge against the Shaper and her creations for destroying 99.99 % of their living space – she gave them a six month’s warning to pack up and leave, and you can’t be more reasonable than that!
Any up-and-coming species on the Moons of Saturn tends to be quickly smacked down by the Spiders, although the inhabitants of Iapetus ended up putting up such a fight that one of its hemispheres was burned black by the Spiders. There appear to be some sort of intelligences living in the immensely deep seas of Rhea, but since they seem uninterested in coming to the surface, and the few survivors of deep submersible exploration have returned entirely raving mad, the Spiders have generally decided to leave well enough alone with that Moon.
Also inhabiting one of the Moons of Saturn are the cactus-men, a race of spiny and not particularly intelligent beings developed by a long-extinct warrior race (who managed to do a excellent job of exterminating themselves with no aid from the Spiders) as cheap cannon fodder: given some properly vitaminized soil a crop of cactus-men can be grown to maturity in less than a quarter hour, and the only reason they have not overrun the solar system is that they have the creative thinking ability of damp celery stalks. They are occasionally used by the Spiders when they find themselves in need of cheap and replaceable minions. They are rather unattractive creatures, but do bloom with the prettiest white flowers at the right time of year. Their greatest weakness is their excellent sense of hearing and perfect pitch perception, which makes them rather vulnerable to sonic attack by the sort of people who can’t carry a tune in a bucket if it were on wheels and chained to the back of a truck.
As yet only rarely visited is Georgium Sidus, which does not exactly have a solid surface, rather air which thickens into fog then into aerated water and then into water proper (and into solid water at a far greater depth). Until the Victoria Regina Floating Spacedocks are completed, visitors must land their ships on the various rafts of floating vegetation that bob about at the fog/fizzy air/water boundary levels. These can reach sizes exceeding a thousand miles across, and sturdy enough to support whole cities, if anyone ever finds a reason to build houses in that perpetually moist and misty venue. (Perhaps the Scots. The fruiting bodies atop the dominant species of raft-plants resemble sprouts, and even taste a bit like them, although they may weigh up to a ton. If oatmeal cultivation is possible…)
A variety of other vegetation, including a number of species parasitic on the rafts, grow atop the rafts, including some interesting forms of mobile plant-animal mixes such as the Tufted Sphagnum or Nibbling Sporran (it will usually leave humans alone after an experimental nibble), but most animal life lives in the seas. The principal native species are the Mer-people, who are somewhat less attractive than the traditional sort, being hairless, grey, bony, keel-chested, four-armed, needle-toothed, snaked-tailed, eyes hidden by dark membranes, no visible ears or noses (they have gills under their arms), and with a glowing anglerfish-like lure growing from the forehead of their finned, triangular heads. (Oddly enough, in spite of all that, their females still do nurse their young). They also have terrible taste in music. A primitive folks, they live mostly by fishing and seaweed-gathering, and as amphibians they are found at all levels from the floating islands to many miles down beneath the water, but usually live in the huge air-filled underwater bladders that support the more massive floating vegetation.
Hades is now inhabited by the Sssnilth, which now that their renegade Shaper overlord has been destroyed, have become relatively tolerable neighbors, at least at a distance of several billion British miles. They have even extended a species-wide apology for the whole invasion and destruction of half the British space navy, which is nice, but as may be crudely put, doesn’t butter any parsnips. But there they are and there they hopefully will stay, seven hundred million blue-skinned humanoid lizards, with flexible spikes for hair and divided into clans by the shapes of the knobs and spikes on their female’s tails. Their Queen, admittedly, was raised in England, but unfortunately the fact she was raised by the Royal Xenobiological Institute has led to some fears her memories of that experience might not be entirely favorable. Their new planet is now illuminated by the artificial sun they brought with them, which although no larger than many asteroids warms and lights the little world of Hades enough to do much damage to the more delicate, dark and cold-adapted lichens, a fact much lamented by mycologists and botanists.
Currently the Sssnilth, an egg-laying species in which traditionally the larger, stronger women command and fight, and the smaller, paler, short-spiked and caudally unarmed males stay home and take care of the children, is suffering social turmoil due to a large proportion of its women being inspired by the ideals of British Womanhood, and desiring to give up war and spiny battle armor for dresses, fine manners, and tea parties. (Inspiring as this may be to traditionalists, it must be noted that the Sssnilth pick up new ideas with inhuman speed, and as a result of Aeons of rule by an absolute tyrant, tend to be both naïve and quick to think that anything approved of by their former ruler, such as warlike prowess, is wrong). The old-fashioned Blood and Glory faction has rallied somewhat lately, due to many of the males emphatically not wanting to become warriors, and the women discovering that taking care of newly hatched Sssnilth is a job hardly less messy than the raising of human babies: the fact that their Queen, although understanding the importance of grace and style, thoroughly disapproves of genteel helplessness and swooning, has also had its impact. Where things will finally end up remains up in the air, either a full return to previous manners or a full turn to human social conventions seem unlikely.
The Empire’s science is quite firmly steampunk, often taking more advanced technology (say, from the inhabitants of Jupiter’s moons – not that any British scientist will admit this) and combining it with steam and alchemical phlogiston technology. While the Jovian moons have flimsy electrical mechanical servants made of synthetics, the British have solid metal ones propelled by steam – old-fashioned craftsmanship while will stand the test of time or rude tradesmen. Even fairly low-middle members of the middle classes can now afford mechanical maids and butlers, freeing a great deal of labor to be transported to the colonies either to pursue their dreams of their own farm or striking it rich, or on charges of idleness and/or vagrancy. (The wealthy of course stick with human servants, who whatever else their failings, don’t emit smoke if improperly cleaned and generally are better at foreseeing their master’s wishes than a poor automated butler who must select his thoughts from a limited number of wax cylinders).
Wax cylinders are now being supplemented by increasingly fine calculating machines (some of those alien sweatshop workers have really small hands), and some machines are now capable of reading the paper, although the Heathcoat Reader, while capable of reading as many papers in an hour as a lodging house full of anarchists, has proven somewhat disappointing as a news aggregator, it’s summarized and “easily digestible” reports always making things seem somehow rather trivial. Most informational engineers are not impressed by Mr. Babbage’s claims that the world will soon know, and fear, the power of his new “difference engine.”
Many new labor-saving devices for the ladies have been developed (to the disapproval of many who claim this will lead to idleness and dissolution), including such wonders as the push-knob All-Automatic Kitchen, but not all household aids are mechanical in nature: those who dwell in space, rather than dealing with the cumbersome 150-pound Home Floor Suction and Cleansing Automaton, As Used By Minor Nobility, use zero gravity and the Hoverhog, an inflated bladder of a beastie from the clouds of Jupiter, which will track down and inhale any floating crumb or piece of debris with pinpoint accuracy (the hoverhog’s one drawback is its method of propulsion when it desires to move faster than its normal flipper-driven motion: this is somewhat similar to the method of the squid, but with unfortunately using a different orifice. Most of Victoria’s subjects deal with this slightly indelicate issue in the manner which normally maintains social propriety: they ignore its existence).
For those living offplanet, air filtering and oxygenation systems, using ice as raw materials, have become quite reliable over the last century, and it is quite rarely nowadays that someone is burned to death or suffocated due to some failing in their equipment, although some people _will_ cut corners and buy a cheap Italian or French model.
Communications using pulses of electro-magnetic fluid over long interplanetary distances are still patchy, due to the problems of interference caused by Aether disturbances, and for long-distance alarms or signals a good, high-powered signal flare remains the norm for space travelers in distress: many earn a few pence taking time as telescope watchers, keeping an eye on the space lanes for the flash of a distress or warning signal. Such flares are banned for import into some terrestrial nations, the timid locals referring to them as “weapons of mass destruction” merely because they can shoot a hundred miles into space and kill anyone in a 30-meter radius if improperly detonated.
(For civilian purposes communications are by cable; why would you want your message wafting through the air where anyone could pick up on it?)
Deep sea exploration is a new thing on Earth, alchemically propelled ships making poor submarines (the water tends to come in the exhaust trumpets and sink the ship); only recently a combination of anti-gravity and pressure-ships of nearly solid rock (similar to those used to visit the skies of Jupiter) have allowed valiant explorers to sink to the bottom, take a look out the windows, and rise again. So far the consensus is that the deep sea floor, if not as lifeless as previously thought, is really rather boring: due to the sheer size of the seas, none of these essays have dropped down in visual range of any surviving ruins from Atlantis or Mu (respectively a Mercurian colony and an extinct civilization even in their age). But give it time.
Military technology marches on, in some cases literally so: although their rather simple minds make mechanicals impractical as soldiers, they fill important support roles, and for long marches soldiers now can be equipped in the finest of walking machines, which may yet evolve into what inhabitants of other timelines call “mecha”, especially if military advances continue to be pushed forward by aliens wrecking London every six months. Aside from cannon and rockets, navy ships are armed with Phlogiston Exciters working on alchemical principles, which act like a tremendously powerful flamethrower with a range of up to a quarter of an English mile: unfortunately, the near lack of Phlogiston in the interplanetary Aether means that the Exciter is a weapon strictly for use within an atmosphere.
The Empire’s glorious self-confidence has taken a few knocks lately: the attack of the White Spiders on London could be seen as a mere case of Inferior Foreigners Using Sneaky Tricks (their larger plan to use ancient Shaper technology to demolish the inner planets being unknown), but the fleet of the Sssnilth and their Moths beat the British Space navy, or at least half of it (much of it still being en route from other planets and moons and asteroids) pretty much fair and square (although many in the Navy would complain that they had been in trouble, but they hadn’t definitely lost yet when the fighting abruptly came to an end), and having your entire planet virtually blanketed by tens of trillions of moths is enough to give anyone the willies (the French and the Russians, who if not attacked had still seen their skies blotted out by the Mothstorm, most definitely got them, and are rather hysterically claiming it was somehow all England’s fault). Queen Victoria, twice seriously discomforted by alien invaders, has ordered England’s top scientists to see about building a set of secret escape tunnels for all her residences and a set of giant mechanical bodyguards in case of a third episode, claiming she has pretty much lost her sense of humor by this point.
The Sssnilth weren’t beaten, but simply called off the war thanks to the fall of their evil Shaper overlord: they lost most of their Moths in the aftermath of said entities death, but they still have a huge fleet of mile-long alchemically driven ships armed with explosive alchemical projectiles and while only a small fraction of a percent of the Moths survived to be driven to their new home, that’s still over a hundred million Godzilla-sized moths – and according to all reports breeding like rabbits, or insects, rather. (The Sssnilth economy is very Moth-product dependent: like the inhabitants of Indian Territory with the buffalo, they use every last wing-scale.) Humanity – and, more importantly from London’s point of view, the British Empire – must now share the solar system with formidable potential competitors.
(The White Spiders also remain a concern: a punitive expedition to Saturn was not entirely successful, in that the rings of Saturn are almost two million miles in circumference, and after Aeons of decline, there aren’t many White Spiders left – after weeks of futile searching, they did find and destroy one Spider city before calling it a victory and returning, being rather unaware that the inhabitants of the city, several hundred thousand miles away from where Mr. Webster used to hang his bowler hat, had no knowledge whatsoever about his Grand Plan,  which he had kept to his own city-state for fear that some other Spiders might steal his chance for glory. A surviving young Spider has sworn vengeance against the British Empire, so some trouble may be coming down the pipe in a few decades).
The humiliation of the Empire and the continued presence of the invaders have had disturbing effects on its non-human and even human subjects: that humans, more specifically British humans, have some sort of special Cosmic Destiny to rule the Solar System is becoming a much harder sell, and there have been Disturbances on Mars and a couple of the Moons of Jupiter, although no outright revolts as yet. Members of the Royal Xenobiological Institute wonder if they should have killed and dissected quite so many aliens without determining whether they were intelligent first (and in some cases after being quite well informed – Military Necessity and such).
Whether non-humans are entitled to all the same legal rights as a human remains hotly disputed in the courts, and the argument has become rather more urgent since the new queen of the Sssnilth made it clear that any subject of hers who visits the worlds of the Empire will have at least the same level of legal protection as a Frenchman, or she will be exceedingly cross.
(And it’s not just aliens one has to worry about; reports indicate that France’s new antigravity-assisted long-range canon is capable of bombarding London from the continent. It’s enough to make one unsure whether God is, in fact, an Englishman).
Still, things will change, in ethics as well as technology: a British doctor in Africa was recently arrested after he carried out involuntary medical vaccination experiments on some children purchased from a slaver. Although he was initially arrested on charges of participating in the slave trade, questions were asked about the experimentation (in some cases fatal) on the children. Sure, it was for the greater good, but…and this in turn feeds into the Venusian Scandal, in which it came out that the government had a serum capable of curing the victims of the Changeling Trees, but had kept it quiet because of the huge expense entailed in providing doses to everyone affected. (As yet, it has not been revealed that the Royal Xenobiological Institute was responsible for mutating the Trees into a form capable of infecting humans in the first place…but the Press and the Anarchists are digging.) The scandal has already contributed to the fall of one government (the “failed to stop alien invasion” thing was the other major factor), and the current one is not doing a great job of reassuring the Queen’s subjects that They Know Better. Perhaps it could be that the British Empire could actually stand, could actually survive… a bit more democracy? The heresy is in the open, there are dueling challenges in the House of Lords, and exchanges of insults in the Commons. In the meantime, the armed forces brace for a round of reforms, and scientists, engineers and cranks are lined up by the crack of dawn in front of various government offices, each with their own idea for an Infallible Defense against alien invasion. One young scientist has a remarkable idea – a self-sustaining phlogiston chain reaction. It could not of course be tested on Earth, but perhaps on a large asteroid with an atmosphere, suggests young Moriarty.
Of course, all this is a tempest in a teapot: it’s a big old universe, and the development of the Cosmic Will continues with little reference to what happens in London, hard as it is to believe.
The Shapers, in their quest to create a universe in which the variety and possibilities of intelligent life was as great as possible, had other challenges to deal with in the early ages of the universe beyond White Spiders. Such conflicts took place hundreds of millions or billions of light years away, and were only vaguely known of by Mrs. Mumby, so her children never suffered nightmares hearing about the Twonky Men, who had wanted to reshape all the loose matter into giant calculating machines, to calculate the exact nature of God (so they could then kill Him ) : or the Great Gibbering Ghastlies, who were perfectly fine with the Shapers forming the early rubble of the solar systems into planets - they just intended to later eat everything that evolved on them.
But what of the universe today? New solar systems are still forming, but there are few Shapers left: their time is mostly over, in spite of such eccentrics as Mrs. Mumby and the Moth-Maker. What new threats may have arisen, and who will protect the races of the universe?
The universe is now entering a new cosmic cycle: and with it, the works of the Shapers will be judged.
It may be another million or ten million years, but it also could be tomorrow, and the Mumby family has always had a peculiar relationship with probability.
The Auditors are coming.
 They breathe through their ears, and it’s really not polite to ask what they hear with.
 Not to be confused with Flummocks. Flummocks are sensitive about that sort of terrestrial “oh, they all look alike” business.
 But if they had known of his plan they would have heartily approved, so maybe it was OK to bombard them?
 I of course am just using standard terminology here: there is no intention to imply that either myself or the Twonky Men hold any sort of opinion as to whether the creator of All Things has Naughty Bits of whatever gender.
Earth map to follow.