But first, an overview of the setting itself.
Thomas Edison invents an "aether propeller" which could propel ships through the "luminiferous aether", and traveled to Mars in 1870 accompanied by Scottish soldier of fortune Jack Armstrong, where they discovered that the planet was inhabited (see Mars below).
Liftwood: One of the treasures that spurred the Europeans to Mars was "liftwood": a rare cultivated plant with anti-gravity properties that allowed for the construction of giant floating ships. While the Earthers used Martian sky galleons at first, they later constructed their own armored, steam powered flyers.
Aether Propellers and Aether Flyers: Though the æther propeller was invented by Edison, who obtained the first patent on an æther flyer. Scottish explorer, Jack Armstrong, later patented his own version of the æther propeller. Although not as efficient as Edison's design, the Armstrong æther propeller is used by all Royal Navy flyers and most British commercial flyers, as well.
In Germany, Count Zeppelin patented an æther propeller design, which is used by the German government for all its flyers, even though it is not as efficient as the Armstrong propeller. Additional competition from Tesla, Westinghouse, Behrend and others continue to drive down the cost of æther propeller's and make them readily available. And so the space race gets off to an early start in 1889.
Heliograph Stations: As radio has not yet been invented, orbital Heliograph stations transmit messages via semaphore. Britain and Germany own the majority of these.
Other Gadgets: The wonders of invention, both practicle and Pulpy are all possible in Space 1889, with inventors, chemists and industrialists taking on the role of wizards. Automatons, Invisibility Potions, Land Ironclads, Ray-guns, Supercrops and Tripods are all possible to name a few.
The basic setting introduction for Space 1889 can be downloaded for free here.
There are three main racial grouping amongst the martian peoples. The High Martians, Hill Martians and the Canal Martians.
Canal Martians: The Canal Martians are the most advanced of the three Martian races, but their culture, though responsible for Mars' highest cultural and scientific achievements, has been in decline for millenia. The Canal Martians have been civilized for at least 35,000 years and are still consummate farmers, accomplished builders and skilled artisans. But they are obviously a culture in decline, as demonstrated by their inability to maintain the ancient technology of their forebears such as the canal pumping stations. The culture of the Canal Martians is stagnant and unchanging, their arts have become incomprehensibly baroque and degenerate, and their science is without the innovative spark that characterizes human intellectual activity.
Hill Martians: Nomadic by nature and less civilized than the Canal Martians (but more civilized than the High Martians), Hill Martians prefer the simple life of roaming the vast Martian deserts. Traders in spice, hand-made goods and livestock, the Hill Martians’ culture resembles the American Indians of the early 19th century.
High Martians: Of the three types of Martian, High Martians are least affected by civilization; they live in remote kraags and mountaintops, venturing out from time to time to capture slaves or to loot passing caravans. High Martians are like intelligent apes when compared to the Canal Martians, but with a difference: they can fly. High Martians (so called for their "altitude" rather than their accomplishments) never lost their lifting gland or its ability to carry them through the skies of Mars. Their behavior is bestial and barbaric in the extreme.
Colonialism: The most ambitious imperialist on Mars have been the British and the Belgians. Britain controls Syrtis Major, the richest city on Mars and is engaged with an ongoing war with the militaristic Oenotrian Empire. The Belgian Coprates Company conquered the great Coprates Rift Valley with an army of mercenaries and now ruthlessly exploits the region.The most valuable resource on Mars is the incredible Liftwood tree. This plant grows only in the remote mountains, guarded by the savage, flying High Martians. When properly cut and cured, liftwood can be used to build ships that float in the air. Earth's Great Powers are scrambling to obtain supplies of liftwood, to keep up in the new aerial naval race that has begun.
America maintains several diplomatic missions on Mars, with a full Embassy in Thymiamata, a powerful trading city. Here it maintains inroads for American businesses and interests for US citizens. Many Americans are uncomfortable with the heavy-handed activities of the Belgians and (to a lesser extent) the British. However this is likely sour grapes on the part of more than a few US opportunists.
Colonialism: Although expeditions were sent to Venus as early as 1873 (using British made Armstrong Flyers), the first one to return was the German-backed Heidelburg expedition of 1878. The Venusian magnetic field, it has been discovered, accelerates liftwood decay. Within days of landing, the first three expeditions found their flyers would not leave the ground. Germany, unable to obtain large quantities of Iiftwood, was forced to make use of dirigibles as the lifting means for their Ether Flyers. Germany has dominated the exploration of Venus since that time and maintains several colonies.
The British, Russians, and Italians have all set up colonies, but by far the largest European settlement is that of the German empire. It's capital, Venusstadt, is the largest and most civilized city on the planet -- the residence of the Governor and his family boasts an air conditioning system!
Mostly, as mankind spread out among the other planets, Luna remained of interest to only a few space mariners, and crazed Russian scientist, Vladimir Tereshkov, and rival American scientist Doctor Cyrus Grant. For a short time, the Russians maintained a secret mining settlement, enslaving the indigenous population, the Selenites, but were overthrown by the crew of HMAS Sovereign, with the help of Professor Nathanial Stone. At present the UK maintains an illegal research base on Luna, contravening the The Agreement Governing State Activities on Luna, which prevents any one nation setting up a presence on the moon. As a result there is much interest in Luna from the other major powers, but still the British Empire maintain control over the moon; a position precarious at best.
The innermost planet, Mercury, is a tidally locked world, with one side always facing the Sun, the other the void of outer space. Between the cold of the dark side and the heat of the light side, there is a narrow 100-mile wide temperate zone that circles the globe. All around the zone runs the World River, linking the various lakes and small seas, its flow driven by Coriolus effects. Along the river, exotic plant life and primitive shelled creatures (similar to those common on Earth during the Paleozoic Age) make their home.
Largely unexplored, there is only one permanent human settlement, a British scientific outpost named Princess Christiana Station, with less than a hundred residents. While molten tin and lead on the hot side of the planet and frozen fields of ammonia and carbon dioxide on the cold side are potential commercial products, the extremes of heat and cold have made exploitation impractical to date.
A recent scientific expedition to the dark side of Mercury has reported exotic life forms living in the extreme cold. Their body chemistry is based on ammonia, and the creatures catalogued included a primitive race vaguely resembling spiders or crabs. The expedition managed to establish communication with them, and they proved helpful in exploration of the area. It is also on Mercury that gravitar was discovered by Austrian geologists.