Oh, OK, Rob. Our Canadian overlord talks, and we listen.
Unplumbed Ephemeral Circus genre time. The Empire is decaying. It has always been decaying; it will be decaying for millenial. Nobody remembers the time when it was not, except perhaps the positronic computators that remain. They grind equations into dust for purposes that were set back when the Empire was bright. It is rumored that a man knows how to change those purposes; that legacy was passed down in his clan from mother to son, from uncle to niece, and cannot be used until the time is right.
The Court is glorious. Under the masks, it is horrible. It’s a trap: the truly competent maintain the rusting machinery of the Empire elsewhere. Those attracted to power vanish in the byzantine complexities of Court etiquette. (The universities teach courses in it, of dubious value.)
The barbarians are at the stargates. The imperial armies are funded by patrons, who have varying motivations. One donates to the Crown for the sponsorship of a Legion — it is not legal to have a private army. Good Legions will be picked up by other patrons if their patron falls, which reduces the ability of the patrons to control their sponsored troops. Some patrons seek status; some are altruists; some are fanatics. The campaign is the defense against the barbarians. Military SF, but not David Drake’s style. More Asimov, but lush.