The plots and actions in Shifting Sands follow many varied avenues. From Victorian science fiction to Politics (Colonial and otherwise), from Weird science to secret societies, interpersonal drama and even the factions that dictate morals and fashion, Shifting Sands reaches far and wide (at least as far as the asteroid belt, and who knows what's beyond that?) to encompass all manner of themes.
The themes of Shifting Sands exist to provide a basic framework for stories, and to give some ideas on where characters might bend their talents and resources, as well as guiding them away from the sort-of things that the GM's have decided will not appear within the game.
Some examples of the themes that exist in the game:
Social Darwinism and National Exceptionalism
Does natural selection and survival of the fittest ring true within the framework of human progress? Or national progress?
Reaching beyond the asteroid belt
What lies beyond the next great human frontier? Or, perhaps more importantly, how in the world is humanity going to get there?
Political expansion / Land grabs
There are resources for the taking in the solar system. So long as one doesn't mind a little bit of conflict over them, perhaps by competitors, perhaps by the current owners.
Martian Socialist Expansion
Who knows what political movements might take hold among the denizens of the Red Planet?
Scientists need patrons, industrialists need new technology, and there are breakthroughs happening every day! Of course, there are drastic failures, and charlatans as well...
The ruins of Mars, the vast uncharted reaches of Venus, and the far mysteries of the asteroid belt itself are all fertile ground for the intrepid who wish to brave the danger, and the investors who may wish to have something specific found or retrieved.
Liftwood, Bhutan spice, the exotic materials in the jungles of Venus and the blasted surface of Mercury. Even at home on Earth, there are vast untapped areas of Africa and South America to delve into, and perhaps make a profit from.
The great nations of the world would love nothing better than to expand and colonize into Mars, Mercury, and Venus, but there is a danger from both the native populations and from competitor nations who may disrupt, sabotage, or even go into out-and-out war over the land.
An undercurrent of competitive nationalism flows between the great and small powers of Europe, and the rest of the Earth as well. What may start as simple espionage could blossom into sabotage, and even war if one is not careful... Or if one is deliberate!
It is an age in which modernism clashes with traditionalism. Where religious differences split not only humans, but Martians as well. The roughness of casual bigotry, through racism and religious differences, still rears its head in the salons and streets of the age.
Scandal and Less-Than-Legal Activities
Shocking, isn't it? And yet, in every age, there will be those desperate or mad enough to delve into the unsavory, dangerous world that exists outside the confines of polite society. The Fenians, the Ground Cleansers, and even the more despicable elements of Karkarham have their place... If you could call it that. Beware, however: Dabbling in such things can leave stains that may have you removed from polite society, including the salons themselves!