When the original idea for the Steam universe first surfaced in a riverside bar in Quillan France, I was determined that whilst essentially a steam punk novel based around a disruptive discovery and its effect on Victorian society, the variations I would introduce into this new universe would be as few and as plausible as possible.
However, whilst reflecting on how this disruption would be implemented I very soon came to the depressing conclusion that I would need the help of a “shadowy secret society” embedded into Victorian life that could pull the strings and make sure that Perrin, my hero, got all the people, money, and facilities he needed. Why was I depressed about this? It’s a standard trope beloved of many genres of fiction and particularly popular in the area I was exploring. And that, in a nutshell, is why it is depressing. It’s too obvious and allows for all sorts on convenient plotting and characterisation. The shadowy cabal, the perfect assassin vs the young initiate at first in awe and later rebelling. Even Bond has one and if that isn’t a reason to be depressed I don’t know what is. Or, even more depressing is the familiar permutations on the Freemasons or the Illuminati idea, which thanks to Dan Brown et al which are now so clichéd and hackneyed and so almost certainly yawn inducing to the reader.
Then when I started looking for a role model in English/Victorian history, things got seriously out of hand. They were either hedonistic groups who were secret, largely because they were blasphemous and/or a cover for sex drugs and rock’n’roll (or whatever passed for that back then) e.g. the explorer Richard Burton’s Cannibal Club. As an article from the Smithsonian Journal explains
[The Cannibal Club’s] central activity was the production and distribution of colonialist pornography for their circle and other elite consumers. However—and this is key for the formation of colonial and imperial ideology—they justified their activities as the pursuit of science and art, where pornography, or their pseudoscientific combination of sexology and anthropology, would help to understand better the specific sexual practices and culture in the far-flung reaches of the Empire.
The other fundamental problem with secret societies is that they are secret and so unable to wield the obvious power to enable them to move quickly and decisively, something that Steam needed to allow the story to progress to a point where the impact of Perrin’s discovery could bcome a central driver for the narrative.
So from this impasse the idea of “The Cadre” emerged; and what is so special and unusual about that I hear you cry, well for a start it is…….not a secret society!
According to Wikipedia a Cadre may refer to:
- Cadre (military), a group of officers or NCOs around whom a unit is formed, or a training staff
- Cadre (politics), a politically controlled appointment to an institution in order to circumvent the state and bring control to the party
- Cadre (comics), a DC Comics supervillain group
- CADRE Laboratory for New Media at San Jose State University
- Professional revolutionaries or a cadre: in Leninism, an organized revolutionary vanguard aimed at moving society to the realisation of communism
- Constructor Acquires Destructor Releases alternate name for Resource Acquisition Is Initialization programming idiom
Whilst researching key characters for the Steam universe a series of facts emerged that with minimal interference from me could have resulted in group of like-minded people with the ability, will and drive to result in the formation of an overt, open society with the goal of doing whatever necessary to exploit the wonders of science, engineering and individuals ideas and discoveries for the benefit of the British Empire. Unfettered by any real rules and constraints (both moral and economic) the Cadre can be seen as an asset, a boon and source of global power by both the government and the army thus giving them economic support and political clout.
The roots of the Cadre in my world can be traced back to the very real “Analytical Society” formed at Cambridge in 1812 by Charles Babbage, John Herschel and George Peacock. The society was founded to promote Leibnizian notation for differentiation in calculus as well as rational thought and the pursuit of the scientific method. This group later evolved into the still present “Cambridge Philosophical Society”.
Charles Babbage is really the lynchpin to the Cadre. Babbage was a celebrated polymath of the time, now seen as the founder of modern computing and rather than copy and paste the whole of his Wikipedia entry I urge you to go and read it now.
Ok done that …..wow what a guy, it’s all there a genius, a natural theologian (which allowed him to extol the virtues of science without riling the church) an early industrialist with ideas Ford would later implement, a public figure, who knew some of the brightest and most influential people of the day (IKB, Ava Lovelace, and Dickens for example) and one with political ambitions, which in his history he never achieved and may have been one of the reasons government funding for his “Difference Engine” was eventually stopped and the “Analytical Engine” never started.
In the Steam universe, the Analytical Engine is built and the value and power that such a group could create is thus recognized and encouraged and so from a discussion group on calculus the Cadre is ultimately born. Comprising the brightest minds of the day, the patronage of wealthy families looking to secure their industrial future as well as government favour. With the armed forces reaping the benefits of their discoveries and protecting and enforcing their exclusive use for the Empire it was only natural that when news of Francis Perrin’s ideas reached then, The Cadre would embrace him as one of their own and look to explore the potential of “Hyperion” and give Britain and the Empire yet another unassailable advantage over the rest of the world.
What is “Hyperion” I hear you cry……well you’ll just have to read the dammed book, assuming that is, I ever find anyone willing to take it and me seriously.