Background: The Machinists

13 Sep

These are background notes for a possible story/trilogy. What do you think?

Background: The Machinists

Of all the various ideologies that sprang out of the tumultuous years of the British Civil Wars (1642–1651), one would not expected Mechanism to rise from nothing to become the dominant ideology of the entire world and soar system beyond.  Many people expected, even after King Charles was stripped of his title and beheaded, that the kingdom would eventually have another king or collapse into chaos in the absence of a strong monarch.  Instead, the groundwork for the transition to a whole new society was laid – partly by accident – and Mechanism became a political movement that undermined its enemies to the point long-term resistance was simply impossible.

Mechanism was born from the fertile mind of Admiral Lord Treathwick and his two children, General Arnold Treathwick (eventually Lord Protector) and Sarah Treathwick.  Lord Treathwick was, at the time, a high-ranking naval officer who sided with Parliament in the opening years of the civil war (ensuring that Mechanism had a powerful backer right from the start) while Arnold was a young man who joined the Parliamentary cause, became a close personal friend of Oliver Cromwell and eventually assisted him to construct the New Model Army that won the first round of conflict.  Sarah Treathwick, unusually for her era, was one of the most educated women in the country, and the inventor of the first steam engine and advanced guns.  She was, in many ways, the true founder of Mechanism.  She was certainly the one who took the time to analyse the political issues being discussed during the era and forge them into a workable ideology.  In later years, it would be claimed Mechanism had many fathers but only one mother.

Mechanism claims to be a scientific ideology, although – at least at first – there was a strong religious tinge to its platform.  It is based on three core points:

First, mankind has a duty to study his environment and advance his technology so he can reach his full potential.  In the early days, it was argued that doing so would allow man to rise above the savage and closer to God; later, as religion declined in importance, the concept of mankind actually becoming godlike would eventually take centre stage.

Second, all men – regardless of colour, gender or creed – have the same inherent potential to rise and, if they choose to do so, they should be accepted as equals.  Mechanism had a superiority complex, like many other ideologies, but it also makes room for newcomers willing to join up.  Linked to this, deliberately suppressing anyone’s potential is regarded as fundamentally harmful.  Slavery and serfdom, for example, were eventually banned within the Mechanist Protectorate, then the rest of the world. 

Third, Machinists have a duty to spot individuals with considerable potential and take them as their clients, offering them opportunities to develop their skills and rise in the ranks.

The success of Mechanism, at least in the early years, is easily explained.  The development of steam-powered warships changed the face of warfare, allowing the newborn Protectorate to crush the Dutch and secure vast possessions in North America and the Caribbean.  The development of railways – and eventually steam-powered cars and airships – allowed the country to be united as never before, particularly in the wake of Oliver Cromwell’s campaigns against the Scots and Irish.  Sarah, in the meantime, worked to lure more female minds into engineering and medicine, in particularly creating a sisterhood of nurses who revolutilised medicine.  More significantly, the development of patron/client relationships, modelled by General Treathwick, ensured the Protectorate would always have a sizable reservoir of talented men to call upon.  Indeed, while Oliver Cromwell still assumed  de facto supreme power as Lord Protector, he knew to pay close attention to his supporters, including General Treathwick and his sister. 

Cromwell’s death, in 1660, brought hope to the remaining monarchists and others who felt threatened by the rise of Mechanism.  This hope was swiftly quashed.  The post of Lord Protector was passed, as planned, to General Treathwick, while a handful of minor rebellions against the Protectorate were swiftly crushed.  This was unfortunate for the exiled Charles Stuart (the Protectorate never accepted his claim to be Charles II) and he, with backing from the French and Spanish, triggered off the First Global War.  This was a mistake.  Charles’s attempt to invade England swiftly reminded the English while they’d deposed his father, while the Franco-Spanish invasion of the Dutch Protectorate (brought into the Protectorate after their defeat) rapidly bogged down.  The Protectorate rallied and counterattacked, sweeping the seas clean of enemy ships and mounting a major invasion of France itself.

On paper, their armies didn’t stand a chance.  They were grossly outnumbered by the forces the French (and Spanish) could raise against them.  In practice, the odds were a great deal better than they looked.  The Protectorate troops were better led, better disciplined and better equipped than their enemies, who were not only behind the technological curve but also led by aristocrats who lacked the experience to understand how war had changed in the last hundred years.  Worst of all, for the French and Spanish, their enemy’s ideology was extremely attractive to vast numbers of their own people, who liked the idea of having land redistributed, limited taxes, freedom of religion and much – much – else.  The Royalist Alliance, as it eventually became known, gave the Protectorate some nasty moments, but eventual revolutions in their rear made it impossible for them to hold their kingdoms together.  The remainder of the royalists fled east, to Russia, while the Protectorate rebuilt their kingdoms and assimilated them.  It was the dawn of a whole new age.

Development moved fast.  Railways extended east into Europe and west into North America.  (The Russians and Ottomans, realising the threat, started their own industrialisation programs in a desperate bid to catch up.)  The natives were either assimilated or simply pushed aside (Machinist histories tend to gloss over effective genocide) while the new colonies grew rapidly.  The transfer of power to a third Lord Protector, upon General Treathwick’s death, effectively marked the day Mechanism came of age.  There were other ideologies, mainly religions, but none of them were politically powerful.  Mechanism had effectively assimilated them too.

It was not long, as technology continued to develop, that clashes started between the Protectorate and its new enemies.  The Russians and Ottomans remained in their strange alliance while, as the Protectorate extended its tendrils into the Far East, it found itself clashing with China, Japan and various Indian states.  Japan, internally divided, was swiftly annexed and assimilated (a process made easier by the Mechanist lack of overt racism); India and China rapidly became battlegrounds, with Protectorate influence inching up from the south while the Russians and Ottomans divided Persia between them and probed from the north and west respectively.  The result was inevitable.  War.

The Second Great War (1800-1815, as it became known, was brutal.  Both sides had built powerful armies, navies and air forces, pushing the limits of available technology as far as they would go.  The Russians were not quite as advanced as the Protectorate, but they made up for it by sheer weight of numbers and a police state that made it difficult for Mechanism to spread into their lands.  However, as the war progressed and both sides developed rockets and atomic weapons, the Protectorate’s superiority began to tell.  Russia’s surrender in 1815 brought the war to an end – fighting would continue for years in many places, with the last resistance not quashed until 1890 – and left the Protectorate dominating the planet.  It was quick to seek a new cause, by developing space technology and reaching the nearby moon and planets. 

And then, in 2000, the Protectorate – experimenting with FTL travel – discovered it could extend its reach into other timelines …


The Protectorate (formally the Mechanist Protectorate) is a curious mix between fascism, communism and what we might call a military democracy.  It is a highly-regimented society that is surprisingly good at ensuring its citizens find roles that are both satisfactory for them and the wider world.  It expects citizens to work to rise within the ranks and yet ensures everyone has the basics of life, from enough to eat and drink to basic education and assessment tests customised to ensure students go where they’d best suited.  It is a supremacist society in the truest possible sense, but – at the same time – it is very welcoming of immigrants and outsiders who are willing to conform.  The fact there is a clear and very valid path to citizenship, even to leadership, accounts for the society’s ability to convert outsiders and effectively steal their talented (and often unfairly restrained) citizens for themselves. 

On paper, all citizens are created equal.  (In practice, there’s always been a certain degree of nepotism within the upper ranks, although a combination of social pressure and dire consequences for incompetence keeps it under control.)  Everyone has the same basic education and access to resources, as well as skilled teachers capable of separating students by ability.  At twelve, students are put through a set of aptitude tests and then offered places in higher education tailored to their particular skills and aspirations.  At eighteen, they are generally streamlined into their future careers, whatever they may be.  They are often also quietly introduced to prospective partners, although there is little compulsion in such matters.

Young men are expected to either enter long-term employment or join the military (or related divisions, such as space exploration).  Young women are expected to spend their early adulthood having children; they don’t enter employment until much later, after the children are weaned and sent to school.  (This isn’t a hard and fast rule, although the government works hard to ensure women with good genes pass them on by supporting mothers and, in some cases, ensuring children from extremely talented women are taken into care right from birth.)  Once in employment, the newcomers are encouraged to seek out mentors who will assist them in developing their careers, eventually rising as far as they can go. 

The population is effectively divided into ranks, based on how high their talents and competences can take them.  The upper ranks are supposed to serve and protect the lower ranks, on the theory talent can come from anywhere, and to a large extent it generally worked.  Once someone reaches the higher ranks in their particular career, they have the vote and a certain amount of influence.  There are more checks and balances, largely unwritten, in this structure than you might think.  A military regiment, for example, has the right to elect and impeach its officers (in peacetime; doing it under fire is regarded as a major disciplinary issue and almost always leads to court martial and death sentences.)  A wise senior, whatever his rank, will listen to his subordinates and at least try to justify his decision to them.

The enfranchised citizens elect representatives to the Assembly and Parliament, which in turn elect the Lord Protector (both Head of State and Head of Government) from a handful of names.  This is not a particularly transparent process and involves a great deal of horse-trading between the various government, military and industrial interests, although – again – there is some incentive to justify the final selection.  It is hard for the average person to make their opinions felt, but the risk of a politician being unseated can never be wholly discounted. 

The Protectorate itself is divided into states (some matching the pre-1600 political boundaries) and dominions.  States have effective internal rule in line with Mechanist principles.  Dominions have, at least on paper, a ruling class of Mechanists that is open to any of the locals who want to forsake their old ways and join up.  In theory, non- Mechanists are free to do as they like as long as they don’t threaten the state, directly or indirectly; in practice, there is strong social pressure to conform and woe betide anyone who stands between the Protectorate and something it wants.  The Protectorate has few qualms about using the most extreme measures to deal with opposition, from military invasion to effective genocide. 

For the citizens, life isn’t that bad.  The basic necessities are provided.  (The Mechanists are fond of remarking you have to work to earn if you want more than the basics.)  There is a certain degree of political and personal freedom.  Those who start their own businesses and prosper can expect great honour, even a sudden rise in the ranks.  There is even a remarkable amount of freedom of speech (you are free to criticize the Lord Protector and his individual officers, but not the Protectorate or Mechanism itself) and social mobility.  For the military, there are also opportunities to show your talents and win promotion, first through skirmishes in the dominions and then through interdimensional invasions.

The Protectorate will never admit it, but there is a small underclass of citizens who cannot or will not fit into society.  Some of them are considered harmless and largely ignored (drug addicts, for example, or internet trolls); others, who start preying on the rest of society, are rapidly arrested and transported to penal camps, where they can either work or starve.  Actual subversives are rare, to the point the handful who do pop up are often ignored too.  The ones who do draw attention from the security forces are normally offered a flat choice between exile or the camps.

Outside the Protectorate, life is often rough.  The Dominions offer few comforts for outsiders, provoking bitter hatred and resentment; it is clear, to anyone with eyes to see, that the policy is effective cultural genocide.  (The Protectorate’s official position is that anyone who refuses to accept Mechanism deserves everything they get.)  Tech levels are low – Protectorate policy is to ban anything that might have military applications – and medical care very limited.  There are persistent uprisings, but none of them come close to posing a real threat and, to some extent, they are actively encouraged to blood newly-raised military formations and wipe out potentially dangerous agitators. 


The Protectorate is extremely technologically advanced.  The development of basic antigravity technology opened up the skies, allowing vast numbers of citizens to be transported to orbit.  The technically is still quite limited, but the military uses it for both hovertanks – capable of flying over rivers and seas, if not levitating above a certain height – and flyers (effectively supersonic VTOL aircraft).  Antigravity tech is far from perfected – oscillations in the field can tear the generator apart, forcing an emergency landing or, more likely, the flyer simply dropping out of the air and crashing.

The core of the Protectorate military is the formidable Cromwell Hovertank – a giant beast, armed with heavy plasma cannons, laser point defence and strobe pulsars designed to cause everything from panic to convulsions amongst unprotected targets.  (The Protectorate uses them for crowd and riot control.)  The Cromwell carries two platoons of unarmoured soldiers within its hull – armoured soldiers ride on top – as well as a three-man crew.  In theory, one person can operate the tank; in practice, this is only attempted under dire circumstances.

The Cromwell is backed up by the Knight Battlesuit – an armoured combat suit worn by infantry – and Angel Flyer, a supersonic aircraft aimed with plasma cannons and EMP bomblets (designed to fry unshielded) electronics.  They are also capable of carrying and deploying fusion nukes.  The fighting units are backed up by extremely capable support units, ranging from electronic warfare teams capable of hacking almost any primitive database to repair crews and intelligence teams trained to extract information from unwilling donors.

The Protectorate’s greatest invention, however, is the Interdimensional Transpositioner, device capable of swapping a piece of land in the Protectorate’s timeline for one in another dimension.  The device is far more efficient than interdimensional gates – which are extremely difficult to keep open permanently, without gateway generators on both sides of the dimensional walls – but is so costly and requires so much power to operate that it cannot be used very often and rarely more than once every two months.  The Protectorate’s standard procedure, therefore, is to use it to shift a military base – roughly the size of a small town – into the target timeline, which is then on its own until the Transpositioner can be repowered or a gateway set up to allow for steady contact between the two timelines.  These bases are extremely well-equipped and, at least in theory, capable of surviving long enough for contact to be established.

(In the event of there being natives transposed into the Protectorate timeline, they are rapidly seized and interrogated by intelligence teams to determine what sort of world exists on the far side.  They are rarely returned, unless they prove willing to assist the conquest and take high position in the post-conquest world.)

The Protectorate’s medical technology is also very advanced, with almost nothing beyond its power to cure if it isn’t immediately fatal.  Genetic engineering of more advanced humans has been discussed, but the general consensus is that it should be avoided beyond the very basics (improvement of human immune systems) as it would make it difficult for newcomers to rise if they were competing against their genetic superiors.  The nastier members of the government have been openly speculating about plagues to wipe out outsider populations, but as of now such discussions haven’t gotten beyond the theoretical.

That may, of course, change.


From its earliest days, the Protectorate either destroyed and rebuilt enemy societies or effectively took them over and started to reshape the country from there.  The Dutch, for example, preserved much of their cultural background from the pre-conquest days for quite some time afterwards (as Dutch society was partly compatible with the Protectorate) while France and Spain had their societies rebuilt.  India, and to some extent Japan, had the Protectorate either replacing the top-most layers of society or subverting them, inviting the former rulers to join the Protectorate and work towards full assimilation.  This is, to a very large extent, the Protectorate’s preferred approach.  It not only allows the Protectorate to make use of the enemy society’s structure and resources without a major war, but let’s enemy citizens self-select into Protectorate society, skimming the cream from the top.  Compared to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the USSR, the Protectorate is a very enlightened conqueror.

That is not to say conquest is desirable.  The Protectorate has no qualms about crushing opposition, be it military or civilian.  It dislikes using nuclear weapons, even ones that leave no radiation behind, but will do it if it feels the need.  It is very experienced in ferreting out insurrection and willing to do whatever it takes to crush it.  Worst of all, while it would prefer to capture a society more or less intact, it is willing to destroy it in order to take it.  (“We had to destroy the village to save it” is perfect logic, as far as they are concerned.)  The more a society resists, the more inferior it is and the more willing the Protectorate is to smash it flat and rebuild from scratch.

It is, in short, an opponent to be feared.

24 Responses to “Background: The Machinists

  1. Cathy Howat September 13, 2022 at 11:24 am #

    I LOVE THIS, I would say go for it.


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  2. peterrhodan September 13, 2022 at 11:56 am #

    interesting idea Chris – very nicely mapped out alt-history. So are you going to right a story from the point of view of a Mechanist or from someone trying to fight them?

    • chrishanger September 15, 2022 at 3:43 pm #

      They are meant to be the bad guys.


  3. Ben H September 13, 2022 at 12:03 pm #

    A fascinating idea Chris, I would love to see what can come of it, I think it has a lot of potential. Whatever happens, just hope it is in paperback!

    Hope you’re doing ok 🙂

  4. William Ameling September 13, 2022 at 3:18 pm #

    So just when would the stories take place, early, middle, or late in the history?

  5. sentry12014 September 13, 2022 at 4:33 pm #

    What a great Alt universe, I wish I lived in it for sure! Look forward to seeing how the Proterctorate grows in the oncoming trilogy (I’m sure it will fill at least that many novels if not more!).

  6. George Warner September 13, 2022 at 5:35 pm #

    I’m already chewing my nails waiting on your next “Queenmaker” and “The Cunning Man” chapters… I’d hate for anything to slow those down further.
    Charles’s attempt to invade England swiftly reminded the English while they’d deposed his father

    I suspect you meant: “…why they’d deposed…”
    Is it a meritocracy? [I think this was implied to a degree… just not implicitly.]
    “Third, Machinists have a duty to spot individuals with considerable potential and take them as their clients, offering them opportunities to develop their skills and rise in the ranks.”

    Perhaps this is a British vs. American terminology difference but for us yanks a client is a customer.

    It felt more like what was intended was a mentor (or patron?) to protege relationship?

    • Fred Mora September 16, 2022 at 4:38 am #

      client is meant as in patron to client. We are familiar today with the notion of client states (e.g., Easter European countries were clients of the Soviet during the Cold War). You may remember the relationship between, say, rich Renaissance nobles and the client artists in their retinue.

  7. James Jeffery September 13, 2022 at 7:55 pm #

    Sounds like a great concept, I’m sure you’ll be able to bring it to life with your usual skill.

  8. Michael Fitzgerald September 13, 2022 at 8:03 pm #

    The Protectorate discovers that it can extend its reach into other timelines, presumably ours. And thereby hangs a tale. Love it!

  9. Robert Kaliski September 14, 2022 at 1:26 am #

    It sounds interesting. The only part that gives me pause is the “all men are created equal” and seeming demise of racial discrimination. Humans seem to be inclined to exclude those who are different even if it is of benefit to them.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 14, 2022 at 1:35 am #

      Humans seem to be inclined to exclude those who are different

      There’s a strong element of truth in your statement but “those who are different” can have little to do with so-called racial differences.

      The Machinists may “exclude” people but the reasons don’t have to involve “racial differences”.

    • chrishanger September 15, 2022 at 3:45 pm #

      If you look at the history of the UK civil war period, there was a lot of surprisingly modern attitudes in many ways, particularly amongst people who’d been excluded from political debate and now could take part. Racial equality, at least for those who accepted the proto-protectorate etheos, isn’t that great a stretch.


      • Robert Kaliski September 16, 2022 at 12:51 am #

        Perhaps my view is colored by American history. Despite being a nation of immigrants the real power has always been held by wealthy WASPs. We make big promises but by and large you ned to win the birth lottery to rise to the top.

        On a other note I can see where this transporter could spawn some interesting stories. I assume before dropping a military base into another dimension manned and unmanned recon would take place.

  10. The dude September 14, 2022 at 2:55 am #

    I’m still wondering what happened with The Stranded from awhile ago.

  11. PhilippeO September 14, 2022 at 4:01 am #

    Technocracy SI-wank ???

  12. Marshall September 14, 2022 at 2:16 pm #

    In an unfortunate accident, the Protectorate’s technology for swapping a small area between timelines causes our Nantucket to move far into a near identical past, with the devastating side-effect of a change to the laws of physics in our time.

    • chrishanger September 15, 2022 at 3:46 pm #

      What a brilliant and completely original idea .

      Sadly, i think the only people it would make money for are the lawyers.


  13. Dani September 14, 2022 at 10:22 pm #

    I’m guessing that the Machinists will encounter another civilization at their level, and that interstellar and/or crosstime warfare will ensue. The statement that senior officers give their subordinates a hearing leaves room for a relatively-junior protagonist to have a major story impact. Beyond that, the writing challenge would be to make the Machinist background integral to the story.

  14. Jill September 15, 2022 at 4:05 am #

    This sounds interesting, Chris. Who do you see as the protagonist(s)? The Protectorate sounds kind of totalitarian. I’m not sure I’d root for them to take over a new timeline and subdue the locals unless they happened to be a nastier bunch.

    • chrishanger September 15, 2022 at 3:47 pm #

      I had the idea they would be a creditable evil empire.


  15. Matthew W Quinn September 15, 2022 at 12:05 pm #

    This sounds interesting. What series is it for? One of the previous comments makes it sound like they’ve appeared in one of your books.

    • chrishanger September 15, 2022 at 3:47 pm #

      It’s a new story concept. Details to come.


  16. Chris VH September 15, 2022 at 5:37 pm #

    Sounds like a cracking idea

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