This is kind of a quicky idea I got while reading Waste and Want by Susan Strasser(Amazon link)
with my wife. The book is essentially a history of trash, but what I’d like to talk about here is a short capsule history of the Salvation Army that it presents. For a worldbuilder short capsule synopses are more valuable than long detailed descriptions. You want ideas to ignite the imagination, not details to rein in the mind. Your more likely to get something new, exciting and original if you start from a bare skeleton of an idea. The details can come from your imagination and from other bits of history you already know. Maybe after I’ve fleshed in my idea for the Salvage Army I can go back and learn more about the real Salvation Army. In the past, this approach of fleshing in details from a position of ignorance has led me to pick up tidbits of history specific to say, California or Mexico or Rhodesia.
Even now I have a lot of little details about the Salvation Army and its history. It was founded in London in 1865 by William Booth, who was described as a, “renegade Methodist revival minister.” It first used its military structure and titles in 1879. In 1880, its New York “colony” became its first territory outside of Britain. This is all of historical interest, but as a worldbuilder I want to render this history down to a skeleton which I can clothe in the flesh of my own invention. Given where this is going, creating a fictional analogue of the Salvation Army also allows me to avoid unfairly defaming a real life organization…
The environment into which my Salvage Army is born is very much one of ruination. Definitely this is a world following a major world which has largely collapsed civilization as it was known before. One option is some sort of Postman scenario after an atomic war on Earth. I find these things too dismal to really play with seriously, but hey. Another option is perhaps a world which is suffering greatly after an interstellar war. Perhaps the starport has been bombarded into oblivion and contact has been lost with a now moribund Solar Union, civilization on the planet is left to rise out of the ashes of the old. The difference can be quite subtle on the ground, but I find this option less daunting. Perhaps as I mature as a writer, the more wrenching dislocation of a good old-fashioned post-apocalyptic-Earth story will become more attractive…
A third option builds on one or the other of the other options. The Salvage Army is an organization that rose from the ashes of some world’s ruin and has long since succeeded in raising that world up. It is now reaching out to other worlds to lift them from degeneracy.
I definitely want to keep the military structure. In the broken and anarchic situation into which the Salvage Army was born, this militarism could have been and probably was a good deal more literal.
I’m also keeping the growth strategy. The Salvage Army will build colonies providing food and shelter to any who are willing to work in the Factory Homes to further the expansion of the Salvage Army and its notion of civilization. The best of those who work in the Factory Homes, those who show the work ethic and character traits which the Salvation Army sees as virtuous would be sent to secluded colonies to be further indoctrinated into the Salvation Army ethos. Those converts who showed themselves suitably self-reliant, resourceful and dedicated to the cause would be sent forth to act as missionaries, building new colonies to further spread the Army’s work.
The Factory Homes are based none too loosely on the Industrial Homes of the Salvation Army. More publicly accessible areas would be dedicated to a store where salvaged goods are sold, a receiving facility for donated or recovered materials and offices. More private areas will be dedicated to repair and storage facilities for salvaged goods and offices. Dormitories, communal kitchens and dining halls, libraries, recreation rooms and the other facilities for lodging and feeding workers are still more sequestered. The architecture of these communal work and life facilities is one of the more interesting features of this idea for me.
The only requirement for ordinary workers at a Salvage Army Factory Home was the willingness and ability to work and there was little effort to indoctrinate most workers into the Salvage Army ethos. Only if a worker showed interest in the greater goals of the organization would an effort be taken for indoctrination. After successfully passing the rigorous testing and indoctrination process, the recruit would become a new officer in the Salvage Army and fit to carry arms for the march of Civilization.
Unlike the real Salvation Army, the Salvage Army does not begin with a really coherent religious viewpoint. The organization is dedicated to the recovery of civilization in a broken land. Over time, this focus on the march of Civilization becomes the Holy Duty of a sort of new religious discipline. The officers of the Salvage Army become an increasingly cultish group, dedicated to imposing their views of Civilization onto a benighted world willingly or otherwise. This is where the Salvage Army starts to become something of a potentially villainous force. Not to mention an armed one…
This is still very much a work in progress, but I hope the potential of the idea is apparent.