SF Villains

SF Villains

With Nathan over at Fantasy Review Barn whipping out Dark Lords for last week’s grand tour of Fantasyland, it seemed appropriate to revisit a few favorite villains of science fiction. The Dark Lord trick doesn’t work as well for SF, especially Hard SF, but there are still a few memorable Bad Guys (or groups of Guys) out there. List making is complicated by a broad tendency in SF, or at least the SF that I enjoy, to either substitute some sort of exploration, puzzle solving, or engineering conundrum for a Bad Guy, or to present things in a hazily defined, opposing force but not really evil kind of characterization. Further, while a few entries here fit with the Dark Lord theme, SF much prefers the Alien Invasion to a single evil entity. Thus, this list covers a bit of both. If anyone else out there wants to make a similar list, I’d love to see it.

Darth Vader (Star Wars) – If I made this list without Lord Vader, they’d be coming for me with torches and pitchforks. Deservedly so, as he pretty much owns the original trilogy, mowing down admirals and tossing Emperors like rag dolls. Vader scared the crap out of childhood me and remains compelling, even in spite of the prequels.

The Shrike (Hyperion Cantos – Dan Simmons) – Only slightly less terrifying is Simmons’ Shrike, a spiked, inexplicable death machine that impales people on its infinite variety of sharpened body parts and leaves them alive and hanging. With Darth Vader, at least we know where we stand. The Shrike is a total mystery.

Jesus of Nazareth(10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights – Mitsuse Ryu) Other than, “He is a cyborg assassin,” it is really hard to describe Mitsuse’s Jesus of Nazareth to anyone who hasn’t read the book. I will just leave this quote without comment: “Siddhartha was acutely aware that as long as Jesus of Nazareth was alive, this could be a trap.

MorningLightMountain (The Commonwealth Saga – Peter F. Hamilton) – This is a transitional figure, as we move into alien invaders. MorningLightMountain is both a Dark Lord (of sorts) and an alien invasion, rolled into one. Whatever the other faults of the series, Hamilton’s choice for a villain is not one of them. At the moment, I prefer it to the ravening hordes in The Night’s Dawn trilogy, if only because it is a unique and distinctive alien creation.

Berserkers (Fred Saberhagen) – I’ve only read one Berserker novel, but will eventually get to more of a definitive “over matched humanity barely hangs on against xenocidal forces” saga.

The Inhibitors (Revelation Space series – Alastair Reynolds) – The whole universe Reynolds creates is one of my favorites in SF, what with the Glitter Band, Chasm City, Lighthuggers, and all the rest, but looming over it all are the Inhibitors. The scariest parts are when Reynolds switches to an Inhibitor viewpoint, as it casually and logically calculates the most efficient way to wipe out a solar system. (This may include dismantling gas giants to build a death ray that causes supernovae, just for maximum overkill.)

Kzin / Thrint (Known Space – Larry Niven) – So many Niven aliens, so little time. The Kzin are the basis for at least two other cat-like invaders, notably Wing Commander’s Kilrathi, The Thrint ruled the galaxy with psychic domination until finally overthrown in a rebellion that may have involved death ray shooting sunflowers and/or Bandersnatchi.

Thebans (Crusade – David Weber and Steve White) – While the baby-eating space bugs from sequel In Death Ground are suitably horrible, I can’t shake a fond attraction for the plucky Thebans. After all, hostile, sentient arachnids are a dime a dozen, but how often to we see an invasion from a bunch of fundamentalist turtles out to reclaim humanity’s soul? High drama for everyone.

Romans / The Hive (The Myriad – RM Meluch) – If we’re looking for the weirdest of the weird though, nothing I have read compares with the perils faced by Meluch’s good ship Merrimack. Not only are the American (!) Marines in space feuding with the simpering, Euro-socialist weenies of the League of Earth Nations, but both are opposed by a new, space-based Roman Empire. Yes, those Romans. Apparently they were in hiding all those millenia, just waiting for a chance to escape the shackles of Earth and re-establish their supremacy. But wait, there’s more! Now space bugs are invading, too! And, inexplicably, they can only be killed by swords during boarding operations. Add it all up and we have Marines and Romans, in space, wielding cutlasses to fight off ravening insects.

Ur-Quan (Star Control 2) – Saving the best for last here, the emotional core of arguably the best computer game ever rests with the Ur-Quan. Twisted by the self-induced pain required to throw off the rule of their own enslavers, the Ur-Quan become the very evil that they vanquished. For a game that wins so much acclaim for the humor (the Spathi!), the tragic arc of the villainous invaders lands a heavy punch. Fortunately for the world, an open source revision of the original game is available as The Ur-Quan Masters. No self respecting gamer should be without it.


10 thoughts on “SF Villains

  1. Nice list. I really don’t know scifi near as well as fantasy, that is for sure.

    Still, Star Control is friggen awesome. I even made my way through the third one, with its timed events that left you with nothing to do unless enough clock had been worked through.

  2. This is such a fun idea – and of course ‘fun’ can always be applied to villains. I think I am going to have to make a list of my own in order to share. Nice that you started with Darth Vader, who also scared the crap out me as a kid. 🙂

  3. Tribbles. Not from Star Trek ToS, but Elite. Wonderful game that. I had the NES version (wireframe graphics and all) but if you ever accidentally traded for tribbles you were essentially fucked. They bred like crazy and quickly took up your entire cargo hold so you couldn’t buy or sell anything. Little furry bastards.

    Less obtusely, we should probably throw out a nod to The Mule from the Foundation series as well, if only for tradition’s sake.

    (I’d also agree that MorningLightMountain is one of the stronger aspects of the Commonwealth Saga, fwiw.)

    • I never played Elite, though I have always heard good things. I considered The Mule, but decided that I haven’t read Foundation and Empire in … 20 years or so, and probably couldn’t say anything accurate about it.

  4. I’m going to steal your idea and do a list of my own – which given my very basic reading of SciFi will be the most simplified list of sci fi villains ever!!
    And, to prove my point, the only baddie from your list above that I’m familiar with is Darth. Oh. My. God. I can’t believe it myself.
    Lynn 😀

    • I wouldn’t worry too much – my list is fairly obscure. It’s more of a “distinctive villains I have read recently” rather than a definitive list. No Harkonens (Dune), no Klingons, no bad guys from popular series like Honor Harrington, etc. I’m looking forward to yours!

  5. Pingback: Sci fi villains we all know and love to hate! | Lynn's Book Blog

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