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.