Every hero needs a villain. The ying to their yang, dark to their light, salt to their vinegar. Without a decent villain, what is a hero? Just some chump with big ideas about themselves, making the ordinary person feel a bit bad because they’re not going around helping everyone else.
Think about it. How pointless would ‘Star Wars’ be without Darth Vader being all evil and breathless? Luke would still be on Tattaoine dicking about on his uncle’s farm with both of his hands. What a boring life. Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ would have struggled to keep hold of the attentions of generations if Beelzebub had decided to stay in line and become a yes man. The villain needs to be celebrated, revered and most of all, feared.
John Joseph Adam’s collection of short stories, ‘The Mad Scientist’s Guide To World Domination’ does exactly that. Written from the perspective of the bad guy, it offers an amusing off-kilter look at the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
The women behind the mad men is a common theme in this collection, be they partners, assistants or objects of fancy from very afar. In L.A. Banks’ ‘Ancient Equations’, Ernest is a fairly rational mad scientist. He doesn’t go into anything half-baked but rather thinks things through and weighs up the consequences. Surely this man should be our overlord but, unfortunately, his yearning for female companionship is his undoing.
Genevieve Valentine’s ‘Captain Justice Saves The Day’ will resonate with anyone who has ever had a horrible boss that doesn’t appreciate them and Theodora Goss’ ‘The Mad Scientist’s Daughter’ gives real depth to the offspring of various evil geniuses who have banded together to create a touching and almost heartbreaking family for themselves. Although my own personal favourite is ‘Rocks Fall’ by Naomi Novik in which a super-villain and his would-be captor are forced to bond and the latter realises that just because someone does bad things, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.
I really enjoyed this collection although, worryingly, I found myself sympathising and agreeing with the mad scientists. Either that makes me a bad person or that they’re well-written characters that inspire empathy. I think, and hope, it’s the latter. A fun read that you can dip into whenever you fancy a walk on the dark side.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 363 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2645-4)