If you know this blog, you know it’s almost exclusively microfiction. But I’m also a tremendous proponent of Villainpunk, and I love classic science fiction. So in this brief article, I’m going to suggest 7 classic, but not necessarily well-known, scifi books with what I’d think of as Villainpunk themes.
(What is Villainpunk? Well, according to famed Villainpunk author Jeff Mach, it’s “an imaginative genre celebrating Villains, Henchpersons, Rogues, Cads. Minions, Anti-Heroes, and the assorted things which make up their world—Secret Lairs, Evil Plots, World Dominion, and other lovely life goals. It’s not horror, although spooky characters are welcome. It’s about the misunderstood, the mad, the iron-willed, the passionate, the downright villainous.”)
The books below don’t always have, say, Villains as protagonists; let’s just say that they have some form of nontraditional protagonist/antagonist situations.
7. The Word For World Is Forest, by Ursula LeGuin. At the time of this writing, we’re no longer surprised to find science fiction books where humans are the antagonists, but they were hardly the norm in 1972 when this book came out. It’s not the very first of its kind, but it’s arguably one of the most beautiful. The story is taut and well-told, the language is haunting, and you should read everything by Ursula LeGuin anyway.
6. Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper. If you know H. Beam Piper, you probably know him for his adorable-but-also-fierce Fuzzy books, “Little Fuzzy” and “Fuzzy Sapiens”, which, in and of themselves, do a certain amount of thinking about just who’s the hero around here. But “Space Viking” is an old-school space opera. Its protagonists justify their autocracies through ultimately creating more stable civilizations in cultures ravaged by interstellar war… but make no mistake: This is a book about space pirates who raid and ravage planets until they’re wealthy enough to form their own countries, whereupon they become good and just rulers. At least, we assume that’s what happens. I mean, the protagonists are very likable; surely they won’t turn into tyrannical despots.
5. Ogre, Ogre, by Piers Anthony. Yes, it’s a Xanth book. Yes, Xantha has…all of the baggage of Xanth, and all the love/hate factors you might associate with it. But it’s still the tale of a self-identified monster, one of the fiercest monsters of Xanth, gleefully smashing his way through obstacles.
4. Golem100, by Alfred Bester. You might know Alfred Bester for “The Stars My Destination”, which tends to show up on most lists of “absolutely must read” classic scifi novels, and with good reason. I’m not going to even try to explain the plot of this one, or the twists it takes. Let’s say it’s a tale of witchcraft, technology, the ways humans interact with each other, and serial murder.
3. Spindoc, by Steve Perry. It’s a book about a master of news spin who spends his time taking stories of corporate mistakes and misdeeds and transforming them into plausible lies for the public. Sure, most of the book is taken up with what happens when this successful executive gets caught up in a web of sex, violence, and espionage, but let’s never forget that this is a scifi novel about a spin doctor.
2. “The Space Merchants” – which is really two connected novels by Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. The innocent-sounding title masks a tale of futuristic marketing gone so far awry that it makes the cast of “Mad Men” look benevolent. I like marketing, and even I find this despicable. But enthrallingly so. The character(s) may change loyalties over time (it was 1952; it wasn’t a great year to have your protagonists be entirely unsympathetic) – but the book kept my heart.
1. The Stainless Steel Rat – any of the books in the series, really; they’re all by the legendary Harry Harrison, whom I happened to meet in person, and who was one of the sweetest and most entertaining convention guests I’ve ever seen. But that’s not why his books are #1 on this list. All of the Stainless Steel Rat books deal with a hero who saves the galaxy (repeatedly) while also robbing banks and committing assorted crimes (repeatedly). There’s wit, there’s charm, there’s action, there are some interesting premises – and if you want, you can read the books as the protagonist starts out at 17 as a small-time crook and ends up in his 80s, still vibrant and still going (if not quite as fast as he used to be) – and aided, by that time, by his wife and his two grown sons. Because Villainy runs in the family, you know.
Bonus: Speaking of Diana Wynne Jones, try “Witch Week”, or “Archer’s Goon”, or “Dark Lord of Derkholm” or The Tough Guide To Fantasyland or “Howl’s Moving Castle” (book OR movie OR both, or…oh, so many favorites of my childhood, and now, my adulthood.)
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.