Monday, November 17, 2008

On Supervillains

In the pub on Saturday night, the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, from buying houses to evil geniuses taking over the world[1]. I've been thinking about Supervillains, and there's some overlap between the two. Lex Luthor and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for example, occupy such similar niches that if they existed in the same world, they would inevitably come into conflict.

The question came up as to why one would take over the world. It's a fair question. If your ambition is simply to take over the world, what then? Give it back and try again? Trying to take over the world for the sake of ruling the world is crazy, and, worse still, one dimensional characterisation which is not conducive to story generation. One might wish to simply have one's enemies[2] bow down before you, or one might be unnaturally driven to conquer[3], but in most cases the drive to rule the world would be the desire to remake the world so it better reflects the desires of the ruler.

In which case, why take over the world? Seriously. Running the world is a lot of work, and taking it over sets a bad precedent; once it's proven to be possible everyone will be at. Also, and trivially, you can't go down the pub boasting about it (as I pointed out). Aren't they supposed to be a genius[4]? Isn't there a better way to change the world? Isn't more efficent, more effective to set up the conditions so other people do the hard work of changing the world? A genius should be able to influence those who's ideology is useful to them; make other people want to change the world.

To which I add that this is the 21st century. If there were supervillains with high technology, wouldn't details leak onto the internet? College students would download templates for making nanofabricators. Criminals would build stealth suits and impenetrable armour. Terrorists would be getting blueprints on plasma guns. Obviously, this would be illegal and the government(s) would crack down on...

Well hello! Open-source supervillainy aimed at polarising society. Forcing the government to become repressive. Limiting advanced medical technology because it can be used for bio-terrorism[5]. Destroying server banks that are upgrading themselves to AI status. Confiscating laptops and pendrives with illegal body upgrade templates. Burning city blocks to destroy unlicensed nanofabricators.

And then someone offers an alternative.

You know, there's a story there. And by some coincidence I'm writing it.

To be continued...

[1] Via the Kingsway Tunnels being for sale in London, subterranean hotels and secret bunkers.
[2] The teacher who said you'd never amount to anything, that bully who mocked your glasses, the cool kids who laughed at you behind your back, the review board who said your experiments were unethical and you were mad, mad!, your ex- who, well, is your ex- and that guy who nearly ran you over this morning; you know, the enemies who will regret it when I RULE THE WORLD! NOT LAUGHING NOW ARE YOU? Ahem.
[3] I note that this is the motivation chosen by Austin Grossman for his novel Soon I Will Be Invincible.
[4] Jim's suggestion of putting the pub in your secret bunker is brilliant, but too flawed for him to qualify as an evil genius.
[5] I note for your attention the following technical name for one misuse of a medical fabricator: Vampire Transform.


Susan de Guardiola said...

I want to read this when you finish writing it!

Neil Willcox said...

I'm not so cruel as to start here and not make it available when it's done. I need to take the time to translate some of my cryptic notes ("Nazi War Tripods"? "A Pain In The Neck"? "Piran-Ha"?) into proper English.

If it takes another month, there's another half to this essay sitting in drafts to fill in the gap.