“It’s harder than you think for a being of pure scientific evil to hold regular office hours.”
We here at LD have a special place in our hearts for villains. They have the capacity to show us our human failings and honestly, they get some of the best lines—AND they get to blow stuff up. They get to be unequivocally bad without the consequences of the real world. We all know we love to romanticize our superheroes. We put them on pedestals for humanity, but sometimes we need to be bad. I recently received a copy of “The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius” edited by John Joseph Adams from Lightspeed Magazine, and I couldn’t wait to review it.
John Joseph Adams has assembled an amazing group of science fiction and fantasy writers. From the start, I was excited to read this anthology for the authors alone. Diana Gabaldon (“Outlander” series), Alan Dean Foster (“Spellsinger” series), Carrie Vaughn (“Kitty Norville” series) and Theodora Goss (“Songs for Ophelia”), just to name a few. All together there are 22 stories. Some are told from the perspective of the evil genius, some from their secretaries or henchmen.
Honestly, this book wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be a book of stories about villains doing bad things. I thought that the stories would be destructive and terrible, funny, and ridiculously out there. I forgot about the flip side of the villain equation—that most bad guys think they are doing the right thing, and some even think they are saving the world. It’s an interesting part of the everlasting battle between good and evil that we often forget.
“Mad Scientist’s Guide” is a collection of stories about evil geniuses plotting to take over the world, protecting humanity from a being with superhuman powers, and assistants who are stuck filing while their evil bosses rain destruction on the city. Its stories are funny. It would be hard to read about anyone designing the perfect super villain costume and not laugh. Some stories took the chance to show us something about our society. Seanan McGuire tells a story about a super villain corrupting people to the “creative geniuses” in “Laughter at the Academy,” and showcases how the soft sciences like psychology can house a few mad scientists too.
Many of the stories in “Mad Scientist’s Guide” move away from the regular doctors like Frankenstein and Moreau—although you can find their daughters in Theodora Goss’ story “The Mad Scientist’s Daughter.” There are still scientific gadgets, robots, and death rays, but also no longer are the good doctors stitching together animals or corpses. Instead it’s a book of evil geniuses like Alexander Luthor (“The Last Dignity of Man”) who is trying to live up to his namesake—he shaves his head bald, changed his name to Lex, and hangs Superman comics around the office to remind everyone what he is capable of—or the man behind the curtain (“A More Perfect Union”) who wants to rule the world from the background of a figurehead.
We can all sympathize with our Slytherin friends or ourselves (for those of us who are Slytherin-like on wanting to make the world a better place through destructive means). For those of us who fall on the Gryffindor side of the scale, even we sometimes want to take a walk on the other side. In “Mad Scientist’s Guide,” you will laugh and cry and rethink your own evil (or not) plan for world domination. My favorite piece was Daniel H.Wilson’s “The Executor.” It was more heartbreaking than expected, and I’m still not sure if the villain was one person or humanity’s greed, but it made me think and that is what the best stories should do.
As with any anthology, “Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination” is a mix of genres and styles. Some writers go long and some are succinct. Some focus on the humor and some are startling in how close they come to speaking truth. Some tell from the mind of the mad scientist and some from a close friend. All are unique and interesting and worth the read. John Joseph Adams has put together an all-star cast of writers to bring this theme to life. All are guaranteed to make you laugh and think and maybe even reconsider how bad our favorite baddies really are.
Literally, Darling received this copy as a galley from Tor.
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