Edited by John Joseph Adams and published by TOR, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination features all original, all nefarious, all conquering tales from the megalomaniacal pens of Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, Daniel H. Wilson and 17 OTHER EVIL GENIUSES.
The book description is this:
Mad scientists have never had it so tough. In super-hero comics, graphic novels, films, TV series, video games and even works of what may be fiction, they are besieged by those who stand against them, devoid of sympathy for their irrational, megalomaniacal impulses to rule, destroy or otherwise dominate the world as we know it.
We asked a few of the authors a couple of questions…
Q: What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction (or perhaps in fact!), and what makes them your favorites?
Seanan McGuire: Seth Brundle from The Fly, for proving that hubris is eternal and science can be gorgeous; Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, one of the few good examples of the mad mathematician in media; Jordan, Mitch, and Chris Knight from Real Genius–if those three existed, they’d rule the world by now–and Abby Sciuto from NCIS, our dearest mad forensic scientist. But really, my favorite mad scientists come from a pair of comic strips called Narbonic, written and drawn by Shaenon Garrity, and Skin Horse, by Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells. The staff of Narbonic Labs is like family. Scary, upsetting, mutagenic family…
L.A. Banks: Oh, man… the comics have the monopoly, starting with Lex Luthor.
David Farland: Oh, gosh, my favorite is Doc Brown in Back to the Future. I loved Christopher Lloyd’s over-the-top performance.
Jeffrey Ford: The Tuskegee Experiment is one horrifying real life example of mad scientists at work, which readers should look up if they are unfamiliar with it. As for fiction, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or Wells’ Dr. Moreau are classics. In film, I like the mad scientist in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Alan Dean Foster: Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. He’s not just mad…he’s angry. And he insists he’s not mad. Saying so only makes him…madder. Hilarious. One could also say that Nicolai Tesla was a bit off…just enough to qualify. Today’s mad scientists are entirely too restrained. Maybe it’s the need to publish. Or the poor quality of tinfoil.
Diana Gabaldon: Loved Gene Wilder in Young Dr. Frankenstein. And there’s one in Judith Merkle Riley’s IN PURSUIT OF THE GREEN DRAGON who was truly creepy (and I have high standards in that department). And Ian Fleming always did a good line in megalomaniacs with scientific gadgets.
Theodora Goss: My girls’ fathers! Frankenstein, Moreau, Jekyll, Rappaccini, Raymond. They are the classic nineteenth century mad scientists. To be perfectly honest, I think Van Helsing, the vampire slayer from Dracula, is a mad scientist as well. These characters were written at a time when science itself was a little mad, when it wasn’t yet quite clear how the physical world worked. The tradition of careful empirical observation was being established, and in the middle of the century Lyell and Darwin started to show us the age of the earth and the workings of natural selection and evolution. Certain scientific theories, like those of Darwin, were enormously controversial. It’s a fascinating era, and I think our classic mad scientists come out of it precisely because of that instability. Although I have to say, I also have a sneaking fondness for the modern mad scientists who are really supervillains, or supervillain wannabes, like Dr. Horrible. That’s a modern development. The classic mad scientists never think of themselves as villains–they always have good motives for what they do, or so they tell us. They’re always trying to improve humanity, albeit with unfortunate results!
Austin Grossman: There are so many great ones, but personally I always gravitate back to Lex Luthor. Luthor’s a scientist, and he’s ambitious, and he’s decided to make it personal, to pick a fight with the biggest bully in comics – the biggest bully in all fiction, maybe, this side of Paradise Lost. Superman sets the bar impossibly high, because of the gifts he got just by being born. He isn’t even human! Luthor steps up anyway, an unaugmented normal, on the idea that being smart is worth something and makes a difference, even if the game is rigged, even if the entire rest of the world is rooting against you. That, sir, is character.
Grady Hendrix: I still have a real love for all the 19th century mad scientists. Whether it’s Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll, I love the whole “Trust me, I’m a doctor…aaarghhh! I’ve unleashed destruction from beyond the realm of sanity…but I THINK I can defeat it by applying MORE SCIENCE!” It’s pretty much the same way that things still seem to work, only people had more stylish facial hair in the 19th century.
Mary Robinette Kowal: Thomas Edison. There’s a reason they called him the Wizard of Menlo Park. In fact he turns up in the 1886 French SF novel, Tomorrow’s Eve, by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, in which he creates an android. Yes, the word has been around that long and this is the book that popularized it. What I find fascinating is that the novel takes a living person and recognizes him for the mad scientist that he was
David D. Levine: I’m fond of Simon Bar Sinister (Underdog), Dr. Sivana (Captain Marvel), and of course Nikola Tesla. The first two because they are so delightfully cheesy and over-the-top, and the latter because he was both an amazing real-life genius and a genuine… well, let’s just call him extremely quirky, shall we?
Heather Lindsley: Before I get to my favorites, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the grandaddy of them all, Victor Frankenstein, is a total putz. There’s a reason the Creature has co-opted his creator’s name in pop culture — it’s the Creature’s book. But I do love the iconography of the mad scientist in the James Whale’s Frankenstein films. And I adore those same iconic laboratory props in the hands of the grandson of the granddaddy, Gene Wilder’s Frederick in Young Frankenstein. Though Frederick isn’t half as unhinged as Gene Wilder’s other, more subversive mad scientist role. Under the candy and dandyism, Willy Wonka is a mad scientist to the core. Better still, he’s a mad scientist who doesn’t completely self-destruct. Which brings me to the mad scientist I’ve been thinking about lately: Dr. Janice Lester, who appears in the terrible-on-many-levels final episode of the original Star Trek, Turnabout Intruder. I’ve been re-imagining the episode as if it had been written by Joanna Russ. In that version, Dr. Lester takes over Kirk’s body, successfully gets rid of Kirk-in-Lester, takes command of Enterprise and only arouses minor suspicion when Kirk uncharacteristically starts busting McCoy’s chops for being such a racist. But she never gets caught, so not only does the series end with Dr. Lester in command of the Enterprise — it means that Kirk in the subsequent Star Trek films is actually Dr. Lester. I love the idea that she got away with it.
Marjorie M. Liu: You know, I’ve always felt that Sherlock Holmes, in his own way, is a bit of a mad scientist.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Actually, I still think the prototype of the mad scientists is hard to beat, and that’s Victor Frankenstein. Perhaps my next favorite is Yama, from Zelazny’s Lord of Light, since he’s definitely “mad”, if not in the traditional way.
Jeremiah Tolbert: In films, Doc in the Back to the Future movies was an early prototypical mad scientist for me. Scattered, wild-eyed, but mostly not very dangerous. In literature, it’s hard to top Dr. Frankenstein. Although it’s arguable that he’s mad at all.
Harry Turtledove: Hmm. Interesting question. Theodore Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God, the movie Young Frankenstein, and the real Nikolai Tesla immediately spring to mind.
Genevieve Valentine: I’ll always be fond of Peter Cushing, my favorite Dr. Frankenstein. Poison Ivy! (Everyone forget the movie!) And the more I learn about Dr. Louise Robinovich (who io9 pointed out was an almost archetypal mad scientist who tried to raise the dead), the more I want to know.
Carrie Vaughn: Victor Frankenstein is absolutely the end all and be all of mad scientists, I think. Shelley’s book is about him grappling with his own madness, having to acknowledge that what he’s done isn’t exactly sane. Mad scientists aren’t judged by their original intentions, but by where they end up, and Victor proves that. I also have a fondness for Dr. Moreau, mostly because I think that novel really pushed the boundaries of horror, mad scientist, and adventure stories.
Real world mad scientists — Robert Goddard, maybe. The guy invented modern rocketry, built everything himself or with a small team of techs, probably should have blown himself up a hundred times over and didn’t because he was just that good.
Daniel H. Wilson: In my opinion, Nikola Tesla is hands down the world’s greatest real mad scientist. He operated in a realm of the mind that divorced him from the day-to-day reality of humankind. He was almost like an alien visiting our planet. For Tesla, making that refractory transition between the world of genius and the world of man was particularly brutal.
Ben Winters: Well, I recently reread the short story Thirteen to Centaurus by J.G. Ballard. It’s more like a small cabal of governmental scientists, and they’re not really mad so much as enacting a controversial social program…but man, is that is a fun story.