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SF Signal Reader Challenge #4 – The Coolest SF ‘Threats’

You may be wondering what, exactly, I mean by ‘threat’. Simply put, it’s anything that imperils either the characters in a story, a planetary system, the galaxy, or any combination of those three. I’m assuming that most of the ‘threats’ people will remember will be from the space opera sub-genre, but that doesn’t have to be the case, as more personal threats can be cool too.

A word about cool. Cool is defined here as: ‘Any situation, being, technology or potential action that makes you, the reader, sit up and take note. Lot’s of notes’. In other words, things that tickled your intellectual fancy and made you say: ‘Cool!’

I’ll give you a sample of mine.

  • The planet Endurium in the classic PC game, Starflight.
  • The dead returning to ‘life’ in Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.
  • The melding plague and Inhibitors from Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space books.
  • The planet eating space worm from Star Trek’s The Doomsday Machine.
  • A marauding superstring left over from the Big Bang wanders through space, causing nearby stars to go supernova, from Stellvia Of The Universe.
  • A rogue AI takes over a planet, a la Scott Westerfeld in his Risen Empire series.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I know there are a ton more cool ideas out there and more books than I can possibly read. So, go ahead and list your best, coolest SF threats (up to 5!) that you have encountered. It can be from a book, short story, move, game, anything. I’ll collate them and post the results next week.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

14 Comments on SF Signal Reader Challenge #4 – The Coolest SF ‘Threats’

  1. I like the good ‘ol galaxy exploding from Larry Niven’s Known Space series. With FTL a few of them find out in advance (although the human race doesn’t have the capability of evacuating the entire species in time potentialy).

  2. A couple of my favorites include:

    • Nanobots as seen in Blood Music by Greg Bear. These have also reared thier little nasty selves in the form of the Replicators in Stargate SG1
    • Invaders from beyond the “known universe” similar to the Yuzon Vong from Vector Primeby R.A. Salvatore.
  3. Anonymous // August 23, 2006 at 4:46 pm //

    Cthulhu, Galactus, Berzerkers, and the Aliens.

    I like Big cold-hearted threats.

    I would also add that with the exception of the Berzerkers, each of these seem to work better in theory than in fact. The Cthulhu mythos has never been successfully played out to it’s inevitable next act, where the old ones actually start terraforming the earth into their world. Galactus has become a punching bag, and a cheap way to demonstrate how powerful a character is (See! He beat Galactus! He must be tough!). How something as elegant and terrifying as the Aliens can be so mishandled is beyond me.

  4. The Grendel(s) in Niven/Pournelle/Barnes’ Legacy of Heorot are my favorite threat. Especially when you think you you’ve got the threat figured out halfway through the book and it surprises you by getting even more dangerous.

    I always liked Niven’s Kzinti, too, especially how their threat forced humanity out of its ARM-induced torpor to become warriors again.

    The Colossus/Guardian computer scared the bejeepers out of me as a child seeing Colossus: The Forbin Project on TV the first time. See also Skynet from the Terminator movies. (Put this in the aforementioned “rogue” AI category).

  5. joshua corning // August 23, 2006 at 6:52 pm //

    The Reavers in Firefly and Serentity. (their description and how other charaters fear them is infinatly better then the actual thing)

    The Poison gel packs in Case’s veins from Neuromancer. (quite possibly the best post-modern motivation for a character ever)

    The Nothing in the Never Ending Story. (a great, and suprisingly dark, movie for young and old even with that lame ass luck dragon)

    The loyalty software in Greg Egan’s Quarantine. (the threat although not the greatest has possibly the best solution ever.)

    God in Time Bandits. (“RETURN THE MAP TO ME!”)

  6. 1. The possesed from P.Hamilton’s Confederation Universe

    2. The Jain – an all devouring “ecosystem/advanced tech” in an egg from N. Asher’s Polity Universe

    3. The Prime/Prime1 from P.Hamilton’s Commonwealth Universe

    4. The Hypotheticals enclosing the Earth in a bubble so the time passes so fast on Eart that in 40 Earth years the Sun ages billions and cools down from RC. Wilson’s Spin

    5. The Omega Clouds who attack any straight angle structures in waves spaced several thousand years apart and destroy several civilizations in the process from J. McDevitt’s Academy Universe

  7. “Dust” from Pullman’s _His Dark Materials_

    “Shadows” from B5

    “Gravity” in Niven’s _The Integral Trees_

    “Triffids” from Wyndham’s _Day of…_ (scared the bejeezus out of child-me)

    “The United States” (okay, Gilead) from Atwood’s _The Handmaid’s Tale_

  8. Probably one other is to have my corpse fouled… (ewww, and thats 2 posts JP – I will endeavor to get them all)


  9. The machine civilisation from Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center books.

    The Darwinian struggle for existence in David Brin’s Uplift books.

    Gotta like Cthulhu and the Aliens, as previously noted. (I think I have their album somewhere …)

    How’s about Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud?

  10. Can I replace the Shadows from B5 (above) with the light eschewing aliens from Pitch Black?

  11. joshua corning // August 25, 2006 at 1:34 am //

    oh crap i forgot john carpenters “the thing”

    but come to think of it it wasn’t the alien that really made that movie shine but how well the actors portrayed thier characters paranoia.

  12. All of the ones I can think of have already been mentioned (I remember feeling some serious feelings of dreads when I read the scenes with returned dead in Night’s Dawn – a successful combination of horror of sf).

    However, I’m shocked nobody mentioned the Death Star from Star Wars. Sure, it didn’t last long on screen but, darn it, it took out whole planets at the push of a button!

  13. The complete social illiteracy in Walter Tevis’s *Mockingbird*.

  14. 1) The Enemy from Vernor Vinge’s Fire upon the deep (I forget its real name), an ancient virus-type intelligence that subverts the transcendent entities.

    2) The off-scene threat from Karl Schroeder’s Ventus, the “evil god” type machine intelligence that uses one of the main characters to replicate itself.

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