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Friday, August 31, 2018

Rave Review for Issue #21!

I have no idea who this person is, but I love this review of Stupefying Stories #21 on Hamilcar’s Books. Rather than quote too much of it, I’ll just quote my favorite part:
“All of the tales are well-structured and well-written. I was pleasantly surprised that none of the writers were ‘weak links’, nor did any of the stories feel like they were ‘mailed in’.  Perhaps that merits a tip-of-the-hat to the editor, either for his selection of the writers or for demanding a certain level of quality in the entries.”
I’d like to think it’s both, but then, I am the editor.

In any case, Hamilcar’s Books reviews Stupefying Stories #21 and gives it an 8.5 on a scale of 10. I will now allow myself five minutes of being smug.

Read the full review, and then please, feel free to share the link.

~brb

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Family Matters • by Bruce Bethke

Nota bene: This is the introduction George Scithers wrote 36 years ago for the original magazine publication of “Cyberpunk” in Amazing Stories. Please read it closely.


I no longer remember the name of the con. It was somewhere between 25 and 30 years ago, and I want to say it was a WorldCon, but in truth, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I was with a bunch of other mid-list, mid-life, and mid-career pros, we were in the professional SF/F writer’s natural habitat—the hotel bar—and we were having just a great old time, drinking heavily and swapping divorce horror stories. My first wife, Nancy, had just kicked me out, changed the locks, and filed for separation, and to be honest, I deserved it. In those days I was Bruce Bethke, Nearly Famous Science Fiction Writer, and I was a real jerk.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

SHOWCASE: “The Very Last Time I Will Ever Have Sex with a Tree,” by Nathan Cromwell


How, you might wonder, did I end up in a public park with my pants around my ankles and my—er, parts—pinched inside a tree? Long story short, I met a brunette at Retox, she was hot and I was tipsy, and I didn’t check her I.D. Even sober I hate asking a woman to prove she’s real: choose the right moment, it’s awkward; choose the wrong moment, it can scotch the whole deal; and if you choose no moment, you can end up imprisoned by a tree.

Three years ago, according to the most popular theory, the rise of science and the decline in respect for religion pulled modern beliefs back just enough to let the older ones peep through again—not anything big, like gods, but an occasional pixie, goblin, sylph…or dryad. At first these beings terrified and delighted everyone, but after the novelty wore off they became nuisances. And vice-versa: a troll might settle under a bridge, ready to harass passers-over the next morning, only to wake up inside a full-blown homeless encampment and rounded up in a NIMBY-powered police sweep. After a while the mythicals blended, somewhat, into modern life, but you can’t take the tale out of the fairy, if you get me. Even disguised, something irresistible in an idealized, belief-animated figment hurries a man’s pulse.

So my little Myrtle suggested we go to the park, away from the noise and the crowds, and my scrotum agreed. Well, one thing led to another, until, with her arms and legs entwined around me, she suddenly blurted out that she wanted me to be her husband.

“We’ll talk later,” I grunted—reasonably, I thought.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

SHOWCASE: “The New Herd,” by Lilliana Rose


The new herd of cows had arrived for milking, white skin gleaming in the sunlight as they were ushered from the transport ship. They walked as if their udders were tight with gold. But they refused to be touched. Maybe they were a little skittish from their long flight through space, God forbid. I prayed to the Sun, our God, to ensure none were sick. The cows often became unwell on arrival to Earth. Their stomachs couldn’t cope with the microbes any more. Their blood didn’t tolerate the lack of oxygen in the mountain air we breathed. The cows would still be milkable, even if ill—the job would be harder and I would have to be patient. Like everyone else here in town I preferred it when the milking was easy.

“A fresh harvest,” I yelled, summoning my wife and son as I walked out to the landing area.

The cows were kicking up the dirt in the holding pen. I could see the clouds of dust rising from the anger in their hooves. Running to the pens I prayed they would be ready for milking and I would be able to calm them with my well-practised smile and tender fingers. I wondered if it hurt them to have udders so tight that they didn’t know how to spend such a commodity.

Tying my brightly woven poncho around my waist I hurried past Carlos. I wanted to be first at the holding pens. He fumbled with his poncho and I stuck out my foot causing him to tumble. Tripping my neighbour was all part of the competition between the people of our village. I arrived first, the chance to have the pick of a virgin herd sent shivers of pleasure through my hands.

“Tarde,” I said, pinching the brown skin on the hand of my wife when she finally made it to my side. Good thing the cows didn’t understand our language as I mumbled more profanities to my wife as we waited. It would be her fault if the milking was poor for us today.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

It’s another Free eBook Friday!

In recognition of WorldCon 2018, the 8th Anniversary of the original launch of STUPEFYING STORIES, and any other excuse special occasion we’re sure to think of if we just keep vamping long enough, Rampant Loon Press is excited to announce that beginning at midnight Pacific time tonight and running through—well, sometime later this weekend, we aren’t exactly sure when—we are making not one but three ebooks available free, for the cost of a click. These books are:

STUPEFYING STORIES #12 • The Special WorldCon 2018 Reissue Edition.

I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised by this, but all the authors save one generously agreed to allow us to put this out-of-print ebook back into release on Amazon for three days only, just for this special promotion. (The missing author didn’t decline, he really is missing. He appears to have vanished completely from the Internet, which if intentional is an impressive feat. We hope it was intentional, and that he’s sitting on a beach somewhere with a tall drink with a little umbrella on it, enjoying life to the fullest.)

If you’ve been wondering what Stupefying Stories is all about, #12 is an excellent example of our special brand of fiction. It features:

• DRIED SKINS UNSHED, by Julie Day
• A NUN’S TALE, by Pete McArdle
• THEY FOLLOWED ME, by Carol Holland March
• INTERREGNUM, by John J. Brady
• FULL FATHOM FIVE, by Judith Field
• BONE MOTHER, by Torah Cottrill
• ALEPH, by Brandon Nolta
• ALIEN TREATIES, by Randal Doering

And yes, many of these authors are writers whose new stories you’ll be seeing in upcoming issues.

» STUPEFYING STORIES #12DOWNLOAD NOW


THEIAN JOURNAL #1 • Originally designed to be the “sister” title to Stupefying Stories, Theian Journal launched with great promise but ran into second act problems. We offer this ebook now as a preview of what Stupefying Stories #24 (November 2018) will look like, as we’re ramping up to relaunch the concept, only this time under the Stupefying Stories aegis. Featuring:

• THE FISSURE OF ROLANDO, by Judith Field
• ADROIT, by David Williams
• TAKING A BREATHER, by Jean Davis
• A SCORPION WITHIN, by Alison Grifa Ismaili
• PLAINFIELD, NEW YORSEY: 2114, by Angele Ellis
• WHEN WE ARE WHOLE, by Gary Emmette Chandler

» THEIAN JOURNAL #1DOWNLOAD NOW


THE BOOK OF JUDITH: Sixteen Tales of Life, Wonder, and Magic by Judith Field 

Judith has been one of our favorite contributors ever since “The Prototype” first showed up in our inbox, and subsequently in Stupefying Stories #6. In this book we collected every story of hers we could get our hands on, and it got great reader reviews in the UK—but because Amazon does not propagate reader reviews across geographies, readers in the US, Canada, and Australia never saw those reviews, and the book...

Well, we believe it can do better. A lot better. Because all modesty aside, this book is full of great stories.
“Judith Field’s talent, or rather one of her talents, for she has many, is the ability to come up with an idea that’s almost laughably simple, then plonk that idea in the most prosaic of settings, and somehow end up with a tale so unique and so eldritch that it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.”
Which is why we’re giving The Book of Judith away free this weekend—
“Judith Field celebrates the extraordinary. It lives in every line of her stories alongside magic, friendly ghosts, and paranormal entities. Each tale also contains human beings who are warm, full of sentience, and often conflicting emotions. Allow yourself to be whisked away to ordinary suburbs where incredible things happen all the time.”
—in hopes of picking up some good quotes from American, Canadian, and Australian readers—
“A collection of tales of the fantastic that manage to be sweet, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny all at the same time.”
—so that we can use ‘em on the jacket when we reissue it in trade paperback, with new cover art, later this Fall.
“These stories present a refreshing fusion of styles. Life, wonder, and magic sums it up—often the fantastic and magical meets the reality of everyday life in a way that I’d imagine fans of Pratchett and Gaiman might appreciate. There are also hints of magic realism and a depth of characterisation that makes the writing truly engaging and a pleasure to read. The fact that some characters make repeated appearances across the stories is very welcome because they are so well-drawn that they stay with you. This collection is by turns funny, absurd, and poignant, and never less than thoroughly entertaining. Highly recommended.”
» THE BOOK OF JUDITHDOWNLOAD NOW

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends. Share the link.

- Bruce Bethke, Stupefying Stories 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Talking Shop

Op-ed: “How to Write Heroes: An Incomplete Primer” • by Auston Habershaw


Previously: “How to Write a Good Bad Guy”

Okay, so the first thing to keep in mind here is that the idea of what makes a “hero” is enormous and varied and in most cases culturally and historically informed—defining the term is a much slipperier task than you think. So in the interest of brevity, let’s cut to the chase: for the purposes of this article, the hero of your story is the main character, and their task is to resolve the conflict. Everything else—whether they’re good people or bad people, whatever their shape/gender/race/sexuality, whether they’re powerful or weak—all that is subject to the kind of story you are trying to tell and it’s not my business to interfere. However, it is my objective to tell you how to write your heroes better, and by better I mean more interesting, more compelling, and more memorable. So, my rules:

#1: A Hero is Actively Engaged in Resolving the Conflict

Monday, August 13, 2018

Free eBook Friday • 8/17/18

The Book of Judith

by Judith Fields


This Friday’s featured free ebook is The Book of Judith: Sixteen Tales of Life, Wonder, and Magic, by Judith Fields. Judith has been one of our favorite contributors ever since “The Prototype” first showed up in our inbox—and subsequently in Stupefying Stories #6—and in this book we collected every story of hers we’d published up to that point, as well as a dozen more that belonged together.

The book, not to put too fine a point on it, flopped.

It got good reader reviews on Amazon.co.uk, and we saw modest sales in the UK, but because Amazon does not appear to propagate reader reviews across geographies we saw very weak sales in the US, Canada, and Australia. Which was a shame, because this book is full of really great stories.

Ergo, this coming Friday, 8/17/18, we're going to give The Book of Judith away free, for 24 hours, for the cost of a click. What we hope to get out of this is a few good promo quotes we can use on the jacket when we reissue it, with new cover art, later this Fall.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends. Share the link.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Serial Adventures in the Tropeosphere,”
by David A. Gray


Nota Bene: I know I said that the introduction to last week’s SHOWCASE story, “The Moshe 12000,” was an exception, but—well, here we go again.

TO: David A. Gray
FROM: Stupefying Stories
DATE: 07/24/2018
RE: Submission 1806173, “Serial Adventures in the Tropeosphere”

Dear David,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider this one. It has a snarky “Philip K. Dick in Purgatory” quality to it that the first reader absolutely hated but I found pretty amusing. Good thing I at least skim every story before we send the rejection.

The reason I’m going to pass on this one is that it’s the sort of metafictional writer’s inside joke story that appeals to me but often irritates readers, and all that running these kinds of stories ever gets us is inundated with lots more stories just like it, only not as good, written by writers who don’t get that this is the single most clichéd possible way in which to begin a stor...

Wait. On second thought, I’m going to accept it and publish it in SHOWCASE. Let this stand as a warning to all writers. If it spares just one slush pile reader from having to read another story with this beginning, it will have been worth it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Status Update • 7 August 2018

With Stupefying Stories #21 now out on Kindle, we’re moving ahead with back-office work. We have six more Stupefying Stories books—magazines? bookazines?—currently in various stages of development and scheduled for release between now and December, as well as three new original novels and three reissues. If you picked up a copy of #21 during the recent free ebook promo, thank you, we hope you enjoy it, please give it a rating and a quick review on Amazon if you like it, and keep those bug reports coming. We’re finding typos galore in it and want to fix as many of them as possible before we finalize the print edition. Send your comments and corrections to feedback@rampantloonmedia.com. We will read and respond, if only to say, “Thanks, we found that one already.”

If you’ve submitted a story to us in the past 90-ish days: also, thank you, and the FSPRC are doing a great job of paring the surprisingly large number of submissions we’ve received down to the short list of stories we can afford to buy and publish. If you submitted a story before August 1 and are still waiting for a response from us, you should get it by the end of this week.

Finally, as promised, we’ve updated our submission guidelines. In particular, note the new section: “Twelve Stories That Are Nearly Impossible To Sell To Us Right Now.”

To reiterate: we don’t post submission guidelines because we’re constipated prigs with delusions of godhood. We do so because time is finite, and we want to concentrate our attention on the stories that fit our needs and the writers who create those stories. The language in the submission guidelines may seem a bit harsh, but believe me, about the hundredth time you’ve seen a story that begins with a mysterious eastern European count and then introduces Lucy, Mina, John, and Van Helsing...

Hey. How come no one ever begins a story with a mysterious eastern European count and then introduces Lucy, Ethel, Fred, and Ricky? That’s what I want to know.

Kind regards,
Bruce 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Topic for Discussion


For reasons too complex to explain now, we wound up listening to Surrealistic Pillow the other night, for the first time in decades. In the summer of 1967—the “Summer of Love” as it was called then, although a friend of mine who was living in Haight-Ashbury at the time says the “Summer of Lice” was more accurate—there were four essential albums that everyone was listening to: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by The Beatles, Disraeli Gears, by Cream, The Doors, by, well, The Doors, and Surrealistic Pillow, by Jefferson Airplane.

Frankly, it’s hard to understand the latter one, now. At best we can say: It was the Sixties. Drugs may have been involved. Aside from the hit singles, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” Surrealistic Pillow is mostly full of forgettable schlock and things that sound like Mamas and Papas B-sides and Yardbirds outtakes—

Except for the last song on side two: “Plastic Fantastic Lover.” In those two minutes and thirty-nine seconds, Marty Balin reveals himself to be a genius and an unheralded prophet. I had to listen to the song twice, and then read the lyrics. Hearing that song again from the vantage point of fifty years later, it is so obviously a love song sung by Balin to his sexbot—well, except for the last verse, which disintegrates into Lawrence Ferlinghetti-like word salad. (Hmm. Word salad? Shouldn’t that be Ferlinghetti word spaghetti?)

Anyway, after listening to that song, it struck me: this is also so obviously a great idea for an SF theme anthology: My Plastic Fantastic Lover

I ventured into this territory once before, a very long time ago, in “Appliancé.” I think this could be a very good book, addressing head-on the moral implications to be faced when you can, say, order up a sexbot that looks exactly like your ex-spouse...

Or it could be a big stinkin’ load of throbbing-tool robot porn, which is why I hesitate to say that I’m even considering doing such a book. I shudder at the thought of the dreck that will show up in my slush pile if I do.   

What do you think? Is it even possible to do such a book without going off into skanky roboporn territory?

The lines are now open. Let the arguments begin.  

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Well, here’s a surprise...

This just in:
Dear Editor,
Congratulations! Stupefying Stories has been randomly selected as Duotrope's Listing of the Day!
This means we will be featuring it today prominently on our website (https://duotrope.com), as well as on our Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/Duotrope) and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Duotrope).

We just wanted to let you know that we're giving you a little extra exposure today. If you'd like, you can retweet or share our social media posts.


Best wishes,
The Duotroopers (admin team)
https://duotrope.com

Link to this listing: https://duotrope.com/listing/6322
Hmm. I had no idea we were listed on Duotrope. I’ve given no thought to Duotrope since they delisted us a few years back. I guess, now that Stupefying Stories #21 is out the door and selling, I’d better get back to posting the updated submission guidelines as described in the 7/31 Status Update.

And for all our new friends just joining us for the first time today, please, read our submission guidelines, and read at least a good sampling of our free SHOWCASE stories (if not an actual issue or two of the magazine), before sending us a submission.

Thanks!
Bruce Bethke
Executive Cat Herder in Chief
Stupefying Stories  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

SHOWCASE: “The Moshe 12000,” by Robert Allen Lupton




Nota Bene: As a rule, we are not in the habit of explaining why we chose to publish a given story. However, “The Moshe 12000” begs for an extended introduction.

The story begins, as so many great stories do, with a rejection letter...

TO: Robert Lupton
FROM: Stupefying Stories
DATE: 7/18/2018 10:13 AM
RE: Submission 1706233, "Grudge Match"

Dear Robert,

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to consider this one. After holding it over for further consideration, we've decided we can't use it at this time. Good luck placing this one elsewhere.

It's well written, but even our least-experienced slush reader said, "Ack! Ick! It's Moby Dick in space!" I had no idea that so many of our people had such bad experiences with Moby Dick when they were in school that even now the opprobrium attaches itself to any story that begins to remind them of it.

Having received scathing reviews for publishing "The Ransom of Princess Starshine" in issue #17 and "The Old Man and the C" in issue #19, I think we're going to declare a moratorium on publishing any more SF/F rewrites of famous stories. (I still love "Heart of Dorkness," though.)  

Kind regards,
Bruce Bethke
Stupefying Stories

P.S. If you haven't read "Heart of Dorkness," here it is: http://stupefyingstoriesshowcase.com/?p=1032 
#     #     #
TO: Stupefying Stories
FROM: Robert Lupton
DATE: 7/18/18 11:29 AM
RE: Submission 1706233, "Grudge Match"

I understand and, of course, it's Moby Dick in space. That was the plan. I loved Heart of Dorkness - it's one of the reasons I decided to inflict a short Moby Dick rewrite on the world. I'll send you something that's not a rewrite of anything. Well, I've got this idea about rewriting Exodus. Moshe meets the Universal Force on this asteroid and the UF appears in a burning monolith and gives Moshe these rules for galactic behavior. What do you think? I haven't decided if Moshe should mate with the golden calf or sell it for scrap metal.
 #     #     #
TO: Robert Lupton
FROM: Stupefying Stories
DATE: 7/18/18 12:27 PM

> these rules for galactic behavior

BUT THEY ONLY APPLY TO ROBOTS!!!

Only, like, it needs to be a plutonium calf, so that it's also a weapon of mass destruction, and the Space Nazis are desperate to get their lead-gloved hands on it!

Unless, of course, the Big Reveal is that Moshe himself is in fact a robot, in which case, yes, he definitely should have sex with the golden calf.

Really, I can't understand why everyone reacted so negatively to the idea of Moby Dick in Space. Is that what's wrong with the fiction market today? So many students have had their love of reading destroyed by being force-fed Moby Dick that they just can't enjoy any fiction?
#     #    #
TO: Stupefying Stories
FROM: Robert Lupton
DATE: 7/18/18 12:53 PM

Got it. Thanks for the input. Robot Moshe has sex with the calf. Takes idolatry to a whole new level.
#     #     #
TO: Robert Lupton
FROM: Stupefying Stories
DATE: 7/18/18 1:10 PM

So next-level, it needs a new word. I'm thinking, "idolodomy."
#     #    #
TO: Stupefying Stories
FROM: Robert Lupton
DATE: 7/18/18 1:54 PM

Shit, now I have to write the damn thing. I'll keep it to less than two thousand words. You get co-credit when it sells.
#     #    #
TO: Stupefying Stories
FROM: Robert Lupton
DATE: 7/19/18 4:35 PM

Okay, Bruce, Here it is. I didn't go with plutonium - I wanted to keep the whole golden calf thing and the rules apply to all sentient beings. Please feel free to suggest any changes you want. Let me know. It's called "The Moshe 12000," 1502 words.
I had to finish it. It kept me awake last night.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Book Release Update

The Free eBook Promo for Stupefying Stories #21 is going well—at the moment it’s the #1 bestseller in the Kindle Fantasy Anthologies category and #3 in Kindle Science Fiction Anthologies—but we did stumble a bit getting off the blocks this morning and appear to have run afoul of yet another one of Facebook’s unpublished policies on promotional usage.

Therefore, to get maximum mileage out of this promotion, we’ve decided to extend the free ebook giveaway until midnight West Coast time on Saturday, August 4th.

Tell your friends! Share the link!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G4N21VB

P.S. And the next Free eBook Fridays are coming on August 17th and August 31st. Don’t say you didn’t get sufficient advance notice. 

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Oh, zarking fardwarks, blogger is mucking up cross-links to Amazon again. If the above link takes you to a blank white page, try right-clicking on the link and selecting "Open in a new tab." 

STUPEFYING STORIES #21 ESCAPES!

JUST RELEASED: STUPEFYING STORIES #21

Featuring:
“DEW Line,“ by K. H. Vaughan
“The Crippled Sucker,” by L. Joseph Shosty
“My Disrupted Pony,” by Jeff Racho
“Cog and Bone,” by M. Lynette Pedersen
“Tendrils Beneath the Skin,” by Derrick Boden
“The Phoenix of Christ Church,” by Rebecca Birch
“Lenses,” by Eric Dontigney
“The Search for Josephine,” by James Mapes
“Wayfaring Stranger,” by Peter Wood

From a high stakes poker game on an alien world to a fantastic clockwork kingdom—from a peculiar family in the faerie realm to a church in London at the height of the Blitz—from the frozen wastes of the Arctic tundra to a sweltering sharecropper’s farm in North Carolina, here are nine tales to chill, thrill, and entertain you. STUPEFYING STORIES #21 is now available for Kindle and Kindle Reader apps at this link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G4N21VB

And to celebrate the release, for today only, it’s available FREE for the cost of a click.

Check it out!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Talking Shop

Op-ed: “How to Write a Good Bad Guy” • by Auston Habershaw



The villain is a key role in any adventure story. It’s really, really hard to have Star Wars without Darth Vader. There is no Infinity War without Thanos. Hell, there’s not even a 101 Dalmatians without a scenery-chewing Cruella De Vil.

Despite this clear need for a villain, however, not every villain is up to the task. A great many villains just do not tickle the imagination and fail to make their stories click with the audience. They’re dull and, worse still, forgettable. Can you think of a really good book, story, or movie with a forgettable villain? I can’t.

So, how do we avoid this? Well, here I present my (incomplete) list of things to do to write a good villain.

#1: A Villain Complicates or Creates Conflict

First, a villain exists to create or complicate conflict and tension in the plot. To use English-major speak, the villain frequently (though not always) serves as the chief antagonist for the plot—in other words, they are the ones that usually create the conflict that the protagonist needs to resolve. Even in the case where they are not the antagonist (case in point: in the film Titanic, Hockley—played by Billy Zane—is the villain but is not the chief antagonist, as he does not create Rose’s conflict), they always serve to complicate or heighten that conflict. So, Darth Vader indirectly orders Luke’s aunt and uncle killed, which creates Luke’s drive to become a Jedi and defeat the Empire. Likewise Belloq, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is always there to take away the things Indy wants most (the idol, Marion, the Ark), thereby driving Indy forward.

This is arguably the most essential thing a villain does and any character that fails to do it is not actually a villain at all. It’s just some lady with a cool outfit and a bunch of dopey henchmen.

#2: A Villain Invites Comparisons to the Hero

Second, the villain acts as a thematic counterpoint to the protagonist. By understanding the villain, we likewise understand more about the hero. Killmonger is such a wonderful villain in Black Panther because he is the direct counterpoint to T’Challa—where T’Challa is a child of privilege, Killmonger is a child of poverty; where T’Challa is unsure, Killmonger is driven to the point of obsession. This can also be seen in the relationship between the Joker and Batman (Chaos vs Order) and, to skew more literary, between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver in Treasure Island (Jim is youth, innocence, and honesty, Silver is age, cynicism, and lies). Much as the bass guitar adds volume to a band’s sound, the villain adds richness to the hero’s journey—through the villain, we understand the purpose of the story better.
   
#3: A Villain Must Have an Understandable Goal

“Ruling the world” is not a goal. Say it with me now: Ruling the world is not a goal. Why not? It’s way, waaay too vague. The villain needs to have a purpose, and that purpose needs to be specific enough that the audience can understand it. This is essential for us to fully comprehend what the villain represents and why we must reject it. Villains are characters, not forces of nature beyond our ken.

For this reason, I would not characterize the xenomorphs in the Aliens franchise as villains—and the movies understand this, too (or, at least the good ones do). The villains are always human beings—guys like Burke who are willing to sell out Ripley and her friends in order to make some money. We understand their goals and, therefore, we understand the stakes of the story and why the villain must be stopped. The scariest thing about Mustapha Mond in Brave New World is that his plan, horrifying though it is, makes total sense given a certain point of view which we, the audience, recoil from.

#4: A Villain Must Be a Well-Developed Character

Beyond their goals, a good villain must be more than just a caricature of a person. They can be single-minded, sure; they can be crazy and over-the-top, but they require facets like any other person. The reason for this is not to make them likeable or identifiable (though a villain can be these things), but rather to make them a reasonable counterpoint to the hero (that second purpose, remember?). Even though Vader seems a completely single-note character, we know there is depth there—Obi Wan hints of their shared past, there is a certain mystery about him—who is he? What is his deal? How did he become evil? All that is important (really important, as it turns out) and it is essential to keeping the audience invested in the struggle between good and evil.

The more real the villain seems, the more terrible their agenda becomes. They are not sketchy metaphors with legs—they are living, breathing people. Real people cannot be written off as “just crazy.” A real person forces you to engage, and that makes the villain more effective on the page or on the screen.

#5: A Villain Must Stir Negative Emotions

We must not completely admire our villains, because then they become heroes and your story is suddenly very different. I’m not saying that the antagonist can’t be a good person or that a villain can’t be sympathetic on some level (they totally can), but a villain is not a villain if they cannot force the audience to gasp or scream or rage. Accordingly, the villain must be deviant from accepted norms in some notable way. This might sound obvious, but the world is full of bland villains who are supposed to be hated, but who have no emotional effect on the reader and, therefore, fall flat.

In the end, the villain can (and should) be a central part of what makes any story tick, but they need to be treated as a character, not a plot device.




On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or sci-fi / fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest and has published short stories in F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy’s Edge, among other places. His fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, is published through Harper Voyager—the final installment of which, The Far Far Better Thing, will be released in November of 2018. He lives and works in Boston, MA, and you can find him online at aahabershaw.com.

His first appearance in Stupefying Stories was “Thief of Hearts” in Stupefying Stories #7, and his next appearance will be “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea,” coming soon.