February Contest Results

Best Near Future Bad Guys Alternate Suggestions

We got an tremendous and gratifying response on our Near Future Bad Guys Poll celebrating the reissue of Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column with a new afterword by Tom Kratman.

Our winner is Kirk Kingsmill. Kirk will receive a complete set of all of our Heinlein ebooks plus a copy of Sixth Column signed by Tom Kratman.

Plus: we asked for alternate suggestions and, boy, did we receive them! Here is an assortment of the wonderful email responses the poll evoked from readers.

Thanks so much to all the participants, and thanks particularly for the wonderful mail bag of suggestions.

Without further ado: the Alternate Suggestion List. . .

A corporate Christian state with a veneer of democracy to keep the proles happy. Probably with a fractious divided underground resistance.
As for additional bad guys, how about a corporate state? I know that it has been done before, but it is so close to a possible reality as to be very interesting.
EU as the bad guy - oh so believable! Just look at European history
Actually more of a combo: a remilitarized China with a fifth column (inadvertent or purposeful) of internationalists within the US government and western Europe. Wait, maybe not. Rings too much of the truth, eh? Oh well, you can always go for nazi and commie zombies
Hey, nice poll! I believe that you left out a good one, the internal deconstruction of the nation by liberals and non-integrating immigration.
My vote goes to the Butchering Barbarian Bastards of Beijing
Why Wall Street over the more over-used fictional villains?

1. Wall Street villains typically do more economic damage in total cost and lives disrupted than wartime (back to the Mississippi and South Seas Bubbles of the early 1700's destroying the French and British economies for a time.) It just gets downplayed as though it was random chance and the laws of the universe, like hurricanes, rather than individuals' decisions implemented over a considerable period of time that fits conspiracy definitions (the conspiracy being to get rich fast on other people's money and duck the risk.)

2. It's either used badly in mainstream fiction and rarely at all in science fiction and then usually in the oppression/intellectual property theft from inventors, researchers, anomalies, time-travelers, etc. by a single company who is either a vague conglomerate or a defense high-tech manufacturer. Evil bankers are common in westerns and small-town set fiction and general fiction usually includes characters who've made their wealth in the financial markets, but they're pretty rare in sci-fi.

3. The use of high-level mathematicians, econometricians, physicists, behavioral economists, computer scientists, etc. to crack what markets and individual stocks are doing these days puts as many scientists on Wall Street as classic labs (up through Nobel level as Long Term Capital Management included), a prerequisite for science fiction is of course scientists or engineers in there somewhere. Business forecasting and artificial intelligence precognition are easily synonymous, time travel's always been pointed out as particularly remunerative for investment planning, new energy technologies have always been disruptive to existing capital investment (see Edwin Black's "Internal Combustion"...quite a few steampunk novels could be drawn from it as well as this sort of sci-fi set in the near past.) Al Quaida apparently used the stock market, shorting airliner stocks just prior to 9/11, as a multi-million dollar fundraising tool so blending a terrorist subplot in to get some physcial conflict would be a novelist's option as well although the cheap plot device.

4. It offers the ability to develop complex and confusing/multi-faceted villains, semi-villains, minions, passive or compromised justice/investigation, unwitting pawns, keen observers, varied victims, and characters who substantially change over the course of the story making their roles and actions much less predictable. Choosing to kill is a big character moment, choosing to ignore an insider tip or deceive a regulator or start false rumors to drive down a stock price is a far more slippery slope that many more characters can travel believably.

5. Doesn't require a vast dark design like world domination/conquest, but simply self-centered, short sighted teams trying to get extremely rich very quickly without caring about the resulting wreckage (which also means the characters lack the deus ex machina of rescue by SWAT, Special Ops, CIA, FBI, Sheriff, Police, etc. or even lawyers, making plot resolution much trickier (more like many mainstream novels.) A science-based solution could be pretty exciting and either the entire plot of the novel, quest for/development of, or a plot twist near the end.
Also consider altercations developing over the resources locked up in the poles. Think Canada Vs. Scandanavia and South Africa Vs. Argentina-Chile Alliance.
Voted for the Bears but maybe because I'm rereading Red Storm Rising at the moment.

Next on the list would have been the EU.

Very surprising that the Bears are not doing well in the bad guy voting compared to the EU and China but only 54 votes so far.
The next big best bad guy for the near-future science fiction thriller, ultimately needs to be believable...

Economically, China is already a huge threat, especially to the US. Why? China holds the majority of the US debt, and if they were to call those debts, the US would be in receivership.... And effectively owned by the Chinese Government...

But setting that aside, if China seriously but their military might into action, any nation could be in significant trouble.

Now, throw in some Science Fiction elements.... Let say China had a secret power armor initiative that we were unaware of?

Or China was able to make first contact with some non-terrestial group, government, or organization? What could they do? Politically, could they argue that they make up the majority of the people on the planet, and thus they are the dominate government? Or trade for weapons tech that leap frogs the Allied nations, and thus is able to surprise attack the allies? Until we can create an accelerated development program to counter their advantages? (ala the Manhattan project, but reversed -- We created the first nuke, but Germany had several projects that were counters, including the v2 project).

A militarized China could be a huge threat, especially with Science Fiction elements mixed in...
China. They're probably our next nation-state enemy anyway, I'm curious what Baen's stable of writers would do with it.
The EU is the big threat :)
How about Militant Christians to take back from both the Islamics and the Jews.
Dear Sirs, With the Occupy wall Street movement you have a ready audience for any type of book that has Wall Street as the bad guys involved in a takeover, not just of the US but of the world Concentrate on a Multinational Corporation bent on controlling the entire world.
China. I admit Canada is the more likely threat but it's been done over and over already. :)
I voted for Militarized China.
A resurgent EU under the control of Germany seeking "lebensraum" in space would be a possible evil force.
Why not a South or central American based baddies group that could be Nazi, Chinese, or a neo christian cult that has many of the trappings of the Inquisition. This region has a long history of Dictators and intolerance. You could have some good guys from the region that are a 6th column!
The unrest in the Middle-East now could lead revolutions and wars throughout the region. One plausible future would be of a charismatic warlord along the lines of Napoleon arising, and consolidating a new empire from Turkey to Egypt. Such a leader and empire would provide a multitude of story lines over years or generations.
Some sort of Wahhabist offshoot is the most likely bad guys IMHO. China is next in line. But an internal "civil" war between the Northeast and the rest of us is rather possible too.
My bet would be the resurgent bears, followed by the China one.
The crazy mullahs in Iran are nasty but could be dealt with if we took the gloves off but China with a resurgent military and huge population would be a greater threat. The China problem would be magnified by their huge highly skilled ex-pat world population and the fact that they manufacture nearly all of our consumer goods, particularly electronics.
The poll (like no doubt most of your audience) is clearly US centric. There are however other people out there who could be construed as the bad guys in a given situation. Egg.

A poor but militarised (Libertarian?) US – nothing like a war to justify fascism at home whether institutional or personal.

India taking back the high ground as climate change impacts the deltas.

Militarised China but the area of dispute is the South China Sea i.e. the US’ allies rather than direct interests. – the Philippines, SE Asia etc. President Obama seems to consider this the future focus of America in the Pacific.

The list goes on … Pick your scale and you can find a bad guy anywhere.
Bad guys: Japan
You should have had, in addition to those on your list, the Green-Grey Coalition (militant Socialist Environmentalists and Neo-Luddite Fascists).
------------------------- Who makes the best bad guys for the next big near-future science fiction thriller? Wall Street, of course.

A dark cabal of brokers want to destroy the world and create a better one... for them, without all those annoying governments and laws. ;)
How about S. African genetic engineers, splicing Lucy & other old bones' DNA.
As a Canadian, I'm very disappointed that Canada ranks a distant third in your poll. We have, after all, been named in song and dance as the ones to blame by your most insightful political reporters.

I've also got a suggestion for a new entry to your poll ... Fundamentalist Republicans.
You know, the best bad guys would be the invisible folks who actually run the political parties in the US -- the shadowy underworld of secret deals and "managing" the candidates. Surely there's scary stuff there!
I think that Militarized China is a good next wave enemy, but why leave out aliens? I am always ready to read another Posleen book after all.
The only suggestion about picking out the "Bad Guys" is that in recent history, it's usually a coalition or axis of several different bad guys allied with each other. China and Nork supplying arms to Iran, for example. Or the axis in WWII. Or "aligned nations" during the cold war.
Imploding china scares me the most
I chose Canada for the poll.

I did this due to the overwhelming surprise factor.

A generally pacifistic country with huge untapped resources decides to become a major player in the world at large.

I think it would be great to read a story about a country like Canada that came out of nowhere and shocked the world with the "next-big-thing" in war.

Maybe the first Berserker could roll up out of a hidden Canadian bunker to show their disrespectful southern neighbors what it's all 'aboot'.
Religious Fundamentalist, It’s hard to beat someone who’s convinced that he is doing God’s will. It is impossible to reason with him. He wants to kill you for the good of your soul. The most dangerous people in the world are people who know what is best for everyone else.
I thing artificial intelligence or some type of technology would make a good "villain" due to our society's growing reliance on technology such as smartphones and computers.
I love the poll! I would really enjoy a series of short stories from Baen authors that features their versions of a militant Canada, or a Canada that takes over near-Earth space and dominates Earth, or a Canadian conspiracy to make everyone say "Eh".
I voted in your poll for Best Near-Future Bad Guys for Militarized China.
I think India will be the next "bad-guy."
Western society will still be the universe of the future for sci-fi readers. Writers bring readers into their worlds by using a readers' own internal images. It is hard to create such an image from a foreign culture - even as baddies.

For example, American writers who were in Vietnam do not use an Oriental background for their work for neither goodies nor baddies. Similarly I don't think genocide works very well as a sci-fi topic. Readers need the stories to be within their own culture, so who buys sci-fi? I feel sure many books could be translated better to other cultures just by re-labeling the race of antagonist and protagonist—as happens with many jokes. However this brings hope for the human race since it means we ultimately have much commonality.

It says something about our society that shoot-em-ups, death by violence and strategy are acceptable in stories where a topic such as the focused education of children whether for violence or science is not acceptable.
Please write down my vote for "christian right-wing fundamentalists". And if you're wondering why, go watch "Jesus Camp" ;-)
Militarized China -- it's coming, and not that far in the future. All those one-baby families provided an excess of males. They are not going to grow up happy, but they have not taken power yet.
I see more threat from multi-national corporations that have put greed above the welfare of the human race. They hold themselves above the burdens of government in their race to control the entire world economy, and make slaves of the rest of the world.
I propose Mexico and drug Cartels as an additional favorite adversary in the poll. I voted for Canada, but I think Mexico should also be included. My reasoning is that the anticipated near-future military cutbacks will so limit our capability that it will be essential to develop adversaries that are much closer to home, and therefore much cheaper to oppose.
Though the Chinese ARE a threat I still worry more about Islamo-fascists and their apologists. The PRC rulers are, for the most part, rational. I can say that in 40 years of living, working in Islamic ruled countries they're, IMO, always bug-house nuts unpredictable.
1. A good old alien invasion.
2. Rough A.I. (Skynet / Matrix / HAL)
Suggestions for more bad guys:
Apes have been done. It's those six-toed cats (opposable thumbs!) that really control everything.

When was the last time you trusted a politician? Congress has the real bad guys. (If the opposite of "pro" is "con," what's the opposite of "progress"?)

They control what you see, what you think, and how you act. (I'm sure they put something in the popcorn!) It's the TV and film industry, of course.
I am writing to support my vote for the Rising Sun to be the bad guys for the next near future novel. Since the contest is meant to celebrate the publishing of Sixth Column I think that a small band of bad guys who have developed a paradigm changing technology, similar to that used in Sixth Column would be an interesting twist.

Of course the good guys will have to either independently discover this technology, or capture someone who understands it. Then they can turn superior personnel and of course the fact that they are fighting for the forces of good, or at least better, to overcome the technologically advanced, but numerically challenged bad guys.
I have taken the poll and voted for the Creeping Threat from the North...Canada...their insidious plot has long been laid...
Canadians would make awesome bad guys! No one expects the Canadian Inquisition!
Near term, 1-10 years: External enemies are Islamo-Fascist, especially the rapidly developing Salafist Caliphate in Egypt, Arabia, and North Africa. There are a lot of smart people in North Africa, so they develop a nasty assortment of NBC (nuclear, bio, chemical) weapons to use in their jihad against southern Africa, both North and South America, and Europe and Russia.

Alternative Near Term 5-20 years in the future: External enemies, National Socialist/Fascist Europe after the collapse of the Euro and the EU. (France uber Alles, Lebensraum to the East (again) and in Africa). It turns out that those unfortunate plagues that everyone blamed on global warming were a product of some sick European eugenics and population control programs. But do not worry, they are also improving the breed of Homo sapiens too.

Potential Internal enemies are the communist, socialist, nanny-staters led by the Ivy League “elites” (Dictatorship of the Proletariat or Robespierre’s terror led by our own Stalins). Imagine the worst of California, Massachusetts, New York City Environmentalist, Victim Class, Liberalism leavened with the corruption of Washington, New York, New Jersey machine politics. Add demagogues stirring race hatred and riots targeting the fringe types including against Jews, Mormons, and Asians with pogroms.

Or the above using “Environmental and Social” Justice to try to do to the Midwest and South what Stalin did to Ukraine in the 1930’s. After 20-40 years of this, we are reduced to the peasants and our betters like a cross between a Dickens and Orwell novel.

The bad part is the rest of the world has slid or is sliding into the same toilet.

Now to figure out who the Hero/Heroine is?
How about an ancient HUMAN civilization that left Earth 30,000 (or so) years ago to escape some sort of disaster. They’ve returned and they want what they consider rightfully theirs. Of course, we’ll have the help of a small, but determined group of freedom fighters who will try to lead us to a legendary Vault. Will its secrets give us the technology we need to survive, or will the invaders destroy it first.
I liked the poll, but I'd really like to see a North American conservative dictatorship take over the country and be disrupted by a liberal, but fiscally conservative counterinsurgency. And, I'm hoping that that's only a near future sci-fi thriller!

I wouldn't be surprised if Heinlein didn't score there already. That's my scenario; bring it!
I voted for the EU-thanizing EU Dictatorship. Being European I know it is not that far away …..
Hope China goes South into the South China Sea.
My suggestion for new bad guys is those nasty SMOFs.
Near-future baddie: Financial Monoliths controlling world currency and economies (i.e. The Federal Reserve).
The villains for a new SF book should be the U.S. domestic enemies, i.e. the liberal/progressive left, based in the main stream media, academia, and political offices at all levels.
Don't sell Canada short.

Actually, in the spirit of future history - I think the new bad guys will turn out to be a cabal of editors - hiding behind a well developed (and grammatically correct) cadre of evil guys who are out to erase independent thought and expositive discourse, to bring everyone into a safe and approved style of living, thinking, etc. Fill in the blanks. Good hunting.

[EDITORS’ NOTE: Although this is our favorite alternate suggestion, we would like to emphasize that we have no idea what the reader is talking about. :-)]
My idea of a villain would be based on Pacific islanders who lands are being allowed to submerge due to global warming
The political left, elected officials in DC, who turn out to be bodysnatched and fellow travelers - weaving their sinister webs, preparing for the invasion . . .add in a few of those idiots who are occupying everywhere but where it would make a difference - Congress - and the Canadians who are orchestrating this mess. There has to be a reason. And have you noticed all those strange-looking cats who watch so intently and try to get inside your computer screens? I'm convinced the one who wandered into our place is really an alien looking for parts for his space ship. That's the only logical explanation.
I voted for China, in the guise of the Rising Sun.

But, actually, I could see radicals from a former Islamo-fascist crowd taking assistance from, say, Hugo Chavez and creating a new South American threat.
Environmental fanatics using "terrorist" strategies to reduce human population, and destroy/limit unsustainable practices.
Kratman was closest to the TRUE threat in A State Of Disobedience .... The new commies and their undead occupiers.... Ok, maybe not undead, but, something is making them smell like that! Or is it just nature's way of keeping them out of the gene pool. One can only hope.....
Personally, I think the prophet -- Nehemiah Scudder? -- Or a similar out-of-control religious dictatorship is a really good bad guy. Waco, Aum, we have enough incidents in recent history that show that this is still a very likely possibility.

Second place is probably my own group -- scientists. Between neurological advances, nano tech, robotics, and all the other stuff going on, I could see a group of scientists feeling that they really need to help mankind along by taking over for rational direction.
Unfortunately, while we may be good at research, I wouldn't trust us to run a country...
I voted EU, I want to see a book where Europe isn't the whipping boy.

If I win, could I be the BBEG?
If you want a more original idea, try letting the leftists complete taking over the country and see what happens there....Second Civil War?
I voted for militarized China, but as for additional bad guys, maybe some Atlas Shrugged style social justice bureaucrats.
Possible future enemies are 1) a fusion of Aryan Nationalist terrorists with political extremists, 2) a President in the mold of Richard Nixon who succeeds in using the levers of government to eliminate anyone perceived to be her enemy finally triggering internal insurrection complicated by international intervention, 3) world holocaust as a result of global climate change.
Militarized china.

I believe that the only reasonable opponent for a near-term sf novel would be Islamo-fascists, Who else would be interested in a war of aggression where no significant territorial goals are possible?
Geriatric Association of Canadian Circus Rejects (... That's a bad guy setup I haven't seen yet).
An interesting enemy may be the congress of the United States.
World Governments trying to control the internet. Story about an on-revolution over freedom of information and access against government departments, or agencies, that want to restrict it and control access. I expect the current issues to only get larger and more intense as the issue grows.
Also another faction to think about perhaps would be a resurgent American South. No one I can think of has a done an in depth near future American Civil War.
Also please consider a group of mentally enhanced humans bent on destroying us poor "normal" ones as the next set of super villains.

The enhancement likely would include telepathy, but might also feature teleportation and perhaps the ability to kill with a thought.
Google…doesn’t it seem like they are already taking over the world? Are they really driving around in their vans for “street view” or is it general surveillance?!
I voted for An EU-thanizing EU Dictatorship.

However, its more scary to think of some small middle east country stealing tech and twisting it to suit their desires, i.e. to hold the globe for ransom (I know, been done before).
I voted for Canada.

This is half joking, and half over-seriously over-thinking things.

Firstly, I am not sure that America can really fall to anything but internal factors. I think the first step in a successful invasion of the United States of America, in general, is for the people of America to lose the Way of being American.

The reason I didn't vote for the Nazis is that I think that overuse has in many ways reduced them to stock characters. Yes, they are pretty widely hated, at least for American readers, so its easy to get people to hate them as villains. However, this means that they have been attached to some pretty comic booky schemes, some of which have been bizarrely inconsistent with the actual Nazi evils. Anyway, I'm somewhat inclined to be cautious about using Nazis in certain ways, for fear of further diminishing awareness of them as historical evils. Having them as serious threats in a near future setting seems likely to be of this category. Plus, I have trouble with WSoD over them having any useful amount of equipment and manpower after 65 years.

As far as China goes, the joke is that we had a militarized China as the villains in a near future sci-fi Thriller, in real life, back in the fifties and sixties. The general public succeeded in its roll to disbelieve then, why not now? (See Chung and Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story. Or not see. I failed my roll to disbelieve that, and lost some SAN points for it.) Anyway, I have concerns about that ocean as far as power projection goes.

As far as Wall-Street goes, I don't understand finance well enough for me to see much interesting space there, especially stuff that doesn't duplicate what may have already happened. I do not read books on contemporary politics.

As far as Salafi go, I can't really think of anything that could be better than Kratman's treatments, and maybe I'm burned out on near future thrillers anyway.

I'm really not sure about Russia getting itself unscrewed up enough to be a real problem. I don't mind reading Cold War thrillers with commie bad guys, but I can also read Cold War history with commie, leftie, pacifist and so forth bad guys. I hate communists, but I don't have anything against Russians as Russians.

I have doubts over the Rising Sun as villains in a near future setting. I understand Rising Sun to refer to Imperial Japan, aka Showa era Japan prior to 1945, maybe going as far back as Meiji, maybe not. For the Rising Sun to be a threat to the US in the current day, the US must have failed to finish the job in the forties.

I also have trouble getting excited over the EU. I may simply be depressed or something.

In general, I have trouble getting excited over external factors as a serious threat, independent of serious internal failings. I am currently concerned enough about the federal government that it overshadows concerns over external threats to some degree. I also have concerns about getting an invading army across the oceans. Most of the above that are historical enemies of the United States have been paid back at least some to the degree that they have directly injured the United States.

This leaves Canada and Mexico. (And Texas, if I'm being purely silly.) I like to call Canada the Great Enemy to the North. Which of Mexico and Texas is the Great Enemy to the South, and which the Lesser depends on what I think is funniest at the moment.

Now, between the full name, United Mexican States, and the symbol on the flag, Mexico is essentially referencing the Aztec triple alliance, which would seem to make it Grade A bad guy material. However, one Mexico is probably too badly screwed up for a successful conventional invasion of the USA. Two, while what the Mexica in the Aztec triple alliance did was very evil, justified their destruction in my eyes, and probably makes the 'it wasn't that bad types' very close to holocaust deniers, it was not done to the populations that America started growing from. Yes, some Americans are descendents of the peoples that the Mexica tortured and murdered, but it doesn't rise to the level of a wrong to America. (Now taking one side or another of that historical conflict, and blaming it on America is another issue, but maybe not that big of one in the great scheme of things.) Thirdly, I tend to think that the American drug using population counts as a serious wrong done to Mexico, among other countries.

Canada is less screwed up than Mexico, shares a land border with the United States, and we have all the baggage of the American Revolutionary War. I specifically recall stories about Butler, a guy named something like Brandt, or Brant, another fellow, and their merry band of companions.

Anyway, that is why I picked Canada out of those options.

I'm not sure if any of the suggestions I would make for a near future thriller antagonist have enough plausibility to satisfy me. I'm probably just not in the correct mood.

P.S. Thank you for this contest. I've missed writing these walls of text.
Not additional, but forgotten: the religious far-right. At least Wall Street wants the government to work (well, at least for them). It's the ultra-conservative "Evangelicals" that want to overrun the government for their own agenda. Why are your bad guys them and not us? At least the British remember their religious wars; we have forgotten how damaging religious divisiveness can become. Why, If this goes on... we may have a revolt BEFORE 2100!
As a fan of the movie Canadian Bacon, I would love for Canadians to be the bad guys. But no matter how well written they were, I would always chuckle at the thought. I think Nazis, Islamo-fascists, and Wall Street baddies are overused. The Commies of China & Soviet Union (assuming you meant Soviets when you wrote "bear") were the bad guys of my youth. I could live with one or both of them as the bad guys.

Sinister EU baddies are still rather new. There is enough going on with the EU to allow for several different motives. And that whole Euro thing just sounds evil to me.

As for additional ideas for bad guys, perhaps we can return to the militia movement which spawned the likes of Tim McVeigh. They haven't been in the news of late. And they may miss the limelight. :>
Future Corporations and computer AIs are always a possibility.