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If I Were An Evil Overlord by Martin H. Greenberg & Russell Davis (Eds)
Review by Ernest Lilley
Daw Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756403843
Date: 06 March 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Peter's Evil Overlord List / Show Official Info /

Whether you're an Evil Overlord (Genius, Mastermind, Scientist, Magnate...etc), minion or hero, you'll want to pay close attention to this collection. In fact, if I were putting together a reading list for an MBA program I'd seriously consider adding this to it, along with the Art of War and a few other classics. Not only would it get read, being a lot of fun in itself, but it's full of lessons learned at someone else's expense...and isn't it the Evil Overlord way to profit from other's misfortunes?

My minions (they chose the name, not me) said that no one could possibly be better qualified than I to review If I Were An Evil Overloard which was thoughtful of them, I think. And while I enjoyed the adventures of my fourteen fellows of the foul deed tremendously, I must complain.

We don't get no respect.

Frankly, I'm beginning to suspect that my legions wouldn't cheerfully run into a stream of machine gun bullets to give me time to escape through the secret tunnel. In fact, I'm not sure they actually dug the secret tunnel. I'd better have someone check on that.

While they're doing that, let's talk about the tales in this instructive little tome.

First off there's a tale from no less a personage than the Queen of Hamsters herself, Esther Friesner, in which an elven lord tries his wiles on the beautiful offspring of an evil overlord and finds that appearances are not all that counts. Yes, well, we learned this lesson in Shrek, but it bears repeating, and what goes around comes around on the exercise wheel of life.

Then there's Dean Wesley Smith's crunchy tidbit, "The Fortune Cookie Tyrant," which begins with a charmed fortune cookie and reminds us all that that "man who does not quit when ahead, will lose same."

And there is the strange case they call "Loser Take All" in which a man fulfills his dream of becoming an ultimate overlord, at least in a VR game, only to find that in the real world he's lost everything. Contrasted by the next report, "The Next Level" by David Nail Wilson, in which we discover that those who don't learn from the game are doomed to repeat it in the real world. A clever story, and a lesson worth taking to heart of those of us with empires to keep.

The recurrent theme in the collection, as it has been throughout the genre, is that evil geniuses, overlords or whatever, really ought to pay attention to the body of literature, much of it on the web, about how not to have their plans foiled.

Some listen, some don't, and some hire five year olds and computer gamers to test their plans to destruction. Hubris is the weak point for these would be conquerors, and irony, the sound of the universe laughing at your best efforts, is always there, nipping at their heels.

But its not like their's no joy in the lair, and a few actually managed to get their way, even in the case of one or two managing the difficult trick of stepping down when the time comes, or at least getting ready for it.

Tanya Huff's piece is an excellent example of what most people miss about overlords. Its fine to be evil and all that, but it's far better to be pragmatic. It doesn't really take that much effort to get your people to love, honor and respect you, and if they do it's all the easier to get them to step in front of the odd arrow, bullet, laser death ray, or whatever the lone hero conjures up. And of course, when it comes to common sense, you are better off being born female. Men, she notes (and quite a few women) are such children at heart.

Sometimes though, the worst nightmare of an EO turns out to coincide with their fondest dreams, as we see in Steven Roman's dark and appropriately titled, "To Sit In Darkness Here..." Worse than a plan not succeeding, it turns out, is one succeeding too well.

The subject of the hero/villain meta story has been getting a lot of play the last few years, everywhere from the famed Peter's Evil Overlord List to excellent novels like The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, which ask if the metastory can be more powerful than the players wills, raising banned specters like fate and destiny from their graves. There are some very real questions to be answered in this arena, and we may yet learn much about ourselves from stories like these.

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