The Infrastructure of Evil

The other day I was reading a book – one I found enjoyable – when suddenly a question occurred to me? How can the bad guys create all these problems with no one even noticing until they get in the protagonists’ way or someone gets killed.

As a writer, I put as much effort into creating the infrastructure that opposes my protagonists as I do for the protagonist, and that means giving more than hints that the opponents are up to something. Obviously, how much of this is seen or noticed by the viewpoint character or characters depends on how much the protagonist knows to begin with and how much he or she should know, but really effective opposition/evil has to leave traces somewhere. If people disappear, those around them notice. Everything leaves traces… somewhere. Now, often people, and even governments, are gullible, stupid, or greedy enough to ignore those traces, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The other aspect is that effective organizations require resources and expertise, even the evils ones. I know that the James Bond movies are thriller popcorn, but I have to laugh at the implausible economics of the villains. Smuggling gold by disguising it as the bumpers and parts of a luxury automobile and then shipping the automobile by air freight? That doesn’t make sense economically or technically.

One reason why I stopped writing book reviews years ago was that the publication I wrote for didn’t like my pointing out implausibilities – such as giving an address as residential when that address was actually in the middle of the main drag of Georgetown – the D.C. Georgetown – or using dental mirrors for long-distance around the corner surveillance.

And effective and realistic villains not only need money or the equivalent, but they also need a consistent source of it. In the real world, that’s usually drugs or counterfeiting something, or skimming off businesses or occasionally using a totally legitimate business to provide resources or cash for something less legitimate and more profitable. But I seldom see where such resources come from in F&SF novels, especially fantasy.

Yet I so often find that while authors labor over the realism of the viewpoint characters and supporting characters, that same care isn’t always applied to the bad guys.

12 thoughts on “The Infrastructure of Evil”

  1. Bill says:

    Isn’t evil often the subversion of the good or at least neutral? Many evil people use the discretionary powers of a position for their own benefit rather than promoting the goals of the organization. The evil regent is a typical fantasy trope or the Sheriff of Nottingham. In SciFi it is the scientist or business leader who has a crisis of some sort and uses their knowledge/position for something evil.
    The reason I point this out, is that we often overlook evil in our life because we expect a Bond villain instead of a toned-down Sheriff of Nottingham. Only when it becomes excessive or personal does anyone want to do something about it.

  2. Daze says:

    I think there can be a substantial amount of ‘hiding in plain sight’ going on, both in fantasy and real world settings. I’m reminded of an interview way back with a graffiti artist who, when asked about how he got away with large and complex works in public, said: “we wear the invisibility cloaks called hi-vis” – people saw work clothes and ignored what they were actually doing.

  3. Grey says:

    There is quite an entertaining version of the “in plain sight“ shenanigans going on right now in the matter of Gov. Ron DeSantis versus Disney in Florida. After DeSantis started attacking Disney, Disney, and the then-board of the odd municipal district the theme parks sits in, got to work. Over the course of a year, through various publicly noticed meetings and publicly-posted documents, compete with waiting times and opportunities for anyone to object, transferred virtually all of the board’s powers to Disney in perpetuity.

    DeSantis and the Florida GOP were so busy preening for the cameras about being harsh on Disney as revenge for it defending gay people, or mermaids with the wrong skin color (yes, really) that none of them apparently kept tabs on what was being done, slowly, in front of their face. Thus, when DeSantis recently replaced the district’s entire board with a pack of republican operatives and conservative loons, they discovered, too late, that about the only thing they could do was install stop signs rather than leverage the board’s (old) powers to make Disney compliant.

    It sounds too stupid to be true, but it happened. Best of luck to DeSantis’ lawyers trying to undo a process that Disney’s expensive ones pulled off.

    Back on topic, I generally try to have a wide suspension of disbelief when reading sci-fi/fantasy, because if you spend too much time, thinking about “who puts the gasoline in the Batmobile” things start to fall apart pretty quickly. LEM is to be commended for creating structures where such things are accounted for.

    1. Wren Jackson says:

      I loved watching that unfold. It was obvious VERY fast that Disney was gaining control and setting itself up to deliberately oppose Desantis since, you know, Diversity, Inclusion and Acceptance is the majority stance and more money is to be made joining the right side of history than appeasing the wrong, but someone thought they’d take on the Mouse in a legal manner and come out on top and it was… I almost pity him, but not really.

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Probably was stupid. But some of the PCness of Disney is stupid too. Young kids do not need to hear about diverse proclivities, all they need to know is that NOBODY should be assaulted, bullied, threatened, etc; and no peaceful difference is an excuse for any such conduct, full stop, enforced. (and that ANY practice of ANY proclivities has some consequences, and they need to talk to their parents if at all possible or obtain reference to some substitute if they have questions) That message covers all possible ground without the need to enumerate every category of difference it applies to.

      It is NOT Disney’s job to act in loco parentis, not even if some few actual parents may be such that someone has to.

      And for inclusivity among mermaids, there are culturally authentic non-white mermaid mythologies, how about telling one of those rather than doing a remake with ethnically improbable recasting of a (loosely) Danish origin mermaid story. That does disservice to actual cultures, both those neglected and those rewritten. It’s a controversy they didn’t need to create and a missed opportunity to do something better and with far more creative potential than just another remake.

      Not that you can’t cast anybody in any color if it makes no difference to the story – or if that was left unspecified and un-implied in the story. I don’t know if it does or doesn’t in a story that’s already been Disney-fied far aware from its origins. And since white actors so many times played non-whites in the past, perhaps turnabout is fair play. But real inclusivity ought to be more authentic than just switching up who does what role, it should be an opportunity to include the story and culture that goes with the different face. And most remakes are no improvement anyway.

      So yeah, Disney’s lawyers are smarter (and not all stupid government politicians and lawyers are Republicans!). But their product already had issues, and may have been part of why there was a change at the top not too long ago.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        (I have BTW read and enjoyed some more culturally rooted sci-fi/fantasy; I can’t say I really RELATE to it as I would to a more familiar mythology basis except at the level of universals, but it was well done and at least the to-me unfamiliar roots made it more interesting. I’d read more that was as well done; I do appreciate variety. And such things are presumably immune from claims – in either direction – of cultural appropriation, when the author was drawing on stories they found in the process of self-discovery.)

      2. Grey says:

        Eh. ‘Diverse proclivities’ implies there is a choice (really, that’s what ‘proclivity’ means). I thought we were past that – you don’t get to choose to be gay. Also, having to pretend that gays or trans or whomever don’t exist – as Florida functionally requires in schools – is a worse than bullying, it’s dehumanizing.

        It’s also funny to me that you, the resident libertarian on this blog, are supporting (I think) a state imposing compliance with a minority religious/cultural norm onto the entire population whether or not they practice it. By contrast, you are free to not like Disney and free to not consume its content, and yet it gets your ire about in loco parentis.

        100% agree that Hollywood is out of ideas and has sequel-itis… (NB ‘Wakanda Forever’ was a sequel with great, non-European mermaids!)

      3. Wren Jackson says:

        What, precisely, is Disney doing that offends. You make a reference to the Mermaid casting, which is so beyond aimless and wrong and has been beaten to death. But please, what “Proclivities” is Disney pushing about LGBTQIA+?

  4. Darcherd says:

    Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve always appreciated most about LEM’s writing: His rulers (both good and evil) have to wrestle with economic and logistical limits.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Agreed; and certainly in the Recluce series, he switched up more than once so it wasn’t always one ideology or the other that was the good (or bad) side.

      1. Wren Jackson says:

        Oddly enough, he switched up the power behind the “protagonists” depending on the book, but ultimately the guiding principles for the successful and ethical countries were always the same.

        Standardized taxes applied to everyone that ensured the allowance of public works that make life easier for everyone but in general assist those of lower income more than those of higher income. An allowance for open speech but not open violence. And a strong government that had fully authority and control.

        The difference between Cerryl era to the Fall of Sarronyn Fairhaven and Post Dorrin Recluce is very minimal.

  5. ian cormac says:

    well fleming did a lot of research with his books from the kemsley new paper syndicate, ans previous when he was with reuters, diamonds are forever was a companion piece to a work on diamond smuggling, the real goldfinger an architect of note wasn’t terribly amused, one might consider that fleoming drew up an ideal version of MI 6 not totally compromised by the Cambridge 5, which had rendered their missions moot,

    in the current day, writers like dan silva, describe locations and personages that are very familiar for those in the know, the previous two outing went into pure fantasy,

    Walt Dizney believed in America, the current board of Disney might as well be Hydra, or the Umbrella Corporation, or Massive Dynamics they have broken the compact, that was made when they were granted this rare privilege, to entertain not proselyize, they have ruined marvel and the star wars franchises,

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