Heather Lindsley’s work has appeared several times in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well in the magazines Asimov’s Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and Greatest Uncommon Denominator. Her fiction has also appeared in John Joseph Adams’s dystopian anthology Brave New Worlds, in Year’s Best SF 12, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, and in Talking Backedited by L. Timmel Duchamp. She is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and currently lives in London.
Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?
It’s about an entrepreneur who exploits a niche market in the supervillain industry.
What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
I was thinking about the economics of comic book superscience. I mean, it’s okay for the Bruce Waynes and the Tony Starks and the big-name supervillains with fat government defense contracts, but most of the players have got to be struggling with crazy tight margins. It’s a tough business for a mid-list evil genius, let alone a beginner.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
The idea crystallized immediately, but ten months went by before I sat down to write it. When I finally did, it came pretty easily.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
*loud throat clearing* Well I certainly don’t share the narrator’s business ethics. But I am a freelancer, so I know it helps if your paying gigs reinforce or advance your other ambitions.
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
You’d be amazed how many wacky superhero and -villain names are actually in use. I had to change most of the names in my first draft, because when I dug around I found they were already out there. I also consulted my friend Eric Edgeworth’s expertise on Brock particles and parakinetic matrices, though any errors are, of course, my own.
What is the appeal of mad scientist fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write it? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?
What’s not to love? The hair, the minions, the goggles, but above all the Nietzschean disregard for the ethical constraints of the less-visionary masses. That’s what really sets them apart from their lukewarm cousins, the absent-minded professors.
What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction–or fact!–(in any media), and what makes them your favorites?
Before I get to my favorites, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the grandaddy of them all, Victor Frankenstein, is a total putz. There’s a reason the Creature has co-opted his creator’s name in pop culture — it’s the Creature’s book. But I do love the iconography of the mad scientist in the James Whale’s Frankenstein films.
And I adore those same iconic laboratory props in the hands of the grandson of the granddaddy, Gene Wilder’s Frederick in Young Frankenstein. Though Frederick isn’t half as unhinged as Gene Wilder’s other, more subversive mad scientist role. Under the candy and dandyism, Willy Wonka is a mad scientist to the core. Better still, he’s a mad scientist who doesn’t completely self-destruct.
Which brings me to the mad scientist I’ve been thinking about lately: Dr. Janice Lester, who appears in the terrible-on-many-levels final episode of the original Star Trek, Turnabout Intruder. I’ve been re-imagining the episode as if it had been written by Joanna Russ. In that version, Dr. Lester takes over Kirk’s body, successfully gets rid of Kirk-in-Lester, takes command of Enterprise and only arouses minor suspicion when Kirk uncharacteristically starts busting McCoy’s chops for being such a racist. But she never gets caught, so not only does the series end with Dr. Lester in command of the Enterprise — it means that Kirk in the subsequent Star Trek films is actually Dr. Lester. I love the idea that she got away with it.