Evil races in fantasy and science fiction.
I love “evil races” in fantasy. I love them as storytelling devices, rather than identifying with their wicked values in some dark escapism. Evil races like goblins, orcs, trolls, and ogres just speak to me lately, whether they’re being used as the brutish forces of a dark power or the misunderstood people of a world that is scared of their appearance. I prefer the latter, but the former is equally powerful, depending on what kind of story I’m reading.
My favorite “evil races” from the fantasy genre are orcs and dark elves. Brute strength and decadent elegance, opposite ends of the monstrous spectrum. I like orcs and dark elves in roles of either traditional villains or misunderstood protagonists. They work as cannon fodder or as tools to subvert stereotypes. The image of the orcish horde is a traditionally terrifying sight for a hero to face, as is the deviant splendor of the wicked dark elves hidden far beneath the surface world. And if these evil races aren’t misunderstood at all but genuinely wicked, then it makes a hero rising up from their ranks all the more inspiring a story for me.
But “evil races” don’t really work in science fiction, in my opinion. Evil races work in fantasy because there’s usually magic involved. A dark lord casting a spell over a race of people or a deity’s curse warping bloodlines into monsters is an easy explanation for a whole race of people being single-mindedly evil. And that’s a great tool of fantasy storytelling. Folks who enjoy fantasy like magical curses and orcish cannon fodder. But science fiction is a different genre, and magic spells from dark gods don’t really hold sway.
Evil cultures, wicked governments, cruel organizations, and sadistic religions become the “evil races” in science fiction. In (the best examples of) science fiction it’s not the accident of your birth that casts you on the side of good or evil, but the choices you make and the influence of the environment around you. There may be orcs and dark elves in a science fiction setting, but chances are they’re not all evil (the orks of Warhammer 40K excluded). My favorite science fiction subverts these stereotypes, casting monsters as diplomats and intellectuals. It’s a theme we’ve used here in STAR POWER a few times, and I’m proud to keep using it.
Science fantasy is an entirely different conversation. I’ve no problem with space magic (obviously) and the influence of dark gods over planets, but to call that science fiction is a misnomer. But even there, I’d probably still be drawn to orcs and dark elves, and wanting to see the heroes that arise from those evil races.