Imagine, if you will, that fate has imbued you with extraordinary power. Would you use that power responsibly? Would you even know what “responsibly” means? It’s easy to set out with the best of intentions, only to discover too late one has fallen into profound error. Consider these five novels.
Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard (1951)
The designated spear-maker for his small and extremely conservative Stone Age tribe, Hawk chafes at the restrictions placed on him. Other men may go hunting but not Hawk, whose skills are deemed far too important to risk. After all, the tribe lives on the knife-edge of extinction. Losing Hawk—and, more importantly, the spearheads he provides—could mean the difference between marginal survival and obliteration.
Unfortunately for Hawk’s tribe, Hawk is not just a talented spear-maker. He is also a would-be innovator. Thus, confronted with a new way to throw spears—what modern people might call an atlatl—Hawk does not let the fact he has not worked out all the details deter him from trying to put the new technology to use. Thus, one tribesman slain by an irate rhinoceros; thus, exile for Hawk.
Voyage of the Shadowmoon by Sean McMullen (2002)
The Emperor Warsovran is determined to add the city of Larmentel to his empire. Unfortunately for Warsovran’s ambitions, his soldiers learned siege craft from the scholars of Larmentel. The scholars kept their best secrets and stratagems for themselves. Not to worry, because the Emperor has a trick up his sleeve.
With much effort and at the cost of many lives, the ambitious Warsovran has managed to recover an ancient weapon called Silverdeath. Silverdeath does not come with an instruction manual—if it did, one might be told “under no circumstances use this cursed weapon”—and so, Warsovran and his closest advisors make a number of understandable, but fatal, errors. In very short order an entire continent is incinerated. No worries! Warsovran survived. Perhaps he will have more luck using Silverdeath on another, as yet to be incinerated, continent! Or perhaps not.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab (2013)
Utterly convinced (despite the absence of concrete evidence) that ExtraOrdinary (EO) people—superhumans, to you and me—exist, ambitious college students Eli and Victor set out to determine how to artificially induce EO abilities. While trigging superpowers turns out to come with a good chance of simply killing the test subjects, neither Eli nor Victor are much inconvenienced by professional ethics or even ordinary caution. Victory is therefore assured!
Eventual success imbues both young men with abilities far beyond human ken. While Eli’s power of regeneration is self-focused and not immediately dangerous to others, Victor’s powers lend themselves to inadvertent misuse. Indeed, almost the first thing Victor does with his new power is accidentally kill Eli’s girlfriend Angie. The consequence? A vendetta of epic proportions.
Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction by Inio Asano (2014 onward)
Koyama Kadode was the designated outcast of her school class; Nakagawa “Ontan” Ouran was her only friend of note. Her only human friend, that is. And then…Kadode and Ontan befriend an alien scout accessing Earth on behalf of his vastly superior civilization. In one timeline, at least, the essentially good-natured girls ensure humanity does not, despite its many flaws, make too terrible an impression.
Their off-world buddy shares with his terrestrial pals a few minor trinkets. Why not? How much harm could come of providing someone with the means to fly, an invisibility cloak, and a handheld tractor/pressor beam? Well, if that someone happens to be a young girl with an exaggerated sense of righteousness and a poor grasp of consequences, the outcome could be tragic for multiple Earths.
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang (2020)
Rosa was also raised by a mother who was quite prejudiced where grundwirgen are concerned. The term “grundwirgen,” as used by most speakers, covers all entities who can take on animal form, entities that can be good or evil. As far as Rosa’s mother was concerned, all grundwirgen were inherently evil. When Rosa’s grandmother was murdered by a grundwirgen, that seemingly confirmed Rose’s mother’s claims. This made Rosa the perfect homicidal patsy for alluring sociopath Goldie.
Rosa, a skilled hunter, set out to rid the world of these dread beings. The consequences for the grundwirgen unfortunate enough to cross Rosa’s path were…unfortunate. Rosa would eventually come to realize the error of her ways, but far too late to save some treasured relationships. All she can do now is spend her life making such amends as she can.
No doubt for every example I can think of, you can think of one hundred. Feel free to populate the comments with all the works I overlooked.
Originally published in April 2021.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.