It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2020 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. This years also marks the 40th annual Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Eventually, I decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner and the 2019 winner were announced here.
Warning: Spoilers for several things behind the cut!
But before we get to the main event, I’d first like to present the Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents being outstandingly horrible in media that appeared before 1980. After all, we have Retro Hugos, so why not a Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award?
And the winner of the 2020 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents is…
Mi-Bel, King of Kings and Ruler of Babylon
As chronicled in the time travel tale “Transparent Stuff” by Dorothy Quick, which appeared in the June 1940 issue of Unknown, King Mi-Bel is trying to marry off his only child, Princess Star of Light (we assume the name is a translation from the ancient Babylonian), for a favourable political alliance. Such practices were not uncommon among the aristocracy of times gone by, so that alone would not be enough to qualify King Mi-Bel for the award.
However, Star has no intention to marry any of the unpromising suitors (a much older cousin, a drunk and womaniser and a sorceror who practices black magic and consorts with demons), especially since she has fallen in love with the hunky Egyptian mercenary Belzar who saved her from a kidnapping attempt. So Star enlists the aid of the goddess Ishtar and the treacherous priest Abeshu.
And so Abeshu fills up Mi-Bel with wine at the great feast, where Star’s betrothal is to be announced, until he is so drunk that he agrees to let Star name her own husband. When Star chooses Belzar, Mi-Bel is so furious that he asks Abeshu for advice how to undo that match. The duplicitous Abeshu has just the idea. Let Star marry Belzar, have a big wedding feast and then escort the newlyweds to the bridal suite, where they will be immured alive. And this is exactly what Mi-Bel orders done.
Such parenting skills deserves an award and so King Mi-Bel is the winner of the 2020 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
King Mi-Bel appeared in person. He was carried onto the stage in a litter and emerged, clad in splendid white and gold kingly robes, his beard in fine ringlets and a golden crown adorning his royal head. He then proceeded to hold the following acceptance speech in a thunderous voice.
Thank you, people of a strange and unknowable future. It is a great honour for me to accept this award for the swift and decisive way I dealt with my wayward daughter whose name shall never be spoken again in my presence.
What possessed that stupid girl to think she actually had the right to choose her own husband? Does she not know that princesses are merely pawns, useful only to form political alliances? Alliances that my daughter upset by deciding to marry that.. that.. that Egyptian dog! Why, of why could my wife, that stupid cow, not bear me a son? Why was I cursed with an uppity daughter who does not know her place?
Truly, I had no choice but to get rid of my wayward daughter and that husband of hers. And immurement is not too bad a fate. Better than burning, beheading, strangulation or dismemberment, at any rate. Truly, I was merciful, more merciful than could be expected. Besides, my wayward daughter and that dog of a husband of hers at least had the decency to refrain from whining and moaning behind the walls, because it’s so annoying, when they do that…
Thank you, Your Majesty, but that’s quite enough out of you. Take your award and get thee back to ancient Babylon.
Now we’ve dealt with the Retro award, we come to the main event. As in 2019, no real front runner appeared for a long time. But unlike 2019, where there were several likely candidates, 2020 had far more candidates for the title of Parent of the Year than candidates for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award. Because 2020 was dominated by tales of grumpy men who found themselves reluctantly thrust into a parent role and rose to the occasion, as the stories of Din Djarin, Geralt of Rivia, Sherlock Holmes (who looks remarkably like Geralt of Rivia except for the hair) and even Jean-Luc Picard prove.
Emily Dodson, a young mother who is implicated to be involved in the kidnapping and murder of her own baby in the new Perry Mason series, seemed to be a contender for a while. Alas, Emily turned out to be innocent of the crime and guilty only of sleeping with the wrong man.
The new Perry Mason also yielded another candidate, Birdy McKeegan, a woman who exploits the religious fervour and strange visions of her daughter Alice to start a cult. She also pimps out the the underage Alice in exchange for gasoline. But while Birdy is undoubtedly awful, she’s not quite awful enough.
Empress Philippa Georgiou of the Terran Empire made an eleventh hour bid for the award, when she attempted to torture her adoptive daughter Michael Burnham into loving and obeying her, with predcitably tragic results. But while Empress Philippa Georgiou certainly displayed some very twisted ideas about parenting, she also clearly cared about her daughter and torturing Michael rather than executing her was a merciful act by the admittedly low standards of the Terran Empire. So nice try, Philippa, but no award.
Besides, another truly terrible intergalactic dictator and dreadful parent had emerged in the meantime. And so the 2020 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fiction Parents goes to…
Galactic Overseer Simon Novalight
This is another winner where many members of our esteemed audience will go, “Who?”, so let me briefly introduce Galactic Overseer Simon Novalight to you and explain why he deserves this award.
As chronicled in the 2019 romantic space opera novel Nightchaser and its 2020 sequel Starbreaker by Amanda Bouchet, Simon Novalight is your typical intergalactic dictator. He wants to rule the galaxy and bring order to it under his control and he also wants to make everything beige and brown, because Simon Novalight really, really hates colour. However, this is not the Bad Taste Award, so let’s talk about his family.
After squashing a rebellion, he took a liking to Caitrin, a young woman from one of the rebel worlds and forced her to marry him – in exchange for not scorching the entire galactic rim. From this unhappy marriage resulted a daughter named Quintessa, though she goes by Tess.
When Tess was a small child, certain genetic anomalies were detected, genetic anomalies that gave her a kind of superfast healing factor (think Wolverine, but without the claws and the adamantium). Whereupon Simon Novalight decided to have his scientists experiment on his daughter and extract as much blood as he could from her to create a supersoldier serum.
Novalight also murdered his wife, once he realised that neither he nor his wife carried the genetic abnormality that Tess had, which suggests that his wife had been seeing someone else and that this someone else was the father of Tess. Astute readers will figure out the answer to the question of Tess’ paternity well before it’s confirmed in the sequel.
Once he’d gotten all the super blood he needed from Tess, Simon Novalight decided that he didn’t need either a daughter or a blood donor anymore. And so he ordered his right-hand man Nathan Bridgebane to dump Tess, than eight years old, out of the nearest airlock. However, Bridgebane found his conscience just in time and dumped Tess off at an orphanage run by a pair of awesome lesbians instead.
In the next twenty years or so, Tess did a stint in a space prison, broke out and stole a spaceship, became a smuggler/space pirate and joined the rebellion. She turned up on the radar of her father and his right-hand man Bridgebane again, when she accidentally stole a shipment of Novalight’s super-soldier serum. Because as Moff Gideon can confirm, making super-soldier serum from super blood is not easy. Especially if you unwisely killed off your blood supply or think that you did.
Novalight is now really, really eager to bring Tess in. Not because he cares about her, but because he really, really needs her blood to make more super-soldier serum. And so he shoots two of her crewmates, one fatally, and abducts another crewmate, a blind old woman, to use as leverage against his daughter.
He also starts a galaxy-wide program to register every citizen via an implanted ID chip, which is also a convenient way to take samples of blood en masse and find more potential super blood donors. As for those super-soldiers, he’s certainly not going to use them for benign purposes either.
That kind of villainy deserves an award and therefore Galactic Overseer Simon Novalight is the deserving winner of the 2020 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
In spite of his busy schedule as dictator of the galaxy, Simon Novalight showed up in person to accept his award, dressed in a plain brown suit. He also gave King Mi-Bel and his splendid royal robes the side-eye, as the two 2020 winners briefly met in the green room.
Simon Novalight then proceeded to give his acceptance speech in the voice of a particularly dour fire and brimstone preacher.
Thank you. Thank you, good people of this universe, for honouring my important work with this award. I could not be more grateful that finally, someone recognises my hard work to bring peace, order and security to the galaxy. Because there are still those out there, who would undo my great work and…
Escuse me, Overseer Novalight, but this award is actually for your parenting skills or lack thereof.
Parenting skills, oh yes. Quintessa, my – sniff – dearly departed daughter, taken from me so young along with her mother, my poor beloved Caitrin.
And I assure you, citizens of the galaxy, that there is no truth, absolutely none, to the rumours that my daughter Quintessa is not only still alive, but also a member of the rebellion. Those are lies, malicious rumours spread by those terrorists of the rebellion. As are the claims that I murdered my own wife and tried to kill my daughter as well. Lies, all lies. Caitrin died of a dreadful disease. And no, it’s absolutely not true that I infected her.
Also, it’s all Quintessa’s own fault. Why does she have to be so selfish? All I want is a little of her super-blood. After all, she has five litres of it, so why can’t she donate a little bit of it for the sake of galactic peace? Ungrateful brat! Just like her mother Caitrin, that ungrateful bitch…
Wait a minute, did you just say that astute readers will figure out the mystery of Quintessa’s paternity? So does that mean that you know who Quintessa’s father is? Then I demand that you tell me at once or I shall have you tortured, imprisoned and executed…
And that’s quite enough out of you, Overseer Novalight. So let’s beam you back to your space station, where you can rant in peace. After all, it’s hardly my fault, if you can’t see what’s in front of your own nose.
And that’s it for the 40th annual Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. Who will take this coveted (not) award next year? You’ll find out in this space.