Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Top 10 Pirates of SF

Terrors of the high seas, the space lanes, and occasionally the electronic frontier, pirates have always had a place in science fiction and fantasy. Some are memorable for their ruthlessness, others for the merry style of their swashbuckling, and others for the size of their treasure hauls and greatness of their victories.

So grab your eye patch and sword, and hoist the jolly roger as we unfurl our treasure map in search of the Top 10 Pirates of SF:

10) Captain Shakespeare and the lightning pirates - Stardust
This band of marauders seems to spend more time poaching lightning bolts than attacking shipping or pillaging ports (at least, in the movie - I confess I haven't read Gaiman's original novel yet). But they're always up for a fight - especially if anyone intrudes upon their captain during his crossdressing private time.

9) Admiral Helena Cain and the crew of the battlestar Pegasus - Battlestar Galactica (new series)
I've said it many times before, when Admiral Cain pillaged a civilian refugee fleet for parts and personnel, executing some of the families and abandoning the rest to wait for the Cylons and death in their stripped-down ships, she went from being a Colonial soldier (or even a guerilla freedom fighter) to being a pirate. Her gift for daring tactics makes her worthy of standing among the pirates on this list, but I won't give her a higher place in it because I find her so completely detestable.

8) Commander Cain and the crew of the battlestar Pegasus - Battlestar Galactica (old series)
The earlier BSG version of Cain shares two things in common with the previous nominee on the list: he's a tactical genius and he's been living the life of a pirate. But there are certain important differences: Commander Cain's career as a buccanneer actually began before the fall of the 12 Colonies - Pegasus went missing during one of the many later battles of the Thousand Yahren War after getting into a battle against overwhelming Cylon forces. Some thought the battlestar was destroyed, others believed a legend that Cain had somehow fought his way clear and headed out into deep space. The latter proved to be true, and it was Cain's choice to continue fighting the Cylons on his own, without having to deal with the restrictions and politics that came with being part of the fleet, that transformed him into a pirate. The other difference is that Commander Cain is a likeable person. Sure he's got an ego, but he's more of the Errol Flynn style of merry pirate, than the cruel killer that Admiral Cain is in the new series. Because he's a better person, Commander Cain rates higher on the list. He also gets bonus points for possibly (we don't know for sure) surviving the final battle against the two Cylon basestars at the end of "The Living Legend - Part II".

7) The Dread Pirate Roberts/Wesley - The Princess Bride
He can fence better than Inigo Montoya, outfight Fezzik the giant, and outfox Vizzini, never mind scale the Cliffs of Insanity, escape lightning sand, battle Rodents of Unusual Size, and even recover from being mostly dead. The Dread Pirate Roberts is certainly one of, if not the, toughest pirates on the board today. Advantages of being the latest in a line of Dread Pirates Roberts and having benefitted from their accumulated experience and training. But I can't put him higher on the list because he's missing one very important coursair accoutrement: his ship. We hear his ship, the Revenge, mentioned in passing, but it's never seen in the ship or the book.

6) Captain Gavin Capacitor, a.k.a. The Crimson Binome, and the crew of the Saucy Mare - ReBoot
It may have been a show for kids, but ReBoot grew into something pretty entertaining for adults as well, and some of the most entertaining supporting characters were the Crimson Binome and his crew of electronic raiders. They may have been funny swashbucklers, but they never shied away from a fight and the Saucy Mare was a cool ship and tough in battle, ultimately dealing a crushing blow to Megabyte's forces in the battle to retake the Mainframe.

5) Captain Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl - Pirates of the Caribbean
What's worse than vicious pirates? Walking dead vicious pirates. That should be enough to put them at the top of the list, but despite years of successful pillaging, they ultimately were brought down when their curse ended and they became living men again and were either killed or captured. You have to give Barbossa credit though - alive or dead, that man knew how to wear a hat.

4) Captain Jason and his crew - The Ice Pirates
When it comes to stealing the most precious substance in the galaxy - water - the ice pirates are pretty good at their job. Well... sort of. They can get aboard the government's ice freighters (which actually look like flying ice cube trays) fairly easily and make off with the goods, it's just that they're not always so skilled at escaping. That being said, when push comes to shove, they're usually able to out-fight the government soldiers whether they're using swords or guns, or building black ninja robots to do their fighting for them. So if they have a tendency to get captured, why put them so high on the list? Because in they end, they're able to find the biggest score ever, a legendary water planet, beat the badguys, and keep it for themselves. And all without falling victim to space herpies.

3) Emeraldas and the crew of the Queen Emeraldas - Queen Emeraldas/the Harlock Saga/Galaxy Express 999
She's a bad-ass pirate who takes time to protect the innocent, she's intelligent and beautiful, and she's got a kick-ass ship. What more could you ask for?

2) Captain Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia - the Harlock Saga/Galaxy Express 999
Another bad-ass pirate who protects the innocent from time to time, with a kick-ass ship to boot. Why does Harlock edge-out Emeraldas? He's known to fly Arcadia into battle steering her from up on the deck - which is supremely fearless and thus ultra-badass, or really, really stupid - and somehow manages to survive; and he's rockin' the eyepatch, which is the ultimate in pirate fashion.

1) Han Solo - Star Wars
Was there ever any doubt? He's got the Millenium Falcon, which may not be pretty, but she can get Han out of any scrape. As for the nerf-herder himself, Solo may be more of a smuggler in practice, but he has been known to engage in piracy from time to time - attacking an Imperial ship full of Wookiee slaves at one point and freeing Chewbacca. And like any true pirate, Han's not afraid to be ruthless. Regardless of Lucas' modern revisions, we all know Han shot first when confronted by Greedo. And ultimately, as far as pirate-makes-good stories go, Han's pretty much at the top of the heap, what with hooking-up with a princess, helping to save the galaxy from the evil Empire and earning a position with a fair amount of influence and respect in the New Republic government. As far as I'm concerned, Han Solo is the best pirate out there.

So what pirate do you think should steal the title in the Top 10?


Unknown said...

Of course Mal Reynolds, captain of the Firefly "Serenity" needs to be in there.

And then there's Mad Kestrel, captain of the Thanos and not only a pirate but a magic wielder and a tough fighter in her own right. No, I'm not biased at all!

Unknown said...

Ack! These are all movie pirates. Where's the literary pirates? For shame. And including that crap Disney pirate, instead of the literary pirates Disney stole the idea from (Tim Powers awesome "On Stranger Tides") is just salt in the wound. What of Bisson's Space Ranger Gunther Ryder? Or R.A. Lafferty's Captain Roadstrum?

Robin Shantz said...

@ Misty & Abraxas: Great suggestions!

I'll admit, when I was coming up with the list, I knew there ought to be more pirates from literature but aside from Tolkien's Corsairs of Umbar (which only get passing mention in the Silmarillion and get taken out by the ghost army in LOTR pretty quickly), I was drawing a blank. Although, in all fairness, Harlock & Emeraldas made their appearances in manga.

As for the question of Mal and Serenity, I spent a lot of time thinking about that possibility. Certainly Mal and the gang are thieves. But pirates? I couldn't recall Mal using the ship in the series or the movie (I haven't gotten around to the comics yet) to attack another vessel or sack a port - I don't even recall them mentioning having marauded in Serenity. Utimately, and it kinda hurts to say this, Serenity's a hopped-up getaway car rather than a pirate ship.