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The Starscream / Literature

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  • Paradise Rot: Dory Parthenia starts the whole shebang with a plan to get rid of Jackson.
  • Visser Three is the Starscream to Visser One in Animorphs. Although he is the primary Big Bad and he does succeed.
    • Subverted (possibly) in that Visser Three isn't actually working for Visser One, he's working for the Council of Thirteen, whom Visser One just happens to be betraying.
    • Tom's Yeerk somewhat also fits this trope. Near the end of the series, after Visser Three is promoted to Visser One, Tom betrays his leader to further his own ambition.
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  • Fernald (the Hook-Handed Man) in A Series of Unfortunate Events during the events of The Grim Grotto. his fate as of the subsequent book is unknown
  • In Robert E. Howard's "A Witch Shall Be Born", Conan the Barbarian joins Olgerd in raiding. When Olgerd drags his heels about attacking Constantius as promised, Conan invokes this trope.
  • The Psychlo race in Battlefield Earth seems composed of Starscreams to the point that one wonders how they were able to cooperate enough to set up an empire at all.
  • The Black Company has the Taken, who spend more time sabotaging each other than actually fighting La Résistance. During the Battle of Charm, only Nightcrawler is apparently killed by enemy action: Shapeshifter is said to have been lost under suspicious circumstances, Stormbringer and Bonegnasher apparently kill each other, The Faceless Man and Moonbiter are assassinated and Soulcatcher openly attacks The Howler. Most of them get better.
    • Soulcatcher herself is the queen of this trope. her plan in the first novel was to join the treacherous Taken planning to free the Dominator and play them off against the Taken loyal to the Lady, hoping to end up with the Rebel wizards, the other Taken and the Lady dead, leaving herself as the only person of power in the land, with the Dominator unable to free himself unassisted.
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  • In Blood Promise, as Galina the Strigoi's lieutenant, Dimitri schemes to kill her and lay claim to her criminal empire. Eventually he does just that.
  • An unusual example comes from The Chronicles of Prydain. Originally, Arawn, the dreaded Death Lord and Big Bad of the series, was the consort and servant of Queen Achren, the ruler of Prydain in the series backstory, who taught him all of her secret arts. Arawn used this power to betray Achren and become Lord of Annuvin, at which point Achren became The Starscream to him.
    • Both Magg and King Pryderi try Starscream Arawn at different points, both fail hard.
  • Used interestingly in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Lord Foul's Co-Dragons are the three Ravers, who, per the backstory, actually predated his arrival in the Land, but joined up with him and willingly allowed themselves to be Demoted to Dragon when he arrived because they were drawn to his power and cunning, and have served him loyally ever since. That said, the dynamic works because Foul is more powerful than the Ravers and they know it- if they ever got their hands on a source of power that gave them the advantage, they'd be more than happy to turn the tables and make Foul their Dragon, rather than they other way around. This, not incidentally, is why Foul never simply has the Ravers (who are incorporeal possessing spirits) possess the main character in order to acquire his Cosmic Keystone ring that Foul spends most of the series after- Foul knows far better than to trust his lieutenants with that kind of power, because he knows exactly what they'd do with it.
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  • The nameless artist in The Dark Is Rising novel Greenwitch. He plans to retrieve the canister containing the ancient prophecy from the titular Greenwitch, going against the wishes of his masters. It doesn't end well for him.
  • In Terry Pratchett 's Discworld series, assassination formed the main method of advancement among the wizards of Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University (referred to as the rule of Dead Man's Pointy Shoes). This tradition came to an end with the arrival of head wizard Mustrum Ridcully, who, thanks to decades managing an estate before assuming the role, happens to be an expert marksman.
    • Students of the Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild are expected to assume this role by default, or as the Guild calls it, "competitive examination".
  • The Divine Comedy features a whole segment dedicated to this, in the ninth and nethermost circle of hell. At first we have Caina, for betrayers of family; then Antenora, for betrayers of nation; then Ptolomea, for betrayers of friends; and finally, Judecca, for...this trope. All are in a frozen lake, befitting their "cold-blooded" crimes. Even if you did it because your boss was evil, you go here.
  • The wizard Raistlin Majere of the Dragonlance novels was one of the most ambitious, planning to overthrow the all-powerful evil dragon goddess who was the chief villainess of the earlier books and to ascend to godhood to take her place. Actually, he wanted to eventually destroy the whole pantheon of Krynn and to become the sole new deity of the world. He managed it, too, although Time Travel, a horrifying vision of what would happen to the world if he succeeded, and an appeal from his twin brother stopped him from destroying the world. He chose Redemption Equals Death.
  • Logno in Chapterhouse: Dune. She succeeds in killing the Great Honored Matre, but she doesn't enjoy her victory for long. The main Honored Matre force falls shortly afterwards, and she herself dies.
  • In Fall of Damnos, the Undying gets two Starscreams for price of one: Ankh believes that his overlord is insane, while Tahek the Voidbringer simply believes himself to be a better ruler. The two Starscreams have shades of Starscreamery towards each other as well.
  • The Forgotten Realms drow (dark elves) are a Starscream Planet of Hats. Their Chaotic Evil culture and religion are both based on the idea that anybody who can move up a spot via treachery or Klingon Promotion deserves to do so (and failing to take an obvious opportunity is mistaken for weakness.) Their city governments, their guilds and schools, and even their families are based on the idea that treason is strength and trust is weakness.
  • Drake from the Gone series seems to serve this role to Caine-though Caine is certainly the mastermind villain, Drake would easily overpower him if he'd been blessed (or cursed) with something better than his weird whip-arm. According to Word of God, Caine is sociopathic, while Drake is psychopathic, so they compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses.
    • Penny assumes the role after Drake goes rogue and outwits and enslaves the more powerful Caine. Unfortunately, she has not thought beyond her moment of triumph and has no backup plan when Caine's other followers are not impressed.
  • The Consul in Hyperion is sent to the Ousters to spy on them. He goes there, betrays the whole human race by revealing vital information, and gains the Ousters' trust. Then he hijacks a base, kills the Ouster technicians and fire a weapon designed to destroy the anti-entropic fields surrounding the Time Tombs, thus releasing the Shrike. So he acted as the Starscream to both sides. Then he got sent on the Pilgrimage. The other pilgrims, after realizing this, can't be bothered, because they figure this pilgrimage will kill them anyway, and won't make a difference.
  • In I, Lucifer, Luce is rightly cautious about his absence being known in hell, as he'll likely be usurped. He figures that Astaroth will attempt to move against him should he learn of his "holiday" in typical Starscream fashion. Instead Uriel, whom Lucifer mistakenly thought loyal, has decided to take leadership and move against heaven whilst Astaroth fights loyally to maintain Satan's throne.
  • Keys to the Kingdom has Superior Saturday and the Piper, who both want to oust Lord Sunday and replace him as the new ruler of the House.
  • Lensman. This behaviour is actually approved of among the various alien races opposing Civilisation due to The Social Darwinist nature of their society. It's believed that if a subordinate does succeed in usurping his superior, then the Big Bad was no longer fit to hold the job in the first place. Among the "good" guys, the Palainians operate under this paradigm. Nadreck is loyal because he knows any of his three fellow Second-Stage Lensmen can kick his "spiny tokus" if he tries to cross them - and he'd also have Mentor of Arisia on his case. He can, and gleefully does, use every dirty trick in the book, and more, against the Bad Guys.
  • Saruman of The Lord of the Rings. Saruman was one of the Istari, agents sent from Valinor to assist the Free Peoples against Sauron. His initial intentions were beneficial; he desired the One Ring from Sauron and planned to use it as a means to permanently defeat him. However, during his time in Middle-earth, Saruman grew more and more proud of himself, and decided he could use his skill as a highly persuasive Consummate Liar to fool Sauron himself into an alliance, and instead use the One Ring to make himself the ruler of Middle-earth. Sauron caught on pretty quickly though, and Saruman became so terrified of his wrath that after his army was defeated he locked himself in his tower for the majority of the War of the Ring.
  • Subverted in the second Mistborn book. Zane continually tries to kill his lord and father Straff, but he turns out to have no real desire to succeed- he hates Straff to be sure, but would rather just let him lead his armies and rule his kingdom, as Zane has no desire to do this himself. The assassination attempts are just because Straff, being in his own way as much of a paranoid psycho as Zane, expects assassination attempts and Zane simply obliges him. At one point Zane thinks to himself that if he really wanted Straff dead, Straff would already be dead. Also, Zane's one moral seems to be that "a man shouldn't kill his father".
  • The Mortal Instruments:
    • Raphael Santiago. According to Camille, he was the reason she left - he killed mundanes and blamed them on her, causing her to flee. When she did so, he seized her position and told the rest of the New York vampire clan that she was struck with wanderlust and a desire to travel (something that was not unheard of in vampires.)
  • John Dread from Tad Williams' Otherland is a Psycho for Hire mentored and kept on a short leash by Corrupt Corporate Executive Felix Jongleur, who uses him as a special "enforcer". As powerful as Jongleur is, he badly underestimates the ambition and cunning of his subordinate, who uses his Technopath powers to take over control of the Otherland network at the worst possible time for his boss and his plans, and thereby successfully graduates to Big Bad.
  • Rupert of Hentzau is this to Black Michael in The Prisoner of Zenda.
  • Quite a lot of Redwall's villains have a Starscream. Lantur in Marlfox succeeds.
    • Zwilt the Shade is another notable one, as he virtually becomes another "main villain" when he seems to kill Vilaya.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Tybalt, who plays the role of Commander Contrarian to Reynard while waiting for him to trip up so he can kick him while he's down. He's even managed to get away with it once.
  • Speaker-To-Animals in Ringworld, and during the journey to the Ringworld itself, Speaker would pull this shit every ten pages, and each time would be EASILY thwarted by the Puppeteer. It becomes a Running Gag of sorts.
  • The Kid of Stephen King's epic The Stand aimed to overthrow Randall Flagg.
  • Collectively, the Sisters of the Dark are sort of like this to Emperor Jagang in the Sword of Truth series. They're not trying to take over the Order that he runs, so much as pursuing their own goals while enslaved to him.
  • Joruus C'baoth to Grand Admiral Thrawn, for the time that they were a Big Bad Duumvirate. C'baoth chafed under Thrawn's directions and constantly tried to get around his orders. Thrawn's Commander Contrarian, Captain Pellaeon, even said that taking an insane cloned Jedi Master off his planet and into the Imperial fleet was a bad, bad idea. Thrawn had plans for the stunts C'baoth pulled, but if the two of them hadn't been killed more or less at the same time at the end of the book, it's anyone's guess what would have happened.
    • In the X-Wing Series, Kirtan Loor gradually moves away from loyal minionhood and towards this. When he's put in charge of the Palpatine Counterinsurgency Front on newly-captured Coruscant while everyone higher-ranked than he is leaves, he gets a lot of autonomy, allowed to harass and terrorize the New Republic any way he wants. Eventually he decides that while he's not an idiot and won't directly oppose Isard, he's not terrified of her anymore, and she won't live forever. Not long after that thought hits, the head of the organization commissioned to neutralize the Palpatine Counterinsurgency Front tracks him down, but not to bring him to justice, just to get him to hit targets that head wants eliminated. Loor agrees, in part because otherwise he'd be either killed or taken to justice, but thinks that Flirry Vorru, too, won't live forever. At the end of The Krytos Trap he does actually turn against them, but to try and seek sanctuary with the New Republic in exchange for some information. It doesn't work out.
    • Fate of the Jedi has several conspiracies, each of them consisting of villains constantly trying to overthrow the others, or discarding them when their services are no longer required. The Lost Tribe of the Sith (notice a pattern?) in particular want to learn what they can from Abeloth and then discard her.
    • During Galaxy of Fear, the series' Big Bad, Borborygmus Gog, is in the payroll of the Emperor, which he's fine with, and often subject to scrutiny and criticism from Darth Vader, which he definitely resents, but the Sith Lord is the Emperor's ranking representative, the one he sees the most. Gog adjusts elements of his big project, trying to figure out a way around The Force that is Vader's biggest advantage so he can kill him. The project's name? Project Starscream.
    • The concept of a Sith apprentice's ambition, given place, and potential — likely — rebellion, and what the distressed Master would have to do then is discussed between Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress in Dark Rendezvous.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Lucia plans to overthrow Gothon for reasons he will not disclose. This is because he doesn't know them. Kazebar is possessing him.
  • In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, Ogan finds Ziantha after her return from the past. He tells her that the Jack is holding Yasa captive as a hostage, but he doesn't think he'll trade either the stones or Ziantha for her.
  • In a way, Scourge of the Warrior Cats series is a Starscream, as he's generally treated as an underling by Tigerstar before slitting his throat and killing him nine times over with the emotion one would reserve for swatting a fly.
    • Brokenstar served as this to Raggedstar and pulled it off successfully
    • Tigerstar was this before even becoming second in command by plotting and eventually killing the second-in command, and then after that tried to kill off Bluestar numerous times, all of them failed, with the final time resulting in exile.
  • Lanfear in The Wheel of Time schemes to overthrow the Dark One, and still has a thing for main character (and old boyfriend) Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn. Despite playing The Dragon to the Dark One's Big Bad, she's pretty solidly on the side of the good guys in the first few books - she imagines that, teamed up with Rand, they'd be unstoppable. note 
    • The Wheel of Time also has Padan Fain, a Gollum / Agent Smith style wild card who's got a major grudge against both the Light side (Dragon Reborn) and the Dark side (the Dark One), and who (being empowered by Shadar Logoth) is enough of a threat to pull it off.
    • There's also Mazrim Taim, the leader of the Asha'man in Rand's absence. While Rand has been off ignoring the Asha'man, Taim has been asserting control for no doubt nefarious purposes. Not that anyone except Logain seems to realise this. Taim visibly has to restrain himself when Rand presents him with a pin (as a mark of honour) because it places Taim on the same level as the other Asha'man. He names himself the 'M'hael' (leader), acquires a coat with dragons emblazoned on the sleeves in mimickry of the tattoos on Rand's arms that mark him as the Dragon Reborn, builds himself a palace and chooses Asha'man for private lessons to form his own personal army. However, it's ultimately revealed that Taim is, in fact, a darkfriend himself, making him The Mole rather than this trope.
  • Sgorr from Fire Bringer starts off as this but at the end of part one, he brings his master Drail to a cliff where Drail suffers a "Tragic Accident"; after that Sgorr becomes the Lord of the Herds.
  • The most realistic one to date is Oscar Von Raquianus in the "A Symphony of Eternity" series by Solea Razvan. He constantly plots against​ his commander Metternich, but more in the sense of an ambitious soldier that's trying to advance his career and will constantly try to outshine his superior and currently he's under one that can handle him. But he does not sabotage Metternich's plans and he also respects him and event admits that he has a lot to learn from his current commander, at least for now.
    • Subverted in that after several fights in which he follows Metternich, he is so impressed with his battle plans and ability to quickly react to the everchanging battlefield that he becomes loyal to him, but only so long as Metternich continues to bring victory.
  • Recurring among villains in the Jack Ryan novels:
    • Kevin O'Donnell from Patriot Games is a former chief of security for the PIRA, where he used his position to purge the group of elements whose politics he didn't approve of. He's no longer in the organization, but is still plotting to overthrow its leadership and take over from it.
    • Gerasimov, the KGB chairman in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, is plotting to overthrow the Soviet leadership and take over the country.
    • Felix Cortez, in Clear and Present Danger, is the security/intelligence adviser for the Medellin Cartel's leaders, who decides to use the events in the book to try to take over.
    • Oleg Kadishev, in The Sum of All Fears, similarly starts out as a Soviet parliamentary leader, but decides to use the events in the book to try to unseat Narmonov and replace him as General Secretary.
    • An aversion in Without Remorse. The heads of the villainous drug ring think one of their underlings is this, and have him executed. Their real enemy was Outside-Context Problem John Clark, the ex-boyfriend of a woman they murdered.
  • The Starchild Trilogy has:
    • In The Reefs of Space, Machine General Fleemer is personally ambitious, and desperately wants the job of Planner—the leader of Earth, responsible for carring out the instructions of the great Planning Machine, and has been secretly undermining the Planner and lying to the machine.
    • In Starchild, Machine General Wheeler is fiercely loyal to the Plan of Man, but thinks the current Planner is weak and insufficiently ruthless, and believes he would be much better at the job.
  • In the Thousand Sons novel Ahriman: Sorcerer, the previously loyal Sanakht begins plotting against his master Ahriman out of fear that Ahriman’s obsession with casting the Rubric a second time will lead the Thousand Sons to ruin. Ahriman knew of Sanakht’s treachery from the start, however, and Out Gambits him spectacularly.
  • Defied in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn; Pyrates plots to be this to the Storm King once he summons him, foolishly believing that he can control the King and than dispose of him once he’s no longer useful. The Storm King, having no desire to play such games, just kills Pyrates on the spot as soon as he’s summoned, then sets about getting proper, non-traitorous minions.

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