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  • Older Than Feudalism: The bandit leader in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves kills two of his men for volunteering to find Ali Baba's house and then messing up. (Then he wises up and does it himself.)
  • Artemis Fowl Opal Koboi says this word for word during the climax of The Opal Deception to her henchmen Merval and Descant Brill, after they screw up her plan by doing something really stupid ( leaving the explosive she needed and its backup sitting on a couch in plain sight where they were easily stolen by Mulch Diggums). It's subverted, though- she's actually saving their lives by activating their (primitive) escape pods to jettison them away from Opal's exploding ship. The full line is "I advise you to strap in. You have failed me. Enjoy prison."
  • In PC Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, Rawneth has a particularly nasty example. She strips the names of some twenty underlings, making the affected underlings' souls to fade away, and causing everyone else under her to mostly (but not completely — they know they're missing something) forget them too. However, this causes a great deal of unrest among her followers, and some cases of civil disobedience.
  • In Dragon Bones, the villain kills a former ally for not being able to ingratiate himself to the people who would become his subjects according to the plan. The villain is clever enough to know that he can't put someone in charge of a castle who is universally hated by everyone there, and he is displeased that he will now have to use another ally to control the place.
  • GoingPostal has an inversion. A certain character is killed for doing his job too well. The character is a clerk who has kept scrupulous books on all his boss' financial transactions... including the shady and outright illegal ones.
  • Tortall Universe:
    • In a rare heroic instance, George Cooper in Song of the Lioness is quite a ruthless King of Thieves. Fail him once, he takes your ear. Fail him twice, he takes your life.
    • In Trickster's Queen, we learn that Ulasim has prohibited his people undercover at the prison to get promoted beyond a certain level, because: "The Rittevons were notoriously fond of executing people in charge when things went wrong." This is so reliable that Aly realises that their plans will receive a major boost upon reaching a certain point, once all of their most experienced enemies are executed for letting things get this far.
  • Redwall:
    • Cluny the Scourge, the Big Bad of the first book, consistently reminds his subordinates that the penalty for failure is death and/or torture. He never hesitates to follow through with his threats, either.
    • Many villains from the series in general often kill subordinates for failures of varying magnitude.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Subverted in The Thrawn Trilogy, where tactical genius villain Grand Admiral Thrawn makes a point of not indiscriminately killing subordinates, and in fact quietly lampshades this when his Commander Contrarian expects him to act more like Vader. He instead has a Tractor Beam operator (who was also a Contest Winner Cameo!) killed for not following procedure from his training—and for trying to pin the blame on his superior—and later actually promotes a different tractor beam operator who quickly came up with a creative solution to a sudden problem that was "no less impressive for its failure" and for accepting the blame himself.
    • By the Hand of Thrawn books, this problem is solved, so Thrawn method works better.
    • Here's what the Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook has to say.
      Thrawn used a small measure of fear, certainly: the Grand Admiral realized that fear of failure was a powerful motivating force in a military the size of the Empire. But Thrawn's ability to invoke a sense of pride in his troops was his most powerful asset. Palpatine inspired arrogance and callousness in his officers; Thrawn made his men proud to be Imperial soldiers. Thrawn's officers would have willingly died for the Grand Admiral.
    • The Evil Overlord version (in which the Big Bad kills a random minion as a lesson) is subverted in the New Jedi Order series. Supreme Overlord Shimrra can be a really Bad Boss, but he's clever enough to recognize when he's being played. Near the end, it looks as if he's about to execute High Prefect Jakan, who's been framed as a supporter of the heretics—then turns on the High Priestess who's framing him and is a heretic.
    • This trope seems to be liked by villainous Imperials and former Imperials in general. In the X-Wing Series, Zsinj, spying on the consoles of his bridge crew, sees that one of them is playing flight simulators instead of paying attention while on duty. He has been warned about this, but he wants to be a pilot so much. Zsinj has his second-in-command whisk the crewman off in the dead of night telling him it's a secret pilot test, put him through the standard set of pilot qualification simulations, praise or chastise him as necessary, and then kill him. Later on he puts a pair of scientists in a Shoot Your Mate Or I Kill You Both. The trope, and the fact that they're cruel about it rather than simply just shooting them, serves as a good reminder that while Zsinj and his Dragon are interesting, clever, and often funny characters, they are also the bad guys, and for good reason. On the other hand, Zsinj isn't punishing failure in terms of results, but failure in terms of duties—the people in the previous examples were killed because they had not only shirked a duty of some kind, but tried to cover it up. If a failure is a result of circumstances beyond the control of a subordinate, Zsinj spares the subordinate. Further, he's willing to reward people who go beyond the call of duty even if the results fall short (as with Gatterweld, a lowly stormtrooper who nearly steals an entire Super Star Destroyer for him—in the next book, he's an Ensign).
    • The Queen of this trope is Ysanne Isard, also of the X-Wing Series, whose murderous punishments for failure were known to go as far as Familicide. Isard's love affair with this trope is skewered in one of Allston's X-Wing novels, where another Imperial explains that anyone working for a capricious psycho like Isard had nothing to look forward to except either death by the Rebels, or death by her.
      • When someone he's interrogating dies before giving up the information he needs, Kirtan Loor is summoned back to Imperial Center by Isard. All along the way, even while marveling at the view, he's sweating and expecting her to kill him. She doesn't—not at that point in time—but she does make her displeasure at his poor thinking clear, and wants him to perform better.
    • Moff Leona Tavira.
      Corran: Tavira, when she doesn't hear that you succeeded, will see you as having failed. And you know her—failure isn't an accident, it's a conspiracy.
    • Exagerated in Legacy of the Force: Caedus kills an officer who was fooled by a false ship identification, even if it was obvious that Luke's ruse was too well-prepared; there was no way she could have suspected the trap.
    • In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, General Grievous does this repeatedly aboard Invisible Hand, killing officers who annoy him and promptly promoting the next guy in line. It leads to an amusing moment when Grievous kills one more guy who panics at the damage to their ship... and finds he's killed the last of his bridge crew.
  • Harry Potter: The fear of hearing Voldemort say this, no doubt quickly followed by "Crucio!" and "Avada Kedavra!", hangs over the head of every Death Eater.
    • However, very few times do we see him actually kill one of his minions for failing him. Lucius Malfoy, for example, fails him spectacularly a number of times (including inadvertently bringing about the destruction of a horcrux); and his punishment is psychological and possibly worse than death in its way: his only child sent on a suicide mission. Though Voldemort himself probably didn't think of that way, since he's made it clear he can't comprehend idea of a fate being worse than death.
    • It is suggested in the sixth book that Voldemort would be more, uh... picky if he didn't have so few followers.
    • In book 7 he does at one point shoot everyone in sight when he is called after the Trio breaks into the Lestranges' vault, stealing Hufflepuff's Cup. This is very much a Villainous Breakdown on his part; he now knows that Harry knows his secret.
    • Played straight in book 7, with Wormtail, his silver hand, given to him by Voldemort strangles him to death after he spares Harry. Voldemort hinted at this in book 4, when he says "May your loyalties never waver again"
  • Animorphs' takes this to the logical conclusion with the Big Bad, Visser Three. It's strongly implied that his tendency to kill off anyone smarter than him is the only reason the Animorphs remain undiscovered for so long. At one point, the mooks explicitly decide not to report the Animorphs in order to avoid Visser 3's wrath. And near the end, a number of Yeerks desert as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Visser 3 does this so reliably that Marco's able to bluff his way out of a situation where three flunkies were expected by saying, "I think Visser Three killed them for doing something wrong".
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Traitor General, Uexkull executes a commander as "an incompetent weakling" for failing to search for Gaunt and his men, and disables the second for not answering promptly enough — and has the third-in-command shoot him.
    • A heroic version shows up in the earlier novel Necropolis, where an officer named Modile is in charge of coordinating communication between the various Imperial Guard regiments, but he shuts down the network when the plan starts to fall apart. Gaunt executes Modile for his cowardice and incompetence. Notable as the first time in the series we see Gaunt perform a summary execution.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, at the end, Garand receives a message from Abaddon. He sends for his death-shroud before going.
  • Mocked in the Emberverse. Mike Havel pontificates for a while on how a "You fail, you die" policy is detrimental to subordinates' willingness to tell their superiors about their mistakes, thus effectively crippling said superior's ability to do his job.
  • In Thud!, two trolls working for a mob boss threaten Vimes. When Vimes meets with their boss, he claims he hadn't told them to make threats, and indicates a box. The narration is quick to point out wouldn't fit an intact troll. And then to cement what happened, the boss asks Vimes if he could use some gravel.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Plan of Attack, one Russian general fails to rein in trigger-happy underlings who cost them a SAM group. The Big Bad has someone sneak in while the general is napping and deliver a Boom, Headshot!.
  • Stephen King's The Stand has a real doozy in the demise of Randall Flagg's henchman, the hapless Bobby Terry. Bobby rather overdoes the orders that he's given to simply capture the Judge, one of the good guys, ending up by accidentally blowing the top half of his head off. On a lonely road, in the middle of nowhere, a panicking Bobby suddenly hears footsteps approaching him, faster and faster, from behind...and turns to see Flagg charging at him with a huge, manic grin..."HEY, BOBBY TERRY, YOU SCREEEEEEWED UPPPPPP!!!"...'There were worse things than crucifixion. There were teeth.'
  • Robespierre gives Chauvelin this ultimatum in The Elusive Pimpernel, one of the sequels to The Scarlet Pimpernel, where Chauvelin epically failed to capture the eponymous vigilante Super Hero. Chauvelin keeps the Scarlet Pimpernel's Secret Identity a secret even though he discovered it in the first book because he knows that knowledge is the only reason his superiors allow him to live despite his repeated failures.
  • Recurring villain Overseer Biron in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers stories is quick to kill off subordinates who fail him. As an Elite Officer-caste Androssi, he is within his rights to kill a Worker at any time. Failure, even relatively minor, often results in instant vaporization and replacement - Workers are considered fully expendable. Ironically, Biron's own boss is rather forgiving on those occasions that Biron himself fails.
  • The Klingons are like this throughout the Star Trek Novel Verse, though all but the most unhinged practice restraint. In Star Trek: Vanguard, when Captain Kutal's weapons officer Tonar responds to an order by saying "I'm endeavouring to do just that", Kutal replies: "then endeavour with greater zeal, or I shall find a new weapons officer". In Star Trek: Klingon Empire, General Kriz kills a captain under his command for failing to conquer a planet and ignoring good advice from his underlings.
  • In Theodore Cogswell's short story Wolfie, sorcerer Dr. Arsoldi's "colleague" will drag him off to hell if ever a murder he aids and abets fails. Naturally, there's eventually an insurmountable slip-up.
  • In Death: Max Ricker stands out as a crime boss who will not be happy with employees who fail to carry out their missions. Considering that he is an Ax-Crazy Bad Boss, the penalty for failure is undoubtedly unpleasant.
  • Judging by the reaction of the assassin in Septimus Heap to the Supreme Custodian's demand to bring her target's body to him, You Have Failed Me seems to be standard for the assassins.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • This is official government policy in the People's Republic of Haven under Pierre and Saint-Just. In fact, not only do they kill officers who fail to carry out their orders, but their entire families as well. This has the effect of stifling initiative, which hampers the war effort against Manticore, and has similar effects in real life. Ironically, the policy was put in place because they were afraid that the officers might try to overthrow them if they were given a free reign, but it inspired resentment among the military, which ultimately led to several coup attempts, one of which was eventually successful, becoming something of a self fulfilling prophecy.
    • Subverted by Albrecht Detweiler, who generally does NOT take out his anger on his subordinates. In fact, one subordinate who failed (Aldona Anasimovna) actually got promoted, because his analysis of the failed Monica operation suggested that if she had been better informed about the Mesan Alignment's goals, it might have succeeded. Also, the main reason that particular operation failed was nothing in particular Anasimovna did, but rather sheer coincidence and a very bored midshipman.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Gothon does not take kindly to Zarracka returning empty handed. Downplayed. He never intended to kill her, only to humiliate her by making her think he would.
  • In Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise, Portia Hoechst strangles a subordinate who bungled his assignment to abduct Wednesday Shadowmist as soon as she gets him back on the ship.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • The standard operating procedure of the Cetagandan Empire.
    • Aral Vorkosigan personally broke the neck of the officer who ordered the Solstice Massacre during the conquest of Komarr.
    • Baron Ry Ryoval, rather than kill offenders, inflicts Body Horror and Fate Worse than Death, sending those who displease him to his laboratories for either research or modification to serve in his bordellos.
  • After Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane royally screwed up the 74th Annual Hunger Games so that it ended with two victors, President Snow was not happy...
  • In The Belgariad, The Caligula Taur Urgas has his guards flayed after they allow Silk to be rescued from his cell — not due to incompetence, but because Relg used his ability to slide through rock to extricate him.
  • In The Thirteen Clocks, the Todal is "an agent of The Devil, sent to punish evildoers for not having done enough evil." This is the eventual fate of the Cold Duke, who gets "gleeped."
  • An interesting version in Robert Sheckley's short story "A Ticket to Tranai". On the titular planet, government officials seem to be rather keen on convincing the protagonist to take their job. He almost does, but then he finds out that the medallions they wear on their necks actually contain explosives that make Your Head Asplode, if a Tranai citizen expresses his displeasure by pressing a button in city hall. The protagonist promptly changes his mind about becoming the mayor and trying to change things on this planet.
  • Henry VIII in Wolf Hall. Failing to carry out one of his commands, for any reason, and you'd better start measuring that spike for your head. First, of course, is Cardinal Wolsey for failing to convince the Pope to annul the marriage with Katharine of Aragon—he dies en route to what probably would have been his execution. Later, Henry tells Thomas Cromwell in no uncertain terms that he'd better not let Thomas More be acquitted under the law, and Cromwell reminds his colleagues of a recent case where they did fail to make a Kangaroo Court sufficiently unjust to kill someone who'd pissed off their king, so they'd better pull out all the stops. In the second book, Cromwell repeatedly contemplates the odds of him retiring versus ending up on a spike.note 
  • The Bible: After Peter is broken out of prison by divine intervention, Herod Agrippa I, who was planning to have him killed during the Passover, has the men assigned to guard him killed in his place for allowing it to happen.
  • Subverted by Gareth in Below, after the highwaymen in his employ are duped by a subverted Bait-and-Switch in a wagon heist. The thieves' leader Harry is his Dragon's best friend, so killing is off the table, and besides he hates waste. Instead he holds them responsible to pay back his cut, plus their cuts, plus extra for nice round numbers, then doubled, and he facetiously praises Harry for "suggesting" the idea. They can only pay it off by going much farther afield and working through winters over the next several years.