If there’s anything that capitalism has taught us, it’s that all companies are evil. They don’t start out that way, they don’t intend to be evil but somewhere along the corporate path they take, they all seem to end up not very nice. They pollute, they steal (from their workers, from their customers, from their competitors, from taxpayers and many, many others), they manipulate, they plan obsolescence, they cover up management misconduct, they are just generally bad.
Regardless of all that, there comes a time in every writer’s career when one of these evil corporations is exactly what a story needs. You can use the Jennifer Government (brilliant, brilliant book) method in which Max Barry uses actual big name corporations to skewer the path of consumerism that we’re on but his publisher was required to include a long-winded disclaimer that the references to real companies were “used simply to illustrate the increasingly important role played by large corporations in the future and not to denigrate them in any way. However, some people (whom we shall call ‘lawyers’) get very uptight when you describe large corporations masterminding murders. So let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction set in the future.” So maybe the way forward is to come up with a fictional corporation of your own.
The best place to start is to remember that nobody, not even in the real world, names their company with the intention of scaring the pants off anybody. Intimidate, maybe, but scare, no. And unless it’s a fake company being run by a conman, the founders don’t intend for their creations to be vessels for evil. So the fear that evil corporations and their names inspire come from what the readers (and viewers in the case of television and movies) see them doing.
When I began writing Enemies Closer, I needed two companies: one that my main character worked for and one that was trying to destroy her. I wanted the company she worked for to be well-known and to resonate with readers familiar with the industry she worked in so I chose the real corporation Heckler & Koch. A German gun manufacturer with facilities in the US, they were perfect (and as far as I know scandal free).
But there was never any question in my mind that I would create a fictional evil corporation to represent the company trying to destroy her. I wasn’t trying to make a statement about capitalism, I was just trying to write an interesting story. And I certainly didn’t want to have to deal with any lawyers. But what to call it? The answer was staring me in the face the entire time.
During the years I was writing Enemies Closer, I worked full-time and at my place of employment, there was an official looking folder that sat on one of the shelves of a desk neighbour from an organisation called IBSA. It’s a decade ago now but I think it stood for Innovation & Business Skills Australia and I think the contents of that folder outlined the requirements of courses to meet the standards for nationally recognised qualifications. IBSA. IBSA. IBSA. And just like that, International Ballistics & Strategic Arms was born, the perfect name for a company in the weapons industry that was being used as part of a plot to bring my main character down.
If you need a little inspiration for your own evil corporation, here are a few beautifully named evil corporations (although it’s hard to say now whether they sounded evil before they became well known or if the sense of their evilness developed over time as we got to know them):
*Weyland-Yutani: In the first movie of the Alien franchise, the company was originally just known as Weyland but since fifty-seven years passed between Alien and its sequel, it’s reasonable to assume there was some kind of merger in the intervening years. Indeed, when the story was rebooted in Prometheus many years before the events of Alien took place, it was back to being just the Weyland Corporation. But I think we can all agree that Weyland-Yutani brings a sense of evilness that the singular name doesn’t. Even though we didn’t realise it at the time, I think the moment we should have known Weyland-Yutani was an evil corporation was when we heard Burke utter their meant-to-be-inspiring-but-slightly-ominous motto, “Building better worlds.” To paraphrase Serenity, you’ll never get to live there.
*Massive Dynamic: I’ve been a Joshua Jackson fan since the Mighty Duck days but I’ve only recently started watching Fringe so I’m not one hundred percent sure if Massive Dynamic is an evil corporation or not. They certainly have all the hallmarks: smug employees, missing billionaire founder, access to technologies that no one should have access to, knowledge of just about every bad thing going on in the Fringe universe, sometimes before it even happens.
*Cyberdyne Systems: They came along at a time when we were still a little bit suspicious of technology and the evil corporation of the Terminator franchise seemed destined to end up that way. After all, technology has no conscience.
*MomCorp: Futurama’s MomCorp sounds homey but, of course, if you’ve watched the show, you’ll know it’s run by a power-hungry woman who dominates her sons and toys with the emotions of Professor Farnsworth. MomCorp produces products such as suicide booths, killbots and has copyrighted “mom” and “love”.
*Wolfram & Hart: Lawyers. Need we say more? How about lawyers for demons? They’re a thorn in the side of Angel for all five seasons of the show.
*Soylent Corporation: Soylent Green is people! It’s people!
In Project June, the upcoming third book in my Project… series, this chapter appears in the “Characters” section. Why? Because a corporation is a character. In the same way that a town can be a character. They must be complex and multi-layered and well thought out, not just a place someone works or a place someone lives. Otherwise they become just another stereotype.