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Friday, July 23, 2010

Odds and Ends: Some Interesting Fictional Characters Part 2: Men (by Liviu Suciu)

I want to present some of the most interesting characters I've encountered in my reading across the years, characters that stayed in my memory for a long time. After the first post about female characters, I am continuing here with a post about men and then I will conclude with a post about secondary worlds which make for great fictional "characters" too, as well as some persons who do not fit either the "man" or "woman" label, like say Thorn from Gary Jennings' Raptor or Merlin from David Weber's Safehold.

I decided to have five categories of three characters each here. Most choices will be the expected ones for anyone who follows my quite repeatedly and far-from-shyly stated preferences, but hopefully there will be a few surprises too.
My usual rules of one character per author in each category, English language availability and some time passed since I have first read the respective books apply.


Most Interesting SF Hero

Cheradenine Zakalwe from IM Banks's Use of Weapons. As I do not tire of mentioning, Use of Weapons is my all time favorite sff novel and has been so for 15+ years now and the awesome cast of characters is one of the main reasons.

is a non-Culture agent of Special Circumstances that goes down and does the "dirty" jobs. Diziet Sma is a Culture agent of SC, Zakalwe's "handler" though she does her own field work too. Skaffen-Amtiskaw is a drone - assistant or maybe boss - to Diziet and it handles the covert aspects and non-covert use of force.

Just remembering the scene when the drone who strongly dislikes Zakalwe, brings him a gift when he was recovering after a particular tough mission still makes me laugh. You see, only Zakalwe's head returned and the recovery consisted of waiting for his body to regrow, while of course the gift was a hat (!).

Miles Vorkosigan
- from the eponymous series by Lois Bujold; very little to add except that the long-running series - new novel Cryoburn due in the Fall 2010 - is one of the best adventure sf ever, all due to Miles. Not quite a one man show since there are some other notable characters, but overall Miles carries the series from space opera, to mystery to romantic comedy...

Joshua Calvert
from Night's Dawn by Peter Hamilton. As I do not tire mentioning, Night's Dawn is my all time favorite *finished* sff series and has been so for 10+ years now and the awesome cast of characters is one of the main reasons, in addition to the almost unmatched sense of wonder.

Ione Saldana narrowly lost to Paula Myo in my top sf heroine category, the two male leads of the series, Joshua Calvert and Quinn Dexter are here, with the latter leading the villains category.

Of course Joshua may not be on everyone's taste with his womanizing, antiques and "luck", but he is the perfect character for the tone of the series, exuberant and awesome.


Most Interesting Fantasy Hero

aka Poldarn from The Scavenger series by KJ Parker; in doing the fantasy list I came to a little conundrum - for once there were 4 characters I wanted to mention and for another two of them are extremely ambiguos.

Poldarn is after all one of the "most evil" man in the world as everyone who meets and knows him while he is without memory, does not tire to remind him and of course we slowly find out why; then even in his almost desperate try to stay away from all, rebuild his life and stay memoryless and bad things happen due to his actions...
Still since Poldarn tries hard to be "normal" and he is otherwise such an awesome character, I decided to include him here.

Hari Michaelson aka Caine from the eponymous series by Matthew Stover. Technically sf, the series is fantasy in spirit and considered so by pretty much everyone. No more to add except try Heroes Die and see why Caine is such a powerful character in both his "real world Hari" persona and in the alternate fantasy Earth one...

Tyrion Lannister
from A Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R. Martin; while the last two novels of the series worked out less well for me (bloat and only half a book respectively), at least compared with the awesome first two - though of course still being A+/A++-level novels - A Song of Ice and Fire has many powerful characters, of which Tyrion is by far the most memorable. Not dissimilar from Miles, as both are very smart and born in privilege "dwarfs" in a martial world, though of course Miles has the huge advantages of technology and a supporting family.


Most Interesting Non-SFF Hero

Gordianus the Finder (my top overall choice) - from Roma sub Rosa by Steven Saylor; the most "humane" hero in pretty much all the series I follow; currently - The Triumph of Caesar - a spry 64 year old with three grown (all adopted) sons, one grown (natural) daughter, some four grandchildren and his memorable Jewish/Egyptian wife Betsheda, I followed Gordianus' life and his involvement in the most dramatic moments of the Late Republic, since his first apparition as a 30 year old somewhat disreputable "finder" in Roman Blood.

While the author is soon releasing
Empire his second volume of his epic magnum opus that started with Roma, he plans to return to Gordianus, this time with adventures from his early wandering life and probably later following the still dramatic events till the Ides of March and maybe beyond...

Noting that while technically mysteries, the
Roma sub Rosa novels are actually historical fiction at its best, I plan to present an overview of the series soon, hopefully before my review of Roma/Empire.

from Aztec by Gary Jennings - one of the masterpieces of historical fiction Aztec is notable by the voice of its narrator Mixtli and the superb world building that compares with the best sff around. Another novel from my top-top all time favorite list that deserves a full review here. For sff lovers who have never tried historical fiction seriously, Aztec is an example why they should, since its world building is as superb and "alien" as most secondary worlds out there...

Minutus Lausus
from The Roman by Mika Waltari - a naive narrator who wants to do good, though he is tricked by many around him and especially by the women in his life, in sometimes doing bad things, but who somehow escapes the twists and turns of destiny at least for a while. This sums most of Mika Waltari's superb picaresque heroes, whether the Egyptian, the Etruscan, the Adventurer or the Roman...

Some of the most superb opening lines ever made me both a fan of the character - I read The Roman 15 times at least since I discovered it some 20 years ago - and of the author, though Minutus still remains my most favorite of Mika Waltari's heroes, especially given the ending of the book. The novel seems to remain quite popular, even up to recently being plagiarized...


SFF Male Villain

Quinn Dexter
from Night's Dawn by Peter Hamilton. Best "pure" villain ever...

Anasûrimbor Kellhus from The Prince of Nothing (and continuations) series by Scott Bakker; while I included Kellhus first in the hero category, I reconsidered since his actions are aimed at getting supreme power and nothing else.

Grand Inquisitor Zhasphar Clyntahn from Safehold by David Weber - smart, overweight and given to extreme sensual pleasures, both corrupt and fanatic, Clyntahn is another ubber-villain that takes over the page whenever he appears.


Non-SFF Male Villain

SS Officer Dr. Maximilien Aue
from The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell; over the top and a relatively small fry as the Nazi murderers go, Max Aue carries the huge epic novel with both his personal dramas and the larger context; a winner of many prestigious literary prizes and my top novel of the 00's The Kindly Ones *is* the narrator's novel, flaws and all. Its first lines rank #5 on my list of memorable such.

Maxim Arturovich Pianitsky aka Colonel Pyat from the eponymous saga by Michael Moorcock. Another narrator villain, this time of a four volume saga that spans the 1900-1940 period. While more of a picaresque anti-hero, Pyat is entertaining and loathsome by turns and the series ending The Vengeance of Rome is another top novel of the 00's.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla
from the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough; the best character of the series by far since the author's worship of the presumable hero Caesar is sometimes nauseating, Lucius Cornelius is as fascinating as without scruples...


Bastard said...

You need an "Ambigous" category, and have Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta from The First Law lead it.

Liviu said...

completely agreed :)

I almost included Glotka though I decided to stick with the early format and limit the choices ruthlessly...

The Reader said...

To that ambiguous category, we could also add Varys from ASOIAF & the Moidart from The Rigante series by D. Gemmell.


Liviu said...

Well, Varys does not technically qualify here as far as I remember

The Reader said...

Hence the ambiguous category for Varys ;) but on a side note we can include him as a man befitting his origins before he was cut.



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