Many say that the best speculative fiction stories are those with strong characters. But sometimes we run across characters that outshine the story. We asked this week’s panel:
Q: Who are the most memorable characters in science fiction, fantasy and horror? What makes them so memorable?
Here are their answers…
is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe
. According to Locus
, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.
Memorable characters, in no particular order
Ben Reich (The Demolished Man) – he’s bright, he’s tough, he’s willing to buck a system that has stacked all the odds against him (how do you get away with a murder when the police are telepaths?), and to this day I think he gets away with it if Alfie Bester doesn’t decide that he shouldn’t.
The Mule (Foundation and Empire) – one of the only two believable characters Isaac Asimov ever drew, he is at first totally awesome (until we realize who he is) and totally villainous (until we understand him), and although he is completely at odds with what Isaac clearly considers the salvation of Civilization, he nonetheless arouses the reader’s sympathy.
Charly Gordon (Flowers for Algernon) – possibly the most fully-realized character of those I’m mentioning, you admire his ascent from imbecile to genius and suffer through his descent back to imbecility. An incredibly moving story, quite possibly the best novella in our field’s history, and since it is comprised entirely of Charly’s diary he is the singular engine that drives the story and sways the reader’s emotions.
Jonathan Herovit (Herovit’s World) – to me, Herovit, who is slowly going mad writing an endless series of generic space operas, is the most memorable science fiction writer ever created. And, since it’s by Barry Malzberg at the peak of his powers, the most tragic as well.
Jenkins (City) – okay, so Jenkins is a robot and not a human being at all, but thank heaven Cliff Simak didn’t feel compelled to follow Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics as almost everyone else of his era did, and created a robot with hopes and dreams, a robot who was thrilled to be working for a Webster once again, and a robot who in the end is willing to lie when he feels the situation requires it.
Nameless child (“Born of Man and Woman”) – it’s a very short story, and the narrator doesn’t even have a name…but it is so brilliant, so horrific, and so memorable that it made Richard Matheson a star with his very first story. It’s hard to read this and not be chilled by it – and it’s even harder, decades later, to forget the narrator, who is as memorable as they come, even if that memory is accompanied by an involuntary shudder.
Marid Audran (When Gravity Fails, etc.) – Marid was the protagonist of George Alec Effinger’s masterworks, When Gravity Fails and A Fire In The Sun (as well as The Exile Kiss, which was not quite as successful). In an age of cynical atheism, Marid is Islamic; in an age of urban sprawls in the Orient, Marid wanders a Middle Eastern city drawn from the French Quarter in New Orleans; in an era where “punk” was at least as important as “cyber”, George (and Marid) ignored it in favor of art. There’s never been a protagonist quite like Marid, before or since.
Northwest Smith (13 stories) – I don’t know if any other respondents will name anyone else on my list, but I feel reasonably confident that only I will name Northwest Smith. He’s pulpish and two-dimensional at best, no question about it. His adventures are similar, usually erotic without being sexy (if that makes sense to you; it made sense to the distributors or the magazines wouldn’t have reached the stands), and he is saved from his particular vices far more by others than by himself. But he’s here because whenever my sensawonder needs a shot of adrenaline, I just pick up one of Catherine Moore’s Northwest Smith stories and I’m fine twenty minutes later. I don’t have much higher praise than that.