MIND MELD: The SF/F Characters We Most Want to Share a Drink With
“Let me buy you a pint, Elric…”
This week, we posed the following to our panelists:
This was a deceptively difficult question to answer. There are certainly characters that jumped right to mind, each for different reasons. Character like Locke Lamora and Ned Stark and the unnamed narrator from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. These were all characters I sympathized greatly with, but to be honest, when I thought about sitting down with them, I’m not sure what I’d say; what I’d ask. In all likelihood I’d feel uncomfortable, so out they went.
Who then could I sit down with and truly feel at ease? Bilbo Baggins, methinks. We all know he’s a welcoming host. And he’d have such wonderful stories to tell. (I rather think he’d want to hear some of mine as well.) Perhaps some ale and seed-cake at Bag End would be nice. Sit and blow a few smoke rings. Or a sit-down at the Green Dragon, with a song or two for good measure. (Yes, I was one of the ones who adored the poems and songs.) I’d love to hear Bilbo speak about the elves, what life was like in the Shire long ago when he was growing up, about the times when Gandalf came to visit. I’d love to hear more about Bilbo’s family, those in Buckland and beyond, and their history. As a cook, I’d love to trade a few recipes.
But more than anything, I’d love to hear of Bilbo’s journey directly from him, because I’d get to hear so much more than what I read about in The Hobbit. I’d want to know more about Rivendell and the journey there. I’d want to know more about the dwarves, about the Misty Mountains, about Beorn and Mirkwood. And certainly I’d want to hear more about Smaug and the great battle that followed his slaying.
The Hobbit was my first entry into fantasy, one I will always treasure, so if I had a chance to sit down with anyone from literature, it’d be great if it was with someone who gave me a chance to relive those wondrous days when I was taking my first steps in Middle Earth.
I would love to sit down with Saro/Sorrow from Patricia McKillip’s Book of Atrix Wolfe. Being the daughter of the Queen of the Wood, she would have a lot of knowledge to impart–and since she lived in the human world she might actually find the words to describe it! And I would love to share her experiences of royal feasts seen from the kitchen; it’s something that we often forget (in fantasy worlds or in the real world!).
I think I’d like to buy a drink for Childermass from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Unlike nearly everyone else in that book, he’s more or less a normal Joe – though, in this case, he’s a normal Joe with unusual insight into the arcane lore of Northern England. He’s hung around with magicians enough that he’s practically one himself, though it doesn’t seem to have made him very snooty about it. Rather, Childermass seems to view all the hubristic posturing and ambitions he encounters in the story with a healthy dose of contempt. There’s a practicality to that I find admirable, and everyone else in the story seems to recognize that and respect him for it, on some level. I can see why Clarke would want to make him the protagonist of her second novel – whenever that’s coming.
Jernau Morat Gurgeh, better known simply as Gurgeh, protagonist of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novel, Player Of Games. In the story he’s such a renown player of games of all types that he’s invited to participate in a game, Azad, which is capable of altering the course of a world, and a game which he ultimately uses to reshape the society that created it towards more idealistic ends.
Since I’m not a drinker myself, I’ll recruit someone else to get drunk for me. The man I want Gurgeh to be drinking with is the First of the Magi, Bayaz, from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. Bayaz isn’t what he seems. He seems like a batty old man, but really, he’s an ancient wizard who’s shaped and guided the course of a nation, The Union, across centuries. There is nothing idealistic at all about the games Bayaz plays, and he plays them by twisting nations and spending lives like monopoly money in pursuit of his goals.
Gurgeh’s been manipulated, used more like a pawn than he realizes until he cottons on and takes an active hand in his destiny. Exactly the kind of person Bayaz uses in his games, but Gurgeh’s successfully overcome an alien empire by turning games, both literal and figurative, on their head. Then again, Bayaz is facing threats far more terrible than mere alien empires, if you read between the lines. Maybe instead of crushing Gurgeh’s need for freedom in the name of the greater good, he could use Gurgeh’s help?
So we have two extraordinary characters, both representing major philosophical viewpoints about how we lead our lives. In Gurgeh, the struggle for self-determination, freedom, happiness, all the socialist utopian ideals of the Culture. In Bayaz, evil of a kind seldom portrayed well in fiction, the secretive and clawing authoritarian regime that seeks control and dominance against yet worse evils under the dogma of the ends justifying the means.
Then we get them rip-roaringly drunk.
That’s a conversation I’d pay to listen in on.
I would like to talk with Takver from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Shevek, the physicist protagonist, would be too intimidating. Takver comes from a society that has left gender distinctions farther behind than has our own, and I’d like to talk with her about how that works: the gains and the losses. She is a mother, unlike many female characters in gender-bending fiction, and to me that makes a huge difference. I would relish that conversation.
What an interesting question. I’m fond of a lot of characters in speculative fiction actually, and I really had to think long and hard to narrow this down to two. Which two made the final cut completely surprised me for a number of reasons — including the fact that they are ancillary characters, and one of them never gets to speak.
Anna Naverra from Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife. Okay, she dies before the book opens. Also, she doesn’t speak — she’s described (and ascribed motive) in dreams, in the investigation of the mystery of who she was and became, in the poetry of her more recently deceased Anglo poet husband. But Anna is a Mexican surrealist painter — conjuring associations that are part Remedios Varo, part Frida Kahlo, part Ana Mendieta — who grew up in the same Mexico as my mother (also an artist), and crossed similar boundaries. I don’t think Windling deals entirely fairly with her (she resolves the paradox about Anna in much too pat a manner) but she gives her fantastic, compelling art which stands in for whatever else might be missing in her characterization.
Anna is unusual in SFF in a number of ways: she’s Latina and she’s not young. While I applaud those who include kickass Latinas in the mold of Zoe Saldana (in Colombiana) or Michelle Rodriguez (in just about every movie she’s ever made) in their SFF works, I get tired of those being the only representations I see. Anna is engagingly complex; physical in a most ordinary way; her painting are dark and rich, and her relationship with the Mexico of her younger and latter years is significant.
I’d buy her a tequila with a sangrita chaser and talk with her about the Mexico of Elena Poniatowska and José Luis Cuevas; of Diego Rivera and Octavio Paz; of Zapatistas and palos voladores and a creative tradition so innate that it has taken corn smut and turned it into an astonishing culinary delicacy (huitlacoche). I’d ask her, in other words, to tell me what made her who she was and what made my mother what she was — formidable artists forged in that particular crucible.
The other character is from a book almost 20 years older than Windling’s and, I believe, commonly thought as a very minor work in its author’s impressive body of work. But I’m actually quite fond of Peter Beagle’s Folk of the Air, and of its secondary character Athanasia Sioris, or Sia, as she is known throughout.
She, too, is older than the norm in SFF. In fact, Beagle describes her like this: “the broad, blunt-featured face was no older than sixty, the dark-honey skin almost without lines and the gray eyes quick and clear and imperiously sad. But her body was lumpy as a charwoman’s — waistless, short-legged, wide-hipped, bellied like the moon — though she carried it with all the vivid rigor of a circus wire walker.”
Throughout the book, Sia is both more powerful and weaker than anticipated, a goddess and a woman, and a character of such complex history that Beagle can only give us glimpses of it. Like Anna, she is formidable, though an entirely different expression of it.
I guess, from her name, that with her I’d have to sit down to a Plomari-style ouzo cut with water to make it moonstone cloudy. I hope it would be at a taverna on the waterfront in Mytilene, with fresh octopus pulled from the waters in front of us and the wind scouring all the layers of disguise and prohibition right off us. We would talk about the elements and what is elemental, and the ways of women aging in a world that cannot see us for what we really are.
We’d also talk about belief. How in every mythos, in every work of transformative art, in every character that resonates years after the reading, belief is the heart. I want to imagine, at the end, that Anna would join us, and after good food, good drink and good conversation, the three of us would pull out our ancient frame drums (materializing from thin air, of course) and dance a circle that, though mortal, never ends.
I have favorite books. I have favorite characters. But then there are characters that I would love to meet outside their plots and crises, to spend an evening in rambling conversation, next to a well-tended fire, with a plentiful supply of good wine and delicious snacks.
Stone from Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura. When I first read the question for this Mind Meld, Stone was the first character that came to mind. For one thing, since he’s the line grandfather of Indigo Cloud Court, it means he’s been around a couple centuries at least. He’s seen a lot of history, in other words. And unlike most Raksura, he’s traveled a lot and he’s curious about other lands and other peoples.
He also has a wicked sense of humor, so I can imagine he would have all kinds of interesting stories, filled with dryly snarky commentary, about the people he’s encountered and places he’s visited.
Helen, the queen of Eddis, from Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. Helen is intelligent and capable and utterly pragmatic. As the ruler of a tiny kingdom surrounded by larger and more powerful ones, she has to be. In the middle of all the angst and drama, most of it provoked by her cousin Eugenides, Helen keeps her calm and makes the sometimes hard decisions to keep her people safe. She’s also warm-hearted and loving and loyal. She also has a sense of humor. Whether she wanted to talk about politics or people, she’d be a fascinating person to spend an evening with.
For pure fun, I would want to spend an afternoon with Kat and her sisters from Stephanie Burgis’s series, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson. Kat is too young for wine, and her older sister Elissa would certainly not approve, but given the Regency setting, tea would be perfect. There would be silly jokes (from Kat), gothic melodrama (from Elissa), and wry commentary (from Angeline). Above all, there would be talk of Plots and Schemes and Magic.
Well the obvious answer (or first on the list at least for most people I suspect) is Tyrion from Song of Ice and Fire. He’s hugely entertaining, likes a drink or four, and is rich enough to buy more than a few rounds. There’s also the added bonus that he’s less likely than most fantasy characters to stab you in the face after some idle comment and not getting stabbed in the face is certainly a criteria for a good night out.
Next – Lady Sharrow from Iain’s Banks’ Against a Dark Background, because…well, if I’m honest, I had something of a literary crush on her once I’d read the book so I’d want to meet her in the flesh!
And while it’s not a literary crush, I’d certainly invite Jehane and Ammar from Lions of Al Rassan – both wonderful and interesting characters whose relationship was as great as they were individually.
Another favourite character is Felix Castor from the mind of Mike Carey. Sardonic and flawed, given how he likes his London boozers he’d probably be in there anyway so we’d have to drag him over to our table and buy him a drink to cheer him up. I think he’d be a fun guy if someone else was buying and Tyrion’s either picking up the tab or talking his way out of not paying.
Lastly, because he’s been in my head for years now, I’d have to add Daken from my own Twilight Reign series. Now I must admit he’s always likely to violate the not-stabbing-in-the-face rule, but I like the guy and he’s most cheerful when he’s got a drink in his hand. One of the reasons I added him to the series was that I wanted a member of the Brotherhood who enjoyed life fully – the main character of that group was turning a bit gloomy, what with friends dying and him falling in love with an immortal vampire, so I wanted to add some fun and healthy enthusiasm for violence into this elite unit. From the outset Daken managed that and more, demanding a bigger role and cheerfully storming his way to glory.
Wow. I never thought trying to pick a fictional character to have a drink with would be so HARD, but there are SO. MANY. OPTIONS. There are things I want to ask almost all of them at one time or another. But I have to pick one…just one this time around…and I’m going to go back to some of my SF roots and pick a character from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series – Master Harper Robinton. I wrote a mock news piece for him for Steven H Silver’s Argentus a while back. He still resonates.
So, why would I buy Master Robinton a pint? Because he was one of the most influential people on Pern. He was charming and talented and a master storyteller – what’s not to love? He was the calming influence in major political and social upheavals to an entire planet. He not only embraced the change but helped other people learn and grow and accept said change.
What would I want to talk with him about? One, I’d want to know how cool were the fire lizards and dragons really? I mean, come on, who among us will honestly admit never wanting to be a Dragonrider -Thread or no Thread? I’d want to know what it was like to convince an entire society that the old ballads were true and to learn from them again when history repeated itself. I would also pick his brain about finding the ship and the computer – embracing this nearly magical technology to change the course of an entire people’s future. That is not only a huge honor and challenge, but an insane amount of responsibility.
And finally, finally, I would ask if Master Robinton would trade a pint for a song. Because who wouldn’t actually want to hear the Master Harper of Pern sing, just once?
It’s easy to talk to a building. The problem is they don’t usually talk back. That’s why I’d like to have a chat with the Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. We’d cover the usual small talk. Maybe it has a bit of an ache in the ceiling on the third floor. Or it’d like to repaint the corridors in green, because that sets off its windows nicely. I’d avoid questions like, “What’s it like to have doors?” That’s rather like asking me what it’s like to have a mouth. I don’t know, because I’ve always had one.
The trickiest thing will be deciding what sort of pint to buy. A pint of oil for the door hinges? Woodworm solution? It’s probably safest to ask, because I’m not sure about its tastes.
After a nice pint of its choice, we might settle into the serious subjects. Does it ever feel lonely? How does it cope when its rooms are blown up in magical accidents? It must be hard being a university. Everyone’s so busy with deadlines they forget to say sorry when they destroy a door or thank you for keeping the rain out.
But what I’d really like to know is what does it think about cats?
Jamie’s debut novel WILD CARD (Entangled Edge, 2013) is available wherever ebooks are sold. You can also find her short story “The Clever One” in the anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME 2(Dragon Moon Press, August ’13). 2014 will see her work in the Sherlock Holmes-inspired anthology TWO-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE BAKER STREETS (Abbadon Books). The follow up to WILD CARD, UNVEILED, is being funded on Kickstarter right now! Visit the link to learn more and consider backing this amazing sequel.
I would love to hit up Callahan’s Cross-Time Saloon or McAnally’s Pub sometime with Karin Murphy (the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher) or Vlad Taltos from Steven Brust’s series. Actually…strike that. I’d hit Valibar’s with Vlad. Anyway, Karin is one of those characters that I admire. She’s cast iron, yet vulnerable, and (with the exception of “Aftermath”) we’ve only ever seen her through Harry Dresden’s eyes. I’d like to meet her for myself and see how much Harry has missed in his unreliable narration, and get to know *her*. She has been through a ton of crap over the past dozen years or so and I’d love to just sit down with her, have a bottle of Mac’s special brew and let Karin unwind. And I’d ask her why the hell she won’t just take up the goddamn sword because it’s OBVIOUS!
Anyway, Karin has a lot in her past that she’s kept pent up. Plus, Harry is so dense, he’s likely missed a lot of Karin’s reactions to things like… I don’t know… his death and resurrection? Or what’s up with Kincaid? Spill?
If Karin or Vlad were unavailable to hang out, I’d probably ask Nymphadora Tonks to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer or two and see if she could show me how to make my hair turn blue. Hell, let’s take Karin there, too. She’s used to the magical community, but I think she could use some time away from the Chicago scene.
…now I’m thirsty for a butterbeer.
I have a thing for razor-edged characters, those who are just a little too predatory, a little too sure of themselves. They are often the ones who make the main characters try harder, and the ones I think would have the most interesting things to say.
He’s not a literary example, but the movie version of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army’s Prince Nuada fascinates me. He has a clear version of his people’s future, and how he can save them, bring them back to glory. The pathos and hope he portrays is strong enough that I have always rooted for him over anyone else in the movie, even when he’s doing something awful. He is a character of incredible depth and power.
“We die, and the world will be poorer for it.” I don’t want to talk with him. I want to buy him a drink and listen to him talk about being the thing that humans idolize and fear. I’d particularly like to sit him down with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and have them compare notes. I apologize in advance, because the world certainly would come to an abrupt but probably interesting end.
Patricia Brigg’s Zee is an interesting puzzle, too, but I absolutely fell in love with Fair Game’s Beauclaire, the gentle, mild-mannered fae attorney who reveals such a very different side by the end of the book. I can’t say more without giving away the ending, but she does an excellent job of creating characters who are believably human when they want to be, and…not, when necessary. Really, I’d get coffee with most any of the characters in her Alpha and Omega or the Mercy Thompson series. They’re all distinct and interesting.
In a similar vein, Kim Harrison’s Hollows series has been pretty consistently good, but with The Undead Pool, it just got a lot nastier, and I would absolutely love to talk to Rachel Morgan about being a really strong woman who keeps getting into trouble. Not that I identify with her or anything, untamable red curls aside…
Last, but not least…Terry Pratchett’s Vetinari and Vimes! Seriously, those two are very different, but both are just so cool. Pratchett has a way of making his characters just enough larger than life that their gravitas is undeniable.
What would I talk about? Politics! Vetinari would give me the schooling of a lifetime, and Vimes would be hilariously impatient with it. But I’d also like to pick Vimes’ brain about people, detective work, and conflict-resolution.
So, I tend to live in my head, which is a bar, full of fictional characters with whom I often chat. Yes, I am that big a geek. I’ve had long discussions with Nearly-Headless Nick, HAL, Proteus, Lionel Hutz, Attorey-at-Law, Agatha Heterodyne, and Scott Pilgrim in that lovely little bar in my brain, and oddly, the character I would must like to sit down with is one who DOESN’T seem to occupy that little bar up in here – Alexia Maccon, nee Tarabotti, from Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels.
Now, I do have to say that part of the reason I want to chat with her has a lot more to do with knowing the world in which she lives than the discussion we would have.
Which, by the way, would be incredible. I am fairly certain the conversation would start with her being exceptionally wary of me. How could she not? I’m utterly without refinement, would almost certainly be wearing a t-shirt she would not approve of (as Gail herself has not approved of any of my shirts!), and I’d nearly certainly come off as a squeeing fanboy. The future stuff not-withstanding, no question that Alexia would wonder about my sanity.
Though, as a preternatural, you’d think she would have a more open mind…
Eventually, when she realised I’m not nearly as crazy as she first thought, the conversation would turn around her concerns. Victorian London, and specifically the Victorian London in which she lives and how it compares with our Victorian London. We’d talk about the ways and means of the city, the food offerings of that fine time, and a great deal of time talking about the ways in which what I would consider the monsters of her time work at their existence. It would be a wide-ranging conversation, for sure.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that by physical description, Alexia might be the most ideal woman in history.
But, even with all of that, that’s not the real reason I would choose to converse with Alexia, the one character who doesn’t imbibe at the Inside My Head Bar. I would choose her because she knows. She knows what’s behind The Curtain, she lives in a world where life and death aren’t exactly certainties, where The Everlasting can be cheated. She holds the power of the expression of that power, can retard it, can send it away, and thus, can bring it forever forward, right? Anyone who has touched that side, who can exorcise ghosts, who can re-human the unhuman, SHE has to know the answers to the questions I have. I could work out my deepest fears chatting with her over tea and cakes. Alexia Tarabotti would quickly realise exactly what I was doing (or she wouldn’t be the smartest heroine in Steampunk now, would she?) but maybe I’d get a little bit of an idea of the Other Side, and that would be enough to get me a bit of sleep, I think.
But until that day, I’ll just relax at the bar in my head, listening to Kilgore Trout tell Rabo Karabekian that same story about his time in Illuim, NewYork.
Great question. Also, tough. There are books with characters who I absolutely adore but don’t think I would find very interesting conversationalists. Tristan Thorn from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, for example. Or, Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. There are also books with characters I love but wouldn’t want to get anywhere near because crazy/dangerous. Like, well, basically anyone in a Tim Powers novel ever.
Once I figured out characters I that I loved and would want to talk to I had to narrow it down. A lot. In the end, I’ve settled on three.
I’ll start with Morgon of Hed from Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master of Hed trilogy. I’d like to have tea with Morgon because he seems such a wise, compassionate, knowledgable person. I want to know more about his world, and I’d love to learn to shapeshift. Better yet, I’d love to take a college course or series of them from Morgon. It would take at least that long for him to tell all the riddles that don’t make it into the books.
Next up is Master Li from Barry Hughart’s Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. Master Li is definitely a buy him a drink or ten sort of character. He’s smart, he’s deadly funny, he knows everyone from the emperor to the best burglars, and from what we see of him in the books he knows how to throw a hell of a party. He sings, he throws knives, and he knows all the stories that Hughart didn’t get around to setting down. I want the lost volumes of Number Ten Ox’s chronicles and this seems like the best way in the world to hear them. For example, the story of how they first captured Sixth Degree Hostler Tu!
Finally, Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. I want to go to a grand dinner party with Miles, like the one in A Civil Campaign where he’s trying to keep too many balls in the air. I see a sort of marvelous dinner theater happening, and I want to listen to his mad explanation for what’s going on. He’s brilliant, he’s inventive, he’s got no compunction about lying to make it more entertaining—a perfect dinner disaster. I honestly don’t care what the specific conversation looks like so much as being there for the moment when twenty juggling balls and thirty spinning plates all come crashing down at once.
As long as I’ve been old enough to go to a pub, I’ve wanted to take Samwise Gamgee with me. Sam is easily my favorite character from The Lord of the Rings–I’m not sure if it’s his loyalty to his friends, his easygoing attitude, or just his ability to cook potatoes that makes me want to befriend him so much. He just has such a comforting everyman quality that I am certain we’d be able to chat for hours. Probably about food, since I, too, enjoy cooking and eating.
Recently, I’ve found two other characters who would probably be fun to hang out with. Isaac Vainio–the magic-using librarian hero of Jim C Hines’s Magic ex Libris series–tops my list. For one thing, he’s read everything, including ridiculous pulp SF that probably makes for some good drunk humor. For another, he’s clearly a kindhearted person. After all, he takes such good care of Smudge, his pet fire spider. His pet may be odd, but it seems to have the same quirks and foibles any pet has. We could probably exchange stories about my cats and his spider all night.
But I think my new fictional best friend is going to be Zoe Norris, the heroine of Mur Lafferty’s Shambling Guide to New York and Ghost Train to New Orleans. (I’ve only read the second book, but it did a pretty good job holding its own.) For one, Zoe likes gin–my favorite kind of liquor! Plus, she works in publishing, so I think we’d have a lot of fun work-related stories to share. But mostly it’s her attitude I enjoy. She’s a little bit snarky, a little bit earnest: a lot like me. Plus, she can talk to cities, so I’m sure wherever she goes, she knows which bar has the best nachos.
- Isabella Camherst, Lady Trent, from Marie Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Mrs. Camherst was a trailblazer, a lady scientist, a woman ahead of her time. Through no planning on her part, she’s become a role model for me. We’d laugh about misconceptions we’ve run into in our male dominated careers, and we could trade travel tips. I bet I could convince her that wearing trousers really isn’t that bad.
- Aryel Morningstar from Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns. But I’d bring the case of craft beer to Aryel’s place, because I know it’s hard for her to be herself in public. If we’re just chillaxin’ at her flat, she can relax and spread out. I’d ask her about her childhood. Not because I’m nosy, but because I am curious, and I wonder if she misses where she grew up. I bet I could understand more about why she’s the way she is as an adult by learning about her upbringing. We’re about the same height. Maybe she’d let me play dress up with her cloak.
- Patrick Rothfuss’s Kote. I would very politely ask him to tell me a story.
First of all you don’t want someone who can only talk about one thing (Hodor!). He or she might be a great person to pour your heart out at, but interesting conversation it is not.
You also don’t want to have a drink with a person who doesn’t say anything and just glares at you all night. Telling a joke and only meeting a wall of silence just makes for an evening filled with Payneful moments.
Then there are the characters who are charming, witty and have interesting tales to tell, but he or she has some questionable morals. You might have a great time, but you can’t help looking at that golden hand and wonder if he pushed any kids out of windows with it lately.
Characters who drink too much are also a definite no-no. Although if the question would have been who would you go with to Las Vegas I would probably pick Bruce Baratheon (or Tony Stark).
Psychopaths are also out of the question. “Could you stop pointing that crossbow at other people, please?”
Also personal hygiene. It’s hard to enjoy your drink if you have to cover your nose because of the terrible Reek.
Finally it’s awesome if a character has a cool place you can crash at, especially when they have their own band – Oh man! ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is like so my favorite song – but nothing is worth that kind of hangover.
So at the end there is only one logical choice… if you guessed Tyrion, you guessed wrong. Yes, he is witty and an excellent conversationalist, but the man has the worst timing when it comes to visiting inns. Enjoying your drink is kind of hard when other people keep trying to abduct him.
No, in the end I choose the character who has all the same qualities and knows how to keep a low profile: Varys, the Spider.
We would probably discuss the latest gossip, the art of disguising one self and he probably has an amusing anecdote or two about his time in Pentos. Who better to have a chat with than the man who knows a secret or two?
At the risk of coming across as deliberately perverse, my pick would have to be Sauron. And while this answer came to me almost immediately, articulating the reasons for it is something I find rather more difficult. The reasons against such a choice are numerous. Sauron a villain, and an unequivocal one at that (we are not invited to contemplate the tragedy of what a force for good Sauron might have been). Furthermore, he never really appears in the book in which he is the titular character.
Be that as it may, I rooted for Sauron when my father read The Lord of the Rings to me (a process that took us so long that I was reading The Silmarillion on my own before we were done). For that matter, I also rooted for Darth Vader when I saw Star Wars, but that is easier to justify. He has the way-cool look, and is infinitely more interesting than Luke Skywalker. That in itself is not surprising, in that Vader is a fits the classic mode of the Gothic hero-villain, and those figures, from their avant la lettre prototype that is John Milton’s Satan all the way down to Hannibal Lecter, are the ones who power their narratives.
But making such a case is far more difficult with Sauron. Why was I cheering for him? I could point to his more active, on-stage role in The Silmarillion, and I know that my simultaneous initial read-throughs of the books meant that my experience of one was coloured by the other. But though Sauron pulls off some epic machinations in Akallabêth, the fact remains that I was already on-side before I read that tale. That was simply confirmation of his appeal, as far as my young self was concerned. In fact, my allegiance was such that I managed to conceive of some of his battles in that book as being somehow heroic.
Right. So far I have managed to avoid explaining in any coherent way why I have chosen Sauron. It is possible that I do not have a coherent answer. I will say that I find the character type of the dark lord fascinating. The figure of immense power and darkness, of malevolence and unknown or unknowable motivations, compels because of that darkness and that mystery. Frodo would certainly be the more congenial drinking companion, but would his conversation take one places one doesn’t know? Doubtful. Sauron’s conversation, should one be privileged to hear it (rather than simply having one’s doom pronounced) would be something else again. Naturally, this conversation would plunge one into madness, corruption and death. But what a way to go.
I knew immediately which character I wanted to invite for a drink. Without a doubt, it would be Molly Grue from Peter S Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Remember Molly Grue? You don’t get more down to earth and street wise (or, forest wise) than Molly Grue. To me, she takes whatever situation she finds herself in and makes the best of it.
The greatest thing about her, and the reason I’d really like to sit down with her, is her passion for life. She feels things deeply, all with a sense of humour. When she meets the unicorn for the first time, she doesn’t stand back in awe or hold her tongue. Oh no. She lets it all out. “How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?” In true Molly Grue style, however, she bounces back quickly and forgives the unicorn, with a sense of humour. “It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue.” She’d not only have many words of wisdom, but they’d be delivered in a stern, yet comical way. I think I could learn a lot from Molly Grue.
My second pick goes to Aragorn of The Lord of The Rings. I don’t mean the Hollywood version of Aragorn from the movies. No offense to Viggo, he did a brilliant job, but I’m talking about the Aragorn I met as a kid, reading and re-reading the trilogy. Mysterious, dangerous, talented, loyal and brave, who wouldn’t want to spend time with someone like that? Hearing first hand accounts of the stories I loved for so many years would be beyond incredible. Though, I do admit, instead of buying Aragorn a drink in a pub, I’d rather ask him to give me lessons on tracking and sword fighting, but we could chat at the same time. Plus, who knows who else might pop by to see the King? Legolas, perhaps? Which would be great because I could use some archery lessons as well.
I want to buy a drink for Mars, from Kelley Eskridge’s novella “Dangerous Space,” found in her collection of the same name. Actually, Mars appears in three of the stories in that collection, but it is Mars the sound engineer that I’d most like to hang out with.
Mars’s gender/sex is never specified in those stories. As I said when I reviewed the book on SF Revu, “I defy you to tell me whether Mars is male or female. I also defy you to tell me that it matters whether Mars is male or female.” That isn’t meant to imply that Mars is asexual; quite the contrary: Mars is a person with longings, a person who loves. Mars is also the sound engineer that every band wants to hire.
I’m not making this choice because I want to ask Mars “are you a boy or a girl?” God forbid. First of all, Mars is the very definition of cool, of – the person all the hipsters want to be when they step out on the streets of Brooklyn, Austin, or Oakland. Asking about Mars’s gender would definitely be uncool, and while I’m too old to qualify as a hipster, I draw the line at being uncool.
Secondly, if I were foolish enough to ask, Mars would polish off the beer, say, “Thanks for the drink,” and take off, and that would be the end of my experience.
Nor do I think I’ll be able to tell just by hanging out with Mars. That’s not why I’d want to share the drink.
What I want to know, what I’d hope to find out, is what it’s like to be someone who isn’t dealing with the world in gendered fashion, who isn’t trying to make sure they’re coming across as just the right degree of male or female for the situation.
So I’d ask about the band Noir, about Duncan Black’s music, about what it’s like running sound for incredible musicians. Innocuous questions, ones to which the answers don’t matter, because what I want to know isn’t something that can be answered in words.
I just want to get a feel for what it’s like to be a passionate, talented person without being defined by gender.
There are two characters in SFF that I’d love to go have drinks with and have a bit of a chat as well. The first one is Tobias, a teenager from K. A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. Her novel The Encounter, which is the third in the series and is from Tobias’ point of view, was my first introduction to the series, and right from the very first pages, I was hooked. Tobias and his friends ended up with fantastic powers of transformation one night while walking through an abandoned construction site and they learned that aliens did exist and that there were all sorts, good and bad. Tobias started out as an outcast and his friends were little more than kids he knew at school. But he still gained some deep friendships. He suffered a tragedy early on in their adventures when he got locked into a morph and had to spend several months as a hawk, living off roadkill and little he could in the forests near the town.
And for some reason, it all resonated with me. In him I found my first character that I could really care about, get invested in. And my fascination with Tobias eventually led to me becoming a huge fan of the series entire and all the other characters as well. Growing up, Tobias was a constant companion and his adventures the most thrilling. He suffered so much over the course of the series, and I was with him every step of the way. If there’s a character that I’d love to hang out and chill with, Tobias is the one.
The second character is Jane Carver from Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar duology, published through Night Shade Books. These books are a modern reimagining of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic John Carter sword-and-planet novels, except that instead of a male protagonist, we have a female hero. And she rocked it. There are a fair few female characters over the years that I’ve had a crush on and after I read through Jane Carver of Waar, I realised that Jane was right at the top of that short-list. Reading Swords of Waar cemented that opinion even further. She is smart, sassy, can handle herself in a fight, and is just overall pretty damn kickass.
Nathan Long always took her out of her element in those books and she always thrived. She didn’t care about social restrictions, whether on Earth or on the planet Waar, and she always spoke her mind. Gotta love that right? If there’s a character that I’d love to go on a date with, or even just a few drinks, Jane Carver is one.
These words are mentioned in the epilogue of Troy Fall Of Kings, the final book by David Gemmell. When asked by Paul to contribute to this mind-meld, there were many who I would have liked to get to know better. However I could only think of one person whom I would have loved to have a chat with and that would be Odysseus.
Titled the “ugly king” in the Troy trilogy by David Gemmell, Odysseus is an ex-reaver who has become a successful trader and a legend among sailors for his storytelling prowess. Throughout the trilogy through his interactions with all the major characters Andromache, Helikaon, Achilles, Priam, Penelope, Agamemnon and others, we are treated to a man who showcases his intelligence and emotions for those who he loves.
It’s really hard to elaborate in such a short space why I adore Gemmell’s version of Odysseus but for any reader who has cherished Homer’s epic poems, this is a great rendition for a complex character. Without any godly intervention, Odysseus is shown to be a character that is a friend to almost everyone and it’s fascinating to see his interactions. The author explores the story and the war to come via geo-political strife and trade, this is where Odysseus shines and his interactions throughout the books lead to many situations that make the book & him so special. I would have loved to have a talk with him and hear a story of his.
Think upon the first line that describes Odysseus, and make sure you get to know Odysseus’s story, for to know the story means that he’s alive and he gains one more friend.
I’m not sure that I can say that I’ve felt a real connection to this character (though I am an attorney), but I’d love to sit down with Dracula for a chat. I’m not sure I could buy him a drink. I know he does not drink… wine. I have always been fascinated by Dracula. He and vampires in general have been portrayed in so many novels and films in so many genres. Dracula’s been portrayed in horror, fantasy, and romance even as a romantic lead (see, e.g., Maggie Shayne’s Prince of Twilight.) He’s the reason we see so many different vampires in literature and film. And while we may occasionally get vampire-fatigue, the vampire is here to stay. So what would I want to know? I’d want to know if he even knew Vlad Tsepes (the real person upon whom he’s supposedly based), how much in fiction and film has gotten it right about him, and whether he has a favorite vampire film and actor who’s portrayed him. Most important, I’d like to know if he was ever human and what was the tipping point for him to vampirism. I’d also like to know how vampirism is passed on. I’d also like to know if only human blood really satisfies his cravings. Of course, if he’s never been human, I’d have to ask if he’s native to this planet (if not, where did he come from) and does he know how many vampires are on Earth at the moment. *cue theremin music*
Jernau Morat Gurgeh. No, not the sounds you make when you’re choking on a piece of steak, but the name of the renowned games master and central character in perhaps my favourite novel by Iain M. Banks – The Player of Games.
Despite the fact that he starts out bored (and potentially depressed), even at the beginning of the story he would still be able to get you into all the good parties and can hold a decent conversation (although I’ll admit I’m not sure too many laughs would be on the menu). However, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of gaming, which he would hopefully be willing to share, you would have more than enough to keep you entertained over a pint or four (potentially whilst playing Stricken, if the pub allows board games).
Assuming a jar of real ale during the events of the novel would be out of the question, then he would have quite a story to tell when he returned home. It would be interesting to see how playing a game as complex as the Azad (where the winner of the tournament rules an empire) changes someone’s outlook on life. Would everything be reduced to analysing strengths and weaknesses, pawns and players? Will he be able to re-engage with society and lead a normal life? Anyone would be in need of a pint after that and, given all that he goes through on behalf of the Culture, I think he would deserve one.
Finally, Gurgeh’s homeworld, Chiark Orbital, sounds like an amazing place to visit.
Now where did I leave my passport?
A few years back I would have said I’d like to have a drink with somone roguish and crass, like Nightingale from Resnick’s Santiago or Joshua Calvert from Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy. But I have mellowed a bit. Not much, but a bit. Heinlein’s Jubal Harshaw and Martin Silenus from Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos also come to mind, but I fear for all their wit and bravado they would bring a measure of melancholy to the proceedings.
I’ll stick with an easy answer: Doc Webster from Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, preferably on a Punday night. Aside from the reckless flinging of groaners, I’d talk to him about the role of humor in human development, in healing, in the general maintenance of sanity, and, on occasion, as a weapon. Odds are at some point in the evening an alien would arrive and the good doctor would have the chance to demonstrate his skills.
It goes without saying that he would soundly defeat me at any of Callahan’s traditional bar games, and undoubtedly out-drink me by several orders of magnitude.
I’d start the evening off in a pub with Jendara Eriksdottir, River Song, and Briar Wilkes, griping about cannibals, zombies, poison gas and the difficulties of maintaining a romance while traveling through time and relative dimension. That might get a bit intense so to lighten things up we’d grab Kaylee Frye to make us laugh about dirty jobs and narrow escapes, then go see if Scotty (of the Simon Pegg variety) has any Ardbeg or Laophroaig stashed away. Because he’s adorable and I think he and Kaylee could hit it off. Later we’d pick up Samantha Black Crow (probably hitchhiking on some deserted highway) and Alana (on the lam in some backwoods star system) because they are smarty-pants high-energy rebels and I love them and they are a must-have for a party. We’d meet everyone back at The Bronze where c3p0 and Data are bartending and Spike, Merry & Pippin, Fezzic & Indigo, Madmardigan, and Captain Jack Harkness have already started drinking games and dancing on the tables
- Jendara Eriksdottir from Skinwalkers written by Wendy N. Wagner.
- River Song from Doctor Who.
- Briar Wilkes from Boneshaker written by Cherie Priest.
- Kaylee Frye from Serenity.
- Scotty from the StarShip Enterprise.
- Samantha Black Crow from American Gods, written by Neil Gaiman.
- Alana from Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughn.
- c3p0 from Star Wars.
- Data from Star Trek Next Generation.
- Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Merry & Pippin from Lord of the Rings written by J.R.R.Tolkien.
- Fezzic and Indigo from Princess Bride (the movie version).
- Madmartigan from Willow.
- Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood.
…And remember: Drink Responsibly.
Tagged with: Abhinav Jain • Aliette de Bodard • Andrea Johnson • Beth Bernobich • Bradley Beaulieu • Chris Garcia • David Annandale • Galen Dara • jamie wyman • jaym gates • Jeff Patterson • john lunny • Kelly McCullough • malcolm cross • mihir wanchoo • Nancy Jane Moore • Nancy Kress • polenth blake • Rhonda Eudaly • Robert Jackson Bennett • Sabrina Vourvoulias • sally janin • sandra wickham • Tiemen Zwaan • tom lloyd • Wendy N. Wagner
Filed under: Mind Meld
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