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Who are Your Favorite Literary Science Fiction Characters?

Science fiction is often said to be best when the story is character-driven. That must mean there are some pretty cool characters in sf/f. So, who are your favorites?

Maybe it’s Rick Deckard from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Or maybe you prefer the hardboiled attitude of Marîd Audran from George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails. Maybe you like the heroic nature of John Carter from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books or the time traveler from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine?

Your favorite character could be alien, like Pip the minidrag from Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth books or the Kzin Speaker-to-Animals from Larry Niven’s Ringworld.

The character doesn’t even have to be biological! How about HAL 9000 (from 2001: A Space Odyssey), Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams) or R. Daneel Olivaw (Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel and other robot novels)?

Don’t forget, bad Guys make great characters too! Maybe Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from Frank Herbert’s Dune or Quinn Dexter from Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy?

Some rules:

  1. You must name characters originating from a book or short story. No media tie-ins, please. And no comics/graphic novels – that’s a whole other ball of wax. A follow on post will address TV/film.
  2. Cite the character and the source, including author.
  3. Must be a single character, no groups or species. Sorry, you cannot pick the sandworms from Dune.)
  4. Name as many single characters as you’d like.

If you need help, wikipedia has a handy inventory of characters from written science fiction as well as a list of sf/f detectives.

Your turn! Who are your favorite literary science fiction characters?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

43 Comments on Who are Your Favorite Literary Science Fiction Characters?

  1. Since you’ve already mentioned Quinn Dexter – my favorite bad guy – I would like to mention:


    from Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga

    I know you said it had to be a single character.., but he/she/it is a single intelligence at least.

  2. ..and then I have to mention..

    Anthony J. Crowley

    demon from the novel Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

    Originally named Crawly, he was the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve with the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    After changing his name to Crowley, he went on to become one of Hell’s agents on Earth, under the guise of a stereotyped yuppie. He is fascinated by humanity’s ability to do worse things to each other than the legions of Hell could imagine (largely because the legions of Hell have no imagination).

    Crowley is unusual among demons in that he, as he puts it, “hadn’t meant to Fall. He’d just hung around with the wrong people.” He disapproves of many things about Heaven, but isn’t very enthusiastic about Hell either; ultimately he prefers Earth to either one.

  3. Another form Peter Hamilton’s the Night Dawn Trilogy: Ione Saldana, Lord of Ruin.

    Thank you very much,


  4. Grainger.

    From Stableford’s ‘Hooded Swan’ series.

  5. Vlad Taltos from the Stephen Brust “Vlad Taltos” series (Dragon, Issola, etc).

    And liked the Crowley character in Good Omens as well…

  6. gotta say:

    Pham Nuwen, from Vernor Vinge’s, A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky

  7. Odysseus from Dan Simmons’ Ilium/Olympos duology.

    Emilio Sandoz from Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow/Children of God duology.

  8. Ender from Ender’s Game (obvious)

    YT and Hiro Protagonist from Snow Crash

    Door from Neverwhere

    Takeshi Kovacs from Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies

    The Shrike from Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Series

    Pete Armstrong from James L. Halperin’s Truth Machine

    Oryx and Crake from…yeah. Atwood. And Offred, Handmaid’s Tale.

    Lou Arrendale from Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark

  9. Here are a few of my favorites (since Takeshi Kovacs, Ender Wiggins, and John Carter have already been mentioned):

    Mike (the computer) from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein (and more from that book, of course, such as Mannie and Wyoming Knott: TAANSTAFL)

    Jernau Morat Gurgeh from The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

    John Amalfi from Cities in Flight by James Blish

    oh, and golly gee, how about

    Dr. Richard Seaton from the Skylark Series by EE Doc Smith

  10. hands down….Hari Seldon Foundation Series Isaac Asimov -The scope of this character’s vision is mind boggling. Asimov rulz

  11. Tie for me:

    Jack Shaftoe, from The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson

    Arya Stark, from A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin

  12. Joshua Calvert from Peter F Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn Trilogy

    Jenny Casey from Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered Trilogy

    Mrs. Coulter from Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy

    Prince Corwin of Amber from Zelazny’s Amber novels

  13. How could anyone have skipped –

    Berry Rydell from William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy – (steadfast stoicism in the face of extremely distressing weirdness and trauma award)

    Aiken Drum from Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles – (puckish and Maciavellian to the extreme, but still one of the most complex and charming anti-heroes in the sf canon)

    The drone Mawhrin-Skel from Iain M. Banks’s Player of Games – (like many of Banks’s drone/AI characters, larger than life and ultra-snarky to boot; one-liners to die for, along with an intense social conscience)

    Bascule {the Rascule} from Iain M. Banks’s Feersum Endjinn – (another brilliant Banks character, full of naive youthful pluck, and to whom the reader becomes incredibly close thanks to his ergot narrative)

    I could probably think of more, but it’s late. I may pop back in a day or two… 😉

  14. Gully Foyle, baby, Gully Foyle all the way. (from Bester’s The Stars My Destination)

    I kill you filthy, Vorga!

  15. Miles, Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan from the books by Lois McMaster Bujold.

  16. Nick Seafort from Feintuch’s books: Midshipman’s Hope, Children of Hope, and all the others in-between. A man who lives for duty, who strives to do right, yet believes he is damned. Thus, when he receives honors for his achievements, he feels like a fraud. He is an unlikeable hero; you would not choose him to be guest of honor at your con, and if you did invite him, he probably wouldn’t accept. And if he did accept, he would probably hang out in his hotel room between his scheduled programs. Yet it’s easy to see why women married him.

  17. Mr. Dunworthy from Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog

    Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series

    Professor de la Paz from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    Duncan Idaho from Frank Herbert’s Dune series

    Emilio Sandoz from Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God

  18. Lazarus Long (birth name Woodrow Wilson Smith) from Robert A. Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children, Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast etc.

  19. The man called Cheradenine Zakalwe from IM Banks Use of Weapons

    Honor Harrington from D. Weber long series

    Prince Roger from J. Ringo/D. Weber series

    Tak Kovacs from R. Morgan series

    Quinn Dexter/Joshua Calvert/Ione Saldana from P. Hamilton Night’s Dawn

    Tyrion Lannister from George RR. Martin Seven Kingdoms series

    Alicia de Vries from D. Weber In Fury Born

    Jant Shira from S. Swainston series

    Aiah from WJ Williams Metropolitan/City on Fire

    Michael Harmon aka Ghost aka Kildar from J. Ringo series

    Rochefort from 1610 a Sundial in the Grave by M. Gentle

    Bora Horza Gobuchul from IM Banks Consider Phlebas

    The drone called also Mahwrin Skel from IM Banks The Player of Games


  20. A serious omission on the list so far: Nicholas van Rijn, from Poul Anderson’s Technic future history. (Greedy and hedonistic business mogul, but with solid virtues underneath.)

  21. I loved Ned Henry in Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.

    If we can include fantasy then I would also cast a vote for Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings.

  22. I almost forgot to mention Sax Russell in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.


  23. Another characters:

    Shevek from the book The Dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin)

    Nessus from Larry Niven’s Ringworld

    Robinette Broadhead from Frederik Pohl’s Portico

    Johnny Rico from Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers

    Martin Silenus from Hyperion (Dan Simmons)

    Norman House and Donald Hogan from John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and

    and the cynic monkey Lovelock (Lovelock, Orson Scott Card).


  24. I need to add Glaeken, from F. Paul Wilson’s ADVERSARY CYCLE, to my tie list.

  25. I can’t believe I’m the first to name Kimball Kinnison from Doc Smith’s Lensman books – Galactic Patrol, Gray Lensman, Second Stage Lensman, Children of the Lens.

    And Clifford “Kip” Russell from Heinlein’s Have Space Suit – Will Travel

    And, from the same book Patricia Wynant “Peewee” Reisfeld

    Still on a Heinlein roll – Thor Bradley (Thorby) Rudbek from Citizen of the Galaxy.

    And on the subject of “villains” can we forget Dr. Marc C. “Blackie” DuQuesne?

    • Duane Couchot-Vore // April 21, 2012 at 8:54 am //

      Like your choices. Kip and Peewee are my favorite “couple” from all of literature, I think. I’d be sadly disappointed if they didn’t get married in another few years.

  26. Without a doubt: Zaphod Beeblebrox. After all, he comes in six-packs.

  27. Without a doubt, Stone Telling from Ursula Le Guin’s novel, Always Coming Home is my favorite character and my favorite science fiction novel. Powerful story!

  28. MemphisManiac // November 18, 2006 at 10:33 am //

    YT from Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH

    The Spider, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, and The Sock Puppet from China Mieville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION

    Gaby McAslin from Ian McDonald’s EVOLUTION’S SHORE

    John Glasken from Sean McMullen’s SOULS IN THE GREAT MACHINE

  29. I see someone has already mentioned Nicholas van Rijn and Pham Nuwen. Some of my other favorites are Fehdman Kassad from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, Clavain from Alistair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series, Felix from John Steakly’s Armor, and Adele Mundy from David Drake’s RCN series.

  30. Clunk from the Hal Spacejock series

    (And I admit to extreme bias)

  31. John has been complaining to me that I haven’t listed mine favorite lit characters. That’s because I don’t think I have just one favorite. In fact, I like a lot of characters, but I don’t know if I can place them in any kind of order. Many of them have been listed here: Beeblebrox, Pham Nuwen, Takeshi Kovacs and others. There are a lot of cool characters, its hard to remember them all.

    I will add one other to the list: Alex Kilgour from Alan Cole and Chris Bunch’s Sten series. Who doesn’t like a super strong, wise cracking (with bad jokes) Scottsman? No one, that’s who. Except for John, who is a Scottish h8a. 😀

  32. Valentine Michael Smith from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

  33. C.B. James // December 2, 2006 at 10:19 pm //

    Spender from Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles

  34. Gilbert Gosseyn from WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. van Vogt. This was a man who overcomes his enemies not through strength or genius, but because he is more sane than they are. Hedrock the immortal man from WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER runs a close second.

    Gandalf the Grey from LORD OF THE RINGS. One of the few wise old men who is actually wise. “Fool of a Took!”

    Marc C. “Blackie” Du Quesne from SKYLARK OF SPACE. The original space opera baddie, still the biggest, baddest, best. Vader is a punk compared to Blackie.

    Solomon Kane, Puritan adventurer, from several short stories by Robert E. Howard. “His eyes were mytical deep pools that drowned unearthly things, And Solomon lifted up his head and spoke of his wanderings: ‘Mine eyes have looked on sorcery in dark and naked lands, Horror born of the jungle gloom and death on the pathless sands… And I have slain a vampire shape that drank a black king white, And I have roamed through grisly hills where dead men walked at night. And I have seen heads fall like fruit in a slaver’s barracoon, And I have seen winged demons fly all naked in the moon’.”

    Patera Silk from NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN by Gene Wolfe. Perhaps the only truly humble, good, true and brave characters in all literature.

    Lamont Cranston–if that is his real name–from THE SHADOW novels by Maxwell Grant–if that is his real name. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? (Kent Allerd and Walter Gibson, yes I know.)

    Sam from LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelazny. Fights against the gods themselves for human freedom, always with a smirk on his face. Zelazny’s best book by far: but under-rated.

    Kirth Gersen from the Demon Princes series by Jack Vance. Urbane, unassuming, competent, unflappable, unfailing, the very Montechristo of the Gaean Reach. What is not to like? Let me add also the five mastercriminals he hunts: Malagate the Woe, Kokkor Hekkus the Killing Machine, Viole Falushe, Lens Larque, Howard Alan Treesong.

    Here is what I find interesting about this question: the large number of books I like that have no characters I like. I can think of endless numbers of Asimov books I liked, but no characters I admire or would want to have tea with. Ditto for Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury. Double ditto for SNOWCRASH or NEUROMANCER: great books, but who would want to be like any of those guys?

    I can think of a number of Robert Heinlein type characters from Heinlein books I like, but none of them stand out, because none of them are anyone other than Heinlein. Can anyone tell me how, for example, Kip is really different from Johnny Rico? Or Lazarus Long from Jubal Hershaw?

    The only Heinlein character I really like is Anson Guthrie, and he is from HARVEST OF STARS by Poul Andersen, not by Heinlein at all. Andersen did a better portrayal of a Heinlein omni-competent curmudgeon than Heinlein ever did, and Guthrie put his money where his mouth was, unlike Hershaw or Long.

  35. Suzdal, the cruiser commander from Cordwainer Smith’s “The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal”.

  36. Crewman Redshirt // May 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm //

    YT from Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (right on, cephyn)

    Molly Millions/Sally Shears (same person, different alliases) of William Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy”.

    Well, someone has to say it; Marvin the robot, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

  37. Pyanfar Chanur from C J Cherryh’s Chanur Novels

  38. Richard Brown // August 25, 2008 at 5:10 pm //

    Id say ethier  Ford Prefect From Hitchers guide by Douglas Adams


    The time traver from the time machine by HG Wells

  39. Shaughnessy // July 15, 2010 at 10:53 am //

    I’m glad someone said Marvin from Hitchhiker. He was aweseome.

    I have to say I’ve always been partial to Elrond from Lord of the Rings.

    Deerskin/Lissar is another one of my favorites, from Robin McKinley’s Deerskin.

    Christie S’aranth from Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed is another one of my favorites. When I was younger, I wanted to be her. Lol!

    Kalahn Amnell & Richard Cypher/Rahl from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.

    Would I be horribly off my game if I said Severus Snape from Harry Potter? *ducks flying tomatoes*

    And last but not least Lord General Tanaros Caveros Blacksword from Jacqueline Carey’s Banewreaker & Godslayer duology.

    Oh wait, I almost forgot Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

    Now I’ll stop because if I go any farther, I’ll be getting into teen books that I read when I was in high school, or into the True Blood characters.

  40. I love Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes


  41. For ultimate character development or er, rather revelation, A. BETTIK from Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos.

  42. Jason dinAlt from Deathworld1. Funny, smart, cool, courageous….etc

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