Memorable Characters in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

One of the reasons I love sci-fi and fantasy is the scope to create larger-than-life characters who really strike a chord with the reader (or viewer, depending on the medium). The success of The Avengers proves the public’s love affair with these super, heroic characters is still going strong.

But I also think the movie representations of such characters are always going to be shallow compared to what can be done in literature. It’s just a consequence of the shorter form – there’s only so much characterisation you can do in 120 minutes. Here are a couple of examples of some of my favourite, iconic SF/F characters, who could never be done justice on the big screen.

Cheradenine Zakalwe (Use of Weapons – Iain M. Banks)

Intelligent, witty, gifted – a skilled operative of the Culture’s ‘Special Circumstances’ group. But also utterly tortured and psychologically broken by the events of his past, which slowly become apparent to the reader through the second of the two parallel timelines in the book – one progressing normally through the main plotline, the second in reverse order recounting key events in Zakalwe’s life.

If, like me, you resist the urge to guess how stories are going to turn out, the ending of Use of Weapons will force you to completely reassess your view of poor Cheradenine. Almost to the point of needing to immediately re-read the book!

Anomander Rake (The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series – Steven Erikson)

Lord of Moon’s Spawn. Son of Darkness. Knight of Darkness. Anomandaris Dragnipurake.  Soletaken, and wielder of the sword Dragnipur.

“Anomander Rake’s skin was jet-black, befitting Gothos’ description, but his mane flowed silver. He stood close to seven feet tall. His features were sharp, as if cut from onyx, a slight upward tilt to the large vertical-pupiled eyes. A two-handed sword was strapped to Rake’s broad back, its silver dragonskull pommel and archaic crosshilt jutting from a wooden scabbard fully six and a half feet long. From the weapon bled power, staining the air like black ink in a pool of water.” – Gardens of the Moon

Thousands of years old, carrying the weight of centuries of disappointment and regret, and probably the most popular figure in a series of ten novels absolutely crammed with brilliantly drawn characters. It’s impossible to outline in just a few paragraphs why he’s such a badass. So why not just read the series instead? It won’t take long, it’s only ten 200-300,000 word novels!

And how about you, readers? Which characters stuck in your minds?

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5 thoughts on “Memorable Characters in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

  1. I’ve always wanted to start Malazan, but it’s so intimidating. I’ve heard the novels are all intertwined, and you don’t get as much out of the series if you don’t read them all. I have problems committing to a yearly physical, much less ten 700 page novels, so I’ve been holding out.

    Still…that Anomander Rake sounds like a bad ass. Maybe it’s time.

    • It is a bit of a daunting proposition, yes. And not only are there the ten Erikson books, but also the five Malazan Empire books by Cam Esslemont (the fourth of which was just released) which run parallel to them, and share a lot of the same characters (they designed the world together, originally as a role-playing board game universe).
      Then the first book of Erikson’s follow-up Kharkanas trilogy comes out this July 🙂

  2. I love Kahlan from the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. She reminds me of myself – not just who I am but who I want to be. The key to memorable characters is not just the character themselves or empathy for the things that happen to them but the effect they have on the reader. If a character in a book can inspire you to be a better person, that is more meaningful to me than to a character I just like because they would be fun to hang out with.

    • Very true – it’s also interesting when the inspiration to be better comes from a reader identifying with a character’s negative traits, or weaknesses, which they share.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Pingback: Steven Erikson’s New Book Is Out! | dan-harris.net

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