The protagonists are good people…well, except for those whose main characteristic is that they are very not good people. Often, however, the character the reader remembers the most is not the main character. He’s more of a secondary character. Here are five of my favorites.
Lupo Provik from The dragon never sleeps by Glen Cook (1988)
Guardships have enforced canon law for millennia. Enemies of the established order – whether alien, human, or manufactured – were summarily crushed by overwhelming force as soon as they popped their mindless heads above the parapets. Simon Tregressor is confident he will succeed where legions before him have failed. This conviction is not due to the fact that Simon is a delusional megalomaniac with delusions of immortal divinity. Simon to Lupo Provik.
The austere bodyguard has been with Simon for most of Simon’s life. Indeed, Lupo planned the coup that swept Simon’s malevolent father out of Simon’s way. Professional, brilliant, and diligent, Lupo is exactly the underling any would-be emperor would want, provided he never wondered what would happen if the goals of employee and employer were to diverge.
Sergeant Sam Anderson of starman jones by Robert A. Heinlein (1953)
If the fugitive Max Jones had never met the late Imperial Marines Sam Anderson, Max’s plans to follow his late Uncle Chester into space would have come to naught. Chester may have been a member in good standing of the Astrogator Guild, but he never signed the necessary paperwork naming Max as a member. As far as the Guild is concerned, that’s it.
Sam, on the other hand, has the ethical flexibility, experience, and connections to circumvent onerous regulations. Thanks to the experienced mentorship of Sam, Max acquires all the necessary papers to work in space and a position aboard the Asgard. Max’s uncanny talents will prove invaluable when the Asgard gets lost in space. These talents would never have been there to help the Asgard without Sam’s brilliantly amoral corrupting influence.
Ruth Ortheris of Little blur by H. Beam Piper (1962)
Prospector Jack Holloway discovers that the planet Zarathustra is not, as previously believed, uninhabited. The existence of the native Fuzzies, as Jack calls them, means that the Chartered Zarathustra Company of Victor Grego, until now the legal owner of the planet, has an invalid charter. At least that will be the case if the Fuzzies are found to be legally intelligent and if Grego does not orchestrate their extermination before the case is solved.
A junior in the Science Division, Ruth Ortheris is a qualified Doctor of Psychology. That alone would make her useful in Jack’s quest to gain the Fuzzies legal status as people. Ultimately, however, Ruth has qualities that her friends and allies are completely unaware of, professional qualities that ultimately make her the Fuzzies’ most important caretaker. Fuzzy’s other allies are right on their side. Ruth is someone the authorities will actually listen to.
Captain Maes Hughes of Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (2001–2010)
Intelligence officer Hughes has a martial talent: he is deadly with a knife. Other than that, he’s not a reality-distorting alchemist of prodigious ability like many of his friends. But he is bright, diligent and very observant. These are useful skills in a war where the existence of a side is completely secret.
As Hughes finds out the hard way, his excellent qualities make him too dangerous to be left alive. However, as the series’ antagonists discover, Hughes is even more dangerous dead than he was alive. Alive, he was a brilliant intelligence agent. Dead, he is an inspiration. His friends, many of whom are reality-distorting alchemists of prodigious abilities, will never give up the quest to bring Hughes’ killers to justice.
Aunt Cecelia from Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon (2002) – omnibus Hunting game (1993), Sports luck (1994), and Winning colors (1995)
The Familias Regnant controls a respectable amount of space. It can rightly be considered a great power, especially in comparison to polities like the . Powers of enormous military and political influence can remain dominant, despite rampant incompetence, through inertia. It’s good for the Familias Regnant, because the Familias Regnant is a spectacularly corrupt monarchy. Although the government manages to avoid monarchy, the commitment to efficiency and competence remains ambitious.
Heris Serrano and his cronies survive their propensity to stumble deep into political turmoil thanks in large part to Lady Cecelia. Cecelia, owner of a large space yacht (on which her spoiled nephew Ronnie gets into trouble in the first novel), belongs to that rich tradition of elderly female relatives whose young fools are dismissive and whose young reasoners are rightly cautious. Cecelia is indeed one of the few competent people with an interest in governance. Heris and company are very lucky to have him by their side.
Originally published July 2021.
In the words of the TexasAndroid Wikipedia editor, prolific and vivacious literary critic Darwin Award Nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability”. Her work has been published in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on her own websites, Reviews of James Nicoll and Aurora finalist Young people read the old SFF (where he is assisted by the editor Karen Lofstrom and internet user Adrienne L. Travis). He’s a four-time Hugo Award finalist for Best Fan Writer and is surprisingly flammable.