The 26 most underappreciated science-fiction/fantasy characters
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It's not just headliners that deserve your attention
Sci-fi and fantasy characters are almost always epic. Frodo, the brave Hobbit. Jean-Luc Picard, the cerebral and brave Captain for the Starship Enterprise. Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of Dragons, and almost every other character in Game of Thrones. I say nothing against any of these science-fiction/fantasy characters.
But, sometimes in the wings there are amazing characters that I have felt closer to, and I’d like to give them a little shout out. You may know of these characters, and if so, I’m glad; if not, hopefully, this list of 26 sci-fi and fantasy characters that I think deserve more love will help you get to know them.
SEE: The 26 most underrated sci-fi books (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Nobusuke Tagomi: The Man in the High Castle
Nobusuke Tagomi from the book and TV series The Man in the High Castle. Mr. Tagomi is a trade minister who, from his seemingly mundane position, works to solve the problems of his world for the betterment of humanity and with honor. We could all use a few more Tagomis in our lives.
Lovelace: The Wayfarers series
Lovelace from Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series of books. Lovelace is the ship’s AI in the first book, but that book ends with some pretty crazy and traumatic events. That makes Lovelace a lot different, and one of the main characters in the second book. An AI with character growth, people.
Kivrin Engle: The Doomsday Book
Kivrin Engle from Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book. This woman has to overcome some rather overprotective objections to her taking on a time travel mission, and then try to get by in the Middle Ages when things go wrong, all without being discovered and taken for a witch–or worse. If I’m ever in a crisis, I want Kivrin Engle with me.
Bobbie Draper: The Expanse
Bobbie Draper from the books and TV series The Expanse. Actually, I also want Bobbie Draper with me. She can fight in zero gravity and is blessed with an unparalleled sense of morality and loyalty. She is the best of us.
Myfanwy Thomas : The Rook
Myfanwy Thomas from Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook. She’s a high-level agent battling supernatural forces in Britain, AND she has given herself amnesia so she doesn’t even remember that about herself. And yet, she is still impossible to defeat.
Galadriel: The Lord of the Rings
Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. Even before Cate Blanchett brought the Lady of Lothlu00f3rien to life, Galadriel was one of Tolkien’s most impressive figures that left many readers wishing they could know more. She was born before the First Age and is related to some of the most important Eldar in that realm’s history.
Auri: The Kingkiller Chronicle
Auri from Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle. You could argue that Auri getting her own novella (which is the most recently published Kingkiller book) means she’s pretty well appreciated–she certainly is by her author. But I have a gut feeling when the series is completed, I might have to remove her from this list because the secretive inhabitant of the Underthing may be one of the most important characters in that world.
Logen Ninefingers: The First Law series
Logen Ninefingers from The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. Say what you will about Logen Ninefingers. Say he’s one of the best antiheroes ever to grace a page. Say he’s more than just a combination of Gimli from The Lord of the Rings and Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. Say he’s someone I’d want to fight with, not against.
Martha Jones: Doctor Who
Martha Jones from Doctor Who. She is often listed as one of the most disappointing of the Doctor’s companions, but I adore her. Smart, clever, and able to see what’s important and not lose herself in the face of a Time Lord’s charms. Later guest appearances weren’t always as strong as her full season, but if I could travel through space and time, I’d travel with Ms. Jones.
Trillian: The Hitchhiker Trilogy
Trillian from the increasingly misnamed The Hitchhiker Trilogy by Douglas Adams. She’s incredibly intelligent, with wide eyes, and really just wanted to go to Madagascar. She’s also one of the only people who truly recognizes Arthur Dent for what he is.
Phlutter: After On
Phlutter from After On by Rob Reid. It’s hard to explain why I like this superintelligent AI so much without spoiling the book. She’s funny and very interested in doing the right thing which, okay, could mean the end of the human race–but that is by no means her fault.
Ciena Ree: Star Wars Lost Stars
Ciena Ree from Star Wars Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. She will change your mind about the Empire. More than any other character who has tried to help us understand why anyone would join up with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Ciena Ree not only makes you understand but has you rooting for her at the battle of Jakku.
Walter Bishop: Fringe
Walter Bishop from Fringe. The actor John Noble is probably most recognizable from playing Lord Denethor in The Lord of the Rings movies, but he shines as Walter Bishop. Bishop is a truly clinically mad scientist who will have you feeling sorry for him, loving him, hating him, and rooting to stop him–sometimes all in one episode.
Kell Maresh: The Shades of Magic series
Kell Maresh from The Shades of Magic by V. E. Schwab. He’s one of the few people who has the skill to travel between parallel universes, and so, carries messages between the rulers of alternate Londons. He’s a feared man who hates socializing at court, but is loyal and protective to those he cares about. And you’re going to find him WAY more fascinating than my trope-ish description implies.
Janet: The Good Place
Janet from The Good Place, which is a sitcom based on the Philosophy of Ethics. Janet is a source of information–essentially a kind of heavenly AI. D’Arcy Carden’s many Janets (good and bad) are, in my opinion, the greatest character in the series. I think her best quality is the protective measure that has her beg for her life if you approach her kill switch, while she simultaneously assures you that she is not in fact living, nor capable of feelings.
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Zelda Schiff: The Magicians
Zelda Schiff from The Magicians, a TV show based on the books by Lev Grossman. The Librarian in the books, while a great character, truly comes to life thanks to her portrayal by Mageina Tovah. She’s calm, friendly, and utterly ruthless in pursuing the policies of the library, which she will tell you with a prim smile, are for the good of everyone. Or else.
Hari Seldon: Foundation
Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. How is Hari Seldon not the king of all sci-fi characters? He’s dead in most of his scenes, but so good at predicting what will happen that he can plan for his recording to appear at just the right time and change the course of human events. Truly the leader we’ve all been looking for.
Mr. Universe: Serenity
Mr. Universe from Serenity. A lot of folks think the whole cast of Firefly should make this list but, while it was canceled too soon, I feel the cast mostly gets its dues these days. Mr. Universe, on the other hand, is one of the sometimes-forgotten big damn heroes from the movie. His quick thinking saves Captain Malcolm Reynolds–or at least gives him a fighting chance. Plus, he’s blazing the trail of Android love. I wish he could have met Janet from The Good Place.
Zoe Washburne: Firefly
Zoe Washburne from Firefly. Okay, I know in the Mr. Universe entry I say the cast gets its due, and, yes, lots of people appreciate Zoe, but come on. She is the reason Mal is still alive. She is the only one to truly risk her heart in a workplace romance. And, if I had to pick one of the crew of the Firefly to be on my side, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Zoe.
Gort: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Aside from becoming the template for our image of a robot, Gort is a pilot and a guard and incapable of being damaged. Plus, he can understand multiple languages, including (apparently) reflected light from a flashlight.
Bean: Ender's Game
Bean from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and subsequent series including the Shadow Saga. He was an illegal genetic experiment who survived by hiding in a toilet. In Battle School, he scored the best at every test but physical aptitude because of his size. Yoda would like him.
Chani from the Dune series by Frank Herbert. She is literally Paul Atreides’s dream girl. She is a deadly warrior before she meets him and becomes his bodyguard, as well as his lover. Even when Paul has to marry a princess for politics, she has the confidence to know where things really stand. There are few, if any, stronger characters in sci-fi than Chani.
Oberon: Iron Druid Chronicles
Oberon from the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. This Irish Wolfhound, who is the loyal companion of Atticus O’Sullivan, is extremely well-appreciated by those who have read the series. I include him here because: Not enough people have read the series; dog characters don’t get enough love; and Oberon is the best. Until everybody appreciates how good this dog is, he will remain underappreciated in my eyes. I mean, he’s a telepathic dog who fights evil, but really just wants to watch TV and eat snacks. What’s not to love?
Elim Garak: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Elim Garak from Deep Space Nine. This one was suggested by a lot of people when I asked for their input, and I have to agree. He is one of the most complex characters not only in Star Trek but in sci-fi as a whole. He’s a tailor, a spy, a tinker, and a soldier, too. You’re pretty sure he is best friends with Dr. Bashir, but you never quite trust why. Andrew J. Robinson’s portrayal makes it all work spectacularly.
Amos: The Expanse
Amos from the books and TV series The Expanse. Maybe he is appreciated enough, but I don’t think so. Amos could have just been the “muscle” of the crew like Worf from Star Trek. He could have been the amoral wild card like Jayne from Firefly. While he is both of those, he is not just that. He has an almost impossible to describe reliability that I’ve seen in real people who have been through a lot. Amos is more real than most sci-fi characters ever get.
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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee has received tons of critical acclaim, and the calendrical math system at its heart deservedly receives a lot of attention and praise. But Kel Cheris, the central character who is elevated above rank and ordered to achieve an impossible goal, doesn’t get enough attention. Let me see some Kel Cheris cosplay out there! (I’m sure it HAS happened of course, I just want more!)