Who shoots first does matter. This week our topic is:
Excepting Han Solo (because otherwise this question would be too easy), who is your favorite sci fi or fantasy scoundrel?
J. Kathleen Cheney
I’m not a reader who likes villains. I think of monsters as monsters, and bad guys as probably-not-redeemable. That said, when I read this question, my mind immediately turned to the one villain I find fascinating: Bane. Not the Batman version, but a far stranger scoundrel/villain.
In the book Godstalk P. C. Hodgell introduces us to a young woman named Jame who’s come to a city to escape her past. She earns an apprenticeship with the local thieves’ guild, but in the process attracts the attention of one of the local nasties, a fellow named Bane. He has a terrible reputation for hurting people who cross him, even to the point of flaying them alive. Yes, he’s that sort of bad guy. Bad all the way through.
Now I’m about to drop some spoilers, but the book has been out for years, so…here goes.
Along the way, Jame discovers that Bane is probably her half-brother, and that his soul was stolen from him by his foster father who used it to create a monster than haunts the lower part of town, devouring the souls of children. Near the end of the first book, though, Bane sacrifices his life protecting Jame, fully knowing that he will be flayed alive….and that because he’s separated from his soul, he cannot die.
And he doesn’t. His soul is still hanging around, halfway stalking Jame, and halfway watching her back. Later, when she has something precious she needs hidden, she puts it in an oubliette, and leaves him guarding it. BTW, the item is one of the three sacred items of their people.
The author is several books into this series, and the main reason I’m still reading it is not that I want to find out how Jame and her twin brother are fairing. It’s not to see the big apocalyptic showdown that we know is coming.
I want to see what Bane does with the Book Bound in Pale Leather….
I’m generally not attracted to the scoundrel type. I mean, as much as I love Mal in Firefly, I know in person I would be utterly repulsed. I like my heroes lawful good.
Oddly enough, though, as I started to ponder book scoundrels I had one immediately come to mind–Arvid Semminson, in Elizabeth Moon’s masterful Paksenarrion fantasy series. He’s a card-carrying member of the Thieves’ Guild and pretty darn good at killing people. Really, he’s everything that a paladin such as Paks should despise. Moon creates wonderfully shaded characters, though. Arvid has done bad things, but he still has a sound moral core, and everyone who is a satellite to Paks cannot help but be changed in a profound way. Maybe that’s why he’s my kind of rogue.
The original Paks books started in the 1980s and Moon has extended the series in recent years. The final book, Crown of Renewal, comes out in late May. I confess I haven’t read last year’s book yet–my to-read pile is downright scary–but I have a hunch that Arvid is destined for some kind of greatness. If he lives. If not, I figure there’s a grand purpose in that, too.
Lawrence M. Schoen
This is another tough one, particularly as I have my own series of novels, novellae, and short stories where the protagonist is a likeable rougue (and if you haven’t read any of the adventures of the adventures of the Amazing Conroy, then shame on you).
I’m leaning a bit toward nominating Vlad Taltos from the series of novels by Steven Brust. They’re a great read and loads of fun except one thing is holding me back: The protagonist in question isn’t so much a scoundrel as a professional assassin. That’s part of Brust’s charm as a writer, he has the reader cheering for a character who goes around killing other characters. Fun stuff, but not a proper choice for this week’s question.
Instead, I’m going to go with Drake Maijstral, the gentleman thief from a trio of novels by Walter Jon Williams. Humanity has long since assimilated by an ancient, alien civilization, and because a past emperor was a bit of a klepto, we now have “allowed burglary.” But it’s not simply a case where the authorities look the other way, it’s actually an “extreme sport” and minor aristocrat Maijstral is rated among the Top Ten by the Imperial Sporting Committee. And of course, he’s aided by his long-suffering alien butler. It’s bit like like a blend of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” stories and Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers books. Great characters shoved into great situations.
I’ve referred to Williams in the past as the Master of Plot, and he really shows that off here as he piles on subplot after subplot after subplot, book after book, in this too-short series that can perhaps best be described as an interstellar comedy of manners.
The books themselves (The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, and Rock of Ages) vanished from print years ago. The Science Fiction Book Club had them in an omnibus edition (Ten Points for Style), but I think that’s gone now too. Fortunately though Williams has been converting his backlist to ebook format, and all three books are available again, and at reasonable prices.
Althalus, from The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings.
I know the name “Eddings” brings up images of long series, but this is a stand alone. That’s part of what I love about it. The novel feels like an entire series tightly crammed into a delightful 726-page package (okay, that doesn’t make it sound short). I’ve read this one multiple times. It has all those big epic, sweeping stakes and all that lovely banter that I think the Eddings really excelled at writing — but without any long slogs of traveling or other meanderings that fantasy of that era was prone to.
And The Heist Society by Ally Carter was terribly fun — exactly what I needed while I was staying up late at night rocking a newborn. I rarely pick up contemporary novels, but the premise sucked me in. Katrina’s conman father’s been blamed for a theft he (actually) didn’t commit. So Katrina — who thought she’d left “the life” behind for good — is back in the game to find the stolen paintings and steal them back before it’s too late.
I think I’m going to go with Turin Turambar. For my money he’s Tolkien’s greatest character. I know that’s a bold statement, but seriously, read Children of Hurin. It’s brilliant.
But this is such a hard choice! It seems I’m not of the same mind with many of my fellow Novelociraptors, because scoundrels are usually my favorites. Even when I was little, I liked Wolverine and was bored by Captain America.
So for me Turin has some pretty tough competition. The next obvious choice after Han Solo is Chewbacca. After Chewie comes Mal Reynolds from Firefly (since let’s face it, Mal is Han Solo, just in a different incarnation). After him, the next most obvious choice is everyone else on Firefly.
After them, I want to say Jamie Lannister, and I would say Tyrion too, except Tyrion stays too close to the halls of power for me to call him a proper scoundrel. To me Jamie never quite fits in; he’s at his best when he’s riding rakishly around the Seven Kingdoms.
After them, Loki, Coyote, Butch Cassidy, Inigo Montoya, YT from Snow Crash, Rorschach from Watchmen, Gurney Halleck from Dune, Lando Calrissian from the old Alan Dean Foster novels, Silk from the Belgariad… so many choices! Not to mention Arya Stark, who isn’t quite a scoundrel but she’s one in the making, or Conan, who could be a great scoundrel if only he weren’t so darn grim all the time, or… well, the list goes on and on.
So since I’m forced to make a choice, I’m sticking with Turin. But he’s in good (bad?) company!