Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Days of Genre - Who Is Your Favorite Character?

Once again, it took me longer to get to this than I wanted. Life is annoying and gets in the way. Anyway, Day 2 of the 30 Days of Genre:

Dominic Flandry, Agent of the Terran Empire

As with most of the questions for this meme, this one is difficult for me to answer because there are so many good possible choices. I have always been a huge Andre Norton fan, and many of her heroes share a lot of the same characteristics - independent-minded clever protagonists who are often traders or just ordinary people thrown into adventures and making their way by their wits. Of all the Andre Norton heroes, the most quintessential in my opinion would be Murdoc Zern who is the focal character in the two book series consisting of The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars. But Zern, a free trader who acquires a mysterious gem and a strange alien companion before having to deal with commercial rivals, the threat of arrest by the Patrol, and the threat of death at the hands of religious fanatics and space pirates, is just one character of many among Norton's oeuvre. So Zern is more of a representative of a group of favorite characters than a favorite character by himself.

Another possibility I considered was Lorq von Ray, the central character in Samuel R. Delany's Nova. He's also a resourceful merchant living by his wits, although instead of being an almost rootless free trader he is the scion of one of the two most powerful mercantile families in the galaxy. But he has the added bonus of being involved in a bitter rivalry with Prince Red, the scion of the other powerful mercantile family, the end result of which will result in one or the other having effective control of humanity's future. And the audacity of Lorq von Ray is that his chosen path to victory against his rival is to adopt a strategy that involves flying directly into a star that is going nova (hence the title of the book). However, what makes Lorq so fascinating is probably the story he's in and not him as a character,

I could have picked another independent-minded merchant and go with Poul Anderson's recurring character Nicolas van Rijn - an irascible, hard-nosed, practical, trader featured in numerous books set in Anderson's Technic History including Trader to the Stars and The Man Who Counts. However, van Rijn is just a little too amoral to be my favorite. But considering van Rijn led me to Poul Anderson's other long-running recurring character Dominic Flandry, and everything crystalized. The ultimate interstellar agent is my favorite genre character.

Flandry is an agent of the Terran Empire and appears in the books Ensign Flandry, A Circus of Hells, The Rebel Worlds, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, A Stone in Heaven, The Game of Empire, Agent of the Terran Empire, and Flandry of Terra. Flandry, unlike the other candidates I considered, is not a merchant, but rather a spy. Like Zern, von Ray, and van Rijn he is a cunning and resourceful individual who survives by his wits. He's also dashing, ruthless, and self-interestedly heroic. Though his father is a minor nobleman in the Empire, Flandry is an illegitimate child and must rise on his own merits. Though Flandry knows the Terran Empire is doomed to fall at the end of its long struggle with the Merseain Empire, bringing on the "Long Night", he fights for it anyway hoping to stave off the collapse until after his own death. But by fighting against the coming of the night, he manages to make the lives of many who live in the Empire immeasurably better due to nothing more than his own self-interested actions.

One might describe Flandry as a James Bond type character moved to a space opera setting, but Flandry predates Bond. He shares with Bond a rakish charm, and a penchant for womanizing. Unlike Bond, he's not a clueless moron half the time. Anderson was also a better writer than Fleming, and was better at coming up with intrigues and mysteries. Because all great heroes need a foil, Anderson also created a long running antagonist for Flandry in the form of his Merseian counterpart Aycharaych a crafty and able opponent that Flandry is only able to overcome by adopting the tactics of his adversary and more, including blackmail, seduction, deception, and even the destruction of his own child. Despite these traits (or perhaps because of them), Dominic Flandry, a man struggling against a defeat he believes is inevitable, is my favorite genre character.

Go to Day 1: What Was Your Very First Genre Novel?
Go to Day 3: What Genre Novel Do You Think Is Underrated?

30 Days of Genre     Home


  1. Really interesting. I haven't read this series but I've looked at it.

  2. @Julia: Poul Anderson is generally worth reading. His Technic History books are some of his most famous, but he was one of those writers who seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of good stories in his typewriter.