Monday, August 20, 2012

Believable Characters

Fictional characters need not be believable. Superman comes immediately to mind, as do other superheroes. But in fiction that purports to be about real life, or at least in the real world, they do need to be reasonably believable and human. Even so I am often making faces when reading a story or novel, or watching a movie or TV series.
Often writers will do a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu) story. The protagonist will possess a myriad of virtues, strengths, talents and abilities, solve all sorts of mysteries or problems, rescue damsels in distress, or be rescued, and live happily ever after, or at least until the next episode.
Breaking news, people: Nobody's perfect.
While rereading the Telzey Amberdon stories recently I noted that in each story she discovers some new ability or way to use her psi-powers, so that by the time the stories end she has almost God(dess)-like powers. While I like the stories and enjoyed reading them, I found I could not relate to her. I do not have psi-powers, am not a genius level xeno-telepath, and do not come from a wealthy family that can afford to indulge me with flying cars and other toys. (Sigh).  Other characters by James Schmitz were more likable and believable.
Niles Etland, xeno-biologist on the watery world of Nandi-Cline, was one. Smart, quick-tempered,  deadly accurate with her UW gun, she matches wits with humans and aliens, accompanied by a pair of talking otters. Hmm. In The Demon Breed (serialized in Analog magazine as The Tuvela) she bluffs an alien invasion and eventually defeats them by using her knowledge of Nandi-Clines fauna and flora. She is the epitome of a Bad-Ass Bookworm.
Danestar Gems, of the Kyth Interstellar Detective Agency, was another character I liked. In "The Searcher," she and her partner must defeat simultaneously a malevolent energy being and a group of professional criminals, all after the same object, using only her wits and technical expertise.  Someone I could relate to.
And of course there is Trigger Argee. Sometimes partnered with Telzey, she works for the Psychology Service, a sort of Psi-powered CIA/FBI intel organization (scary thought). Lacking psi-powers of her own, she relies on her wits and her Denton sidearm to deal with bad guys. She makes mistakes, such as falling for Mr. Wrong before finally meeting Mr. Right (more or less, a guy with a nickname like Bad News Quillan would scare me off).
C.J. Cherryh has created a variety of characters that are likable and believable, not all of them human. Downbelow station had several, all caught up in the cyclone of politics and war that was sweeping through their universe. And who can forget the chillingly cold-blooded Signy Mallory?
In Cuckoo's Egg she gave us Dunn, the alien Samurai/Judge. I wish she'd write more about him. And in the Foreigner series we have Bren Cameron, Paidhi (ambassador/translator) to the Atevi, and his lover, Jago, an seven foot tall Atevi Assassin. Nice couple. I like the way the relationship develops over the series.
In the contemporary world there a few I like. Modesty Blaise, the protagonist of a series of novels and comic strips, is one. Smart, tough, and skilled at combat, she is no one's fool. A former criminal, she is cool, chic, and independent. She sometimes takes on missions ("capers" she calls them) for MI6, mainly because she finds retirement from a life of crime too  boring. While she and her side-kick, Willie Garvin (with whom she has a close, but platonic, relationship) are a little TOO effective and skilled, I find the stories fun to read.
Ms. Tree is another contemporary character I like. Prone to anger and vendettas, she never-the-less has some virtues. She is loyal, brave (to the point of madness on occasion), tough and smart. Her adventures deal with real-life situations.
On TV one of my favorite shows is NCIS, the original version. It is a team of investigators for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service ( a real-life organization I have run into now and then, and a great bunch of people). Ziva David, former Israeli Mossad Operative, is my favorite among them, but team-leader Gibbs (described as a functional mute by Special Agent Tony DeNozzo), and Forensic expert Abby, also are fun, as well as the rest of the gang, (BTW, Abby is played by Pauly Perrette, who is a real-life forensic expert.) One of my fave shows. The spin-off, set in Los Angeles, not so much. While many people have a Dark and Mysterious Past, there is something called a background check, as well as periodic psych evaluations. How that bunch got hired, and why they stay in a Federal Agency, is the real mystery in the series. Why does Hollywood think that over-grown adolescents are heroic? I stopped watching the latest version of Hawaii Five-0 because of that. I prefer adults, thank you.
Bones is another favorite mystery series. Temperance Brennan is a semi-catatonic Forensic Anthropologist, who is teamed up with FBI Agent Sealy Booth. A fun pair, even if he did knock her up in the last season.
In general I prefer adult characters, with reasonable skill-sets, who are reasonably well-adjusted. Those are the sort of people I like to read about, and watch.

Enough for now. See you next time.

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