Old Friends

Wandering the fertile realms of sci-fi and fantasy has introduced me to many interesting people. I’ve gazed upon paragons, such as Superman. I’ve shared the struggles of ordinary mortals thrust into events beyond their control, in Mordor and beyond. There are people  that have impressed me, confused me, intrigued  me, and one or two that have terrified me. But along the way there are people I came to know very well. They live in books I read over and over again, books so well loved I don’t even need to search for the good parts any more. They just fall open to them at a touch. Let me introduce you to some of these friends.

David and Leigh Eddings wrote several fantasy series together, but their first was undoubtedly their best. The Belgariad is just full of people I really enjoyed the company of. Durnik, Silk, Mandorallen and Barak are people I would recognize anywhere if I saw them, and while I wouldn’t want to fight any of them, I would love to hoist a tankard with all of them. (But if Silk were there, I’d leave my money at home.) These men are so very different, yet play off each other brilliantly. Silk, the amoral rogue and brilliant spy, is probably my favorite to watch, but Mandorallen, “the greatest knight on life,” as he modestly claims, is the one I’d spend the most time with.  Belgarath and his daughter Polgara, excellent characters though they are, walk in too lofty a circle for the likes of me. I doubt Polgara would give me the time of day, let alone spend time in my presence. Belgarath would be great fun if I could get him telling stories, but he’s a bit busy. As an ensemble cast, they are tremendous fun and a nearly unbeatable team. I have whiled away many an hour in their company traveling the world at the demand of the Prophecy that drives them.

Miles Vorkosigan is a different sort of person altogether. I’m not certain we could ever be friends, but I would be honored to work for the man. Lois McMaster Bujold’s greatest creation (in my opinion, of course,) and his family have won her four Hugo Awards and nominations for six more, and for good reason. Miles is a man driven to excel. Physically disadvantaged from birth in a military crazed culture that deplores mutants, Miles is the son of one of the greatest men of his generation. His deformities are the result of an attack suffered by his parents when he was in utero, rendering him brittle and sickly most of his life. But his mind is a tool he wields  with tremendous skill. Rather than try to hurt his enemies, Miles tends to co-opt them. As he puts it, and I paraphrase, “Why should I try to beat their strengths, when I can maneuver them to a place where that strength is useless?” Miles’ loyalty, whether to his servants, his friends, or his world is uncompromising, his approach to problems unique, and his sense of humor hilarious. Bujold’s style lets us into his life in a deeply personal way. We see his struggles, which makes cheering for his successes all the more satisfying. And the rest of his family and friends are equally impressive. As much as I treasure time spent with Miles, his father Aral Vorkosigan could claim my loyalty in a hot second, and his mother Cordelia is a woman not to be trifled with.

And then there is Harry Dresden, star of the Dresden Files novels created by Jim Butcher. Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I said some people have terrified me? Harry Dresden is on the short list. Which is odd when you consider some of the other short lists he makes, such as “Person I would trust with my life.”  Harry is a wizard living in Chicago. In fact, he’s the only entry under “Wizard,” in the Chicago phone book. And friends, Harry is the real deal. This is a man who commands the forces of nature, who stands between us and things too terrible to contemplate. The facts that he read a lot of comics as a kid and plays RPG’s to relax (he plays a Barbarian.) are merely incidental, and don’t pander to my interests at all. There have been thirteen Dresden files novels so far, and of those there are only two I have not read at least three times. (I will not prejudice the jury and say which ones they are, if only to provide you with more incentive to find out for yourself.)  Harry is a dedicated man, surrounded by characters that are real and compelling. His challenges are epic, the risks he takes meeting them truly terrifying, and his solutions bold and unexpected. As dynamic and powerful as his enemies are, his friends are even better. Karrin Murphy, Harry’s closest friend, is either the best or second best female character I have ever read. Her only competition is Cordelia Vorkosigan. (Edding’s Polgara rounds out the top three. Do you see a pattern here?)

There are more out there. I could go on about Corwin, Prince of Amber. We could talk about Rincewind or Commander Vimes, and the many excellent Discworld characters from the mind of Terry Pratchett. If I wandered out of genre for a moment we could dwell on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. But in genre, these three sets of characters are the ones I return to again and again when I want to feel welcome or wonder.  If you haven’t met them yet, I urge you to go make plans to as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

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