In the romance world, including the science fiction subgenre, one of our favorite things to write and to read is a strong cast of supporting characters. We hope many of them will go on to have their stories told in a future book. As an author, reader interest in my supporting characters is a lovely thing which hopefully will lead to future sales; as a reader, I’m rooting for the secondary characters to have their turn front and center. If the author has told me enough about them to be intriguing, I know an adventure featuring this man/woman/alien/cyborg/space marine/whathaveyou will be terrific and I can’t wait to read the novel.
Sometimes even the villain can make a wonderful hero or heroine, once featured in his or her own book!
I think I first glommed onto supporting characters in the Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern series, with F’nor the rider of a brown dragon being my absolute favorite. I always wished for more about him, even though he did indeed get his own book. I was also very fond of Robinton the Master Harper (SPOILER Alert) and I cried my eyes out when I read his death scene late in the series. I was mad at the author for killing him off (I forgave her later) and I was mad at myself for crying about a fictional person dying, but it was a powerful story thread through the series.
My own readers started asking for a sequel to 2012’s Wreck of the Nebula Dream immediately because they wanted to know what happened next for Twilka, the interstellar celebutante, and Khevan, the assassin/bodyguard. It took me four years to come up with a worthy story to tell with these two and then I did release Star Survivor last year. As an author there’s a lot of pressure to get the story right and satisfy those fans who’ve waited so long. Readers are also asking for Mitch from Escape From Zulaire to get his own story and I just haven’t gotten my Muse to come up with one. Yet. I did write Johnny from Mission to Mahjundar his own adventure and was happy to do it, in Hostage to the Stars.
Recently I asked the readers in several Facebook SFR groups who were memorable supporting characters for them.
Right away I started getting names of characters from Laurann Dohner’s New Species series. This fourteen book series is based on the idea of an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company having spliced various types of animal DNA with human DNA, and then conducted horrific experiments on their subjects. The members of the New Species break free with the help of humans who uncover the plot, but then the NS must find a way to co-exist in the world. Predictably, not everyone in the novels is a New Species supporter. It’s a terrific series that I myself enjoy and am always hoping for a new book. The last was Numbers, which features two stories. The readers I surveyed are still hoping for more sequels involving Jynx, Jericho, Flame and Vengeance.
Another set of books mentioned with great affection was Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series — I’m a huge fan of Ms. Singh, and my enjoyment of her books has a lot of company. Interestingly, a number of readers brought up Kaleb Krychek, who was something of a villain in earlier books, but then he got his time to be front and center in Heart of Obsidian. (From the book’s blurb: “A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred. A woman whose very existence has been erased. A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself. A deadly price that must be paid.”). About this book, I have to say WOW: I started reading it grumpily because he’d been such a villain, but by the last page I was totally emotionally invested, and he’s become one of my favorite people in the series. Not that he turned out to be a secretly angelic being, far from it, but the depth of his backstory and the love story with Sahara was all amazing. As one reader put it during our FB discussion: “You hated him in all the other books because he was a cold, calculating killer. In HIS book his motivation is made clear and it’s HEARTBREAKING!”
There was a lot of reader support for Merik from C. E. Kilgore’s Corwint Central Agent Files series, who got his book in Breathe Into Existence. Apparently from reader comments he’s another “bad boy turned good.” Those are catnip all right. Author Kilgore describes her series thusly in the overall series blurb: “Corwint Central Agent Files is set in a galaxy far, far away. Various planetary systems and alien species, some human-like and others very unique, offer a backdrop to the adventures, struggles for power, character development and romance. As a space opera, character development and world building are the key ingredients. Of Merik himself, she writes: Merik awakens to an alien world and the silver eyes that have come to haunt his dreams. Fighting against his Trexen nature, his heart begs him to protect Asha while his carnal spirit calls him to claim her as his and no one else’s.”
Several characters from Lois McMaster Bujold’s sprawling Vorkosigan series received mention as being intriguing sidekicks or secondary figures, including Byerly Vorrutyer. Described on the Vorkosigan Wiki page as “a Barrayaran Vor, who appeared to be a classic “town clown”, but actually served as a secret Barrayaran Imperial Security agent.” Captain Ivan Vorpatril from the same series evoked conflicting emotions, with some readers having liked him through earlier books and then been disappointed when he got his own story, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. As one reader stated, “I thought, when he got his own book, he’d finally step up and show that he was more than ‘that idiot Ivan,’ but then he didn’t, so that was a missed opportunity…” Other readers did find his book satisfying, which just goes to show each person’s experience with a book and a character is theirs alone and not everyone will see the story the same way.
Allyson James (who is also Jennifer Ashley) and the Tales of the Shareem series came in for a mention, with the character of Calder having left a deep impression on more than one reader. From the blurb and author’s note: “Males created for the pleasure of women. They come in three levels: Level one, sensuality; Level two, fun and games; Level three, dark and dangerous pleasures…The Shareem were made to be all things to women, to live to please, and to have no emotions — not anger, jealousy, joy, or love. Outlawed now, Shareem eke out a living in the backstreets of their city, restricted by rules that keep them near-prisoners. They give pleasure for survival but each searches for the one woman who will fulfill his long-denied need for love.” Calder’s tale is told in Book four of the series.
Other characters mentioned as being intriguing and memorable were Ren in Linnea Sinclair’s Gabriel’s Ghost, Frieka in Angela Knight’s Jane’s Warlord, Ian in The Host by Stephanie Meyer, and Ro from Rachel Leigh Smith’s A’yen’s Legacy series.
We also got into a discussion of some terrific characters from fantasy series, but that’s outside my scope for this post, so let me just mention Tam and Phaelan in the Raine Benares World series from Lisa Shearin; Roman from Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series and Glenn from Severine’s Wolfe’s Demonworld books.
Who was the most memorable secondary character you ever read? Did they eventually get their own book or are you still waiting?