Why we love our literary heroes, even in space

Cat Rambo

For as long as stories have been told, certain qualities draw us to their heroes. It’s no different for this author’s own colorful cast of characters crewing a bioship, whose hero you’ll want to spend plenty of time with.

by Cat Rambo

Why do readers read stories? Because the act is pleasurable. We live another person’s life, or perhaps multiple lives, while we are immersed in the pages. We experience their emotions, endure their privations (although at a remove that makes the experience endurable, sometimes even engrossing), and follow them through their journeys. We live with them as they grow and develop, and in the process, some of that growth and development may rub off on us.

Great heroes of literature sometimes provide the answer to the question of what to do. Because we can ask ourselves, what would they do if they were living in our shoes, rather than the reverse? Sidney Carton’s choice in A Tale of Two Cities is a heroic one, and he underscores the benefits of rising to the challenge in his final words: “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” In trying to make the right choice, we can look to his example for guidance and inspiration.

It doesn’t have to be grand gestures that one learns from literary heroes. It might be the openness of Huckleberry Finn, the determined persistence of Lilith Ayapo, the optimism of Pollyanna, and any number of other qualities that affect the small interactions of life.

In working on my space opera series, I’ve come to know my ensemble of characters, the found family that makes up the crew of bioship You Sexy Thing, but I don’t consider them all my heroes. That honor lies with the captain, Niko Larsen, once a military hero, then a restaurateur, and now someone just trying to keep herself and her crew alive. I’m working on the beginning of book three, and by now, I know the answer to a very specific question: what would Niko do? In most circumstances, I do use her example in trying to cope with everyday life.

She’s a good person to draw from, because she’s pragmatic, intelligent, and kind. Her temper is slower to rouse than mine, and she’s less likely to hold grudges. She is more thorough and careful, and more likely to plan things out. Overall, she’s a great role model, and someone whose behavior I’d want to model in emergencies, because she is above all else level-headed and not prone to panic.

It doesn’t have to be grand gestures that one learns from literary heroes—it might be the openness of Huckleberry Finn or the optimism of Pollyanna.

There are other characters from the series that I like to spend time with in my head. Like the entertaining scoundrel Jezli Farren, who makes her first appearance in book two, and has been dominating pages ever since she first appeared. Jezli’s example is not always the best one, but she possesses a lot more self-confidence and brazen assurance than I will ever muster, and that’s not a terrible role model either when you’re a woman brought up during the late 60s with “the patriarchy must be obeyed” brain software installed in those years.

Or Dabry Jen, four-armed chef extraordinaire and also a vital component of the glue holding the crew together. Dabry’s mostly useful for saying snide things in a very dry way, but he’s enlivened more than one irritating situation, and helped me maintain my sense of humor about things.

I love this set of characters more than any other I’ve ever worked with (shh, don’t let the other books hear), and they live in my head in a way no other entities do. It’s been a boon to find out they can be part of my psyche in a way that benefits me and also makes the writing both easier and more entertaining. My intent is to make them a ten-book series, and as I finish up book three, I’m already looking forward to book four. I hope you’ll check the first book out and see whether you also want to be part of the journey.

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Their 250+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In 2020, they won the Nebula Award for fantasy novelette Carpe Glitter. They are a former two-term president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Their most recent works are space opera You Sexy Thing (Tor Macmillan, November 2021) as well as an anthology, The Reinvented Heart (Arc Manor, February 2022), co-edited with Jennifer Brozek.

Connect with Cat on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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