The older hero

I’ve spent most of my life doing… stupid things. I was going to say energetic, adventurous, exciting, bizarre, and, um, stupid. But only the last is really universally true. For someone, somewhere anyway. But as I flopped into my chair this evening, to try and write a post, having 1)got through my word count (just), 2)Written a blog post, 3)worked on the farm fencing(AKA earning some money) 4)Worked on my container-cum-workshop-in-the-future’s roof, 5)done some minimal gardening – or we do not eat (yes, I still grow catch or raise most everything but the basic food groups of coffee and chocolate. It’s cheap but also time consuming and hard work.), 6)cooked supper, 7) writing this. 8) going to shoot and butcher some more wallaby -we’re low on dog tucker) fitting it in basically by cutting back on sleep, that maybe stupid is the only right word. When I was the other side of 50 I thought it was intelligent and the only way worth being. Now that I have finally grown up a tiny bit, and I hurt a lot more after a long hard day… well, I am not so sure. On the other hand, I am too obstinate to quit.

But I was, in my ample spare time reading a few books for homework for the next Karres novel (I read very fast to make up for writing slowly) and it stuck how young all the heroes were. So I started looking at other books, scanning my mind… There are exceptions (PEBBLE IN THE SKY springs to mind), but heroes have a median age of about 28, I’ll swear. And the female ones are younger. Now in real terms this is a good idea. Get rid of the meat-heads young before they breed. Think of it as evolution in action, encouraged largely by writers who avoid that sort of dangerous sh1t. And I suspect we all have a finite cup of courage, and if you’ve been quaffing liberally at it as a young snot, and you’re still alive by 40, there’s not much left. (While some of you have expressed doubts about this I really am a very quiet tame sort of bloke these days. Just still fairly stupid about getting involved in odd things.) Still… I wondered. SF is supposed to be greying. You wouldn’t guess by looking at the heroes. Do we fancy ourselves as 28 in our daydreams? I’ve written, deliberately, heroes of younger ages for those target markets. Is there a market for targeting the older hero. Or is he a boring old fart, who likes a little snooze at lunchtime? (yes, I know, there’s PI Bolg 1728 years old and still counting, but Bolg is a Pict, and written by Freer so it’s no use expecting him to be typical)

And if it is generally applicable to sf/fantasy… in Romance I swear they all die at 35. But this isn’t true, surely? And what is their median reader age?

Okay, I’m brain-dead, and tired too, and still need to go shooting. Short post this week. But tell me, why do all the PC darlings whine like deranged mosquitoes with no volume control about PoCLGBTalphabet-soup characters, but nary a word about older ones (who, boringly, are tired, hurt a bit, and think warm dry socks are really exiting?).

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84 responses to “The older hero

  1. This reader will be 77 Wensday. Hang in, it does not get better, but alive is better than dead…..Maybe.

    • On this you can trust me absolutely ;-). I have no intention of going gently into that good night. I’m growing old disgracefully, and ‘corrupting the youth with my song.’

  2. My latest book (released a couple of months ago– about 5 copies sold) has a Hero (that is his occupation as well as a description) who is 55 years old and feeling it. One reviewer (there’s onyl a couple) said he loved the older character and would like to see more of them (not just mine).

    I think there’s a market for it, but I think the market just doesn’t realise.

    • Aimee Morgan

      Now it’s six copies sold.

      • Thanks Aimee.

        For those who buy the story and would like to be a character in book 3 of the series (good guy, bad guy, warrior or sorcerer or even a dwarf engineer probably) I’m running a competition. Buy The Age of Heroes plus The Brightest Light, send me the proof of purchase/ownership and you go in the draw. Or buy all four books of The Tribes of the Hakahei (#1 is free in one Amazon US and on Smashwords– about $11 for the rest) and go in the draw too. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, always a problem the connection between book and market

  3. MY soon to be released first has a heroine that is 18, and the main three secondary characters are a 65 year old women a 70 year old cat person and a 10,000 year old wizard. So I’m just trying to cover all the bases. And need I tell you how obnoxious and set-in-his-ways a 10,000 year old wizard can be?

    • Well, Fintan mac Bochra (the Watson to my PI, Bolg) immoral… uh immortal sorcerer AKA theoretical physicist, is at least 3000 years old, but has been having a happy second adolescence for most of it. πŸ™‚ He said the first time was lousy, andfilled with doubt and uncertainty, and he’s making up for it. (Oddly I modelled him on an aunt of mine, who is now 92 and considerably less set in her ways than most 30 year olds. On (mis) behavior and sheer relish for life, and learning new things she’s a great role model. You’d never take her for anything like her age.) I think you may have hit on what many of us categorize as old: staid (or set in ones ways).

  4. Laura M

    I just beta read someone’s fantasy with older main characters. It worked really well, and their environment, which is very demanding, made their strength credible. Their age also gave their backstory depth.

    As I read it, however, I fretted about about how the writer should do her blurb, because the age could perhaps turn off younger readers. But I remember gobbling up the stories of Lazarus Long in my teens, so maybe it wouldn’t matter. True, Methusaleh’s Children was predicated on his not seeming old, but he sure seemed worn out in Time Enough for Love

  5. Dan Lane

    David Gemmel wrote quite a few older heroes, and their interaction with the younger, more typical hero type was quite a treasure. Druss was in his fifties as well, and also “too obstinate to quit.” My old copy is titled “Against the Horde” rather than “The Legend,” but it reads quite the same.

    His other protagonists, Waylander and so on follow the same theme. Age plays no favorites among we mortal men. Joints will ache in wet weather, hair will start to gray, and all the other companions of age will show up, wanted or not, on our doorsteps.

    Age may not necessarily bring wisdom by default, but surviving enough adventurous, exciting, and pretty stupid stuff tends to do it (at least I like to think it has for me in some small way). And sometimes that wisdom might be something of a tale- not just the how it was gotten, but how it is used later in life. Gandalf was no young pup, yet off he went adventuring in the wilds with the rest of them.

    Perhaps it is the view that young people have fewer responsibilities and commitments, as well. Harder to cut loose and go plundering dungeons when there’s a wife and children to worry over you, debts to pay, obligations to meet, and so on (such a varied phrase, that). By the time the kids are grown and the house is paid for, either there’s some new demand on your time or inertia has set its hooks and a warm fire and dry socks sound much more lovely than a cold night in the rain waiting for that old buck to come down the trail for the last time (or its equivalent).

    I must admit I’m one of those that wonder about that finite cup of courage. Can’t say I see any limit to it yet, to be honest. Perhaps it’s that wisdom thing again. See, once a lot of really stupid things have been done, crossed off the list, and hopefully forgotten or at least built enough counter-blackmail up so it’s not brought up again there’s fewer new stupid things to get up to (I hope). So it’s either same stupid things done in different ways or new stupid things, if we’re not crazy. This may explain somewhat reality t.v. (same foolish things, a few different ways).

    There’s a market for old heroes, I do believe. There are some good stories to be had there. The alphabet soup Prog’s leave out the elderly probably because “old = establishment” to them. Remember all the angst against “old white guys?” Both sides of the political aisle try to woo the younger generation, but one seems to have an axe to grind.

    Older people tend to have more accumulated wealth than younger folks- income inequality. Older people tend to be more conservative- evil. Older folks tend to have less “nuanced,” more practical (blunt) views on pretty much everything- racist cisgendered heteronormative fascists, ain’t they? Those trends aren’t absolutes. But there have been enough stories and studies done that it’s what a lot of folks think.

    I’d be happy to see more old badasses in books. Perhaps some folks of the writerly bent might get on that sometime soon. *grin*

    • Here’s a link to my book with an older hero… http://www.amazon.com/Heroes-Last-Great-Hero-Book-ebook/dp/B00PK18VR8/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

      And a great bit of blurbing written by the under appreciated Dave Duncan…

      “Meet Rawk, the superannuated hero. He’s closer to Cohen the Barbarian than Aragorn son of Arathorn, or even Achilles, but that doen’t mean he isn’t highly both original and amusing. He’s the sort of guy you’d want at your side when you run into a wolden wolf. Scott writes the sort of stuff I often wished I’d written after I finished writing the stuff I did write.”

      • The Dave Duncan (agreed, he’s far too under appreciated) quote got you another sale. In your place, I’d consider adding that quote to the book’s description on Amazon. It kind of disappears into all the other text under the Editorial Reviews section.

        • Thanks for buying and thanks for the tip. I didn’t know the quote had already come up on Amazon and didn’t realize where it was going to turn up. I’ll add it first chance I get.

          I hope you enjoy the book. The second one should be out in a couple of months, all going well.

      • Luke

        Alright, you convinced me.
        And I’m happy to see that Dave Duncan is still writing. I hadn’t seen anything new from him on bookstore shelves in over a decade. It seems I have quite a backlog to comb through.

        • LIke I said, Dave Duncan is under appreciated. He is pretty much never on book shelves in Australia, unless it’s a speciality store. I introduced my wife to his writing when we first me and she now says she would leave me for Dave. For that reason I got Dave to sign a hard cover of ‘Ill Met at the Arena’ for her for our second anniversary. He seems like a genuinely great guy.

          And one of his most recent books is ‘Death of Nnanji’ a follow up to the ‘Seventh Sword’ series. (I don’t have yet– waiting for a reread of the rest of the books). It’s set 15 years later so Wally/Shonsu must be getting close to the ‘older’ category.

          And if you’re buying my book, see my reply to one of the first comments about the competition. πŸ™‚

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      You beat me to mentioning David Gemmell!

      I suppose younger heroes can be easier because they have less backstory and are more of a blank slate. Older heroes need more thought.

      • Dan Lane

        I think you’re right. Older folks have experience, and that experience comes from, well, experiences. Stands to reason. If they don’t it’s a memory lapse or some sort of curse, which tells you a bit of what kind of story it is going to be after all.

    • I am not a great movie person. (I do try to see one a year, whether I need to or not) but wasn’t there a movie about two old badasses?

      • Dan Lane

        Er, you mean those moving picture things? Kinda like books, but not as detailed? *grin*

        I think there might have been one or two, but I don’t see movies much. Red, or something like that?

      • There was “Tough Guys” with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in 1986, about the two last train robbers getting out of prison. RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) (2010) included Helen Mirren with a machine gun. Space Cowboys (2000) had Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner.
        Every ONE of those was calling on the ‘old guy does dangerous stuff’ meme. It’s too easy to write.

        • Laura M

          It’s all about perspective. I think my young MCs are a reaction to movie watching. Mel Gibson playing William Wallace (who was something like 23 in reality), and Russell Crowe (who is really great, but) playing both Jack Aubrey and Robin Hood (Robin Hood, really?) kind of annoyed me. The baby boomers need to recognize that there are other cohorts out there. Also, probably because my husband and I are north of 50, we get drawn to watching movies and shows with older MCs, so, to me, it seems like there are plenty, and I enjoy reading about younger folk. I have two unpublished short stories with middle-aged men as the MCs, but they are Corridors of Power stories more than action adventure. The people who go to space or the seastead are much younger.

  6. mobiuswolf

    Good point Dave. I hadn’t thought. I started with an older hero (55-60), then introduced his grandson, so I guess I’m covered. I intended the older guy to be the one to count on aches pains and all, but you need many heroes in zombie stories I think.

  7. I’ll be 58 in less than two months and my characters are all younger than half my age. My first three books (the first two of which are out) feature the same two main characters. They start off at ages 23 (him) and 20 (her). By the end of book three (coming soon), they’re 26 and 23. My fourth book features new, even younger characters. He and she are both 20 in the book (and 21 in the second book, which I’m about to start writing).

    I’ve got older characters in the books, but physically demanding adventures strike me as something for young people to have. They have just the right combination of vitality, (in)experience, and just enough of a sense of immortality to make them willing to risk life and limb for an ideal (be it personal honor, the love of a good woman, or for God and country). If you also want to put some romance into the book (and I’m rather incurably romantic, so I do), younger characters work best there, too, since they still have so much to learn about the opposite sex.

    Younger characters have so much more to discover in life and about life that they bring just the right combination of ability and innocence to most stories–or at least to most of my stories so far.

    • Yes, there are advantages – physically, and psychologically to younger characters. But I’m always up for a challenge (and at 65 and still actively farming, my dive partner is tougher and stronger than I’d guess 90% of 20 year olds. He works hard at a physical job, every day. He’s certainly less fast and agile than he must have been at 20, but he’s stronger and better for endurance than he was.)

      • Dan Lane

        *grin* My great grandad I spoke of earlier was actively farming well into his late nineties. Also routinely outworked kids in their twenties (such as me) through sheer toughness. Not as fast, but damn did he work steady, from sun to sun and then some.

        My last memory of him was him flirting with the (very much younger) nurses after his last heart attack. He kept the current Sports Illustrated Swimsuit calendar nailed up in his house year in and year out, too. I like to think I’ll be half so active when I’m a hundred. *chuckle*

      • Marty Halvorson

        My brother-in-law was in his 20’s, I was in my 40’s, and my father-in-law was 80. We were picking avocados in Father-in-law’s back yard. Quitting order, due to lack of energy to continue: Brother-in-law first, me second, and my father-in-law last (about an hour later). Now that I’m in my mid 70’s, I understand why.

  8. Let’s see. Elizabeth von Sarmas was in her mid teens when the series started and bumping 50 (her body was probably closer to 70 when you add in mileage) at the end of _Elizabeth and Empire_. Rada Ni Drako is set in her late 30s, at least for now, for various reasons of genetics and technology. Joschka is aging (but won’t admit it). In my most recent works, the characters tend to start in their mid to late 20s to early 40s. I suspect it is in part because I don’t enjoy spending the first 10-15 minutes of every day making sure my joints are all going to move in more or less the right ways with no more than the average amount of difficulty, and most readers probably don’t want to know or be reminded about it either. πŸ™‚

  9. Eh, given that mostly, the appellation of “hero” is bestowed upon someone who sees a lot of action, it’s pretty understandable that most heroes would be young. They are more resilient and have better recuperative powers than older people.

    Now, if you’re writing something that takes a lot of cerebral input, the older hero makes more sense, because he has had more time to learn and experience the world.

    • resiliant… yes recuprative yes. But actual endurance… no. Most novels are the equivalent of an ultra-marathon πŸ˜‰ in what is asked of heroes. And unlike other sports… that is not the province of the 16 year-old.

  10. Angus Trim

    I think it kind of depends. In Robert E. Howard’s Conan, his adventures start out when he’s a teen.

    But in the “Hour of the Dragon”, Howard’s only novel, Conan is in his early forties.

    Ensign Flandry was in his twenties, but Commander Flandry had some mileage.

    Louis L’Amour would write about young people, but he would also write about the same characters after they have grown children.

    I think it depends on what you’re trying to do with your story. Using movies for a moment, Luke Skywalker was young, but “special”. Captain Kirk in “The Wrath of Khan” was a man with some experience under his belt, who met his grown son.

  11. Back when I was “studying” writing as opposed to , you know, just writing, a truism was that for the middle reader and YA market you wanted a protagonist at the upper end or just beyond the age range of the target market. “Teens don’t like reading about children.”

    In the adult (literal, not euphemism) market it’s supposed to be the reverse. A fifty something is more likely to be willing to read about a twenty something than the reverse. So to maximize readership Editors wanted younger protagonists.

    Or so I’ve been told.

  12. Oh, and in my novel “Survival Test” my main character is in his forties at least, maybe his fifties–he’s got a grown son anyway. Then there’s my character Shillond in a couple of stories that have not yet been published (one of which was my entry in last year’s Baen Fantasy Contest). Wizard over 500 years old. I’m not sure that magically extended lifespans really count for the question that seems to be behind the original post, or technologically extended lifespans for that matter. (Lazarus Long?)

    • I found IIRC Niven’s take on extend life interesting (and now I think about it, Zelazny’s Sandow too) that extenden life is not so much a long continuous thing, so much as a sequence of ‘lives’ without the uncertainty or inconvenience of death and reincarnation.

  13. I realized a couple of years ago that I want to read about older people. And not just older people who are boring and worn out… but say the older people who are mentors and teachers of the younger people who are doing the dumb things. And why not, in fantasy it is the wise old man who has the power and puts the younger man on the path… Why not read about the wise old man? Surely he and his woman have a lot of interesting things happening to them. I know that in my real life, I thought the interesting things would have calmed down by now.

    • BTW the 50 year old is still a youngster to the 60 and 70 year olds.

      • Dan Lane

        My great grandfather, in his hundred and second year, still called my eighty-year old granddad “that boy.” *grin*

        I’ve been blessed with older relatives who set a high standard that’ I’ve a lifetime to try and meet. I thought “interesting times” would have ended with my twenties, but now you tell me they keep going?! Ack. And what a time for health insurance to go all wonky on us, too…

      • I’ve been saying that for some time. I’m almost 79, and my three older kids (of five) are in their late 50s. It hardly seems possible, yet to me, they are still “the kids.”

    • ‘I want to read about older people.’ – this. I’m not actually ready to find life boring yet.

  14. Actually, there is beginning to be quite the kerfuffle about not seeing mature women in the active heroine roles. I see posts at least twice a week from my more socially progressive friends lamenting the fact that all the “wise women” ala Mrs. Pollifax are missing in SF/F, unless they are placed in bodies of eternal youth and beauty.
    People are raving over Connolly’s A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark simply because the protagonist is a middle-aged woman. He’s riding the publicity wave on it now, saying that was his intention in writing her, even though that contradicts earlier statements he made for the motivation of writing the book, but hey, whatever gets him sales.
    You’re just not hearing from the right people.

    • CMJwyrd – I suspect this is a case of Pratchett’s wizards. I paraphrase because I’m too lazy to hunt the exact quote but it’s in ‘THE LAST CONTINENT’ – “Remember when we were young and we said you couldn’t trust a wizard over 55”.
      “Yes, and then when got near 55 we discovered that wasn’t true any more, and they were trustworthy now.”
      “Good thing we found out in time, eh!”
      The vast numbers of women who have entered sf/fantasy (a disproportionate number of them as young, attractive women. Purely by chance of course, because your appearance and genitals have nothing much to do with writing skill.) in the last 20 years, are now approaching that age. And suddenly they find the establishment – which is what they have become – is actually jolly good, and trustworthy :-). Odd that.

  15. In the current WIP (well, the second of two WIPs) I am setting up an older man as the romantic hero. He is actually a callow and clueless youth in the first WIP, having all kinds of adventures in the California Gold Rush. In the second book, he is thirty years older, wiser, greyer … and having done a lot of things besides gold-mining in the interim (soldier, ranger, freight-driver, trail-boss, reluctant gun-fighter), he is ready to settle down … and does, with a woman half his age. He still goes off and volunteers for Teddy Roosevelt’s rough riders, to his wife’s horror. Because, as he explains to her – he has skills and experience, which could save the lives of younger and more reckless men.

    It’s actually a lot of fun for me, writing him at both ends of his life.

  16. You probably need to work harder to get older heroes to accept “the call to adventure”. They have their place in the world, they like it overall, and they have responsibilities.

    They might work well in refugee stories. Refugees HAVE to leave their place and go on adventures. Dealing with all that, and the surly teenager and the adventurous toddler, can be very … interesting.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      There’s a “standard character” in fiction. He’s an older warrior/soldier/wizard who has hung up his weapons and just wants “peace and quiet”. Unfortunately trouble comes calling so he has to take up his weapons again.

      • Exactly what I am doing with my character … he hangs it up, marries a girl … and then after a period of contentment with her, realizes that he has the skills and guile of old(er) age, which can save the lives of the younger set that he feels responsible for – through having children and realizing how important it is to preserve the lives of the young.

        This thread is being incredibly useful to me, by the way. All hail the Mad Genius Club for offering interesting feedback to a plot currently under construction.

    • Ori, authors get to play god to their characters. We can make circumstances force them, plausibly. πŸ™‚

      • Luke

        But it’s much easier to have a callow youth jump at the call, than try to convince a person in midlife to turn his back on his wife and kids.
        Especially since we want the readers to actually *like* the guy.

        • Dan Lane

          Not every older person has such things. Say for instance the middle aged man whose hair has migrated to his cheeks and chin. No wife nor kids and not for lack of trying. Job he thinks he needs, but not precisely what he *wants.* Someone just a bit out of place, but lots of practice being a truncated icosidodecahedron in a tetrahedral shaped hole, for instance.

          Given the right push, all sorts of things could happen to such a character. Disaster. Adventure (which may amount to more of the same). Maybe even Romance (which can be just more of the same- or not). Or such a character could learn to be the type that causes things to happen, rather than having things happen to him.

          Give him a motive that drives him like a semi without brakes, a crisis like a wildfire in a dry field, and a smattering of humanity like laughter, love, and lasagna (the kind with sweet basil and garlic, rich and tomato-y and all kinds of bad for you).

          That said, how many really great stories are there with solid families in them already? Mothers and fathers and little children all, loved and cherished and only ordinary angst in teenagers and un-magical disagreements that everyone gets up to now and again. I count few, but those are every one a treasure. I always like it when authors but good morals and relationships on display, as they seem to not be all that common anymore. It’s easy to go pick up the stirring stick in this part of the character’s lives when all the rest is a-tizzy as well, it seems. *rueful chuckle*

  17. Jordan

    One of the things I loved about The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan was that two of the three main male characters were older men- a retired police investigator trying to save his family, and a General who decides its time to overthrow the king. Both are definitely the worse for wear through out the novel, but manage to be heroic in part because they have to rely on wisdom more than brute force now that they don’t have the full vigor of youth. I thought at the time how refreshing it was to see those view points in a fantasy novel, and then I read this, so thought I would pop in and comment.

  18. In the ‘ARM’ stories, Larry Niven creates Lucas Garner, an old dude in a wheelchair. He’s actually born the same year as Niven, who muses ‘I guess I want to live forever.’
    Henry didn’t mention it, but the character who INSPIRES his hero is an old dude, already in retirement when he tells his stories, and at the point of death when the hero graduates from Space Scout school.
    Having an older character to appears young doesn’t count; yer just using magic and adding to the power of the character. It’s no challenge to think of THAT character, been done a million times. If you want a challenge, write a fat, crippled 60+ year old who needs Viagra for any sex scenes you do, and remember that you are writing escapist literature, so your reader will wish he could be that guy.
    Go ahead; I DARE ya!

  19. Uncle Lar

    Every soldier and just about any serious camper/hiker knows that warm dry socks are essential life saving equipment.

    • Marty Halvorson

      My good buddy, an 88 year old survivor of WW II in Europe, once told me that he didn’t take his shoes off for 2 months while fighting Germans. He was a machine gunner, and a real live hero (he’s got the medal to prove it).

  20. I’ve been considering writing a series of romances called Second Chances about middle aged protagonists with kids, etc. behind them finding love. Supposing of course, my kids are ever out of hte house and I have time.

    • I do think there’s a gap for this, Sarah.

      • Laura M

        Man, when my friend’s novelette, Winter Glory, comes out, I will be sure to let you all know. She’s doing that crazy Liliana Nirvana thing, and has it all ready to go, but is almost done with her other four books she’s planning to publish at the same time. I admire her forbearance, but.

  21. questionableprovenance

    I learn many things on this blog, but perhaps the most significant for me in the past few months: there’s going to be another Karres novel!?! Hurry it up, man. I’m almost three times as old as those median heroes you speak of, and I want to be around to read it.

    • πŸ™‚ Bloody nagging. Never stops… I had Laurel – who is bordering on 90 tell me to get on with the next Joy, because she’d read this one twice already at Church on Sunday… I’m on to it, it is just worth doing well.

  22. Not a MGC person, but DISCOVERED through an MGC person, so I feel justified in the announcement: I have just read and reviewed “Deadly Farce,” by Jennifer McAndrews. Posted on my blog and on Amazon.
    Next up: Lawyers on Mars!

  23. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Someone older likely has a stronger and more fixed character, which can be a better contrast to others.

    Someone active and older may have fewer options for lingering backstory issues that they have not already solved.

    Ageism is a SJW issue, but as in other things, they may be likely to showcase it in boring ways.

    I’m steeped enough in Shonen Manga that I’m also sympathetic to going the other way.

    There are characters like the Continental Op, and the head of his branch.

    As for recent markets, it may say something about society, or at least the society of the publishers. NYC leftists of middle age or older are perhaps stuck in the sixties, imagining themselves as youth telling the old men off.

  24. I have a series planned. The characters start off at late twenties, but the time span of the series is going to be 30 years or so. While they begin with the “brash young here” model, I expect that I will be switching to the “age and treachery beat youth and strength” trope as I get towards the end. I think it will be amusing to show how the old worn-out folks still have enough tricks and skills up their sleeves to foil the younger guns.

    David

  25. Not F&SF, but a WEB Griffin series Brotherhood of War follows characters from WWII (Book 1, The Lieutenants, 1982 ) through Viet Nam (Book 6, The Generals, 1986). The series has 3 more books, but I don’t remember if they follow the same characters.
    Ummm…I just did my taxes for 2012, 2013, and 2014 this weekend. Now, THAT’S the kind of heroism mature characters are involved in!

  26. Dr. Mauser is older than me by a few years. I figured that by the time he earned his Doctorate, he’d be close to 30, and by the time he’d built up a truly worthy evil organization, it would be even longer.

    • Dan Lane

      Finding quality minions is always the issue. Once you’ve got that down, acquisition and construction actually go pretty quickly. Ya just have t follow the evil overlord checklist while you’re at it, to prevent Plucky Young Heroes from bedeviling you whilst you’re building up (along with all the other good employer practices, like The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves).

  27. Cat

    Actually non-conservative SF bloggers do mention the lack of older main characters. Not as often, but it’s there. Also non-conservative SF writers sometimes write them (not as often as I’d like, but still.) _Curse of Chalion_ has been mentioned here. _Paladin Of Souls_ should also come in for a mention, I think. _A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark_ happens to be what I’m reading at the moment, and I’m finding it a lot of fun.

    Can’t guarantee what someone would think who was determined to hate it, of course. There has already been some shooting and arson, also an attack by a vampire and another by a ghost–but perhaps that’s boring if the protagonist is an old woman solving problems with negotiation and subtle magic rather than force. Different tastes.

    • (dryly) Cat I follow a substantial part of the traditional publishing establishment (which you call ‘non-conservative’ – a very inaccurate label) SF/fantasy debate and have for years. The various alphabet soup of characters for whom there is a regular and substantial fuss about not being represented in the genre, range in demographic percentages – from the highest 13% to microscopic fractions of a percent. Yet -except for those who are dead young (which is not that high a percentage in the West, and they’re not clamoring to buy books about themselves. My ouija board is silent on the subject) a condition -which is not a choice – which potentially affects all humans – even the 0.000001% alphabet-soupers, gets a tiny, tiny fragment of attention. I suspect this will change as the current establishment crop of writers ages – if they can still sell to traditional publishing (which has in the last 25 years a track record picking young attractive female writers out of proportion to their demographics – which is something no-one talks about. I don’t write with my face or genitals, but it seems I am unusual in this.). The non-establishment writers tend to be less concerned with current fashion and write about what interests them and what they know about.

  28. SteveW

    I’ve pondered this, and I have a question that the many artists here may be able to answer.

    How much of this is attributable to writing the “hero’s journey?” Or other similar stories.

    So when I read about, say Clara and Tim in their Steam Mole, or Athena in her Darkship or Juan Rico in his military…… These aren’t just folks having an adventure. These are people being tempered by their experiences.

    As a reader I have some, well, patience with a callow youth being callow. I may find it harder to want to spend time with similar protagonists if they were, well, my age.

    Or, to come back to one of my examples, there’s presumably a reason STARSHIP TROOPERS is about Juan Rico and not Emillio Rico, even though they both end up on the Rodger Young in the end.

    • The ‘coming of age/rite of passage story is very much part of sf/fantasy I’d agree. It is particularly relevant in YA (Steam Mole / Cuttlefish are just that). On the other hand… hmm. You have sparked an idea for a character with me – after all there are plenty of us, following the mainstream path through life, paying the bills, looking after aging parents/young kids who find themselves at a later age NOT having had that rite – they’re not kids, they’re ordinary sensible-seeming adults, and circumstances suddenly force them into a coming-of-age/rite of passage adventure. Could be a whole lot more interesting to write than the usual young protagonist as there is a lot more back story. Thank you!

      • That’s what my novel is. 55yr old Hero whoe’s been gadding around having fun, having sex with young women, generally being not very responsible and he starts to grow up emotionally.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Someone like Phil Marlowe or the Continental Op is middle aged not just for verisimilitude and spiritual sturdiness, but because it demonstrates that they have made different life choices from their fellows. Those different choices and fixity of purpose serve the story purpose of contrasting them with their fellows.

      Heinlein has a story about a spacer who blinded himself from carelessness. Decades later, space has become more settled, and as a old man he decides to travel back to Earth. While bumming a ride, there is an incident with the radioactives, which he handles. At the moment, I understand him as a proxy for his peers, that generation of spacers, who worked expecting such things.

      Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like different ages may lend themselves better to certain ways of saying stuff about humanity.

      I’m wondering if publishing has been neglecting the older protagonist sort of story for year zero political reasons. Whether by accident or on purpose.

  29. Luke

    It occurs to me that I should plug Michael Stackpole’s “In Hero Years… I’m Dead.” in this conversation.
    It’s one of the better superhero stories out there, and it has the aging hero as a central theme.

  30. Maybe it’s because we like to see our heroes seem invincible and it makes more sense for younger people to seem invincible.

  31. phunctor

    There’s this tale nagging me to be written about the Society for Creative Deletions, Senior Division. It turns out that a terminal diagnosis massively simplifies the “egress” part of the op plan.

    So far at 67 and counting I’m in good health, so rest easy, destroyers of the Republic. I’m not on your case. Yet.

  32. If memory serves, in The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones, one of the main characters is an older guy who just wants to retire but can’t because he gets sucked into the events in the story. Or at least, that’s how the author made it sound in a few podcast interviews I listened to with him. It sounded fun and intriguing and has been on my “read this someday” list for a while. This discussion has me thinking maybe I should finally get to it. Thanks for the reminder! πŸ™‚

  33. Laura M

    Hammerhead, by Jason Bond, is a really good book: an aging vet with quite an interesting past must step up one more time. http://www.amazon.com/Hammerhead-Jason-Andrew-Bond-ebook/dp/B005IR0N70/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427414687&sr=1-2&keywords=hammerhead