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Top Ten ‘Working Class Heroes’ in Science Fiction and Fantasy

With the entire Sten Chronicles soon to be available in our Orbit omnibus editions – that’s BATTLECRY (UK|ANZ) containing books 1-3, JUGGERNAUT (UK|ANZ) containing books 4-6 and DEATH MATCH (UK|ANZ) containing books 7-8 – we got thinking about Sten’s humble beginnings and his rise to power.

The entire Sten Chronicles by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole

In his previous guestpost Allan Cole described Sten as a ‘working class hero’ (like the John Lennon song!) and we wondered who else might qualify. We can’t all be heirs to large fortunes like Batman, Harry Potter or Lara Croft, (some of us can barely even make like a Lannister and pay our debts), so here are our top ten good guys who didn’t start off in life with many advantages at all . . .

Commander Vimes (Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series)

Commander Vimes grew up in the Shades of Ankh Morpork, describing his family as lucky to live on a street so poor that there just wasn’t very much for the infamous criminal gangs of the Shades to steal.

Since his aristocratic marriage and his successes in running the City Watch, Vimes has been bestowed with many noble titles (including but not limited to “His Grace,” “His Excellency” and “his blackboard-monitorship”). Never has a man resented being part of ‘the gentry’ so much. One would almost think the Patrician was annoying him on purpose.

The Eye of the WorldRand al’Thor (Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series)

Rand al’Thor originally lived a simple life as a farmer’s son in the sleepy village of Emond’s Field, where his biggest concern was trying to talk to girls without making a fool of himself. His life changed forever one night when the forces of darkness showed up and showed a keen interest in running him through with a blade.

Turns out that Rand is the Dragon Reborn, the saviour who is prophesied to save the world from the Dark One . . . but destroy it in the process. No pressure there, then.

Han Solo (Star Wars)

He might have married a princess and helped save the galaxy, but Han Solo had a rough start as an orphaned street urchin in a Corellian spaceport. Things were looking up when he became a pilot for the Imperial Navy, but he lost his commission when he defied orders and refused to skin a Wookiee named Chewbacca.

The two won the Millennium Falcon from the smuggler Lando Calrissian in a card game and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Weasley family (Harry Potter)

Draco Malfoy said that ‘all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford.’ They also have a whole lot of courage, room in their hearts to take in the orphaned Harry Potter and the courage to stand up to bullies like the Malfoys and other, richer ‘pureblooded’ wizards during both of Voldemort’s uprisings.

We couldn’t pick a favourite Weasley (who can?), so we decided we’d include the whole lot.

Davos Seaworth, (George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’)

Born in the Flea Bottom slums of King’s Landing, as a young man Davos captained a notorious smuggling ship. During Robert’s Rebellion he saved many lives by smuggling in food during the siege of Storm’s End castle.

Stannis Baratheon knighted him for this, which got him the nickname ‘the Onion Knight’, but demanded a grisly punishment for Davos’s earlier crimes, the ends of his fingers on one hand! Davos considered this fair, as long as Stannis carried out the punishment himself, and his continued loyalty is shown when he supports Stannis’s claim to the throne.

Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

badwolfRose grew up on a South London estate, living with her mother Jackie and working at Henrik’s Department Store. When the shop was attacked by aliens disguised as shop mannequins, she was saved by the Doctor and joined him in his travels in the TARDIS – saving his life in return when she worked out the meaning behind the strange words that had been following the duo through time – ‘Bad Wolf’.

Rose has met aliens, travelled backwards and forwards in time as well as visiting other dimensions, but she’s never forgotten her roots – she was the first of the Doctor’s companions to have her mobile phone modified so she could keep in touch with her mum.

Storm (X-Men)

Losing her parents to bombing during the Suez Crisis, as a child Storm begged in the streets of Cairo before discovering her mutant powers and being worshipped as a weather goddess by an African tribe.

These days she’s a respected headmistress at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters, but she still found time recently to become queen of a small country, and join the Avengers, too.

The JUGGERNAUT omnibusKarl Sten (Chris Bunch and Allan Cole’s ‘The Sten Chronicles’)

Sten is the son of migrant workers under contract to the bosses of a factory planet. When his family is killed by the company, he wages a guerrilla war on those responsible and comes to the attention of Intelligence officer, Mahoney, who recognises his skills and recruits him into the military.

Eventually he comes to the notice of the Eternal Emperor – the man who rules the galaxy by controlling all the fuel sources – and that’s when Sten’s troubles really start…

Kelly (Misfits)

A freak storm gave Kelly and her fellow community-service-ees superpowers. Some teenagers might have donned their spandex and formed a Justice League, but these kids were too clever for that (anyway, you’d get beaten up down the pub in costume, wouldn’t you).

They use their powers for their own gain, for taking down a conservative cult and for covering up the murder of their social worker. Oops . . . We love all the Misfits but Kelly wins this one for her heart of gold and brilliant Derby accent.

Dave Lister (Red Dwarf)

As a baby, Lister was found in a cardboard box under a pool table a Liverpool pub. Adopted by a poor Liverpudlian family but later sent to an orphanage, his first job was working as a supermarket trolley attendant, which he quit after ten years because he “didn’t want to get tied down to a career.”

Now he’s the last human left in the universe (probably) staying alive has become a full-time job in itself, but with the help of his shipmates: the stylish feline ‘The Cat’, the android Kryten and grumpy hologram Rimmer, the ‘boys from the Dwarf’ are still going strong.

We wish we’d had room for: John Constantine, Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity, the rest of the Misfits! Who else did we forget? Tell us in the comments!

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  1. Paul Graham Raven

    December 21, 2012
    at 5:27 am

    Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan; not only does he make it to the top of his profession from extraordinarily humble street-kid beginnings, but he stays true to those roots and fights the corruptions system in the name of the working (under)class. Righteous, angry and probably armed; would that we had him here in Reality.

    • Jenni Hill

      January 3, 2013
      at 7:30 am

      Oh, he’s a good one. How’d I forget him? I have ALL the books (even book zero)!

  2. Dragana @ Bookworm Dreams

    December 21, 2012
    at 5:52 am

    Nice idea for a top ten list. :)
    Who did you forget? I noticed that Vin from ‘Mistborn’ by Brandon Sanderson
    is not on the list and she’s one of my favorite working class heroines.

  3. John Fairhurst

    December 22, 2012
    at 3:19 am


    What about Gulliver Foyle from Alfred Bester’s ‘The Stars My Destination’? I don’t know if calling him a hero is entirely accurate but he’s certainly a world changer.

  4. Alison P

    December 22, 2012
    at 6:37 am

    Great idea for a list. Here’s mine:

    Jayne (Firefly)
    Case (Neuromancer)
    Vila (Blakes 7)
    Ripley (Alien)
    Sonmi~451 (Cloud Atlas)
    D’Joan (Instrumentality of Mankind)
    Childermass (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)
    Tom (Red Shift)
    Steerpike (Gormenghast)
    Vimes, and Lister, and Kelly and everyone else from Misfits

    • Jenni Hill

      January 3, 2013
      at 7:28 am

      Cannot believe I forgot Childermass!

  5. Greg

    January 8, 2013
    at 9:27 am

    I can’t believe you left off Conan!!! How can you leave Robert E. Howard’s greatest character.
    He was born on a battlefield to a back-water barbarian people, and becomes a king by his own hand, only after he settled down from adventuring, drinking, and women chasing!! C’mon man?!?! :)
    To add to that REH even based the character on working men.
    I demand the list be amended. :)

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