Mooching a meme from a friend, and tweaking it for fantasy, my favorite 5 fantastic nonhumans, in no particular order:
- Gerald Tarrant, “Coldfire Trilogy”, C. S. Friedman. I have a thing for humans who become nonhuman, especially if they embrace the change and leave their old selves behind completely. But I get tired of overdone varieties of this, like vampires. Tarrant embodies this transformation with a marvelous complexity — he feeds on blood, but only as a last resort, finding simple vampirism too crude for his tastes. He prefers to feed on cold and darkness and just general evil. But since “evil” is relative, and he’s intelligent enough to realize this, and also because his companion throughout the series is an annoying, moralizing priest, Tarrant ends up wrestling with the tatters of his humanity a lot more than he intends. I love that he wants to be evil, and can’t properly do it because he keeps getting caught in his own intellectual traps.
- The Aurenfae, Nightrunner series, Lynn Flewelling; The Fae, Meredith Gentry series, Laurell K. Hamilton; The Elves, “Elfquest”, Wendy and Richard Pini. I’m not cheating! They’re all elves, or elfy sorts of things. I’m listing all three of these because they feel, to me, like elves done right in some way or another. They’re all written as a sentient species that either evolved or found a way to survive alongside humanity, and they’re all intentional (I suspect) subversions of Tolkien’s literally-holier-than-thou elves. Not all are perfectly done — there’s some creepy exoticism going on with Hamilton’s elves, but then they’re all objectified so at least it’s equal-opportunity. -_-
- Dragons, Temeraire series, Naomi Novik. These guys aren’t as alien as, say, Anne McCaffrey’s dragons. But I like them more because of that, since their relative humanity allows Novik to explore issues of slavery and oppression in a way that McCaffrey simply glossed over. Ordinarily this would annoy me — I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hate allegory as a substitute means of dealing with real human issues, but fortunately Novik deals with real human issues too, which allows me to enjoy the dragons as a bit of added nuance. And they’re all such fun! I’m in love with Iskierka.
- Wraeththu, Wraeththu series, Storm Constantine. I’ve seen a lot of depictions of post-humanity in SF, but not many in fantasy. (And yes, I know the Wraeththu books are often considered SF, but I say there’s magic, so it’s fantasy. So there. Nyah.) And this one’s the most fascinating one I’ve seen, as human men and women evolve into hermaphroditic beings called respectively Wraeththu and Kamagrian, then proceed to transform the world with sex. Literally — they harness the magical energy from sex into crystals, which they use to power vehicles and warp space and time. But all this is the backdrop for one of the most beautiful and complex love stories I’ve ever seen, which impresses me far more than sex batteries. (“Energizer sex batteries: they keep going and going and going…” ::twitch::) I was annoyed by the series’ near-exclusive focus on the “male” characters for awhile, but Constantine’s more recent books have explored the Kamagrian a bit more, so I’m happy now.
- Matthew Swift, Matthew Swift series, Kate Griffin. Just to include a recent example, the titular character of this urban fantasy is a human sorcerer who, through various means, has become merged with the “blue electric angels” — the disembodied “spirits” created by human interaction across telephone and internet lines. The angels are sentient, in a way; they live to “be free”, and revel in new experience. Though they’re not happy about being embodied in Swift — he’s not happy they’re there either, since they partially control his mind — the new fused entity that’s created from this is genuinely different in his thought processes, and shows traits of both humanity and the angels. For example, Matthew alternates between referring to himself as “me” and “we”, using “me” for familiar human interactions and “we” for any experience that’s new or strange. It’s a device I haven’t seen used before, and Griffin handles it well.
Had several runners-up here — Neil Gaiman’s Endless, Arakawa’s Homunculi, the demons and rakh from the Coldfire trilogy — but the meme says 5, so 5 it is.
And yours are…?