Science Fiction’s Top Five Tough Guys

Most everyone loves the fictional tough guy: the battle-hardened enforcer as quick with his fists as he is with a wry comment. He’s usually not the primary hero. Instead he’s Little John, not Robin Hood; T.C., not Thomas Magnum; Tars Tarkas, not John Carter.  The hero is usually the swashbuckling, more vulnerable, romantic lead. But he depends on the big bruiser. And vicariously, so do we.

Science fiction offers some prime examples of this archetype.  Here are my top five.

Amos Burton, The Expanse. One of the more complete, complex examples of the type. Burton’s damaged psychological make up provides him more depth than most. Though Wes Chatham, the actor portraying the character in the television series, doesn’t look like the character as described in the novels, he embodies the essence as near perfectly as one could wish. If you want someone at your back, the self-proclaimed “last man standing” wouldn’t be a bad option.

Jayne Cobb, Firefly. The hero of Canton provides all the muscle and firepower you’d want backing you up — so long as you could trust him at your back. Adam Baldwin (and, of course, good writing) provided dimension to what could have been a flat stereotype in other hands.

Duncan Idaho, Dune. Loyal, self-sacrificing. You can understand why one might want to keep him around. Even after death. Again and again.

John Stark, The Book of Skaith, et al. So, sometimes the primary hero is the tough guy. If I make the rules, I can bend the rules. Big, strong, and fast (evoking comparison with Conan of Cimmerian) Stark is his own enforcer.

Speaker-To-Animals, Ringworld. As suggested by the reference to Tars Tarkas, the tough guy doesn’t have to be human. I suppose I could have gone with Chewbacca here, but I prefer someone who delivers understandable dialogue.

These are my five. Whom am I missing? Which sci-fi tough guys would you suggest, and whom of my five would you replace?

In the spirit of John Stark — that is tough guy and hero in one package — today I’ll promote Karl Thorson of my Semi-Autos and Sorcery seriesTry the stories for yourself, see how he stacks up. If I may quote a reviewer, “Karl Thorson is a supernatural Jack Reacher. That’s a good thing.” (Hat tip to Mr. Troy Osgood.)


  1. Anybody who gives a shout-out to Tars has my salute! Non-human and the baddest sumbitch in his entire species.

    Biblically, David would NEVER have become king without his loyal Right Hand, Joab. Joab is an object lesson.

    Thanks for the mention of Jayne Cobb. One of the rifts between myself and my Leftist gf at the time was my sympathy/respect for Jayne. She couldn’t understand it.

    It’s ERIC John Stark. However, Hardly anyone beyond Simon Ashton ever called him anything but ‘Stark’. Simon DID call him ‘Eric’.

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