Out today – Philip Palmer’s Artemis The Orbit Team December 2, 2011


Artemis is the heroine of my fifth novel for Orbit Books, and she’s very much like me in many ways. She’s a cool, sexy, super fit, ruthless, murderous bitch who loves to read books.

Okay, she looks a lot like me in a way. I also like, uh, reading books.

I find I’m naturally drawn to characters with a hint of evil in their souls. Like Lena, or even Flanagan, in DEBATABLE SPACE. Or Saunders in RED CLAW. Even Sharrock in HELL SHIP is a warrior, and therefore a cold-blooded killer.

Some of the characters I created in those books are good guys though. Version 43, for example, in the novel titled (Would You Credit It?) VERSION 43 is an honest cop in a dishonorable world. It may have flaws but it is not corrupted. In fact, its main flaw is that it is not corrupt enough. It is, infuriatingly, too good to be true; because he’s a cyborg and not a real human. But, over time, he becomes more and more human… and that makes him, in my opinion, easier to appreciate. And he’s also very good at his job, which is to uphold law and order, usually by killing people.

Artemis, however, is quite on the ultraviolet end of the amorality spectrum. She is a woman killing machine. But does that make her an unsympathetic character? Well, I would say no. Because she has reasons for what she does. Good reasons…

But it is flawed, no doubt. Very imperfect. Murderer – sometimes selfish – obsessive – and vengeful. I like characters with flaws; maybe because I’m a character with a lot of flaws myself… And I firmly believe that kind and virtuous characters aren’t the ones you look for when you read stories. That’s why Satan is the one we encourage in Paradise Lost, not those miserable angels; certainly not God.

Thinking about this theme, I coined the term “rootedness” to designate that particular quality in a character that makes us want to root ourselves for him or her. Tyrion Lannister (in George RR Martin’s games of thrones series) has it in abundance. Eddard Stark is much more heroic. Daenerys is more exotic and has these wonderful dragons. But Tyrion is the evil dwarf we love to hate; he is the underdog; he’s the smartest.

Harry Potter, for my money, DOES NOT have Rootability. He is too powerful. He’s too corny. He has these glasses. I’d love these stories a lot more if Hermione was the heroine – the “little girl” who no one takes seriously but who always wins the day. But again, I’m strange; and JK Rowling fans seem to like the Harry books as they are.

So to define the essence of Rootability in a story is to reveal something about yourself. I like strong female characters. I like imperfect characters. I love funny self-deprecating characters. I like characters who have to make complex moral choices and who don’t always succeed. Those are the characters I tend to root for. But again, I also encourage Conan the Cimmerian in Robert E. Howard’s stories, and he’s not a woman, he has no flaws (he’s the perfect example of what he is ) and he never makes complex moral choices – he does what he does according to his code, without any moral qualms afterwards. But I am for him because he is indomitable. He just keeps on going.

Not all protagonists must have Rootability. You can enjoy a story for the sake of the story; you can enjoy following a character without ever wanting them to win. But most of the time, it is a key element in the strange process of enjoyment of fiction. We support the good guy, or we support the bad guy, and it shows that we really care about them.

Grounding is close to empathy of course; and empathy is akin to madness. This strange madness whereby the book junkies among us get lost in strange worlds and identify, and sometimes over-identify, with the characters in those worlds. But it’s possible to empathize with every character in a story from multiple points of view, and only really root for one, or maybe two of them. There are people who supported Willow, not Buffy, in buffy the vampire slayer. There are definitely people (I met them) who supported Cordelia. There are others (strange people) who supported Xander. Who you are affects who you root for.

This is, by the way, the third novel I’ve written now with a female protagonist – the others are Lena in DEBATABLE SPACE, and Sai-ias in HELL SHIP, which I don’t think is Rootable, because ‘she’s nice, but I still love her.

Artemis is, I suppose, but don’t tell the others, my favorite of these three protagonists. She tells the whole novel; she is in every scene; she thirsts for revenge; and she lives, oh boy, she lives.

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