Some of them are humans, some of them are robots, all of them are fictional. These are the characters we couldn’t stop talking about in 2015.
The writers and staff here at Tor.com talk about a lot of science fiction and fantasy media, from movies to science to books, and we consume even more than we talk about. Below is a list of the fictional characters that really astounded us in 2015, who we chatted about on the site, in the office, and over drinks. These are the heroes, and sort-of-heroes, that “won” 2015.
(Warning: Many of these love letters contain spoilers for movies, books, and television! One of the images may not be safe for work.)
Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)
I’ve spent some time trying to figure out how to write about Furiosa for this list. I’ve written a couple of articles on Mad Max: Fury Road over this year, but this—a single, brief paragraph about why someone was valuable to 2015—this is different. Because I don’t think Furiosa was only valuable to this year. I think this is a character who will keep coming back for years, that she’ll echo through the next generation’s writing, the way action movies are put together, and the standards for female characters in particular. But really what is comes back to is the way she makes me feel each time I watch the film—the way I think she made a lot of people feel: in a year that has been punctured by so many inhuman acts, we are able to watch her reclaim her humanity, and remember our own. –Leah
Tisarwat (Ancillary Mercy)
You may have thought that I was going to name Breq as the winner of her own trilogy, but Ann Leckie’s series is more about prizing the micro moments over the macro ones. Seeing as Breq doesn’t quite achieve her goal of killing Anaander Mianaai, the character who actually experiences a more complete arc is Tisarwat. This baby lieutenant with the frivolous purple eyes gets plucked out of her desk job, forcibly turned into an ancillary of Anaander, then has her implants ripped out, leaving a broken person with no stable identity. But as she comes to terms with the fact that she’s a fragment of a millennia-old consciousness residing in a young person’s body, she learns to combine these disparate parts of herself—playing incompetent, then wise, to gain allies and disarm her enemies. Rather than reject the ghost of Anaander in her shell, she utilizes the tyrant’s knowledge and access to force the flesh-and-blood Anaander out of Athoek Station. By the end of the trilogy, Tisarwat has become both the sum of her parts and a wholly unique person. –Natalie
Peggy Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (Marvel TV)
Can you believe that in 2015 Marvel television gave us Peggy Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage? All four of these characters lead (or were featured in) new television shows that were intelligent, stylistic, and substantial. Whether it be Peggy’s pulp adventures, Matt’s dark lurch through organized crime, or Jessica’s PTSD noir, each Marvel show was the equivalent of curling up with a good book. This time last year the idea of “Marvel television” consisted only of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now Marvel television feels more varied and exciting than the upcoming movies.
(But seriously, Marvel TV. Quit forgetting to photoshop Avengers Tower into the skyline.) –Chris
BB-8 (Star Wars)
We haven’t even seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens but we (as in: humanity) don’t need to in order to know that BB-8 is the break-out star. This soccer ball that thinks it is a robot is a masterpiece of evocative design that instantly evokes a galaxy far, far away. You see BB-8, even if only in silhouette, and you immediately think “Star Wars.” Rey and Finn and Poe’s little pal is a hint of the continuing universe that will unfold with The Force Awakens, and a promise to fans that the filmmakers of the new films have a deep understanding of what makes Star Wars fun and mythic.
BB-8 is also just too cute for words. Not even these puppies can deal with it. –Chris
Uprooted begins with the friendship between Kasia—brave, beautiful, and bright—and Agnieszka—uncoordinated, often disheveled, and seemingly unremarkable. Kasia has been raised to be special, to be chosen, to be whisked away from her loved ones to the tower of a powerful wizard (known as the Dragon), where she will spend ten years in his mysterious clutches and emerge forever changed. Except that the Dragon, to everyone’s shock, chooses Agnieszka instead. From that point on the novel starts down a path that seems like familiar ground, but is viewed through such a powerful lens that new details and complexities and emotional intricacies emerge at every turn. Agnieszka, even at her most fearful and frustrated, consistently finds her own ways of accomplishing what needs to be done, on her own terms—which sounds like a simple thing, but in Naomi Novik’s hands, Agnieszka’s rejections of expectations and propriety feel endlessly thrilling and subversive. Her love for and loyalty to Kasia drives the plot, but her ultimate triumph stems from the ability to blithely ignore rules and conventions that stifle her comfort and power….Agnieszka demonstrates the many ways in which simply being oneself can be a radical act. –Bridget
Helena (Orphan Black)
The imaginary pet scorpion. The loyalty to her sestras. The tow-truck driving boyfriend. The reluctant soap-making. The bloody, puffy-coated clean-up of Alison and Donnie’s drug-dealing mess. The assault with a roll of duct tape. Helena has come a long way since Orphan Black’s first season, when her character was mostly pink-rimmed eyes, puffy parkas, and deadly weapons. Now, she’s as likely to be central to the show’s emotional beats as she is to say something peculiar (sometimes at the same time). While we kind of hope she just gets to relax and eat some Jell-o (with extra sugar) for a little while, Orphan Black can’t go very long without requiring her very special skill set — and her tendency to call ‘em as she sees ‘em. When boy-clone Rudy tries, in his dying moments, to make her think the Castor and Leda clones are similar, to earn her sympathy, she pets his face and tells the truth: “No. You are a rapist.” Damn, girl. –Molly
Greg Universe (Steven Universe)
Yes I know. Why, on a show that features the Crystal Gems, the near-perfect Connie Maheswaran, and the irrepressible Steven himself, why would I pick Greg Universe as one of the best characters from this past year? Here’s the thing with Greg. Back when he was a be-mulleted community college rock god, he was presented with a choice: stay with the alien he’d fallen in love with, or go on the road and forget her in the endless parade of groupies that surely would have flocked to Mr. Universe’s sweet sound. He chose love. Then, he was presented with another, less obvious choice: raise the son he had with said alien, or stay mostly on the sidelines while other aliens raised his son? Again, in my opinion, he made the right call. He lives in his van, works at his car wash, and offers Steven unending love, support, and guitar lessons. But he understands himself enough to stay out of Steven’s way as the boy learns how to be a Crystal Gem. He accepts that his son’s destiny is far grander than his own, and he does what he can to help him meet that destiny. Plus he’s confident enough in himself to wear that sweater. Look at that sweater. –Leah
Prunella Gentleman (Sorcerer to the Crown)
In a world in which magic is largely the province of (rich, white, upper-class) men, and the practice of magic by women is deemed inconvenient, distasteful, and inappropriate, Miss Prunella Gentleman should, theoretically, be at something of a disadvantage. And yet, as readers of Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown know, the stodgy members of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers never really stood a chance in the face of such an outrageous (and impertinent) talent. Prunella is orphaned (with no fortune to speak of), mixed-race, magical, and female to boot; she’s also unapologetically ambitious, tireless, and determined to game the system, propelling herself through the upper ranks of London’s social scene by the sheer strength of her intelligence, energy, and charm. Watching her cut a vibrant, colorful swath through the stiff, Regency-era setting was one of the great fictional pleasures of the last year, and I’ll be awaiting the further adventures of Miss Gentleman in books two and three with more glee than patience… –Bridget
Clara Oswald (Doctor Who)
A character who began her tenure as a plot device rather than a person, Clara Oswald has spent the past two years truly coming into her own on Doctor Who. But as Clara gained more knowledge and stacked up more wins in her favor, she began to display a reckless streak that eventually led to her death. With a whole season seemingly geared toward her prolonged goodbye, the final episode was something of the surprise—Clara wound up frozen in a time loop, with a TARDIS of her own and the Lady Me for company. Rather than forcing Clara to accept her inability to step into the Doctor’s shoes, rather than forcing her to give up the best years of her life to save the Doctor from grief, “Hell Bent” told an entirely different story; one of a companion who left the Doctor for adventures of her own. A salute to Clara Oswald and her 50s diner TARDIS; I hope she runs far and fast, that there is trouble everywhere she goes, and that she saves the universe more times than we can count. –Emily
Balem Abrasax (Jupiter Ascending)
Technically, Balem Abrasax, eldest son of a family of space tyrants, isn’t the most important (or most triumphant) character in Jupiter Ascending. (That would be Jupiter Jones, first of her name, toilet cleaner turned queen of earth, inheritor of space rollerblades, wearer of the galaxy’s most fabulous wedding gown.) But the movie wouldn’t be half as delightful without him, and without Eddie Redmayne going all-out space bonkers in the part. Standing around in pec-revealing space-capes, shouting (or getting as close to shouting as one can while whisper-talking Voldemortishly) about creating life, looking down his exquisitely freckled nose at our girl Jupiter while muttering about his, shall we say, complicated relationship with his dead mother—Balem Sassafras Abrasax was a glorious creation. Even if he wanted all of us dead. –Molly
Penny Rolle (Bitch Planet)
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet has had a lot of people talking this year. (The number of women getting “NC” Non-Compliant tattoos will eventually merit its own anthropological study at this rate.) Practically every single character in Bitch Planet is worthy of this list and then some, but Penny Rolle was an early stand-out. A biracial woman who has never conformed to societal beauty standards, Penny performs a revolutionary act when the ruling elite delve into her mind, trying to prove to her that she’d rather be a slim and “pretty” woman. When they enter Penny’s head, her ideal self-image turns out to be… her. Just as she is. In a world where so many mandatory cultural rules imposed on women are impossible to follow and damaging in the extreme (be thin but not scary-thin, wear makeup but only enough for it to seem natural, shave your legs but never talk about what a hassle it is, stop with the self-deprecation but definitely don’t love yourself—that’s not for you to do), knowing that Penny embraces her body and her person without conditions is affirming in the most visceral way.
Also, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely read Alex Brown’s piece on Penny and her connection to the character. –Emily
Bing Bong (Inside Out)
He’s not the main character (he basically shares third-billing with about six other characters) but Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong is really the emotional core of Pixar’s Inside Out—an impressive feat in a film populated by actual emotions. Initially played for laughs with Richard Kind’s trademark brand of needy neuroticism, Bing Bong first tugs at our heartstrings when he despairs at losing his wagon/rocketship—one of his last tangible connections to Riley. Joy resorts to simple tricks to cheer him up, but it is Sadness who really connects with Bing Bong, acknowledging his loss and showing her true value to Joy for the first time. When Bing Bong and Joy are later trapped in the Memory Dump, they retrieve the wagon and try to use its limited rocket power to escape the chasm, but fall just short each time. On the final attempt, Bing Bong bails out at the last second, making the wagon light enough to carry Joy to safety. He waves her goodbye as he fades into oblivion, forgotten by Riley forever, and OH HECK I’M CRYING. Pixar, you made me straight up cry over an elephant-raccoon-cotton-candy-hobo-clown. You MONSTERS. –Sarah
Baru Cormorant (The Traitor Baru Cormorant)
Can we really say that Baru “won” in 2015? The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a very bleak book about a person so gripped with revenge and consumed with ambition that she fails to see those closest to her as anything but playing pieces on a global board. However, you can’t deny her status as an MVP—in sports, that award went to the best-performing player, and Baru is inarguably the best thing to come out of the Empire of Masks in a long time. She’s driven, ingenious, and knows how to conceal the emotions that would otherwise give her away. Most of all, she’s caught between two worlds: her hunger to be accepted in Falcrest, and her emotional ties to her home island of Taranoke. And she’s made it to a second book, where she’ll no doubt continue to perform (albeit in morally gray ways) her heart out. –Natalie
It was a good year for fictional characters. Add the characters that you couldn’t stop talking about below!