SF/fantasy where the humans are (a) good and (b) tough?

So it’s a Well-Known Fact ™ that Struggle ™ is the key to building a good story. In SF and fantasy, this means that the humans tend to be either:

(a) The good guys but weaker than their opponents (“Discord in Scarlet” by A.E. Van Vogt is a classic example; this helped inspire the film “Alien”), or
(b) Tougher than their opponents but Decidedly Not The Good Guys (James Tiptree Jr., I’m looking at you)

I can’t think of too many instances of writing where the humans both (a) are the good guys and (b) clearly outclass their opponents either physically or mentally. A couple of examples are:

The Retief stories by Keith Laumer
A few stories by Christopher Anvil
A few stories by James H. Schmitz
A number of stories by Robert E. Howard, particularly the “Breckenridge Elkins” ones
Wasp and Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell

Interestingly, these all fall into the “light SF/fantasy” genre.

Anybody have any other examples? (Let’s leave out superheroes and stuff that’s clearly oriented around Mary Sues.)

It’s well known that the editor John W. Campbell believed that humans should always be tougher than any aliens. (Whether they were morally better generally isn’t answered in Campbell-influenced science fiction. Often winning was taken as a sign of moral rightness.) Since Campbell, as editor of Astounding, was the most important editor in science fiction from the late 1930’s to the early 1960’s, many science fiction authors wrote to his tastes. Some of the authors you list are Campbell writers. Here’s the only online reference to Campbell’s attitude that I can find offhand:


You forgot option © Both the good guys and tougher than the opponants on a one-on-one basis, but significantly outnumbered or outgunned. That’s been the dominant fantasy paradgm since Tolkien.

Alan Dean Foster’s The Damned trilogy comes to mind. We, as it happens, are the the only species that fights wars among itself. We aren’t the best at any one thing ( save fighting ), but are the best generalists. We are both tough and strong - there’s a scene in the first book where a human helps an alien Masood soldier over a railing and injures the Masood’s wrist by accident ( the human in question being an artist and a pacifist by the way, not some buffed muscleman ). And the more timid races find us intimidating; “She tried to ignore the fact that the human’s eyes burned. She knew he couldn’t help it.” And to top it off, if the enemy, the mind controlling Amplitur try to control us, Something Bad wakes up in our subconscious, reaches down the mindlink and fries their brain.

You want stories in which humans are a.) Tough and b.) Good, and you don’t start off with Robert Heinlein? What’s wrong with you?
Yopu can be tough without being physically stronger, too. Why draw the distinction? Are humans less important in, say, Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall because they’re not physically strong as multiple-trunked Dumbos?

As for Physically Tougher and Morally God, there are plenty of examples. Lots of Hal Clement’s human heros fall into this category, and F.M. Busby’s stories about the Demu.

I think the Lensman series would qualify.

Heinlein didn’t write a lot of stories involving aliens… Have Space Suit, Will Travel; The Starbeast; Red Planet; Methuselah’s Children, among others, in all of which, humans are both protagonist and bad guy. Starship Troopers would be a good example if the humans didn’t need a metric buttload of hardware to compete with the bugs; see above re: tough & good guys but vastly outnumbered, too. “Bugs, Mr. Rico! Millions of 'em!”

I think the OP is looking for examples of stories where humans are better, tougher, and Aliens are the bad guys.

It doesn’t make a consistently entertaining or uplifting genre to have the heroes constantly kicking the snot out of inferior races. It’d be like Mario doing a little victory dance after stomping on yet another turtle.

I nominate Fred Saberhagen’s Berzerker books (also a “shared world” book of short stories by other authors).

Humans usually beat down the evil machines, sometimes by outsmarting them.

…and bad guy? How do you figure?


You need to recalibrate your Heinleinmeter –Puppet Masters, for instance

I thought his feeling was that humans just had to be superior to the aliens in some possibly obscure way – maybe we were smarter, or sneakier, or better at fighting due to our long history of wars, or whatever – that allowed us to triumph over them in the end despite being seemingly outmatched by the aliens.

Have Space Suit, Will Travel: The heroes are minions of the Good Alien; The Bad Aliens have human minions.

The Starbeast: The hero spends most of the book trying to save Lummox from his meddling neighbors.

Red Planet: human colonists on mars rebel against the Terran government. The actual Martians are mostly a sideshow.

Methuselah’s Children: The Howard families had to leave Earth because of persecution by the Terran government.

A lot of SF by H. Beam Piper. He was writing in the final decades of European colonial imperialism and many of his stories appear to send a message in its defense. The Terrans/humans are the benevolent colonizers, with overwhelming superiority of force and knowledge compared to the primitive ETs. Any ETs who rebel against them, any humans who are sympathetic to the ETs, are either wicked or dupes to be set straight.

Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers are the exceptions, rather than the rule. In most of Heinlein’s books, the hero’s worst enemy is a fellow human being. Occasionally a rival in the same profession, but usually a nosy neighbor.

I never got the impression from his Fuzzy series. Is this just some of his shorts that you are talking about?

I may be thinking of the same series. Can’t recall the title. Let me describe it.

The aliens are pretty much all peaceful, mostly herbivorous types. They have no war, no conflict, and settle everything through diplomacy. They have functionally no significant defenses, and are no good at using them. Then a carnivorous, aggressive species pops up. They might or might not be evil, I don’t think it’s described, but they tend to view herbivores are “cattle.” Lots of Very Bad Things happen to the peaceful species.

But, they find humans. Onivores, who hopefully will be less violently disposed toward us. We have and still have wars. A group of delegates come to visit earth. Not knowing where to go, they teleport down to a fisherman out on the lake. Queue “Take us to your Leader, Earthman” and so forth.

There is a scream, a blinding blur of action. One of the aliens goes down. The human is halfway back to shore before they realize that he panicked, knocked them back, broke one of their delegate’s arms, and jumped out of the boat. They realize humans will make good choices for soldiers. :smiley:

Later on, the threat is indeed vanquished by mercenary humans with more advanced weapons technology than the bad guys.

In a very different vein, another story held that, in fact, the key to creating an advanced gravity-warping star drive was a particular pile of rocks (I Am Not Making This Up; the writer thoguh it funny). You could make artificial gravity and air-bubble effects in the same way. Most intelligent species found this by accident. The galaxy was ruled by a vaguely Victorian culture which conquered planet after planet in its wooden-hulled frigates and its legions of musketmen.

Then they go to conquer one newly-discovered planet. As the soldiers went on deck to prepare to assault it, they wondered. Huh. What are all those strange light sources coming from the surface? They seem to be arranged in odd patterns, like a spiderweb across the major landmasses, particularly in the tropical and temperate regions.


The novel cuts out there, and we are left uncertain as to what happened to the spacemen when they tried to assault Earth… with cannons and muskets aboard their starships.

That’s not the way I remember the Fuzzy books at all; but it’s been thirty years, so maybe I’ve turned it around in my head.

There’s got to be some stuff by Poul Anderson that qualifies (though his characters were always more complex than just “good” or “bad”).

And what’s the significance of the lights? Perhaps, if you could substitute some words for the smiley. Sounds like a book I’d like to look up.

Some shorts, such as “Oomphel in the Sky,” and the novel Uller Uprising (wherein the “friendly” natives learn to call the rebels “Geeks,” the disparaging nickname the Terrans have been using for their whole reptilian-humanoid species). The Fuzzies were so primitive, small and weak that the question of them rebelling against the humans on their world never comes up; but, curiously, nobody in the stories ever seems to question the fundamental propriety of humans “adopting” Fuzzies, i.e., making pets of them; the only question raised, and quickly glossed over, is the fear that sexual perverts might want to. The key thrust of the story is that humans become Fuzzies’ benefactors, saving them from extinction by finding a solution to their environmental deficiency of a nutrient they need for reproduction.

He means these.

Plenty of aliens in Have Space Suit There may be some humans associated with them, but the Bad Guys are mostly aliens.

Starbeast does have human/human interactions, bbut the novel is about human relations in the galaxy, and includes an entire subploty that is equal to, if not more than the nominal real plot. To say the book is about human/human interactions misrepresents it.

In Methuselah’s Children the humans may leave Earth because of the actions of the government, but they end up going to a succession of alien planets and dealing with the aliens there. To leave that out is to misrepresent it.
Not to mention Double Star and The Number of the Beast and **Between Planets[/ and Space Cadet and oodles of his short stories. Heinlein’s awash in aliens. They’re not all The Bad Guys, but when they are, Heinlein’s humans fight back – that’s practically his credo, and is enunciated pretty clearly at the end of Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters.