Non-alpha-male heroes

[This is an old post from 2007.]

I am reading Young Miles by Lois Bujold. Because the hero of my book is really not the alpha-male type (and in the current crappy state of traditional sci-fi publishing, that means the book is not a commercial book), I've been getting recommendations for other sci-fi books that don't feature alpha males.

The first book like this I read was Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh. The hero of that book is, like the hero of my book, a diplomat. But while Foreigner is quite good when things are actually happening, I found the hero to be just too damned passive. His life is in danger, he doesn't know why, and he is surrounded by people he can't trust. For roughly 200 pages there isn't a lot of plot action, and all the hero does is meditate on the fact that his life is in danger and wondering why that is, while the people he can't trust pass him around like he was a sack of potatoes. Their doing so only leads him to contemplate the fact that he can't trust them and that they may very well be passing him around like a sack of potatoes for some nefarious end (ya think?)--not that he's going to do anything about it. It's almost as bad as the movie The Pianist, which put me as close as I have ever been to rooting for the Nazis to kill someone, but at least Cherryh’s hero doesn’t take it for granted that everyone else will risk their lives in order to protect his, which is more than I can say for the pathologically self-centered "hero" of that movie.

Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan stories feature a different kind of non-alpha-male--Miles is seriously physically handicapped. But he’s extremely ambitious, he’s an enormous risk-taker, he uses what advantages he has (a title, some money) to their limit, and so far, Young Miles is a lot of fun. It's also more of a madcap adventure story than Foreigner, so in some sense it's probably not fair to complain that one hero is less enjoyable than the other, but at least I don't find myself thinking that maybe Miles deserves to bite it. Even the famously non-alpha, indecisive, sensitive Hamlet caused trouble in the court, drove his girlfriend to suicide, and left a trail of bodies in his wake. He didn't just sit there, moaning "What can I do?"