Fat Heroes in Science Fiction

I’m doing  a research project on fat heroes/protagonists in science fiction, and am curious if any of my readers are familiar with fat heroes/protagonists in particular. Fat heroes/protagonists from books, short stories, movies and comic books are all cool, but they definitely have to be clearly painted in a positive light.

I’m having a hard time thinking of any off the top of my head.

The second part of the project is the investigation of supporting characters (including villains) which support the ‘positive’ criterion (or sympathetic, if they’re villains). I’m sure there are many more of these.

Any tips are greatly appreciated! All the information I gather will be integrated into a post of its own, at some point in the future.

Restrictions: science fiction, tending more towards hard sci fi or social sci fi. Extra points for older stories. 🙂

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39 comments on “Fat Heroes in Science Fiction

  1. I cannot think of a one. The closest I can come up with… Etta Candy, Wonder Woman’s sidekick in the early comics. Not REALLY sci fi, but…

    Certainly none in movies, unless you count the Captain in Wall-E or the Dad being out of shape in the Incredibles.

    I’m going through a list in my head of authors’ work, and nothing is coming to mind. Not even really for villains.

    • bigliberty says:

      Ugh, I was afraid of that. I’m going to keep thinking of it too, looking around…but I’m strongly suspecting that, apart from perhaps an inbetweenie or two, there aren’t any (at least, any that are portrayed in a positive light).

  2. Laura Atkins says:

    There’s the “Forest Mage” triology by Robin Hobb which is more fantasy than SF, but has a fascinating take on weight. The hero is infected with magic and that magic is stored in his body as fat. He gains weight despite efforts to fast and not eat, and is shunned by his own culture as a result. He ends up in a culture where his fat is honored as a sign that “the magic” has blessed him. The fat is more a part of book 2 and 3, but there is a brief mention of it in book 1 as well.

  3. wildwusel says:

    Mark Vorkosigon in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Six-year-younger twin clone brother of the protagonist, trained as an assassin, good with money, issues to here (but he’s in therapy).

    Lord Geigi in Cherryh’s “Foreigner”. Member of the dominant species of his planet, scientifically minded, willing to ally with the human protagonist to evade political and financial ruin, becomes viceroy and human/alien interface guy on the space station above the planet.

    Kubera in Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” (don’t know if that is within your scope) has “fat” as his most noticably attribute. He’s also clever and good at Irish Boxing, and plays his cards close to his chest.

    IIRC the aliens in LeGuins “Left Hand of Darkness” are on the chubby side.

    Comics: Dan Becker, the barkeeper in the biker bar in Terry Moore’s “Moon Lake” is an air force veteran, scientifically educated enough to be ahead of the plot, heroic and *big*.

    TV: Londo Mollari in Babylon 5? Though he might just be average-sized, hard to decide on screen.

    • bigliberty says:

      Wow, great list! Since you’re obviously an expert, I noticed everyone on your list is male (except the aliens) — do you know of any fat female protagonists?

      • wildwusel says:

        Now *that* is hard. Even Bujold does not go beyond “plump” with her female characters in the Vorkosigan series . Cherryh has a tribal headwoman in “Foreigner” books 10 and 11 who is fat (the protagonists are trying to form an alliance with her tribe), but she’s a pretty minor character. Hard enough to think of *any* female protagonists who are not little girls, gunbunnies, or skinny ancients.

        I’ll give it some more thought.

    • bigliberty says:

      You rock, wildwusel! Thanks so much for your input, I really appreciate it.

      I just had a thought…guess it doesn’t really count as sci-fi, but there’s Jean Auel’s character in the later Earth’s Children books, Jondalar’s old flame, Zelandoni. She’s decidedly fat and is portrayed positively both in a personal way and a sexual way. But, eh, not sci fi. And her protagonist Ayla is pretty much the blonde-buxom-eternally-young sci-fi/fantasy stereotype.

      • wildwusel says:

        I got something new for you. Fantasy, though. I just read Erikson’s first “Malazan” book, “Gardens of the Moon” (heroic fantasy), and among the large cast of characters of all shapes, colours and lifespans, there is one man and two women who are described as “fat” resp. “big/large”

        The man, Kruppe, behaves like a busybody town clown and is in fact a spymaster, seer and quite competent wizard who never found a pie he didn’t want to have his fingers in … both metaphorically and literally.

        Tattersail is a war mage in service of the empire. She’s one of the more sympathetic characters in a book where all they characters are flawed, and an antagonist to the villainous High Mage. (He arranges for her death, she does not stay dead.) One of the male protagonists is quietly in love with her.

        The second woman is a minor character, a witch who has her wits together, is not afraid to fight a godlike villain but has enough common sense to protect herself magically when an assassin is on her trail.

        I also read Robinson’s “Red Mars”, I think Nadja might be “stocky”, but it’s hard to decide. She is very physically capable, and if the book is making an issue of body types at all, I did not notice. I enjoyed that it is mentioned how much everyone needs to eat to do their jobs.

        I do not follow your blog regulary (I bookmarked this entry) — do you have the posting you meant to do up yet? Or any follow-up? Even as a simple sorted collection it might be interesting.

  4. berkanaisageek says:

    cliff and norm from cheers immediately come to mind. Supporting roles in a television show would be the friend on Gilmore Girls (I don’t watch often enough to know the characters well) and the secretary on Judging Amy.

    Alltime favorite Disney villian is Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Obviously she’s not a Nice Person, but she’s a fat octopus lady who is pretty and suave and can sing like there’s no tomorrow.

    I’m at a loss for super heroes but I also don’t read comics (I did watch Ironman, but that had more to do with Robert Downy hehe)

    • bigliberty says:

      I was just looking for science fiction, actually, positively portrayed characters (heroes/protagonists in particular) or sympathetic villains. But thanks for the input!

  5. Hartley M. “Kettle Belly” Baldwin, aka “Two-Canes” in Heinlein’s short story Gulf and the novel Friday. Possibly Jubal Harshaw and Ira Weatheral from Time Enough for Love.

  6. spoonfork38 says:

    What about Jim diGriz’s mentor in The Stainless Steel Rat? Can’t remember his name, but he was a large man. I think he ‘reduced’ about halfway through, but only because he was forced to live in an automated fast-food hut for a month or two. It wasn’t being fat in particular he objected to, as I recall, but the quality of the food. . . ?

  7. alinakaren says:

    Villain: Baron Harkonnen in the Dune books by Frank Herbert. Also a movie, and a mini-series on ScyFy (back when it was Sci Fi Network).

  8. April D says:

    Ooooo a challenge right up my reference librarian alley! Okay here’s what I’m finding by searching through “Novelist” for “fat hero” (interestingly “fat heroine” doesn’t bring up anything in science fiction) and similar terms:

    Such a pretty face (May 2000): Theme anthologies are outstanding when the stories in them are strong in their own right. Editor Martindale has a worthy goal–celebrating characters who are neither Conan nor Barbarella but physically more like most Americans. That is, as the phrase has it, persons of size.

    Herbie archives, volume 1 (Aug 2008): Herbie Popnecker is one of comic books’ more unlikely heroes, a portly, expressionless, bespectacled youngster whose passivity leads his exasperated father to call him “a little fat nothing.” Little did his family suspect that Herbie possessed enormous (unexplained) powers. He flew, communicated with animals, turned invisible, and time-traveled—abilities augmented by his ever present lollipops, especially the hard-to-find cinnamon ones. Herbie fought monsters, went to other planets, and crossed paths with many of his era’s celebrities, from JFK and LBJ to Sonny Liston and the Beatles.

    Thinner than thou (Jun 2004): In a world that preaches a religion of youth and thinness, middle-aged Jeremy joins a cult health spa only to discover that it is actually a concentration camp and anorexic Annie and her obese friend strive to escape a health convent.

    Fat men from space (Jun 1989): Through his radio tooth, William Learns of an invasion by spacemen who are taking all of earth’s supply of junk food. (Not sure if this sounds really fat positive though)

    I am a genius of unspeakable evil and I want to be your class president (Oct 2009): Well, maybe not War and Peace, but this certainly has a unique take on the school experience, as seen through the eyes of fat Oliver Watson, who acts like a drip but is secretly a billionaire genius (an unlikely scenario that’s actually explained quite well).

    The billion dollar boy: a Jupiter novel (Apr 1997): (again not sure if it is really fat positive) rich, spoiled, overweight 15-year-old Shelby Cheever finds himself stranded on a mining ship twenty-seven light years from Earth, where he must learn to survive without all his vast wealth.

    Is there life on a plastic planet? (Sep 1975): Hollis Brewster, overweight and pushed toward over-achievement by an overstructured mother welcomes the opportunity of having a look-alike life-size doll take her place at school and at home.

    Mirkheim (Jan 1977): Fat, irrepressible old merchant Nicholas van Rijn (Trader to the Stars) continues his lovable assaults on the English language and his efforts to retrieve some shred of free enterprise from the cancerous encroachments of big government and two omnivorous conglomerates. (There are a bunch with this hero in the Technic History Series)

    The reviews are copied from Novelist; they aren’t mine (except for the few notes about what might seem not-so-fat-positive).
    This isn’t a huge selection though for Science Fiction. A few more if you include Fantasy but I tried to keep with what you said you were looking for. Hope this helps and let us know how the project comes along! 😀

  9. Arwyn says:

    From TV’s Doctor Who, Donna might be considered an inbetweenie (there’s a whole lot to explore on fat characters in Doctor Who in some of the David Tennant years especially, both villains and one-off side characters).

    Bujold wrote another great fat supporting character (I love Mark VorK, but then I over-identify with that whole family…), but in a fantasy series (and again male).

    I’m trying to remember the description of Jubal Harshaw in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I remember him as a foodie (and hedonist in general), and have an image of him as fatish, but I’m not sure whether that’s from the book or my imagination, since I haven’t read it in years.

    Only sort-of scifi, but I think the Masterharper in McCaffery’s Pern series was described as fatter than others (again, might just be my wishful-thinking imagination/faulty memory).

    Any of the very few others I can think of have been named by previous commenters already. So basically I was no help. 😉

    • bigliberty says:

      Oh now, you’ve been great help — I think Jubal Harshaw in SIASL was fatish, definitely. I don’t know if it was described in a positive way (I seem to remember not), but he was a positive character. Of course the main women in the book were all “smokin'”, young and old with ‘perfect,’ taut bodies, etc.

  10. e6n1 says:

    ‘Fat’ (2006) by Rob Grant has an obese TV chef as the hero

  11. […] For a while now I’ve been thinking about fat characters in fiction — there’s my post about science fiction, and spoonforkfuls post in response to a comment on fat people in fiction, and a forum post on Big […]

  12. xarminta says:

    Anne McCaffrey has a kickass Native American/Alaskan woman in her ‘Powers That Be’ series who is quite fat. In later books, she nigglingly explains away why that woman can be so fat and still so awesome. But her was of nigglingly poking at earlier bold statements is a trait that put me off Anne McCaffrey at some stage in the mid-1990s, anyway.

    And I’m really astonished nobody remembered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Melora in Two To Conquer. She gets through to the terribly sexist anti-hero because she is so fat he at first doesn’t treat her like the other women, which is abominable. When she realises quite how bad he is, she puts a terrible curse on the man, and he has to suffer what he made women suffer. She is a total heroine that any female reader cheers for.

    • bigliberty says:

      Thanks so much for your awesome input! I never really got into McCaffrey myself, and from what I’ve heard of her work I’m surprised she had a positive fat female character. I’ll have to look into it further as I’m compiling all my notes. Also will look into Marion Zimmer Bradley.

      Here’s an interesting question, for anyone who wants to tackle it: so far I’ve noticed that the positive portrayal of fat women in sci fi/fantasy has been nearly exclusively by female authors. Are there any male authors of sci fi/fantasy who have positive female heroes (or even just supporting roles)?

  13. ladynra says:

    As far as books are concerned, there have been many fat characters that had both good and bad points. Of course the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy had the hobbits who were all supposed to be chubby. There was Henry Kuttner who wrote the Elak and Lycon stories where his sidekick was overweight but a great fighter. There was one I can’t remember, also fantasy, whose name was Khitai and he was also a sorceror/sidekick to the hero. He was overweight.

    There was an overweight villain in C.S. Lewis’s scifi trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra…can’t remember the other one).

    In TV, one character who is a real hero and whose weight isn’t mocked much is Artie Nielsen from Warehouse 13. He’s one tough and brilliant person and yeah, the writers occasionally make jokes about his weight but for the most part he goes about doing his courageous stuff with his agents without his weight factoring in. There’s a novel in the works for this series, possibly more than one if I’m lucky. Granted it’s not SciFi but it is sort of fantasy/mysterious happenings type adventures.

    Sadly, I can’t think of any positive female overweight heroines. Most of the time they were preoccupied about weight issues and HAD to lose weight to get respect in the stories. However, as an aside for anyone who cares, the best portrayal of overweight characters that I can recall (who are left as they are and still respected) are in P. J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench books. These are mysteries featuring characters of all body types. Several of the cops range from downright portly (Bonar Carlson) to pudgy (Gino Rolseth). Both of these guys have such interesting personalities although Bonar only shows up in 2 books. Unlike many overweight characters, Bonar was quite bright and good at his job. Gino is just a regular guy and fun to read about (lots of humor). And best of all there is Annie Belinsky, AKA Fat Annie but this nickname isn’t meant in a derogatory way. she is a programming genius and said to be so outrageously stunning that every man who sees her desires her. She has this innate attractiveness that turns heads. In other words, she plays a prominent part in several of the books, she doesn’t diet, and no one ever expects her to change.

    I’m going to have to think about this topic some more because personally I like reading about positive overweight characters (who are happy enough with themselves to be disinterested in losing weight). Unfortunately, at the moment I can’t think of any more than have been mentioned.

    In Star Trek there is Dr. Phlox who isn’t technically ‘fat’. He’s just a little overweight, not much but he isn’t as svelt as the other actors on the show. I can’t recall them ever picking on his build.

    Terry Pratchett spoofs everything but his Twoflowers character (The Colour of Magick) was supposed to be pudgy.

  14. I believe Naomi Novik has a briefly mentioned, yet awesome fat female blonde dragon rider in her Temeraire series.

  15. ladynra says:

    Okay, remembered another one the Thraxas series. Fantasy books. I have about 4 of them. It’s definitely heroic fantasy/mystery style with some humor to it. He’s fairly bright but definitely described as overweight though I got the feeling he was more pudgy (guy loves his ale) than actually fat.

    Also, since I posted a while ago, Warehouse 13 has come out with a novel and since the series is ‘reality’ mixed with fantasy elements, Artie Nielsen is now a literary character and he’s still described as overweight in the book. Despite this he’s given 3 very action oriented sequences (as well as the more sedate sections of the story.

  16. James McCoy says:

    Abour 20 years ago, I read, I believe a trilogy, do not remember title or author but maybe someone else does. In the first book a bunch of people had to leave Earth, I think because of ideological rejection by others but I am very hazy on this. They built a ship which spins to create artificial gravity. I this it was saucer shaped so the people would be standing sideways inside. Each level you moved towards the center you would experience less gravity until you reached the center which is Zero G… naturally. This generation wants to be around to live on the destination planet so they go into cryogenic suspension. Book 2 is about they children but at the beginning there was a fire which killed the people in cryo. By book three it’s like the Lord of the Flies I think and the main character makes a journey to the center of the ship, braving rats in Zero G that are somehow about to chase you, lol, to find an Adult man (who is very fat) who lives there because his heart would give out under the stresses of normal gravity. The Fat Man someone helps the young people to escape the ship via matter transmission to the planet before the ship crashes. But I think the Fat man died before the fat lady sang.

  17. Roxanne Berg says:

    In Warehouse 13, Kate Mulgrew is one of the Regents (the board that governs Warehouse 13). Modern Kate Mulgrew is fat.

  18. Ok so I know this is probably not exactly what you are looking for but the character of Jane Bingum on Drop Dead Diva is fat. That is the whole premise of the story line. She was a rail thin model who died and somehow has her sole placed by accident into a fat chick and hen she has to deal with all these moral and social issues stemming from her own perception of fat folks. I think it is technically classified as a paranormal since it deals with soles. Medium is TV.

  19. I know it’s been awhile since anyone posted here, but with all of the fat bashing regarding cosplay I wanted to offer Matron Mama Morton played by Queen Latifa in Chicago, a very sexy character. also character Penelope Garcia played by Kirsten Vangsness. Also many historic figures from Renaissance era not named specifically but definitely among the upper class. Anyone else have some current ideas?

  20. You might want to check out my book…”The Survival of the Fattest/ A Fairy Tale For Fat Kids”…It’s on Amazon.com. I can send you a copy if you’d like…Just let me know where to send it.

  21. Spider Robinson’s series of books, “Callahan’s Cross-Time Saloon”, feature a couple of different large women who also kick ass.

  22. I second the mention of Nadia from Red Mars, she is also referred in the book as being round and plump, if I remember correctly. She’s an extremely capable engineer in the book, probably the most level headed person compared to the other characters, and has a romance with a charismatic and conventionally attractive character named Arkady. She actually stood out for me because it was the first time I remember reading about a female sci fi character who was intelligent, capable, and fat. The author is Kim Stanley Robinson.

  23. nancylebovitz says:

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s _2312_ has a second lead, Wahrum, who’s fat, a very good guy, and presented with respect.

    The World’s End, a recent movie, has a fat man who isn’t mocked for his weight even though it’s a comedy. He’s also probably the most physically formidable of the bunch.

    _Fat Girl in a Strange Land_ is a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories with fat female protagonists, and excellent.

    http://crossedgenres.com/titles/fat-girl-in-a-strange-land/

    Sorry about slipping off into fantasy, but Nanny Ogg from Discworld is fat, though I don’t think she came into her own until late in the series.

    “Monsters in Orbit” by Jack Vance is about a space station inhabited by fat people. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but it at least had the fat people viewing non-fat visitors as looking very weird.

    Rob-E– while fatness is shown as a sign of degeneration, the fat ship’s captain is portrayed with a lot of respect.

  24. nancylebovitz says:

    One more: “Breaking Strain” by Arthur Clarke. Two men, one fat, one thin, not enough air for the spaceship. The fat man behaves a good bit better.

  25. Faris Sweiss says:

    Sorry I know it’s been two years since anyone last posted, but I was looking up the very same thing and I ran across this. As far as science fiction goes I have found these if it helps.

    From Batman
    Detective Harvey Bullock – While maybe more of an antagonist than a protagonist, he is still not a villain. He is a good guy.

    Rupert Thorn – Overweight crime boss, atleast this is how he is depicted in the animated series.
    Oswald Cobblepot AKA the Penguin – He has always been prtrayed as atleast round.
    Boss Biggins – Probably named after the fact that he is morbidly obese.

    From Gargoyles, a 90’s Disney cartoon but definitely SciFi and there was a comic book series.
    Hudson
    Broadway.

  26. wildwusel says:

    Found another one today: Haviland Tuf, by George R.R. Martin, protagonist in a series of novellas and short stories from (mostly) 1985. It’s a pretty “standard” SF setting. Tuf is mostly honest, always clever, generally gentle, likes cats, and flies a spaceship that can create, modify or destroy planetary ecosystems. He’s also very tall and very round, especially arounc the middle, and a vegetarian for personal ethical reasons.

    One piece of dialogue really made my day:

    “Well,” said the host, flushing, “I’m sorry, but you are, uh, ample, and on S’uthlam it is, uh, socially unacceptable to be, uh, overweight.”

    “Weight, sir, is entirely a function of gravity, and is therefore most malleable. Moreover, I am unwilling to concede you the authority to judge my weight over, under, or just right, these being subjective criteria. Aesthetics vary from world to world, as do genotypes and heriditary predisposition. I am quite satisfied with my present mass.”

    (From “Loaves and Fishes”, by George R.R. Martin, 1985)

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