Science Fiction/Fantasy

Heroes Get Better with Age: 10 Middle-Aged Protagonists in SFF

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Rachel Brittain

Contributing Editor

Rachel is a writer from Arkansas, most at home surrounded by forests and animals much like a Disney Princess. She spends most of her time writing stories and playing around in imaginary worlds. You can follow her writing at Twitter and Instagram: @rachelsbrittain

When we think of fantasy and science fiction novels, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is the trope of the young chosen one or the adolescent hero just hearing the call to go on a dangerous journey. It’s the classic hero’s journey of SFF. But science fiction and fantasy don’t have to center only young people. Older adults can answer the call to adventure just as easily as the younger ones. And in these 10 novels, it’s middle-aged protagonists that take center stage. These middle-aged protagonists in SFF go on epic adventures, take on dangerous quests, and prove that even heroes get better with age.

From stories of alien invasions to swashbuckling pirates, these 10 SFF novels featuring middle-aged protagonists are a reminder that even the best adventures can happen later in life. You’re never too old to go on an adventure. It’s never too late to start over. And life just gets better with a little experience under your utility belt. So set out for the horizon with these middle-aged protagonists in SFF for the adventure of a lifetime and rediscover the hero’s journey in a whole new way.

The Seep Book Cover

The Seep by Chana Porter

A strange alien invasion has taken over the world, and while most people have embraced the almost utopian changes, Trina has not. When her wife, Deeba, decides to use Seep technology to start over as a baby, reliving her childhood for the better this time, there’s nothing left for Trina but to run away. Deep in an alcoholic haze, she stumbles across a young boy and sets out on a quest to save him from the grip of the Seep. But is it really a quest, or just a desperate bid to escape her grief?

Light from Uncommon Stars cover

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

A renowned violin instructor paying off a deal with the devil and an alien refugee running a donut shop with her children come together in unexpected ways in this lyrical novel that blends together fantasy and science fiction. What does it mean to be a parent, a family? And what are we willing to sacrifice for the ones we love? As both women experience the complications of motherhood, in all its various forms, they realize that love is worth it, no matter the consequences.

the dream-quest of vellitt boe book cover

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

In this eldritch horror novella, a 55-year-old professor at the Ulthar Women’s College follows a wayward student across the Dreamlands when she elopes with a dreamer from the waking world. It’s a dangerous journey that will send her into the very depths of her own mysterious past. Vellitt Boe is a seasoned adventurer in addition to being a math professor, but will she be able to track down her missing student in a land of ever-changing dreams?

Cover of The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

A retired pirate with a young daughter is drawn back into a dangerous job on the high seas when a rich woman tracks her down and threatens her family. Amina Al-Sirafi thought she had left that life behind her when she gave birth to her daughter, determined to keep her little girl safe. But now, it’s only by going on a perilous journey that reunites her with the girl’s otherworldly father and a cast of criminals both friend and foe that she can hope to keep her daughter out of harm’s way. And maybe being back on the sea and at the helm of her own ship, even if it means being worlds away from the ones she loves, might be worth it anyway.

Night Theater Book Cover

Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar

A disgraced doctor working at a village clinic in India is approached by a family one night with a strange request: if the doctor can mend their fatal wounds before sunup, they’ll be brought back to life. The surgeon and his assistant will have to work through the night to save them. And by morning, they’ll both have gained knowledge that no mortal should ever have.

Blackfish City Book Cover

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

A floating city in the Arctic Circle protects it’s citizens from devastation after the world was rocked by the climate wars. But the city, once a marvel of engineering, is now fraying along the edges. Crime, poverty, and corruption are destroying the city’s way of life. When a mysterious woman riding an orca arrives with a polar bear by her side, she encourages a wave of resistance. And four people living on the periphery are brought together to save their city from its own decay, discovering shocking truths about themselves in the process.

Old Man's War Book Cover

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

At 75 years old, after attending his wife’s funeral, John Perry enlisted in the Colonial Defense Force. They’re not interested in young soldiers; they want people with a lifetime of knowledge and skill. And if recruits like John can survive two years in the service, they’re given a homestead of their own on one of the colony planets they’re fighting so hard to protect. But first, he’ll have to undergo the process of becoming the sort of soldier the Colonial Defense Forces want — and that means being changed, body and soul.

The City We Became N.K. Jemisin Book Cover

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

The living avatars of New York City come together when they realize their city is coming to life in this urban fantasy novel from SFF master N.K. Jemisin. A disparate collection of New Yorkers, representing the city’s five boroughs, learn of their true nature and the nature of their city as they fight to protect it against ancient and mysterious forces that would keep it — and all other great cities — from ascending. Success would see the city flourish, but failure could mean the end of New York City as we know it. And when even some of their own decide to work against them, the city teeters on a precipice that will see it changed for good.

Book cover of Burning Roses by S.L. Huang: illustration of a bow, arrow, and rifle surrounded by creatures that resemble flames

Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

In this fairy tale retelling, Red Riding Hood isn’t a little girl going up against a big bad world; she’s a middle-aged woman running from her past and helping an archer with an equally storied life protect the countryside from the ravages of sunbirds. But when their pasts begin to catch up with them, both women must reckon with the choices they’ve made and how those choices continue to affect them — and those around them.

Record of a Spaceborn Few Book Cover

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Survivors from Earth make up the Exodus Fleet, a relic of a spaceship just trying to survive after humanity was accepted into the Galactic Commons. Most humans have moved on to other planets, but for those Exodans left, life on the Exodus Fleet is carefully guarded. A lifelong spacer, a young apprentice, an alien academic, a newcomer, and others wrestle with what it means to stay on a ship after you’ve reached your destination and whether their way of life is even worth protecting in this gorgeous novel from Becky Chambers Wayfarers series.

Great news! We have even more books with middle-aged characters in SFF (and other genres):

Sci-Fi Books with Badass Middle Aged Heroines

8 Great Novels With Older Main Characters

Books with Female Protagonists Over the Age of 60