Everybody always gives props to space captains: they're the ones sitting in the chair and commanding a spaceship going head-to-head with their bumpy-headed counterpart on the enemy ship. But one starship doesn't always win a space battle. Sometimes it's the general (or the admiral) sitting in an even bigger chair, who figures out where to send all the dozens, or thousands, of starships into battle like chess pieces. They're the tacticians and the master strategists, and we celebrate them below.
Aiguille Delaz from Gundam 0083. This strategic genius chose to pull out of the battle of A Baou Qu, the last stand of the One Year War. Instead, he massed his forces in a makeshift headquarters in the middle of a debris field, and prepared his masterplan. Operation Stardust involved having a pilot steal an experimental nuclear-armed Gundam warsuit. Delaz shows off the nuclear-armed warsuit, which proves the corruption of the Earth Federation, and then goads the Federation into showing off its strength in a set of space maneuvers that leave it vulnerable to the nuke — which destroys two-thirds of the fleet.
Ender Wiggin, from Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series. Starting out as a laser-tag champion, he gets more and more badass until he becomes the greatest space strategist in history. He thinks he's just fighting a series of simulated battles, but he's actually giving orders to real Earth ships dispatched decades earlier — and he comes up with the crazy risk-taking strategy that destroys the "Bugger" homeworld and pretty much wipes out their species.
Kara Thrace aka Starbuck — You can talk about what a great leader Adama is, or how good Admiral Cain was at coming up with the craziest, most bat-shit strategies to confuse her enemies. But the craziest person on Battlestar Galactica is also the craftiest — just look at the plan Starbuck comes up with to distract the cylon basestars away from the resurrection ship using decoys. The basestars get distracted, and then Galactica and Pegasus take them on. And then Lee's stealth ship takes out that all-important get-out-of-death-free card for those cylons. Rawk!
John Christian Falkenberg, a CoDominium naval officer turned mercenary created by Jerry Pournelle for the CoDominium future history series. He's sort of a space tactician, even though most of the battles he fights are on the ground on various planets where the colonists are rising up. He's frequently facing superior numbers of better-armed insurgents, and has to use a mixture of blitzkrieg tactics and fighting dirty to pull out a victory.
Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Star Wars novels. The blue-skinned red-eyed Imperial Thrawn was already a chessmaster of space battle when the Empire fell in Return Of The Jedi. But after the Empire had collapsed in a rain of Ewok claws, Thrawn rebuilt a small fleet around his Imperial Star Destroyer and set about trying to retake the galaxy. He found a supply of clone troopers, recruited a rogue Jedi, and managed to control half the galaxy. He tricked the Jedi scum into thinking Coruscant was blockaded by totally imaginary space mines, and managed to assemble a formidable fleet out of almost nothing. His only downfall came from understimating the bun-clad head of Princess Leia. Also from Star Wars, there's Admiral Ackbar, who can recognize a trap when he sees one.
Captain Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Trek is full of great tacticians, including a never-ending parade of admirals who only exist on video screens. But Sisko gets his hands dirty — sometimes literally — in planning all the big battles against the Dominion. His finest moment was probably planning Operation Return, the huge assault by 624 starships to retake Deep Space Nine. He had to convince one of those stuffed-shirt admirals that DS9 was a higher strategic priority than defending Earth, because DS9 controlled the wormhole, the key to the quandrant. Faced with a solid wall of Dominion and Cardassian ships, Sisko had to play a game of wits with Cardassian leader Gul Dukat, trying to trick the Cardassians into opening a hole in their lines. Dukat saw through Sisko's strategy and tried to set a counter-trap, but Sisko managed to use Dukat's trap to push through. Here's the fleet Sisko was commanding:
Donal Graeme from the Childe Cycle of novels by Gordon R. Dickson. He's an "intuitive superman" with a superb grasp of battle tactics. He's also a master of deception (notice a theme here?). In one campaign, he tricks the enemy into landing on a planet to engage a massive ground force — only to find that the ground force is an illusion. They're trapped on the planet, with Donal's forces threatening to bomb them from orbit unless they surrender.
Captain John Sheridan from Babylon 5. One of the most cunning fighters in the Earth-Minbari war, Sheridan took out the Minbari's biggest ship by mining asteroids with nuclear weapons. In "Endgame," he has to outwit General Lefcourt, his former mentor, who can anticipate all of his moves, including a diversionary ground assault on Mars. But Lefcourt fails to anticipate Sheridan's tactic of having telepaths disable all of Lefcourt's ships.
Note: this thread on the Bad Universe and Astronomy Today forums was really helpful in thinking about this post. Some really good stuff there, check it out.