As mentioned in the first part of this series, any character who wasn’t white got pretty short shrift in the pulps, while a Caucasian man was virtually always embraced as the protagonist. So again, I wanted to twist these stereotypes in more interesting directions.
The male lead of the novel, George Cooper, fills the role of the average white Joe. He’s noticeably well-spoken and empathetic in a world that no longer bothers with such niceties and provides a sort of moral center for the other characters. However, he has a number of major flaws to balance him. George’s introduction to the novel clearly exhibits he’s nowhere near as stable/adaptable as the rest of the cast in dealing with the disaster around him, resulting in a suicide attempt at the start of the book (and a drinking binge later that night). The gangsters and criminals who compose the rest of the core cast survived and adjusted as well as they did because they’ve always had to fight for what they have. George made it to his introduction more by way of luck than anything else. Out of place as he feels, he prefers to let others make the big decisions when he can. Despite that, he is loyal to a fault and quite dependable.
Tommy Cheng provides my rebuke to the hideous “Yellow Menace” stereotype. Although a Chinese immigrant, Tommy bears none of the pulpy tropes. There is no mastery of the martial arts or silken robes or Eastern philosophy. Instead, he traded them in for a sharpshooter’s eyes and a sarcastic sense of humor. Rather than pidgin English, Tommy speaks with an “American” accent. Ambitious and smart as he is, I figured he’d be a quick study when it came to anything that might weaken the prejudices holding him back.
“Grim” Jim Long is the chief black character in the cast. Neither servile nor stupid in any sense of the word, Jim has no problem stepping into authority when necessary. Like the rest of the cast (except for George–again, poking fun at the absurdity of tropes that would have readers believe all minorities were meant for either service jobs or criminal careers), he has a criminal background, but rather than being motivated by greed, Jim got involved for the sheer intellectual challenge of the jobs he used to pull. I also had fun contradicting old stereotypes with him physically. He’s almost unnaturally tall, but gaunt and just past middle age instead of some bruiser. And while he is a hard-ass and looks the part, he also cares deeply about the people for whom he’s responsible. Maybe even a little too much.
Next time, I tell you just what kind of stuff these people are up against.