Deathwish World is a near-future science fiction story written in the 1980s by two prolific speculative fiction authors. It centers around four characters whose paths unexpectedly converge in their quest for personal and social justice: Horace Hampton, a 30ish black American man who volunteers as an agent of the Anti-Racist League; Roy Cos, a political activist who tries to recruit the few privileged workers in America to join together in an all-encompassing labor union; Lee Garrett, a stunningly attractive and independently wealthy American woman who endures a lengthy application process in order to join the ranks of the futuristic Illuminati-like group known as The World Club; and Franklin Pinell, a 20ish American man who is deported upon being convicted of his third felony, and seeks to join the ranks of an international megacorporation that provides murder-for-hire services to the rich and powerful.
The main character, if there can be said to be one, is Horace Hampton. Without revealing too much of the plot, I'll say that he has an alter ego named Jeremiah Auburn. While Hampton is a black proletariat on welfare, Auburn is white, exceptionally rich, and holds a position of power in The World Club. In order to switch from one persona to the other, Hampton wears colored contact lenses, takes an injection which alters his skin color, wears temporary hair dye, and inserts a prosthesis that makes his nose appear wider. It's like a more realistic version of Bruce Wayne and Batman, except without the revenge fantasy and superhero gadgets.
The racial dichotomy of the mixed-race Horace Hampton / Jerry Auburn character is the book's most interesting social commentary narrative (among several). Hampton is repeatedly accosted by various forms of racism, while his "white" alter ego lives a charmed upper-class life. He's almost constantly drinking alcohol; when other characters see Hamp drinking, they express fear that he will become violent, whereas the characters who see Auburn drinking think nothing of it. Lee Garrett fears that she'll be raped by Hamp due to the combination of alcohol and race, yet she's swept off her feet by Jerry Auburn. Frank Pinell sees Hamp inject his skin tone treatment and assumes that it's heroin. Even Auburn's own employees, who don't know about his double life, treat Hamp as some sort of dirty sub-human while fawning over Jerry Auburn. Though the extended statement on racism is obvious, you can also see Hampton / Auburn as a metaphor for the intense code-switching that black men have to do in order to be socially accepted.
The other main socio-political narrative in Deathwish World is the "trouble in utopia" of a government that puts everyone on a form of welfare that covers all of the expenses of an ordinary middle-class life, and specially selects a few elites who are allowed to have real jobs and make a lot of money. Various political activists and terrorist groups in the book seek to change this system to enable more people to lead meaningful lives. Roy Cos represents one of them, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as "Wobblies"). After one of his futile speeches before a sparse crowd, he meets Forry Brown, a chain-smoking former journalist who has just lost his job to a younger and more qualified replacement. Together they plot to take out a "deathwish policy" on Roy and cheat the system to collect money to fund Roy's political cause. A deathwish policy is a bet between two insurance agencies; one of them bets on the policyholder's survival, and the other bets on his death. It pays out a million dollars per day for as long as the policyholder survives, but from the first moment the contract is in effect, the world's most elite assassins are on the job to ensure it's over before it costs too much.
Nearly every chapter has a new set of secondary characters, many of whom have enough personality and dialogue to warrant a unique character voice. That turned Deathwish World into another challenging performance akin to The Hero.
Horace Hampton's voice is deep, patient, considered, articulate, and mildly urban. Hamp definitely wants to give the impression that he is black, in order to throw off any suspicion about his alter ego. I modeled his voice after Richard Brooks, who played bounty hunter Jubal Early in the last episode of Firefly.
Jerry Auburn's voice is much the same as Hamp's, but faster-paced and carefree. There's a sexual playfulness to his tone, as though he's always kind of flirting with women and belittling other men. I wanted to show that Jerry could be this way because he's white and people excuse it, think it's cute, or are mildly annoyed by it; whereas if Hamp had that attitude, he'd likely be beaten, arrested, or killed.
Frank Pinell has a voice similar to the one I developed for Arthur in The Hero. He sounds young and bold, and puts on a facade of honest naivete in order to spring the traps that will get him closer to his goal.
Lee Garrett is the best female voice I've done so far, I think. She is articulate, confident, and like Frank she baits her marks with a naive inquisitiveness. Unfortunately, she's also a bit of a racist, though she is not aware of this fact until it's made obvious to her. I think that describes a large percentage of people in America.
Roy Cos is a depressed 40ish political activist for a cause that very few people care about. He's tired and emotionally defeated, but he never compromises the integrity of his beliefs. No matter where he is, he would rather be someplace else. Therefore, I imagined an early-1990s Harrison Ford as my inspiration for Roy Cos' voice.
Forry Brown has the words "I am obviously 1970s Hal Holbrook" tattooed on his forehead. I did my best to make it sound like he's actually smoking in the many scenes where he has a cigarette.
I won't go into detail about the rest of the secondary characters, but I'll say that I had a great time developing new voices for them.
Deathwish World was mostly written by Mack Reynolds in the early 1980s. When he died of cancer in 1983, some of his unfinished manuscripts (including Deathwish World) were completed by Dean Ing. Mack Reynolds' full name was Dallas McCord Reynolds, and he published under a variety of derivative pseudonyms. He was the first author to write a licensed Star Trek novel way back in 1968, though most of his short stories, novellas, and novels fit the same political and social atmosphere of Deathwish World, and there are many of the same futuristic places, technologies, and ideas shared among them.
Many of the ideas and projections in this book are a bit silly 30 years after it was published. The language, too, is a bit dated, and the general attitude that the characters have toward homosexuality is not acceptable in 2016. The few gay characters in the book are villains. I'm not entirely comfortable with that, but I don't think that censoring fiction from an age of lesser morals is the right thing to do, either. Think of it as a glimpse into the dysfunction of a thankfully bygone era. Ironically, Deathwish World shows us a future where there are still all kinds of social and political problems; some are different, some are the same.
Here's a 5-minute sample of Roy Cos and Forry Brown plotting to beat the odds on a deathwish policy:
And just for fun, here's a song I recorded from one of the later chapters in the book. A Ricky Nelson-like folk singer is hired by Roy and Forry to sing a song based on "In The Sweet By and By," using lyrics that lampoon the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. My guitar playing is so-so and my singing is at best decent, but it I think it still works: