Home > World-Building > Day Two Hundred and Twelve: The Good Doctor

Day Two Hundred and Twelve: The Good Doctor

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!


Tonight’s random pick is one of those characters that got mentioned in a sort of off-the-cuff manner in one story, and quickly grew into someone of real depth and humanity. Damn, but that’s fun.

Let us look at Dr. Julian Harcrow, doctor to the super-heroes:

36: Interviews

  • Professor Harcrow works at the Corsair City University
  • He’s won three Nobel Prizes.
  • He worked with the Heroes United team.
  • He’s looking for a cure to the Gene Bomb set off by Tobias Rhyne.

114: Dr. Julian Harcrow (interview)

  • He has advanced degrees in biochemistry, quantum electrodynamics, and abnormal psychology.
  • He’s won three Nobel Prizes.
  • He grew up in the poor section of Corsair City.
  • He grew up in a single-parent household (his mother) with many brothers and sisters.
  • He was rescued from a tenement fire by Captain Cosmos.
  • He’s a Person of Color.
  • He went to university when he was fifteen.
  • He designed his own metahuman studies program.
  • He is at least 55 years old now.
  • He helped metahumans understand their powers and find ways to use them better.
  • He’s trying to undo the effects of Tobias Rhyne’s gene bomb.

A lot about Harcrow is right there in the interview, and I’m honestly surprised at how much I came up with. As I think I mentioned before, figuring out some characters is like torture for everyone involved. I want the character to reveal something of herself to me, and she’s saying, “Hell no. You’re the writer, you figure it out.” But occasionally one of them not only cooperates, but offers to do a lot of the hard work.

When I saw Harcrow, a picture popped into my head. He’s an alder black man, with the gray hair of a man who hasn’t stopped working since he was a teenager. He’s exhausted now, demoralized from seeing the gods fall from the sky. It’s hard to imagine what that must be like, but I try to think of it as a fundamental re-adjusting of your world view. Like when you realize that you don’t believe in God, or when you can’t find it in you to care about who’s running for President because they’ll just be the same guy with a different face. The things that kept you going are gone, but somehow you have to keep going.

What’s keeping Harcrow going, of course, is the hope of discovering a cure for the gene bomb, and he’s beginning to suspect what I already know: there is no cure. The heroes who have been nullified will never get their powers back. Ever.

There are two things he’ll see before he dies, though. The first is that there are plenty of non-meta heroes out there who will rise to fill the gaps. “Martial artists, robotocists, time-trapped heroes with amazing future tech…” The physics of his world still allows for all kinds of superheroics, and there will be plenty of people to step in and take over.

The second thing is that the gene bomb only re-configured people with currently active metahuman genes. But the meta-gene is necessarily recessive – otherwise the world would be overrun – so sooner or later (perhaps even right now) kids will be born with meta-genes that are just waiting to be activated. A whole new generation of mutants and accident-prone kids will mark the new age of heroism, and I think Harcrow deserves to see that before he dies.

Anyway, Harcrow is essentially a man in mourning, which isn’t something I’m all that familiar with writing. I haven’t lost something or someone that important, that literally defined my world for me. I know I will someday – that’s pretty much a certainty – and I hope that I am able to handle it with a certain amount of quiet dignity and grace. But for right now, I can explore that feeling through Harcrow.

Let’s see, what else? I’m going to have to figure out what he won his Nobel Prizes in at some point. Quick research suggests that no individual has ever won three prizes – and only a handful have won two. So that’ll take a bit of justification right there, but since he’s at the forefront of metahuman science, I think there are a lot of openings for him to grab a prize or three.

I can look at his rise to fame, and how being raised poor affects that. Our past shapes our actions in a thousand different ways, and that needs to be looked into. Harcrow was poor and black, which is not a childhood that often lends itself to becoming a triple-Nobel winner. How did he rise above the ghetto? How much of those formative years does he still keep around? How does he help the kids who are there now, the ones who maybe aren’t as smart or as lucky as he was?

I’m reminded, actually, of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who tells a story about being a young astrophysics student. He was told by an upperclassman he admired that he was wasting good talent on astrophysics and should have been using it to help “his people,” i.e. working in more political or social issues and helping to make life better in the black community. He says that he struggled with this – he knew that he should be making an effort to help other black kids, to help build the black community, but he also knew that he loved science and astrophysics.

Long story short, he found a way to do both when he was called to appear on TV as a science expert and talk about the sun. After the interview, he realized that not once had they asked him anything as a black man – they had asked him questions as a scientists. And that was his contribution right there. Just being a public black intellectual would challenge white stereotypes and at the same time give black youth someone they could look up to.

I’m probably oversimplifying the story terribly, and if Mr. Tyson would like to correct me, I will be more than happy to fix it. After I stop sqee-ing.

In any case, that’s kind of the model I’m using for Harcrow’s intersection between his racial community and his chosen profession. This is how he contributes and how he makes a difference, by being a person who makes the world a better place by being the brightest man in the room. Of course, writing about race has its pitfalls, certainly. We all remember RaceFail ’09, and the lessons it imparted. But when I do approach it, I’ll do my best, and if I screw anything up big-time, I will gladly seek feedback from people who know more than I do about being a Person of Color.

Eventually, by the way, I’m going to have to work on Tobias Rhyne, too. If anyone can be said to be Harcrow’s nemesis, it’ll be Rhyne, even though the two never met in person. How would Harcrow react to meeting the man who stole everything he loved from the world? Would he be able to hold up to the ethical models of his heroes, or will he just snap and try to pummel the man to death with a lead pipe? I know what he wants to do, but will he let himself do it? That right there is the big story that needs to be told.

There’s also some entertaining back-stories to tell as well. Helping heroes work out their powers, being the scientific point-man for Heroes United, things like that. It could be comedy, a little mystery – who knows? I get the feeling that he’s lived a long and full life, and there are many places where I can drop in and take a look.

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