First off, this is so not a story bone.
There this story line that keeps coming back to me, and I keep pushing it off because I don't think that it's a viable world. The main character has become my most fleshed-out character ever (knowing just want makes him tick), and I've types out stubs of two different stories (I think they are), but never finished them. And I really want to get on writing the novel. But let me ask the great internet brain.
Oh great internet brain, how about this? Stories take place on a post Chinese invasion, post cataclysmic earthquake, post Chinese abandonment of the West Coast of the US. The actual US government is in no condition (financially and politically) to retake the land west of the rockies. In the vacuum a mix of city states ruled by an alliance between republic democracies and an highly organized yakuza. In this mix of Asian and American cultures, the use of Changlish (Chinese and English, like Spanglish) is common place (for the sake of the story telling, it's more English than Chinese), but open markets and street life has taken on a distinct Asian flavor.
Main character is a "Bladesman." Which means he carries a sword and works for the higher levels of the criminal side of things (they're the only ones who can afford it). The progression of enforcers starts with "Thumpers" (basic thugs, most common, they use blunt force weapons, wide range of skill sets and levels), "Gunboys" (those that are allowed to carry firearms, smaller group, more exclusive and troublesome), and "Bladesmen" (highly trained elite, use bladed weapons, very specialized, when one comes calling you know someone with a lot of money is very interested in what's happening). Thumpers are a dime a dozen (although good ones are highly prized). Gunboys are used for inter-crime-family squabbles and for protection. Bladesmen are very expensive and very good at what they do. Within the city our character lives in there are only three Bladesmen (one for each "family") and a handful of apprentices (our character is the youngest/newest, and only because his "sensei" was assassinated). Think super-spy, ninja (hey, people with guns, you don't challenge them to a dual, you kill them quickly and sneakily), dualist, and the embodiment of bushido and honor all rolled together. Again, when a Bladesman shows up, one of the top crime bosses has taken an interest in what you're doing, and is willing to spend a lot of money to let you know it.
On top of these are the mythical "Magicians." There are none known on the West Coast (which means, of course, our character will run into one at some point). These characters are very expensive to keep (hence, nobody on the coast can afford one), but use "sorcery" and "direct magic" as their weapons so they are highly feared.
Just like most famous people everywhere, our character puts his pants on one leg at a time, messes up, and has to live somehow. While he is paid well for what he does, it's not enough to live in the top tier of society (after all, he is a working stiff, not a crime lord). Killing is aprt of the job, although sometimes it gets to him. Mostly he's there to intimidate or to send a message that "one does not do (this) in this town and get to walk away." There is a mix of high-tech and street vendors who sell steamed (and flavored) rice rolled in office paper, CNG cars share the road with rickshaws, buskers, various criminal types, "legit" society, and people just trying to get business done (like crime lords in charge of shipping food and the city food markets - the places where the groceries and restaurants buy their produce). Think Gotham mixed with the LA of Blade Runner, but set in a Noir Pacific NW.
The three crime families live in a changing landscape of uneasy truces with each other. Neither could make a go at running the whole city, but territories could be gained or lost. The City Government tries to play the families off each other, while providing basic services (and trying to protect their own territories), and makes some semblance of "law enforcement" (which can sometimes mean "contract enforcement" between the families). All fours sides know if they overstep or aren't able to provide for their constituents (which overlap), they'll be out of power quickly.
Life isn't exactly cheap, but at the level of game our character is in, can be paid for readily. Most of the work gets done by Thumpers, Gunboys and wannabees dot the landscape and need to be dealt with. Punch and counter punch is the name of the game, sudden escalation/end-game is par for the course, and betrayal (done correctly) is within the rules. Some martial arts, exposition about the functioning of "the world," cold-war thinking, an attitude that our character is not living in the world he would like and is unwilling to deal with crap (either ignores or eliminates with prejudice), and the very real possibility of death waiting right around the corner, sometimes from comic justice.
Sound like a world you all would like to read about?