on 6 September 2001
This is wonderful stuff. The premise is that an alien virus infects Earth in 1945, producing "Aces" -super talented people, and "Jokers" bizarrely mutated creatures. They thus survive with the rest of the world, occasionally interfering in real events. A benevolent member of the alien species, Dr. Tachyon, stays on Earth to help deal with the outcome.
The book brilliantly captures the mood of paranoia, as HUAC and Joe McCarthy turn their attention to Aces. It also shows up the shameful treatment meted out to Henry Wallace for being "too" anti-fascist. In the book he employs Aces to overthrow fascist dictators in South America.
Later books show the introduction of drugs, the role of Islamic fundamentalism, the Vietnam war and so on.
If you love serious comics and sci-fi, you'll love this.
on 2 May 2011
Having loved the latest Wild Cards triad (Inside Straight, Busted Flush, and Suicide Kings, I was curious to read about how it all began. And with Tor Books reissuing the original Wild Cards installments, I wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity.
Here's the blurb:
Back in print after a decade, expanded with new original material, this is the first volume of George R. R. Martin's Wild cards shared-world series.
There is a secret history of the world--a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces--those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers--cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.
Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo-winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.
I remember being concerned about the mosaic novel format when I first read Inside Straight, fearing possible glitches in terms of continuity, consistency, chronology, style and tone. I was worried about how the individual stories would fit and further the plot of the overall story arc. But as was the case with the last triad, the various plotlines are woven together almost seamlessly, and the entire cast of writers involved in the production of this book maintain an even style and tone throughout.
This expanded edition also features new material that could potentially clash with the stories which were more than two decades old. And yet, had I not known that this was the case, I would never have been able to tell you which is which. In retrospect, the addition of new voices and stories provide even more depth to this collective work.
My favorite aspect of Wild Cards I is that it is also somewhat of a social commentary of about four decades of American history. It begins with post-WWII America, and we then follow the evolution of the Wild Cards virus and its repercussions on Aces and Jokers and the American and international psyches through the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the hippie movement, the Kennedy assassination, etc, all the way to the 80s.
It starts off with a bang as Jetboy tries to prevent a tragedy in the skies above New York City. And then we are taken for a ride throughout about forty years' worth of Americana experienced through the eyes of a disparate group of individuals touched by the virus.
As fun as it is intelligent, Wild Cards I will satisfy readers in myriad ways. Beyond being a political and social commentary, the opening chapter of the Wild Cards sequence is a rousing tale of unlikely heroes.
Newbies wanting to sample George R. R. Martin's labor of love for more than twenty years should look no further. Though the latest trilogy could be read as a stand-alone meant to attract new fans into the fold, new readers like me couldn't possibly get all the nuances. But with Wild Cards I, you find out how it all began with no ambiguity.
Give it a shot if you are looking for something different. You won't be disappointed.
on 28 June 2012
I came to this book and this series, after attending a panel by George R.R. Martin, and other contributors to Wildcards, at Eastercon. I am a big Song of Fire and Ice fan, and this other aspect of George R.R. Martin's writing appealed to me.
I was intrigued with the idea of a shared world sci-fi anthology and the super hero elements. What I discovered having read the book was something a whole lot more sophisticated than what I imagined.
The stories exist in a world that is not just a sci-fi setting but also brings in alternative history and political elements. I was very much reminded of Alan Moore's Watchmen.
Each individual story tends to deal with a different Ace, Joker or situation and are of varying quality (though non of them are a bad read). This and the fact that each story can seem a bit disjointed from the next is the reason I gave it four stars. I think, however, that is the very nature of the project and am looking forward to seeing how this develops over the rest of the series. Books two and three are on my shelf and next on the list. Can't wait to read them.
Aces High (Wild Cards)
Wild Cards: Jokers Wild v. 3
on 13 May 2011
being at least the 3-4 time in the last 20+ years and primarily because the more of the books you read the more you pick up on the references that you would never have before.
This is undoubtedly the strength of this series, the sheer volume of character development and back history throughout the existing 21 volumes that is still evident in the 21st volume that I recently read.
I did start rereading my original 1989 copy, idly looking it up on Amazon to see if it was available second hand. I noticed this reprint edition, with no real interest to buy, as a book is a book no matter what print run it comes from.
I then noticed that there were 3 new stories included and despite being a hardened consumer I had to have the reprint to see what had been added. It also did not help that there is very little information to be found on what the stories actually are to evaluate their worth.
A blog entry by Martin in 2009 stated that due to the decade leaping nature of the book that 3 stories had been added from differing decades, easily being slotted into the continuum as there are so many gaps.
The first - 1956 Captain Cathode v the Secret Ace - is about a secret ace television producer having problems with his series star actor with a side plot of the Medusa killings. Short and forgettable.
Second - 1960 Powers - Another secret ace in a cold war rescue story. Again short but more entertaining than the first.
Third - 1981 Ghost Girl takes Manhattan - The best of the three as it takes the already known Jennifer Maloy - Ghost Girl, and makes this her first appearance in the WC universe over her future appearance. It also brings in two other known characters that she interacts with and the weaving of the characters is what WC is all about.
Not much to write home about, but for a whole series fan anything new is welcome.
The only negative I have with the book is its size. Originally over 400 pages it was a normal sized novel, this edition is a softback hardback sized book approaching 500. I find it bulky and unwieldy and unless there is a binding/printing reason think the size increase is a minus.
But other than that, for new readers the place to start, for old worth a reread plus the added bonus of 3 new ace exploits to read about. And how this has not been picked up for television/film development is beyond me, if Heroes was so popular this could not but succeed.
on 3 September 2007
Do you remember how much you enjoyed reading your favorite superhero comics when you were 11? Then you grew up, and lost it. But now the magic is back: these books will make you feel in the same way even if now you've graduated, you've got a family and you're a responsible grown-up in every sense. And the good thing is that these stories take place in the same time when you were becoming what you are now, and reading them will give you a new perspective on the way things were.
The "Wild Cards" series is an alternate history of the second half of the XX century, in a world where superheroes really start to exist after the second world war and they find themselves at the center of the most important events in these last decades from Korea to Vietnam, with gems like McCarthy against communist superheroes, the ascent of a pervert politician with the secret power to manipulate people, comments in the style of Tom Wolfe, the Lizard King charming his audience through lysergic hallucinations until a reactionary Polish superhero fights back, a nerd Berkeley student who turns into random superheroes when he takes drugs. And all this just as a start.
You better buy this book and all the sequels at once, because all George R.R. Martin's books always become cult classics, and there's no way to find them unless they are reprinted. This guy is really a very gifted storyteller, and here he proves to be also an excellent editor: not all contributors are on the same level, but he manages to make it all feel organic, and not just a bunch of separate tales. A grand parade of editorial techniques that make this project a paradigm for mosaic novels. It's a pity that there are "only" 15 novels... I'd love to see these guys in action even in this new troubled millennium, and certainly there'd be no shortage of inspiring events.
on 13 June 2013
I had heard of the multi-volume collection that is Wild Cards but never really them.
For all that they are written by multiple authors these are consistent and well presented vision into an alternative Earth.
Super powers and super freaks combine with the 'naturals' to bring sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting, sometimes very adult but always engaging and enthralling stories.
Very impressed. Leaves you wanting more. Looking forward to reading the 20+ other volumes.
***Be warned, contains very mature themes.***
on 15 February 2013
Anyone who thinks superhero stories have to be drawn should think again. This amazing collection by top writers give the superhero genre a prose identity that deserves this long overdue reprint. Forget the cape and cowl brigade, these super humans are more down to earth and all the more intriguing for it. What would you do if you suddenly woke up and found you had super powers? That is the basis for all these tales, each writer deftly passing on the baton to the next. A must for anyone who has ever read a comic or been enthralled by a summer blockbuster.
on 12 August 2014
I have to say I'm not usually a fan of short stories so I was unsure whether I was going to like the format of this book. But I loved the premise so much (being a huge fan of superheroes, sci-fi and any kind of post-apocalyptic set-up) that I decided to give it a go.
I wasn't disappointed! The stories come together to create an interesting, complex world that explores the different ways that the world responds to the 'wildcard' virus and the resulting 'aces' and 'jokers'. It's a darker, more realistic take on the superhero genre, full of interesting well developed characters.
That said the world could have done with a lot more diversity as the vast majority of stories focused on (white) men (as is unfortunately typical of the superhero genre). Having come from George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series which has so many diverse and interesting female characters I was disappointed that with so many characters we still see the 'wildcards' universe from an overwhelmingly straight, white, male perspective. Especially seeing as the few female characters that did turn up were largely sexualised and mostly ended up dead.
However I still liked all of the stories with the exception of 'The Long Dark Night of Fortunato' which, was a little too bizarre for my tastes as well as blatantly sexist and racist. I found Fortunato unlikeable and his story uninteresting and I'd definitely recommend giving this story a miss.
But to sum up this book is great (I've already ordered the next two books in the series) though inevitably targeted towards straight white men, at the expense of everyone else. Unfortunately so is every other popular work of fiction about superheroes so until that changes I'd say that this is among the best superhero series' out there and definitely worth a read.
An alien species decides to use Earth to test a new bioweapon. An airborne criminal seizes the weapon and tries to use it to blackmail the city of New York. A former WWII flying ace tries to stop him. And, on 15 September 1946, the world is forever changed when the wild card virus is unleashed in the skies over Manhattan.
Ninety percent of those infected by the virus die instantly. A further nine percent develop crippling deformities or abnormalities, becoming known as 'jokers'. And one in a hundred of those infected develops a wondrous superpower. They become the 'aces'. As an alternative history of the 20th Century unfolds, the American government first tries to use the aces for their own ends and then, in a paranoid frenzy, turns against them, before they finally win some recognition for themselves. But for the jokers, forced to live in a ghetto in Manhattan, their road to recognition and respect will be much harder.
Wild Cards is the first book in the series of the same name, which of this time of writing spans twenty-one volumes with two more planned. This isn't a series of novels, but collections of stories written by many different authors. George R.R. Martin (of A Song of Ice and Fire fame) and Melinda Snodgrass provide editorial control, ensuring that each volume has its own narrative drive and point beyond just collecting random short stories together. The stories are set in their own milieu, with authors sharing ideas, using each other's characters and building up a consistent, coherent shared world.
The first Wild Cards book opens with a bang, with Howard Waldrop giving us the origin story for the entire setting in 'Thirty Minutes Over Broadway'. This is a terrific slice of fiction, with Waldrop fusing pulp energy with his own idiosyncratic style to give us something weird, resolutely entertaining and rather tragic in its own right. Roger Zelazny - yes, that one, the author of the Amber series and Lord of Light - then provides the origin story for Croyd Crenson, the Sleeper, one of the original aces whose powers shift every time he goes to sleep. Crenson's periods of hibernation provide a handy way of fast-forwarding through the immediate aftermath of the crisis, showing how New York, the USA and the world adapt to the arrival of the virus. Walter Jon Williams and Melinda Snodgrass then show us two sides of the same tale through 'Witness' and 'Degradation Rites', the story of the Four Aces and their betrayal by the American government. These opening four stories provide a quadruple-whammy of setting up this alternate history and doing so whilst telling stories that are well-written (superbly so in both Waldrop and Zelazny's cases, though the others are not far behind), finely characterised and as gut-wrenchingly unpredictable as anything in the editor's fantasy stories.
Later stories remain highly readable, though perhaps not quite on a par with this opening salvo. Martin's own 'Shell Games' is, perhaps unexpectedly, the most uplifting story in the book, the story of the bullied boy who becomes a superhero. Michael Cassut's 'Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace' and David Levine's 'Powers', two new additions for the 2010 edition of the book, are both decent, filling in gaps in the history. Lewis Shiner's 'Long Dark Night of Fortunato' introduces one of the setting's less salubrious characters and makes for effective, if uneasy, reading. Victor Milan's 'Transfigurations' shows how the anti-Vietnam rallies of the late 1960s and early 1970s are changed by the presence of the wild card virus (and gives us an ace-on-ace rumble that is particularly impressive). 'Down Deep' by Edward Bryant and Leanne Harper is probably the weirdest story in the collection (which in this collection is saying something), a moody trawl through the underbelly of New York (figurative and literal). It's probably a little bit too weird, with an ending that is risks being unintentionally comical, but is still reasonably effective.
Stephen Leigh's 'Strings' and Carrie Vaughn's 'Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan' (the latter being another new addition in this edition) return to the quality of the opening quartet. The former depicts the jokers' battle for civil rights, resulting in riots and chaos in Jokertown and New York that a shadowy figure is manipulating for his own ends. 'Ghost Girl' is a straight-up adventure with the titular character teaming up with Croyd Crenson to find her missing friend. 'Ghost Girl' could be a novel in its own right, with the battling criminal gangs and dodgy drug-taking rock bands providing a canvas that's almost too big for the story, but Vaughn's method of keeping the story under control and resolving it is most effective. Finally, John J. Miller's 'Comes a Hunter', in which a 'nat' sets out to avenge the death of his friend by going up against some criminal aces, is a superbly-written thriller which examines how 'normal' people can stand up against aces and jokers.
The book as a whole is excellent, with the stories entwining around real history and changing it in a way that is mostly organic and convincing. There are a few issues with plausibility here - most notably the way no-one seems particularly bothered about the proven existence of an alien race that has just tried to poison the entire planet - but for the most part the writers use the premise to tell stories about the changed history of the USA (from McCarthyism to civil rights to Vietnam) in an intelligent, passionate manner.
Wild Cards (*****) introduces the world, setting and many of its memorable characters through a series of well-written, smart stories. There isn't a weak card in the deck, and the best stories (those by Waldrop, Williams, Snodgrass and especially Zelazny) are up there with the best of their original work.
on 30 April 2013
So imagine if you will that in 1946 the world changed, an alien virus is released that mutates human dna creating supermen (and superwoman or super people maybe i don't know, you come up with your own term) in 1% of cases, freaks in 9% and unfortunatly killing the other 90%, well you can stop imagining and you can read this book (handy right it's like i knew this book exsisted).
The virus gives birth to these people, Aces and Jokers as they come to be known (dieing is known as pulling the black queen, there are also othe catogories like deuces but frankly i'm not going into all that read the book yourselves if you want to know)and a new time line is born and this is what this book feels like a chronicle of an alternate timeline where events that happened in real life get given a superheroy (not a word, i know stop shouting)twist.
It all starts with Jetboy a gifted flyboy from the second world war who is tasked with stopping the realease of the virus (guess how he does, sorry i know spoliers) and bulids the mythology from there, going through the years we are introduced to the Aces that go on to form the backbone of the original trilogy, Dr Tachyon the alien telepath (think a randy short Mick Hucknall with an odd dress sense), The Turtle a telekanetic who has an unuasl shell, Yeoman an archer witha vendetta (technicly not an Ace i know, shush), Fortuanto a pratictioner of trantric sex magic (yes you read that right), Dr Mark Meadows and his little helpers, Croyd who is possible the most unusual superhero ever and other such as Puppetman, Sewer Jack and Bagabond frankly there to mank to go into here but each one is given there own story all by different authors each progresing the story and mythology a step foward.
Now i was only going to give this book 4 stars but the short story Witness taks it easly to 5 by itself, the story of the Golden Boy and Black Eagle told against the communist witchhunts of the 1950's is simply one of the best short stories ever written i would recommend this book on it's strength alone that and it's kind of follow up Degregation Rites our the standout pieces and really combine the mythology of the wild cards with history fantasticly making something both familiar but still surprising enough to pack one hell of a punch.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it's one fault the short story format can brake up the pace a little but each story is a gem in it's own right and most stand by themselves as well, so give it a try you might just like what you see.