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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 26 January 2015
I was in an unsettled mood, unable to finish a book when I found Wild Card. A wonderful weaving tapestry of life as it might have been - just like the Bayeux Tapestry was woven by many haynds, these stories come together with 20th century references that kept me engrossed.
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on 15 December 2012
I remember read this when it first came out. I was impressed by it though some of it went over my head. No I am even more impressed by how credible the world building is. There are plenty of humorous elements like the fake articles by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson.

Most of this book is concerned with world building and setting the scene for further volumes. Compared to actual comics it is much more realistic and consistent.

Virtually all of the stories work though some especially towards the end of the book are a little prosaic.

I really enjoyed it and for once the reality was better than the memory.
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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.***
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on 16 July 2013
I first read this as a battered paperback more than twenty years ago. It's been in and out of print ever since, with the most recent edition being a quite nice trade paperback with three extra stories, which (as a cheapskate) I was loathe to pay top dollar for.
Very pleased to see this edition, at a decent price, which has the new content. Well worth picking up, even if you've the originals just for the new material.
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