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on 4 January 2010
and a hint of a little bit of repetition for readers already familiar with the series.

With the Wild Cards novels into the teens for the number of books this one makes not only a departure from the established cast but also fully embraces one of the most unfortunate aspects of the last decade in the form of an aces reality TV show. But in the true spirit of the books the story changes to a much darker one of joker genocide in Egypt, which is jarring and not that well handled in the transition.

The first half of the book is concerned with a new cast of aces being put through the trial of American Hero to see who will win $1 million. Old characters make an appearance in the form of Peregrine, Digger Downs, Topper and the Harlem Hammer along with a cameo by Golden Boy, but they are principally bit part and take no real role in the novel.

Fortunato's son John is put centre stage along with other aces that older readers will not know and newer ones will find more accessible as a starting point than other books in the series.

Despite personally despising reality TV the story is handled well and in the Wild Cards ironic style, although it does jump between the four teams and therefore lacks some character development for some of the myriad of new aces introduced.

By the middle of the book some of the failed contestants get involved in a storyline where John Fortune is the saviour of Egyptian jokers threatened by genocide. For me there was a resonance of the Bloat joker homeland storyline, albeit darkened by the genocide.

The transition between the two storylines is not handled that well, both being polar in the spectrum of their gravity and the American Hero story peters out as the show collapses from most of the contestants leaving to join the crusade. Its conclusion is mentioned in passing.

The Egyptian storyline is a good aces versus bad aces scrap, with inevitable losses reminding the reader that in the Wild Cards universe the heroes aren't invulnerable. And whilst the good aces triumph as expected there are the ramifications of their actions addressed, again the real world encroaching on the super hero storyline. The ending sets up the story for the next book, Busted Flush, and it made me look forward to reading it.

Overall a good book if not compared too closely to earlier ones and one I would certainly recommend for both those familiar and unfamiliar with the series as it is accessible due to its whole new cast but also continues story threads and trends seen throughout other books.
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on 27 March 2010
I've had this book for just over a year, but I managed to forget about it for a long time once I'd put it on my bookshelves, though I've finally now gotten around to reading it.

I'd never even heard of the Wild Cards series before reading it, so I no doubt missed a lot of references to previous books, and can't really compare it to what's gone on before. I do get the impression the Wild Cards universe does contain a lot of characters and would probably take some dedication to remember what each of them can do. However, this book does seem like a good starting point to get into the series.

The first half of Inside Straight focusses more on a light-hearted Big Brother style TV show, before going onto more political issues in the middle east. Unlike many super-hero books, it shows that the heroes are not as invulnerable as the likes of Superman and presents some moral choices for the characters.

I was especially impressed with how it all fit together with different authors writing different bits of it, and apart for around the time when the TV show plot fizzles out it all flows together nicely.

The blurb on the back confused me at first as it seems to relate to the whole new series, not this book specifically. I probably will read the next book at some point, but it's not something I intend to rush out and buy.
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Latest in a long series of books called the wild cards series. for the uninitiated: in the 40's an alien virus was unleashed on earth. 90% of those infected are killed. 9% are horribly mutated. and the remaining one person gets an amazing superpower. this is the wild card virus. the mutated are called jokers and the one percent aces as a result. Thus the world as we know it is rather different here.

This is what they call a 'fix up' or a 'mosaic' novel, meaning that it consists of quite a few short stories each written by a different writer that all draw together to form one big story. each writer usually works on a different character.

This series has been running since the 80's, and it's the first new wild cards I've read in a while, so it was good to get back into it. Reality tv didnt exist back when these books started, but now it's all the rage, and it's present in the wild cards world as well.

This is, as mentioned in other reviews, a good jumping on point for new readers. there's a fair amount of background detail but you should be able to get through all that without being too confused.

It also tries hard to be realistic, with action scenes that don't skimp on the realities of violence - but are never gratuitious - and bits of strong language and a fair few adult situations.

People with powers are brought together from across america to appear on reality tv show american hero. The son of it's producer is a former ace who has lost his power. and meantime, there's potential genocide about to happen in the middle east.

a long book at over 400 pages, and it starts with a slightly uninvolving chapter detailing a superpowered spy on an assassination mission in the middle east. after that though it becomes much more readable as we get to know the american hero contestants and follow their progress on the show, complete with all the personal interaction and backstabbing you'd expect from such a programme.

come the middle of the book the focus shifts back to the middle east situation, and it loses its way a little after that by focusing so much on that to the exclusion of whats happening on americna hero. however it picks up superbly in the final quarter when characters get involved in whats going on there. lots of moral lessons and painful choices ensue for the characters in regards to what makes you more heroic. being in a tv show or going to another country and trying to do the right thing?

Everything is set up for further exploits for some of the characters at the end of the novel.

A decent read, and a good return to the series for a lapsed reader like me. also a good place to start if you want to know more
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Alive and kicking since 1987, the Wild Cards sequence is the longest-running series in an SFF shared universe. I was curious to read Inside Straight because the 18th volume represents a new beginning. Although there is more than enough to please old fans, this new triad published by Tor Books is meant to introduce a new generation of readers to the series.

I have to admit that, other than being acquainted with the principal premise of the series, I'm not too familiar with its characters and major storylines. I remember reading two or three Wild Cards books circa 1990, but I wasn't too impressed with them at the time. Keep in mind that from the height of my 16 years of age, I considered myself a bit too "mature" for this super heroes and that kind of stuff.

Well, I'm now 33 years old and I'm not sure just how mature I am today.:p Maybe it's a case of regression, or could it be progression!?! In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed Inside Straight. The book does the job, on several levels. Mind you, this is not the sort of novel whose scope can rival with Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Jordan's The Wheel of Time, Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen, etc. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to this book than meets the eye. Naturally, I can't truly compare this newest volume to its predecessors. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that GRRM and his collaborators have hit this one out of the ballpark! And as it reads well as a stand-alone, it makes Inside Straight the perfect starting point for potential readers.

Some have voiced their worries about the lack of "big names" on message boards, fearing that it might make for an inferior product. Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean no disrespect, but George R. R. Martin's story isn't any better than that of Carrie Vaughn, Daniel Abraham, or Michael Cassutt. If anything, I firmly believe that, like me, after finishing Inside Straight readers will be intrigued and they'll wish to learn more about the works of Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, Ian Tregillis and S. L. Farrell. While no one really stands out from the rest of the pack, no one's star shines any less than the others.

As a mosaic novel, I was concerned about possible glitches in terms of continuity, consistency, chronology, style and tone. I was also worried about how the individual stories would fit and further the plot of the overall story arc. But 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.

I love how the "reality tv/trash tv" angle was played. It was a lot of fun to read about American Hero, a Wild Cards tv show which is a blend of American Idol, Survivor, and Big Brother. They even have their Simon-like judge!

Still, there is a lot more to this new generation of Wild Cards than just a group of them competing for a million dollars. A crisis is brewing in the Middle East, and the assassination of the current Caliph leads to what could become a genocide. I was terribly afraid that the authors would fall in the same trap as most artists: Either take the far-Right approach, or go down the brown-nosing, ass-kissing, UN-loving, "there are no bad people on this planet, just misunderstandings" Leftist road -- both of them too black and white, and both of them inaccurate. I'm glad to report that the writers and editors understand that there are many nuances to be considered when one elects to tackle with the religious and political problems that are endemic to the Middle East and beyond. Hence, this particular plotline is written intelligently, taking into account both sides of the story.

With good characterization and way more depth than meets the eye, Inside Straight is hip, cool, fun and fresh. Fans of the Wild Cards series should flock back in droves, their numbers increased by new readers eager to learn more about all those aces and jokers.

Kudos to George R. R. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, Daniel Abraham, Ian Tregillis, and S. L. Farrell for a job well-done! The franchise is in very good hands, which bodes extremely well for the future. I'll be lining up for the forthcoming Busted Flush.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2008
In 1945 an alien virus turned 1 in 10 of the survivors into Aces (human with powers); it turned 9 out of 10 into Jokers (grotesquely deformed, some with powers); sometimes the dividing line is hard to tell. Sixty years later and it's time for the new hit reality tv series American Hero featuring new young Aces.

Despite being the 18th in the series, this is very accessible for newcomers to the wonderful world of the Wild Cards as relatively little is dependent on previous books and anything that is is neatly slipped in. As usual it's a mosaic novel, a neat concept (as long as it works) where several authors write episodes focussing their characters within the context of the plot to create a genuine novel with a consistent tone.

This is relatively light compared to many previous episodes in the series as most of it focusses on the several core characters trying to survive in the reality tv series and what happens when they don't. There is also a subplot concerning an assassination in the Middle East which impacts later on. Most of the characters are well realised in terms of their powers, their personalities, and their varying motivations for being on the show. Many have secrets; some are more than they seem, some are less.

It all works quite well and I certainly didn't want to put the book down. However, for regular readers (of which I'm one), it isn't one of the best and would only rate it 3 stars (like me, you'll buy it anyway), but as a good introduction for those who haven't read Wild Cards before, it's highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2008
The Wild Cards series has always been one that I've heard about, one that was very well received, and I really liked the idea of a book written by many different authors, including new talent. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed by Inside Straight, the 18th Wild Card novel, despite it having some really commendable points.

It's over fifty years since the mysterious alien virus killed off 90% of the people it infected, left most of the rest deformed "freaks", and left just a few percent, Ace's, with special powers. Inside Straight features an essentially new cast of characters (though the old ones are referenced often by the younger generation of Ace's). And now, in 2008, a reality TV show, American Hero, a reality TV show with Ace's as the stars, is about to begin... The early Ace's used their powers to help the world, and became legends; in their shadows, decades later, the next generation will be TV personalities...

Inside Straight did a good job of commenting on the public being more interested in superhero "freaks" battling it out on a reality TV show, than a crisis in the rest of the world, but the first part of the novel moved too slowly and left me a bit frustrated. Although the scheming and the back-biting that went on behind the scenes of the reality show was quite interesting, and often funny, it went on a bit long, and, even though these people had special powers, if I'd wanted to see this I could have just watched Big Brother or American Idol (more fun than our UK counterpart, by the way!) rather than read a SF novel.

Of much more interest to me were the scenes in a quite alternate Egypt. I liked the way mythology was played around with there, too -- the alien virus from the previous books having turned some of the Ace's into Living Gods, with attributes similar to the gods of mythology, and Thoth and Osiris show up, which is always good. Speaking of the virus, with Inside Straight being the book to introduce new people to the Wild Cards alternate universe, it would have been good to see more about the virus -- why some people died, others being horribly ruined, and a rarer few got special powers. I can understand why the authors didn't necessarily want to reiterate stuff that might have been shown in earlier novels, but it would have been useful, and interesting, for a newbie.

If I hadn't read the blurb (and known about it before!) I'd not have realised that nine different authors worked on this project. The different parts and characters are woven together seamlessly. When I reviewed Hunter's Run, a collaboration of three writers (two of which, George R.R. Martin & Daniel Abraham, write in Inside Straight), I commented on how surprised I was at how well the different pieces from different authors went together. With nine writers, that's even more of a phenomenal achievement.

The comments, throughout the book, on the public being more interested in superhero "freaks" battling it out on a reality TV show, than a crisis in the rest of the world, were clever and funny. The Middle East "situation" also plays a large part in this novel, Inside Straight opening in fact, with an assassination that is about to cause havoc ... which, of course, the general public care nothing about, being more interested in whether Drummer Boy will make out with every girl in the American Hero house. I also really liked the "blog posts" by Jonathan Hive (Daniel Abraham) in general, as they brought a kind of over-arching narration to the whole thing. He was, with the rather strange but cool ability to turn bits (or the entirety) of his body into wasps, and a sour disposition, one of my favourite characters.

I think it was the hype that did this one in for me. A lot of things in Inside Straight are brilliant, but I had higher expectations than perhaps were fair. It's a good book, with generally interesting characters, a good second half (after the quite slow first), and is very cleverly written. But, and this really annoys me, I'm still ever so slightly disappointed.
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