Wildcards, ed. by George R.R. Martin
Wild Cards (Volume 1), ed. by George R.R. Martin
Tor Books, 2010, 496pp
My kids love to tease me about growing up in the ’80s. To them, the past is a foreign country, especially that distant decade. They listen to the music. They mock. They watch the T.V. series. They ridicule. They see the Atari 2600 8-bit games. They laugh.
Sure, the ’80s were an odd decade to grow up in. But there were a number of good things that came out of that decade, especially in the SF/F genre, not the least of which is the enduring ‘Wild Cards’ shared universe. After a brief pause, the series is back in production with new novels coming out, as well as Tor books beginning a republishing of the original books (with new stories added in).
The first of these is named, aptly enough, Wild Cards, and tells the origins of the Wild Cards universe through a series of related (but stand alone) stories. The basic premise is that in 1945 an alien virus is released into the air above New York City. The virus kills about 90% of the people it infects; of those that survive infection, most come down with strange physical mutations that make them pariahs and outcasts. These are the Jokers. A small percentage, though, are granted superhero-like powers and become known as Aces.
While the main part of the series takes place in the contemporary world, for this first novel, editor Martin takes the reader back to the beginning and through a series of related stories brings the reader up to date (which would be 1985 for the first book).
One of the strengths of the Wild Cards universe has been that Martin has managed to bring in lots of high-caliber SF/F authors, so the stories themselves are technically excellent (even the not-so-excellent stories stand above the crowd), but I found this first book to be weak. Perhaps it is because the stories are trying to cover so much ground, but I found it hard to care about many of the characters that come on stage for a short story and then are only mentioned in the background of other stories, if at all.
And the stories themselves, with only one or two exceptions, do not focus on the main events of the Wild Cards universe, but on situations that seem to be almost incidental. The overall effect is to distance the reader (at least this one) from really caring about things as a whole. Still, friends have told me that the first volume is actually one of the weaker volumes, so I’ll probably check out the successive volumes as they come out from Tor, but I was definitely underwhelmed with this first foray into the world of Jokers and Aces.