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Bookends: What if People Had Superpowers? June 2, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: What if People Had Superpowers?

By Dan Davidson

March 21, 2012

Star, March 23, 2012

 

Wild Cards: Deuces Down

Edited by George R.R. Martin

Ipicturebooks

306 pages

$22.00

 

Back in the 1980s a concept in publishing called “the shared universe” was born. This involved a group of writers getting together and writing stories that occurred in a similar background, sometimes borrowed from the work of an established writer’s series, sometimes original.

Actually, it’s not such a new idea. Comic book companies have been working in shared universes for years. It’s how Superman and Batman have adventures together, or Spiderman and Wolverine. But it was a fairly novel (‘scuse the pun) idea in book publishing.

George R.R. Martin, better known these days for his massive fantasy saga (and HBO hit series) which began with A Game of Thrones, was instrumental in starting one of these series, called Wild Cards, of which there are now some 21 volumes of novels and short stories.

The original authors were comic book and science fiction fans, so it naturally took that turn. What, the series asks, if there were really people with super abilities? How could that happen? What would that be like? These days, when TV shows like Heroes, Alphas, Misfits and the like are exploring that side of the question (not to mention a decade of Smallville), while two versions of Being Human (UK and USA) and several series about vampires explore the supernatural life, this might not seem so unusual, but it was in the late 1980s.

Martin and his fellow writers created an alternate world, one in which a game changing event took place right after World War II.

On September 15, 1946, a biological weapon created by an alien race was detonated by accident above the streets of New York City. The mutagen in the bomb killed millions on contact and, entering the jet stream, circled the Earth. Because of its effects, it became known as the Wild Card Virus. It rewrote the DNA of anyone who came in contact with it, 90% of whom died very quickly and painfully.

The remaining 10% were changed. Aces acquired a variety of super powers while remaining human in appearance. These were a small percentage of the changed humans. Deuces gained very minor, almost useless, abilities. Jokers, the majority of altered humanity, were physically transformed, or perhaps deformed, would be a better term, in a myriad of ways. Nats (or Naturals) were people who were immune to the virus.

Generally speaking, you only got changed by direct contact with the virus, but the children of two infected parents were likely to undergo some sort of change when they hit puberty. They could die, or they could become Aces, Deuces or Jokers. They are known as Suicide Kings.

Most of the books are made up of braided short stories, written by individual authors, who usually maintain control of the characters they create. These may be woven together to make complete story arcs, or may simply be individual tales set against this background. Some are complete novels by one author. These have often been used to resolve loose ends and dangling plot threads from various earlier tales.

There were 12 books between 1987 and 1993 in the original series published by Bantam Books. From 1993-95 Baen books published an additional trilogy. There was a gap and then an experimental publisher called iBooks (not the current Apple company marketing e-books) published two more in 2002 and 2006. In 2008 TOR Books revived the series with four additional books between then and last year, and a fifth is due out this year. In addition TOR has acquired and is reprinting the original series.

The volume at hand is one of those from defunct publisher iBooks, which can still be obtained as a paperback online, but which I found in an e-book version that was readily available for Kindle and Kobo.

Most of the series has dealt with the adventures of the Aces, with some Jokers thrown in. The seven writers who produced the stories in this book decided to look into the lives of the lesser lights, the Deuces. These are tales in a minor key, stories of people whose lives have not been enhanced by their abilities. What do you do if your power is simply to be able to turn into a puddle of water, or to smell the presence of a super power in another person? What if you can create a lighter-sized flame with your finger or make your hands really hot, but you always get burned when you do? What is your life like if you and another Wild Card had a child and you are burdened by the fear of what may happen to her in just a few years?

The stories in this book all seem to take place just off to one side of major events that occurred the original series, with references to some of those events having influenced the live of these people. I hadn’t seen anything in this series for probably a decade, and bumped into it again while I was doing some research for a review of another Martin book. It was interesting enough that I expect to look for some more of them.

 

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