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Bookends: When Reality TV Gets A Little Too Real January 1, 2014

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: When Reality TV Gets A Little Too Real

By Dan Davidson

November 13, 2013

– 841 words –

Inside Straight


Inside Straight: a Wild Cards novel

Edited by

TOR Books

421 pages



The shared universe of the Wild Cards Consortium has gained quite a boost since one of its original members and head editor, George R.R. Martin, became justly famous for his massive fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, adapted for television by HBO as Game of Thrones (the name of the first book in the series, of which there are currently five novels, with two more planned).

Martin’s name is prominently featured on the covers of all the books, including the reissued and expanded versions of the earliest volumes, so it only seems fair to warn readers that he is but one of many writers engaged in this particular project.

The Wild Cards universe is nothing like the world of Westeros. It is an alternate version of our world, a place in which human beings with super powers are quire real thanks to an alien virus let loose on the planet in 1946. It triggered DNA level changes in those it infected. 90% of the victims die horribly. Nine percent of them are transformed into deformed creatures known as Jokers. One percent become Aces, who gain super abilities. Some of these powers are useless (the ability to instantly grow hair all over your body) and these Aces are called Deuces.

The plague is still evolving, and children born of earlier victims have a high chance of Turning Their Card when they reach puberty. They may draw the Black Queen (die) or one of the other fates. Tens of thousands of people around the world have been infected with the virus, though most humans are still Nats (naturals).

Wild Cards was inspired by a role playing game called Superheroes and by comic books themselves. Many of the standard powers appear in the stories by the various members of the consortium. Some 31 writers have been involved with creating the characters and writing the stories at this point (book number 19) in the series. Some volumes contain only short stories set in the same universe. Others are standard adventure novels written by just one author. Still others are like this one, a braided novel produced by nine different writers, featuring points of view from many different characters, with a central plot line (or two) holding it all together.

In this book, the world has moved right along with ours and the big rage on television is reality TV, for which one of the biggest shows is American Hero. Teams of Wild Carders with Ace level powers are pitted against each other to see who can deal with dangerous situations most creatively.

We meet four teams of aces with a variety of imaginative abilities who interact in both adventures and relationships. We see much of this through the many eyes of Jonathan Hive, an Ace with the disconcerting ability to transform into a swarm of wasps, and the desire to become a reporter. His blog and his reports are interspersed through the chapters of the book, the first half of which deals mostly with the show and the contests.

Of particular interest are these Aces: Drummer Boy, actually a Joker who is a human drum kit; Lohengrin, who manifests spectral armor and a sword, Bubbles, the former supermodel who absorbs force and releases it as explosive bubbles, gaining and losing size and weight as she goes; Stuntman, who always recovers from injuries; Curveball, who turns anything she throws into a missile; and Tiffani, who can turn to flexible diamond.

The second half deals with trouble in this world’s version of the Middle East, where a great many of the Jokers have transmogrified into animal headed avatars of the old Egyptian animal gods. Much of the part of the world has been under the control of the Caliphate, and when their ruler is assassinated in the early part of the book by the shape shifting teleporter sometimes called Lilith, the blame falls on the Egyptian Jokers, who find themselves fighting a new kind of battle to avoid ethnic cleansing.

Into this mess comes the former Ace, John Fortune, possessed by the Ace abilities of one of the Living Gods, called Sekhmet, who manifests as a giant fire-breathing lioness. Fortune/ Sekhmet inspires some of the Aces in the Discard Pile, who have been voted off the show, to accompany him to Egypt and fight to save the Egyptian Jokers, whom he/she claims as his/her people.

So the second half of the book morphs into a war story, with Hive punctuating the various narratives with his blog from the front. The kid means well, but he lacks a decent liberal education and misreferences literary quotations and history all over the place. His efforts add a bit of humour to a pretty black situation.

These are lightweight adventures, but if you’ve enjoyed shows like Mutant X, Alphas or the Tomorrow People, not to mention the X-men, you might enjoy them.










1. andrewknighton - January 2, 2014

I’d been wondering about giving some of these books a go, having enjoyed Game of Thrones and Fevre Dream. I know this isn’t as heavyweight as Martin’s other stuff, but it sounds from your review like there’s still the variety of interesting characters and dark edge to the world. Is that true, or am I just being over optimistic?

klondykewriter - February 1, 2014

He’s kid of like the head of the writer’s room for this series. I expect the process might bear some similarity to the role he has played on several TV series, notably the original Beauty and the Beast (not the current one).

andrewknighton - February 3, 2014

I’d definitely watch a show that had him in charge of the writers room, so I think I’ll give these a go. Thanks!

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