Wild Cards - Edited by George R. R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A mosaic novel where after an alien virus is exploded over New York City (and into the jet stream), society has a parallel force of Aces and Jokers, victims/beneficiaries of the virus. What's coolest (for me) is the way actual events were woven into the story: the McCarthy HUAD hearings, the protest against Viet Nam, Watergate... All in all, it's pretty cool.
The stories, however, are uneven:
1. Prologue: a solid piece that explains how Tachyon arrives on Earth.
2. Thirty Minutes Over Broadway! (Waldrop): Even though the story is dark, it taps into the heroic genre. Jetboy is a larger-than-life hero worshipped by the people. The maniac dispersing a virus over New York City rings a lot different now (post 9/11) than when it was written. Consequently, I was really pulling for Jetboy’s success, though, of course, that would have made for a short series. ;-)
3. The Sleeper (Roger Zelazny): One of my favorites in the collection. It really helps demonstrate the wide range of outcomes. Croyd Crenson is a great gray character, living in an uncertain world with complicated morals.
4. Witness (Walter Jon Williams): Introduces a hero turned villain, Jack Braun, along with the HUAC’s involvement in the story. This was depressing and effective.
5. Degradation Rites: (Melinda Snodgrass) So this is the HUAC case from another angle, from the perspective of Tachyon and Blythe. Since she is my favorite of the Aces and I have absolute contempt for the HUAC, I found the story to be compelling and was left distraught. Effective tale.
6. Shell Games (GRRM): The Great and Powerful Turtle details the rise of a new era of aces. Clever story and the characters were true to form, powerful and foolhardy as juveniles with Peter Parker-like popularity.
7. Dark Night of Fortunato (Lewis Shiner): The hero of this story is a pimp who acquires telepathic powers (or perhaps read telepathic impressions) when he has an orgasm, sucking in the tantric energy of whoever he is with, like a Reichian vampire. He uses this power to find a serial killer, someone who has killed one of his working geishas. When I started reading this, I was excited by the darkness, the violence, and the sex, but the backstory—where we learn how Fortunato became a pimp (at 14)—and his scene with Lenore felt so cliché. I had that moment where you look at the book in your hand and question your judgment. It felt a bit tawdry.
8. Transfigurations: (Victor Milán) Introduces Cap’n Trips. Best story of the book, imho. Mark’s an MIT student trying to break into 1960s West Coast culture, about to do his thesis on psychotropic drugs, but hasn’t really indulged. He runs into a girl he knew from high school who is well-versed in such matters, revisits his adolescent lust for her, and ends up at an anti-war rally tripping balls. What happens next is pretty much amazing.
9. Wild Card Chic: (Tom Wolfe) I love this placement. We see the WC folks are in vogue now. They have their special restaurant and everything’s going right… finally. Even Dr. Tachyon is happy.
10. Down Deep: (Edward Bryant & Leanne Harper) Bagabond, the bag lady, Sewer Jack, alligator man, and CC Ryder (the train). This was pretty weak. The crime angle seemed very cliché. So many stereotypes.
11. Strings (Steven Leigh): The Puppetman manipulates everyone to get everything he wants. People fall for it. I like this villain. The story made me wonder what the limits of psychic power are. Puppetman can control so many people at once. I guess with all the trickery my suspension of disbelief was affected.
12. Comes a Hunter (John J. Miller): This is about how Yeoman seeks revenge. The battle scene was clever. Not bad, but not at the level of some of the earlier stories.
13. Epilogue (Lewis Shiner): Yeah, also didn’t move the needle for me.
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