Wild Cards edited by George R.R. Martin

2013 Limelight Reviews
Science Fiction & Fantasy

In the shared universe of the Wild Cards anthology edited by George R.R. Martin, the interlocking stories contribute to an alternate history in which an alien virus was released over New York at the end of World War II. Named for its random effect on those who are exposed to it, the Wild Card  virus may grant its victims death (a Black Queen), superpowers (an Ace), useless powers (a Deuce) or physical mutations and deformities (a Joker). Aces such as Golden Boy are intially recruited into special forces units to combat the Soviets in the Cold War, but eventually suspicion of their powers trumps their usefulness, resulting in a series of McCarthist witch hunts. Jokers, on the otherhand, are ghettoised in Jokertown, where Nats (those unaffected by the virus) amuse themselves by slumming in the weird and wonderful underworld. Dr Tachyon, an alien who attempted to warn the world about the virus, sets up clinics to assist Jokers – or even Aces – who want to be cured. Unfortunately, his cure is as random as the virus. One of the most interesting characters in the series is Croyd, in whom the Wild Card has manifested even more randomly than usual, changing him and his powers everytime he falls asleep. Croyd uses his changing powers and appearance quite effectively in a life of crime, using uppers to stay awake as long as he can. Originally written by Roger Zelzany, he pops up again and again in the other stories, sometimes obviously, sometimes just as a hint. I found myself drawn into the world of the Wild Cards and the characters  – although I kept wishing that even one of the contributing authors had written a story from the point of view of a female character (there are female characters, but they are all, frustratingly, acted upon rather than actively driving the narrative). Fortunately, the 2010 reissue has 3 new stories, one of which is finally a female POV. Wild Cards can be borrowed from both the Library on L2 and as an ebook. Melanie Ryan Program and Communications