George R.R. Martin’s name recognition has risen dramatically in recent years with the TV show “Game of thrones” that is based on a series of his books. But that is not the only series that Martin has been a part of. “Wild cards” is a long-running, collaborative series that has been led by Martin. While he does not write the books on his own, although he is a contributor, Martin has been integral in pulling the books together. The series is a labor of love for the authors involved and, with news of an impending movie based on the series, I figured this was as good a time as any to dive in.
“Wild cards” is a collaborative novel, described as a mosaic novel in the book’s introduction, in which the Wild Card universe is introduced. In this alternate history, an alien virus, dubbed the Wild Card virus, was released on the Earth. Ninety percent of those that were infected died immediately but the remaining ten percent found themselves changed forever. Some mutated into “monsters” and became outcasts known as Jokers. Others got powers that led them to perform super heroic acts. These lucky few came to be known as Aces.
“Wild cards” stars with the story of Jetboy, a pilot and hero for the United States during World War II. At the end of the war, Jetboy is pressed back into service by the government and is fighting when the virus is released over the United States. Jetboy dies in the confrontation and the virus is released to cause instant chaos.
The novel, which is a series of stories in the Wild Card universe edited together by Martin, details the release of the virus and the emergence of those who are infected. Some, like the Four Aces, go on to become heroes for their country. Others, the jokers, become outcasts due to their deformities and are cast to the bottom of society’s class system. One, the Sleeper, is familiar with both ends of the spectrum as he changes every time he sleeps to awaken in a new incarnation that is sometimes an ace and sometimes a joker.
As with any book of short stories, “Wild card” features some stories that are more effective and entertaining than others but it is an overall very entertaining read. The interplay of fiction and historical events and people creates a world that is vivid and intriguing. The reader is better able to relate with the stories as he encounters the historical figures that help ground the novel and make it more real. “Wild card” is only the first entry in a series that has spanned numerous books, publishers, and 25 years. It may appear a tale of super hero characters but there is an underlying intelligence to the stories that give them power. George R.R. Martin has helped create another vibrant world and I hope that the upcoming movie will open the book to the wider audience it deserves.