George R.R. Martin, editor,
Wild Card #18: Inside Straight
(Tor, 2008)

The Wild Card series, created by George R.R. Martin, first appeared in 1987. It was a shared-world series that became quite popular -- I remember seeing what seemed like dozens of volumes on store shelves.

The Wild Card is an alien virus that changes human DNA. Those who don't die of the infection become either "jokers" (basically, mutants) or "aces" (superpowered, but without overt mutations). Inside Straight is the 18th book in the series, introducing a new generation of hero wannabes to a country that loves its reality TV. Thus is born American Hero -- a Big Brother/Survivor hybrid in which a new generation of aces are made to strut their stuff before the hungry eyes of America. Contestants include Jonathan Hive, a blogger who turns into swarms of wasps; Earth Witch, who "digs holes;" Curveball, whose missiles hit what she wants them to and explode on impact; and cute little Dragon Girl, a child whose stuffed toys become the real thing at her command.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, the political situation is worsening, after an assassination carried out by an ace. Now the Egyptian army is out to exterminate the New Gods -- jokers with uniquely Egyptian mutations -- and their followers. While America looks for media-created heroes, these people hope for the real thing.

This is a mosaic novel -- all the individual stories by various authors are pieced together to fit into the American Hero and/or Egypt storylines, which eventually come together into a single story. This gives the writers the freedom to follow multiple different viewpoints, which makes for a rich and diverse narrative. The individual stories all move along quickly, without bogging down the overall narrative arc.

Long-time fans of the series should enjoy Inside Straight and it makes a fine introduction to the series for newcomers.

review by
Laurie Thayer

18 October 2008

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