Wildcards: Volume 1 edited by George R. R. Martin with stories by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Michael Cassutt, David D. Levine, George R. R. Martin, Victor Milan, Edward Bryant, Leanne C. Harper, Stephen Leigh, Carrie Vaughn, and John J. Miller
Read by Luke Daniels
Length: 19 Hrs
Genre: Science Fiction
Quick Thoughts: Wild Cards is a wonderful shared world anthology, using elements of classic superhero tales, alternative history, and apocalyptic fiction to create a fascinating tableau for its writers to play in. It is full of memorable characters and rich in historical perspective and despite containing many cautionary tales and tackling sensitive yet important issues, it is also rollicking good fun.
Before there was The 4400, Heroes, or Alphas there was Wild Cards, a shared world anthology series about an alien virus that transformed people it touched, turning some into grotesque monsters while giving other extra-human abilities. It’s very easy to simply call Wild Cards an anthology about super heroes, but you miss a lot of the point of the series if you label it that way. Superheroes have been a staple of the American mythos for a long time, appearing in comic books, movies and television series. Superheroes were often used as propaganda tools during World War, when America was fighting against the evils of extreme nationalism of the Axis powers. Superheroes were symbols, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. We never really saw these heroes as humans, as real people. Yet, in George R. R Martin’s Wild Card Series, we have something more. The Wild Card virus, released by an alien race as an experiment, did more than just give people convenient super powers to help them fight crime. The vast majority of those who come into contact with the virus are killed, while a smaller percentage are turned into Jokers, a deforming or crippling mutation that turns them into a freak often ostracized by society. The last, smallest percentage retains their human form, but are given some enhanced power, like telekinesis or shape shifting. Some powers are completely trivial, these people are called Deuces, while others become more like traditional superheroes, called Aces. This division between Jokers and Aces is one of the things that makes The Wild Card series different from most superhero tales.
This new version of Wild Cards, originally published in 1987, has added some new stories, but the main feel remains the same. The early part of this novel works more as an alternate history tale then pure science fiction. The authors of these tales use this altered world to expose many of the flaws of our society, and many of the historical mistakes we made. In perhaps my favorite tale, Witness by Walter Jon Williams, Williams tells the tale of the Rise and Fall of the Four Aces, set against the paranoid Witch Hunts of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities committee. Another strong tale, Strings by Stephen Leigh, tackles xenophobia in an examination of the Joker’s Rights movement, and its manipulation by politicians. Other writers take on such topics as Eugenics, War, racism, feminism, vigilantism, crime, sexual abuse, and many others. Yet, it’s not all soap box preaching and allegory. Wild Cards is full of brilliant character and exciting action. Being the first book of the anthology, we are flush with great origins tales of wonderfully memorable characters like The Great and Powerful Turtle, and Croyd, aka The Sleeper. Of the three new stories, Powers by David Levine, a Cold War era spy thriller, was my favorite, fitting in perfectly to the feel of the original novel. Powers is the perfect example of what I loved about this audiobook, it takes an iconic moment in 20th century American History, and gives is a spin, looking at it from the changed perspective of the altered world. Wild Cards is a wonderful anthology, using elements of classic superhero tales, alternative history, and apocalyptic fiction to create a fascinating tableau for its writers to play in. It is full of memorable characters and rich in historical perspective and despite containing many cautionary tales and tackling sensitive yet important issues, it is also rollicking good fun.
I was a bit surprised by when I first discovered that Wild Cards was being released as an audiobook that the producers were going with a single narrator, yet, it made sense when I discovered that the narrator would be Luke Daniels. This world of historical figures, freakish monsters, and powerful new heroes should be a playground for a narrator, and Daniels takes full advantage of it. I love that fact that Daniels grounded his reading in a subtle narrative tone that gave the audiobook a comic book feel without ever crossing the line into cartoonish. Daniels seemed to have a lot of fun with his characterizations, which makes sense, how often do you get to voice characters like these, Jokers with animal like features, angry dwarves, Hollywood execs, and real life politicians. Daniels brought the world of the Wild Card virus alive for me, bringing authentic voices to its denizens and infusing it all with his steady, pleasing narrative voice. Brilliance has a winner with this series, Vol, 2 is set to be released in December, and hopefully we’ll see the rest of the series brought to life as well.
Note: A special thanks to the good people at Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title to review.