Wild Cards  - George R.R. Martin, Howard Waldrop, John J.  Miller, Michael Cassutt
PROLOGUE - George R. R. Martin

This one was actually told like it is an interview of three of characters from the Wild Cards series. Well, the early part of the series, at least. They talk about the turning point that lead to their version of history, as opposed to ours. It's really a great way to start the book off, and it starts just as the book is touted to be like - a mosaic. Earth is the main character, and those who, momentarily, get the spot light are just the cells that live within the whole. The characters speaking (being interviewed, presumably) reminds me notably of "World War Z," so if you like that kind of writing, just try reading this start to the series and see if you'll like it, because I certainly did. I also like its briefness, allowing us to get right into the real events of the story quickly, but with good build-up. Hm - a 9.5/10.


Gah - and this is where my troubles started. Exactly where I feel that my enthusiasm for the rest of the stories in this work dipped. Everything that happens has no tie to me, I have no clue, much of the time, what these characters are talking about, and I started to skip through whole paragraphs quickly. Frankly, for such an important character in the series, they really handed it off to one of the most boring, dull writers I have had a chance to read. Really, to anyone who is afraid of this book, all I can say for this one is - read the last page of this story. That is literally all that is important about the story. I really do not think that a thing else will leave an imprint on anything in the least. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is fucked up.

A definite 2/10, made worse by the fact that he made a character named Jetboy dull. For shame!

THE SLEEPER - Roger Zelazny

Reading further into the collection, this is the debut of a major character, Croyd Crenson. Croyd's story is mainly one about a profoundly lost childhood, but also delves into themes that have been dealt with in Kafka's The Metamorphosis as well as the movie, Big.

Croyd may very well be the most interesting of the characters infected with the Wildcard virus, as he literally has the power of a wildcard. After sleeping for long enough for his body to transform itself totally - a great deal of time - Croyd wakes up to a completely different set of circumstances than what he fell asleep to. Although on paper he appears to have drawn a better lot than most Jokers, Croyd suffers greatly as everything in his life must adjust to the demands of the curse that is his new genetic make-up.

Well-written and with little to no fluff, Croyd's life as the Sleeper is one of contrasts - innocence/experience, super-powered/burdened by physical ailments and supported by others/alone, just to name a few. Everything the boy (man?) goes through is told in his own words and emotions, not explained, painstakingly, and it is a rewarding read for that.

Near the end of the story is when some really gut-wrenching body horror shows up, which is not in any way gratuitous or unnecessary.

The only downfall of the story seems to be that it ended prematurely. The story feels as though its ending had been chosen to happen at a random spot, and it likely could have been extended further and could have been better for it.

9/10, and Croyd Crenson seems to start strong with this story, where we witness this "boy wonder" in his own set of Trials and Tribulations.

WITNESS - Walter Jon Williams

Lemme start off by saying that this is one of the longer stories in the collection. And buy, do I mean LONG in comparison to the other stories in the collection.

The author is a good one who makes the almost staggering length of the story seem like a breeze to go through. This is partially due to the ease that the story reads at, from the point of view of Jack Braun, a sort of heavily flawed superman. This story serves as a kind of way point between the period of time in which the wildcard virus was just infecting the world and when those infected with the virus became political in every sense of the word.

Because its such a major point of reading, it would be best to talk briefly about Jack Braun; more specifically about his point of view and his personality. Braun is basically a superman who came by his powers after abandoning a life in a small American town, turning to the life of an aspiring actor. Braun is a powerful man, even before the wildcard virus changes him, and he is also a smart man of strong virtue.

Although the virus seems to change him in miraculous ways, Braun's life is made difficult - immensely difficult - by national politics that makes a simple decision into something that seems like a choice between two horrible fates.

Although it is hard, for the first pages, to follow where the story is really going, it gets going and boy, does it get going fast. Thankfully, when the story gets fast it also gets quite good. You really start to get an understanding of what Braun is feeling, up to the moment he makes his history-altering decision.

A pretty cozy and earned 8.75. Although not the best, it certainly would be a shame to miss reading this.

DEGRADATION RITES - Melinda M. Snodgrass

A decently written story that does a great job of allowing the reader to get to know Tachyon better by being in his shoes as he goes through a major change in his life - and the demise of somebody who made Tachyon's life enjoyable on Earth. Although I normally roll my eyes at the idea of the placement of a work of fiction within a body of collected work playing a part in the enjoyment of reading fiction, this story seems to work best coming after that jackass Braun's story.

Delving into the material itself, I want to say that I straight up dislike (not hate, mind you, just dislike) Blyth and, to the degree of him as a person in a relationship, Tachyon. Their relationship is too reminiscent of Christine Feehan's brand of romance - daddy issues and faux female empowerment make for somewhat creepy reading, when Blyth and Tachyon start up with each other - Tachyon is a dick in many situations and Blyth just TAKES it, along with the fact that Tachyon is about one of the most egotistical, shockingly plain and self-righteous characters I have come across. Up until he has his fall from grace, Tachyon is a terrible person to be reading from the POV of.

It's still hard to not like this story, for the fact that the author was mostly doing a great job at making the story entertaining and pacing it, well, wonderfully. Thankfully the parts with Tachyon and Blyth doing their thing goes by rather quickly, and it's actually only in retrospect that I really dislike Blyth and Tachyon, which is a testament to the writer's ability to keep the eye away from a lot of the more face-palmier parts of the story and to keep it moving.

I really like the feeling I had reading it as I genuinely wondered what was going to happen next, but it was too bad that I lost some of my interest in reading because of poor character constructs. Blyth - you should have thought for yourself for five seconds instead of being a grade A rube.

6.9/10 - I don't think we would have lost ANYTHING to the overrall story if we lost this ditty, and I think I would prefer it.

INTERLUDE ONE - George R. R. Martin

Boy can you tell ahead of time that you are in for something good when you realize that you are reading something by Martin himself. Interlude One offers a proper bridge between the irreparable damage that primarily George McCartney caused to the world of those afflicted with the Wild Cards virus and to the aftermath - and the change in culture - that occur ed after the Ace witch hunt. What can I say? - Short, sweet and a good example of the great writing style of George R. R. Martin that I've heard so much about from you fantasy nerds.



I had a sneaking suspicion, and when I checked it out I found out that I was right; Cassutt is a newcomer to this volume, adding this story as a contribution to the body of work. Since it was added well over ten years after the collection was originally published, the question here is if this piece belongs in the collection. The short answer is yes.

One of the reasons I was excited to get this book (for FREE!) was because I like the idea of getting into one of those book series you hear fans squeeing over so much that immerses you into a world and stranding you there to read your way out or perish in a sea of words and stories. I like that a lot; it's probably why I spent my teenage years writing the fan fiction that would later end up in a barrel in the backyard that I would light on fire to save good people from losing their sanity. But I digress.

"Captain Cathode" is one of the longer-ish works in the book that doesn't feel all that long; even a person with ADD, such as myself, can sit and finish this story in one sitting. I would attribute the fast reading to the good writing skills of Cassutt, who does a good job here of showing us a vignette of Hollywood in a world where the Wildcard virus lives. The main character, an aging ex-Nazi scientist... is actually a pretty cool character to read from the viewpoint of. No, really.

Essentially the story is a suspense with some action and detective intrigue thrown in for good measure. Although it all doesn't settle together too well (I never really got a feel for the main character as a person, only as a being who was meant to move the story forward) it still makes for an enjoyable single reading.


POWERS - David D. Levine

A long-ish story in the collection that doesn't feel that long, while reading it. An all-around great character arc that does a great job of showing the growth/evolution of SCARE - well, an evolution of the whole political landscape, from "Captain Cathode" onto the rest of the stories in the collection. Frank is loveable, tormented, and not at all indicative, at first glance, of what he is capable of.

Although I do not have as much fun with this story as I do with the later ones, this one was a great distraction from the main story as a whole.


SHELL GAMES - George R. R. Martin

The collection's daddy comes home with "Shell Games," and he shines a rather harsh and unavoidable light of comparison between his writing and some of the worser examples of the craft in the collection.

The story is a genesis of what can be described as a rather by-the-numbers sort of hero (I can best compare the Great and Powerful Turtle with Nite Owl, a la The Watchmen), and it could be a conventionally boring story, if it did not lead up to the moment in which Tachyon had to make his decision of living in his state of utter degradation or be forced into regaining his pride and strength.

By the by - the Turtle is one awesome guy, it's nice to have a true hero amongst a slew of cowards and self-serving people and Aces.



Another great piece, from Martin himself. What else is there to say? Welcome back, Tachyon.



People with less of a sense of fun may find this story utterly deplorable - a character whose power is unlocked through tantric sex, and an interrogation scene which requires the use of appalling measures to complete it - but fans of exploitation and a taste for darker stuff may find in this story a certain something lacking in the previous stories.

As much fun as it is shocking, I ended the story wondering what the main character was going to do next, and wishing that I could see what it would be.



A little drawn out (but not much), this story is fun, and it builds up to an ending with a real crescendo. The hippie movement comes up against other Americans in a loud clash that puts two wildly different factions of Aces against each other, as well as one lone Ace who seems to come between the two titans.

Funny, fun and a little sad, this story presents a real feel for the time and place the story is set.



Yet another small piece that serves to tie the stories together with another knot.



An incredibly tiresome story that lurches along much too slowly and relies on mafioso cliche when it's not being confusing and all too uninteresting for words. Beware a *short* story that needs not one but TWO authors to write the damn thing. A character returns from "The Long, Dark Night of Fortunado" who I was actually looking forward to focusing on, but instead we get the POV of almost EVERY other character imaginable except the interesting one. Re-reading this was not unlike taking dramamine, and barely any of it stuck in my memory, even after two reads. Disappointing and written as though it should have been adapted into a comic book.



A piece written by a fictional representation of Hunter S. Thompson - hold that, a *damn* good representation of Thompson - that gives a very good sense of time and place for Jokertown, plus we get another Crenson sighting. What more could you ask for?



A particularily dark little story that builds like a good, dramatic tragedy. No one truly wins and any victory that is achieved is pyrric, as a leader of a rogue joker group and his heavily tortured and emotionally battered underling bash horns against a political figure who is, for all accounts and purposes, on their side. Somewhere in the mix is a sociopathic joker/ace who possesses a disquieting power that quietly works at changing the fates of those around him with impunity.

7/10 - Lengthier than it needed to be, the buildup was, however, sweet.


They call this book a "mosaic" novel, and this chapter appears to be the most mosaic of them all - a collection of quotes that the reader has encountered through the book so far, and a couple that Martin has made up for this occasion. Like the other interludes, they are short, to the point and do a wonderful job of getting across a certain mood that just sets the rest of the book up for that last couple of rises up the rollercoaster before the last descent.



This one was a new addition to the book in this edition, and unlike a certain other new addition that I've mentioned, I like this story. I can say, in all truthfulness, that this was the story that brought me back to the collection when I had gotten tired after Strings.

Fiction is supposed to be, at the very least, enjoyable to read. As an aspiring writer, however, I am honor bound, to some extent, to give credit where credit is due - even if something doesn't light my fire, so to speak. Lighting my fire, by the way, is precisely what this short story did - a welcome addition to my experience re-reading this book in order to give a review of each story.

The story of a girl who goes out at night with an unreliable friend to a place that she probably should never be, then quickly loses her friend under rather alarming circumstances seems to collide head first with the perennial poster boy of this series, Croyd - and a noir-ish situation that leads to the girl discovering that her own abilities can be used in a way to positively impact her own fate.

The writing is truly top-notch, and Jennifer comes off as a believable good girl who tagged along with a "friend" and who got herself in a "Big Trouble in Little China" scenario in Joker town.



-and then we're back to the meh spectrum, just as quickly as I thought that I was out of the forest of mediocrity. I want to compare this one to Transmetropolitan, because it feels like an uncool, unfunny and uninspiring ugly sister to Warren Ellis' first entry into that series, with the protagonist coming down from a mountain and back into the shitty city that they grudgingly called home years before, but in all fairness, with the entrance of the protagonist into the story, there's not much else to compare it to. I am only pointing this out because it felt a lot like being a kid on my birthday, reminded of the cake I got last year, then presented with a cake made with rolls of toilet paper and shaving cream.

The prose certainly does not sing, and if it does, its voice falters at inappropriate moments and has too high a pitch in some places and too low in others. Some of it certainly sounds as though it was not read aloud, because it reads awkwardly. I am confused as to what the writer thought that he was going with this character study - which, essentially, this story is, when you take out the scenes of Joker town which has already been done to death and has been done better.

This character is not a Joker, nor is he an Ace. Let that sink in; a story in this collection is just about a glorified Green Arrow. Oh, don't think for a moment that there are no powers to see - but they ultimately do not DO much of anything, except to add a layer of pretty shit for the protagonist to pass by. Women in this are especially handled atrociously - one is a bizarre sex object and the other is a Princess Peach - take your pick between them, because they're apparently the best examples of characterization that this author can pull off.

I mean, I didn't hate this like POISON while I was actually reading it, but I cringed a good deal and I loathe this plenty in retrospect.

3/10 Better luck next time, guy!


It's really hard to review these last three, um, pieces as singular, given how short and, let's face it, abortive in nature that they are, especially when seen against the stories that this one followed. I really was not wanting to read about a pre-pubescent boy starting to experience erections, or his interest in dinosaurs. The reveal at the end of the piece was likewise not in the least bit of interest to me.

2/10 Boring but not particularly badly-written, this should have been cut from the final product.


I assume that Martin wrote this and the next piece, but on the page that accredits each piece to what author wrote it, these seem to be no author for either of these pieces, and indeed, aside from the pages themselves as proof, there is nothing to hint that they are even included in this book. As such, I will talk about both here and get this ordeal over as quickly as I can -

These pieces are boring and dry, like reading excerpts from essays, and their inclusion in this collection can be seen as an act of staggering incompetence. The content of the pieces themselves do not add anything new to what has already been revealed - and revealed more competently - usually through showing and not telling in previous pieces in the book. A whole lot of telling is done here, hammering in explanations with no subtlety whatsoever.