Having heard a lot about the Wild Cards series, and being edited by my favorite author, I just had to pick up Inside Straight, the 18th Wild Card book. Wilds Cards is a shared-universe series that was created and edited since 1987 by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. It tells the history of the world since the disruption of the alien wild card virus and the heroes that emerged from the chaos.
Inside Straight is the new generation of the Wild Card series and begins appropriately with the second generation of aces and jokers. The book begins with the Caliph, ruler of several Arabic nations, being murdered, allegedly by Joker terrorists. This causes a crackdown and genocide of Jokers in Egypt by Arab extremists vowing revenge. In America, the second plotline follows the development of the newest and most popular reality show to date: American Hero. All contestants are aces who will compete to win a million dollar prize as well as for the title of “Hero”. At first separate, the two storylines intertwine as contestants become determined to make a difference.
While I was excited to be reading my first Wild Cards book, I was a little worried by the setting of the reality show. Personally, I hate reality shows because of the politics and backstabbing that has become a mainstay of such programs. Such a backdrop certainly created intense character moments, especially as it is a complete contradiction to the concept of a hero. Indeed, many of the contestants leave the show for precisely this reason.
Inside Straight reads more like a mosaic novel than a collection of short stories as Martin did a hell of a job editing to ensure that the stories ran seamlessly and correctly. Character development is very well handled and the reader is treated to in-depth look at several characters providing for a wide perspective on events. I loved reading about the aces and their powers. Their powers (and deformities) are so much more varied and richly imagined than a typical comic book.
The only real drawback was that the book sometimes bordered on cheesy, but thankfully managed to avoid it. I enjoyed how the characters had to find their own definitions of the word hero. Highly recommended.
Other reviews can be found at OF Blog of the Fallen and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. Also check out the Wild Cards website at http://www.wildcardsbooks.com/.