Wild Cards: Suicide Kings. 2010.
Edited by George R. R. Martin.
TOR. ISBN: 9780765317834
You know... there’s something about the Wild Cards series of “mosaic” novels that just makes me come alive when I read them more than any other series of books have (except maybe for those old Doc Savage pulps I enjoy so much ;-).
Suicide Kings is the 20th in the series of books written simultaneously by a number of very talented science fiction writers who write either a short story which contributes to the overall thrust of the novel or various sections of chapters dealing with the specific characters they have created for the series.
Now I have to say that I am not a big fan of this style of working but in the case of the Wild Cards series it’s the exception to the rule. Ever since the first novel came out back in 1987, they’ve been plugging away and plugging away at stories set in an alternative version of history (1946 to present) and although some of the books have been almost impossible to get ahold of (I’ve finally managed to fill my last “hole” a couple of years ago when I realised the series hadn’t stopped in the early 90s) due to various accidental limited runs from bankrupt publishers etc... I think it speaks for both the quality of the writing and the sheer entertainment value of these novels that they are still finding an audience.
A brief history for those of you who have not read the Wild Cards novels. In 1946, national American superhero “Jetboy” died (his famous last words were something like... “Now I’ll never get to see The Jolson Story”) when he failed to stop the diabolical “Wild Card” virus being unleashed on earth. Since then and forever, the Wild Card infection is forever present. 90% of the population of Earth draw “The Black Queen” and die on exposure. A certain percentage of the population draw Aces which give them devastating and often wildly improbably super powers. Some draw deuces, which just gives them mild special abilities. And the rest become hideous and mutated Jokers (and end up living in ghettos like Jokertown). Naturally, the history of our world was changed when the Wild Card hit, and so in this parallel version of history things are a little different... asides from the obvious fact of various superheroes and villains battling it out to save the Earth. Marilyn Monroe, for example, lived to make many more films.
As the series has run it’s course there is usually a strong political “world peace” undercurrent running through the series and this one, set mostly in modern day Congo where children are victims to unspeakable atrocities involving the original Wild Card virus which is a parody of real life events going on right now... is no exception to this. Now don’t ask me to comment on the political issues tackled herein... being a bear of very little brain I’m afraid I just don’t understand stuff like this. But I do love these books, and that includes this one, so you don’t really have to be politically minded to follow these.
This book continues the adventures of the next generation of Aces which have been going for a few books now. These were the youngsters picked to go on the first edition of the Wild Cards version of Big Brother... the reality TV shoe American Heroes. And, much as I love the old guard and deeply miss characters like Doctor Tachyon, Croyd the Sleeper, The Great and Powerful Turtle, Chrysalis and Peregrine... well these new kids are brilliant too.
It also has a great cover (with metal foil enhancements... I love that stuff) which is very much a parody of those old Bama Doc Savage covers from the Ballantine reissues of the 60s-80s.
I know what you’re thinking... books about superheroes are childish and just not credible. Well I thought that too until I started reading the Wild Cards series. And while there is a very deliberate and very welcome injection of humour in these mad tales of human emotions pushed to the edge... you should probably be warned that they can also get very dark and depressing. As this one does. The thing about these characters is... even the ones that have ben invested with a long career... well they could die any moment. Like in this one. And it’s often not the characters you are expecting to die who get slaughtered for the drama. I lost another two of my favourite characters in this one and... not to give too much away to those who like the Wild Cards novels... one of those characters was like losing hundreds of characters at once.
For fans of the earlier novels, there are some brief cameos (no pun intended for anyone who has read these and realised that was a pun) from older characters, such as Popinjay, the Deuce/Ace who can teleport anyone to where he wants them to be as long as a) he can picture a place in his mind and b) points his finger at them and clicks his thumb down in a mock gun firing mime. The pop from his name is an allusion to the popping sound made as the air quickly rushes to refill the physical space a person just occupied.
And old hero turned villain Tom Weathers, the most powerful Ace in the world, is back to lead the People’s Paradise of Africa on a blood soaked crusade against “the man” but... and get this good Wild Cards fans... the original Mark Meadows flower power hippy version of his mind is fighting back... and keeping an eye on his mentally deficient daughter Sprout.
I think the main reason I read this incredible series is because... at the end of the day... superheroes or not... these books have a real heart to them. A profound and idealistic soul to the writing not often found in modern writing.
This novel is another great crowning triumph in the Wild Cards series!